12 Start Up Business Tips…

WE’VE MADE IT TO 3 YEARS

Walker and Seeya in the Old WorkshopOld Workshop Staff against Wall

View Of The Old Workshop

The Start up days…

What a ride the last 3 years have been! In December 2014 I was selling finger puppets at a market, struggling to make ends meet, frustrated and unclear on what the next step would be. The Coloured Cube began then as a sole prop.

Currently we have a workshop in Ellis Park, there are 9 employees and we do a range of creative work including curating, project management, custom manufacture for art centres, universities and soon a shul, exhibition installation, science exhibit manufacture and design, maker space for master architectural students, artwork manufacture. It seems very haphazard but the truth is that the core always remains the same – we are creative makers and get a kick out of new ideas being realised. 3 years on and there are a few things I have learnt along the way about entrepreneurship, business and the arts sector in South Africa.

Will we make it to 5 years? Only time will tell but for now let’s celebrate this milestone!

So… some tips from my experience over the last 3 years –

The Coloured Cubes new workshop

The Coloured Cube moves into its first workshop.

TIP ONE:
IDEAS CAN’T STAY IN YOUR NOTEBOOK!
You have to find ways to get your ideas out or else they cannot grow. It doesn’t matter if they succeed or fail – what matters is that they have been released and then you can grow from them. As long as you hold on tight and secretively to them you can’t move onto the next bigger and better idea.

Get your ideas out there, share them, discuss them and allow them to grow.

TIP TWO:
NOBODY CAN SEE YOUR BUTTERFLIES!
Nobody knows how scared and intimidated you are!
For the whole first year of The Coloured Cube my butterflies never left me. In meetings with government, discussing ideas with other creatives, in boardrooms and offices of clients – my butterflies stayed and refused to go. I remember being part of a steering committee for a one month festival and everyone just carrying on with their acronyms: ‘I’ll take care of JOC’, ‘yes I am busy with IDC’ ‘LDC’ ‘SOC’ or whatever they were…I pretended to be taking notes when in actual fact all I was doing was writing down all the acronyms to Google when I got home.

Nobody knows so just play the part and eventually (even if it is after 12 months!) the butterflies will leave and you will own your space.

TIP THREE:
LEAN ON OTHER CREATIVES
The South African arts and culture sector is so difficult. There is not enough work, nor enough funding, but what there is, I think you will struggle to find in other sectors: there is support, kindness, warmth and genuine happiness if you succeed. This is a very special sector – the talent and creativity is incredible and then the support is something else. I cannot believe how wonderful this sector has been to me over the last 3 years in so many ways. This is individuals and organisations, the creatives range in age, experience, acclaim and knowledge but there is never a lack in ideas, debates, knowledge and input.

Lean on your sector not for income but for support.

TIP FOUR:
YOU CAN’T DO IT ALONE!
Collaborate whenever you can! Collaboration is what got The Coloured Cube off the ground. There are many reasons to collaborate: Someone has a certain skill set or a specific degree needed, or has the right knowledge and experience – but my favourite reason for collaborating is to share the creative process. The energy that comes when you have synergy between a group of creatives is priceless!

When starting up your creative business share the creative process and watch it grow!

TIP FIVE:
OPEN SOURCE IS THE WAY TO GO!
Information should not be secretive! If you have knowledge share it, allow others to learn from it and grow. Once ideas are out in the world there is so much more chance that they will happen, and many of them by you.

Don’t be scared of others stealing your ideas – you will always be one step ahead.

TIP SIX:
GO FOR GOLD
Apply for that tender even though you have no idea how to! Phone that big business with your proposal even though you feel like a tacky sales person! Apply for every dam competition there is to apply for – it’s not about being the best, its about being out there for others to know your business exists. I have a ratio that I follow: For every 10 jobs/competitions/tenders we apply for we will succeed in at-least 1. That means if I apply for any number less that 10 I may not have any success. It also means that every failure I am 1 step closer to my next success. Over the 3 years I have been asked over and over again how we are so busy, or how we won a certain competition or tender – people don’t know how many rejection letters it took to get that award!

Just keep pushing and pushing for the jobs you think are out of your league – those are the ones you want!

TIP SEVEN:
HIRE A BOOKKEEPER
From day one hire a bookkeeper! Just do it, don’t think about it – just do it! Later on when you have no slips, haven’t paid PAYE or UIF or SETA, haven’t filed your tax for 3 years and don’t have a clue what or where or why…just hire a bookkeeper from the start and avoid this. It will make you richer in the long run! Second to that – open a business account right from the beginning, keep your personal account separate from your business account.

Hire a bookkeeper from the beginning!

TIP EIGHT:
DO NOT WORK FOR INDIVIDUALS
This is a tricky point to add because it does not work for everyone and is our strategy – but I will add it anyway. We don’t work for individuals, we only work on larger projects for architects, companies, universities, government. This was a conscious choice based on ten years of mural and art work mainly for individuals. It is much easier to keep afloat if you are doing a range of works for one company that brings in ten times the amount of income than one work for an individual. Custom creative work is very tiring and demanding as often clients want that bit extra from you – if it is for one work, or furniture piece I find it too exhausting and unprofitable.

Small jobs bring in small income which makes it difficult to sustain a business.

TIP NINE:
PUSH WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT
Entrepreneurship is hard and not glamorous at all! It is long hours, pushing all the time and never saying no – always finding the back-door to difficult situations. You have to go into it with all your might and give every projects everything you have. The payback to me is creating something that did not exist.

It still excites me to think that the Coloured Cube is a business, that it has incredible staff, a workshop, clients. That to me is the biggest pay off.

TIP ELEVEN
DO YOU NEED START UP CAPITAL?
Using The Coloured Cube as my case study – no, you don’t need start up capital, you need a big job to get you off the ground! Our first big job (which now does not seem so big) gave the company the push to start moving. We quoted on jobs that needed certain machinery and only once we got the job (and deposit) we would be able to buy the necessary machinery! One step at a time, one job/project at a time! In the 3 years of the business I have not loaned any money to get it off the ground. This year the company took it’s first debt – a delivery truck which we will pay off over 5 years. To get funding when your business is in the creative sector will be very difficult so you will have to look for other ways to make it happen!

Go for Gold and that might be the job that allows your business to get going without start up capital.

TIP TWELVE
LOOK OUTSIDE NOT IN
There is not enough work nor funding within the art sector – that is the reality! There is just not enough for all of us so look elsewhere for work. Apply for funding, jobs and tenders that are not traditionally creative work. With the right wording, the right ideas and never straying too far from the brief it is amazing how creative and exciting projects that appear to be dreary and dull can become.

Let’s stop complaining about the lack of funding and start expanding the market for ourselves, and one another!

That’s it, now get going on TIP 1!!!

Last point – don’t listen to the haters, the whiners and the whingers…they don’t get it and will just bring you down!!

A growing inspiring team in the new workshop.

A growing, inspiring team.

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