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Monday, 31 May 2010

Making your creative business fly (advice from a woman who knows)

Today’s Do What You Love interview is with Kathy Heslop, an incredible woman who has lived many lives already, as professional musician, nautical globetrotter and serial entrepreneur who has seen multi-million dollar success for her creative businesses. She also happens to be one of the funniest women I know.

British by passport, half Scandinavian and a NYC/London girl by heart, Kathy was once a professional violinist, working with UK orchestras, theatre and opera companies. She was the first female electric violinist to perform at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club and co-wrote the trailer music for the movie Notting Hill. In 1998 Kathy co founded the digital recording studio Serious in London with her polymathic husband David. Within a year it had morphed into a digital publishing company and by the summer of 2000 they had moved to New York City to open a sister office. Serious went on to win multiple awards and employ over seventy staff with three offices worldwide, (London, NYC & Singapore). In late 2007, Kathy and her husband sold their stake in the company and moved back to the UK. They have since founded a boutique management consultancy in London and also operate a software development company. They consult to clients across the entertainment, sports, technology, food and beverage, celebrity and lifestyle sectors, and Kathy specialises in helping companies establish brand identity and market position.

Here Kathy shares some very valuable insight and practical commercial advice for those of you trying to start or grow your creative business…

What is the most important thing for entrepreneurs to remember if they really want their creative business to fly?
Well, firstly, if this is you dear reader – congratulations, you have the privilege of having a vocation. Lucky! Even more so if you have mastered flexible working hours to achieve a good work-life balance too. And what great timing you have. Many consumers are returning to an appreciation of quality workmanship and individuality over the mass produced and manufactured, and are rebooting their values and choices in life. So crafting can now become a career. Plus we are living in this amazing networked ‘global’ village with its opportunities and new markets. You no longer need retail real estate, your brand can be virtual and if you’ve got something unique on offer too - you can potentially transcend all borders. On top of this, social media has also created the open source movement, so it’s now easy to join or build communities that share creative information and expertise, and these types of like minded communities are all potential ecommerce customers for you.

... However, drunk as it is easy to be on the fantastic opportunities available today, sober consideration needs adding to the mix too, because if you are serious about making the leap from hobbyist to professional ‘doing the thing you love,’ a leap of faith alone will not be enough. I don’t need to touch upon the sources for creative inspiration here, (ideas, self-belief, listening to and caring about your audience, finding support etc), because this blog is all about the concept that you can build positive relationships whilst doing something you love, and it is already attracting like-minded souls, cruising by full of ideas and encouragement. However, may be where I can proffer help is to add some science to your art, to help you monetise your dreams. 

Whether you’re a sole trader or thinking of starting a company, creativity needs to be twinned with enterprise if your ideas are going to be viable. Building and running a business, be it a boutique independent or a multi-million pound retailer, demands organisational control. It also takes patience and dedication, so if you are a start up, you are going to need other means of financial support during this period because most businesses don’t bear fruit for a long while. Then factor in that we’re all still bruised from the global recession, which is mooted to turn into a depression before the year’s out (SHEESH!) so it's looking like further battening down of the hatches and 'frugal innovation’ might be ahead. 

So my advice to any creative entrepreneurs is: if you want your business to support you and ideally fly, you’re going to need to keep your feet on the ground first and address some key business skills. With this in mind I’ve made a potted 'practical' list below based on my own personal experiences. This could be modified and translated across any kind of business, so take from it what you need and I hope that it brings a little bit of insight and guidance:

 • Observe the current market place. Credit is tight and access to funding is tough, this could be a growth barrier to certain types of business.• Refine your business plan and don't lose track of your main goals.
 • Test the market to see if there is demand for your kind of products, if not, rethink, modify and re-test.
• Adopt key performance indicators (KPIs) to make sure that everything is on track (eg. how many jobs need to be being pitched on and worked on at once, what’s in your pipeline, what’s the level of enquiries you’re getting?)
• Build a financial plan – start with the end game in mind and identify stages to get there.
 • Make sure you have a cash base to cover a reasonable period of run rate.
 • Know your P&L (profit and loss). Figure out your time management to pricing policy ratio, (but not solely on how pricing impacts your bottom line, but also think about the perception that your pricing gives about the quality of your products too).• Keep admin costs to a minimum (always!)
 • Make sure you are in the right role and if not, partner with, or hire people to cover those areas. (For example, if you’re not financially minded, get help there so that you can focus on other areas of the business that you are better suited to. And don’t just hire nodding dogs either, hire better than yourself!)• Work out your branding and messaging, how does this reflect your business’ ethics and authenticity, customers care nowadays
 • Think about whether you need to protect your intellectual property and if so, how?
 • Plan how to promote to, acquire and then retain customers.
 • Think about potential lateral revenue streams that can help support your business – could you teach, write for example? Start building your profile so that new eyes are always finding you so and you can begin to establish yourself as an industry expert. This may give you the cachet to attract commissions, speaking engagements, press or even spin off opportunities to contribute to or write columns and articles. So think about the kind of supporting content you can be creating alongside that will help get your presence and brand equity across all promotional platforms; online, print, radio, TV. Especially think about how this content can be syndicated across online mediums: (blogs, podcasts, webinars, video). It’s so easy to distribute nowadays and content is king!
• Get advice. A business will drown you if you don’t get the technicals and fundamentals right.

However if you think that any of this means selling out as an artist, then seriously don’t do it! Keep your passion as a hobby. Once you have skin in the game and your income is dependent on your creativity, stress can be one helluva passion killer!

What do you wish you had known when you were 20?

• I think I would have been amused to have known that New York would eventually play a big part in my life. I already had a huge passion for Jazz and for some reason I always felt a tremendous magnetic pull across the pond. It would have made utter sense to me.

• Yoga. It took me reaching the end of my twenties to try it and I was hooked immediately. Many musicians suffer with repetitive strain injuries and back in those days, tuition revolved solely around the sound you made, but with little thought as to whether the technique involved might be causing potential long term damage to one’s body. I took Alexander Technique lessons which helped, but I think Yoga would have been a highly beneficial counterbalance to the long hours of playing that have subsequently lead to some permanent knots in my left shoulder worthy of a Baden Powell badge!
• I wish the Internet had existed. Oh to have had this amazing asset then! My fellow Generation X-ers and I have been so cheated.

• That Scandinavian straight hair is best left au natural. Acid ‘corkscrew’ perms are called acid for a reason

• that life is a blank canvas stretching out in front of you at that age, so crack on with making it super colourful and interesting. My canvas has been, but could probably have done with some sketching of ideas first. It’s definitely been a Jackson Pollock so far; colourful, random and in a myriad of directions!

In the next post, Kathy answers the following questions:
  • How do you keep believing in yourself when things go wrong, or don't turn out how you wanted them to?
  • What is the most insightful or inspiring thing anyone has ever said to you, and who said it?
  • If you had no fear, and if money was no object, what would you do?
  • What spontaneous thing have you done that seemed random at the time but made sense later, or was instrumental in putting you on the path you are on today?
  • Where is your favourite place in London for sitting and dreaming about stuff?
Read part two of this interview here

Be inspired by more Do What You Love interviews here

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We've already got people signed up from three continents, and you could have a lovely piece of handmade gorgeousness dropping through your mailbox soon...


  1. Hi sweetie, thank you so much for sharing this and other interviews, they are so insightful. Im so excited for you right now, so many fabulous things on your blog going on. :-) I cant wait to try the stitching yay! Hope you are having a fab long weekend. xxx

  2. Dearest Beth, thank you so much for sharing this wonderful interview with us! I am learning so much and more! I realized i am in need of a good work-life-taking care of myself balance! My uninspiring day job is taking up most of my creative time that i find myself working late into the early morning hours in order to fulfill my need of wanting to do something i love for a day. These days i've been feeling a little under the weather with really bad migraine.
    I am loving your inspirational space here and this wonderful "Do What You Love" column! Have a lovely merry happy week and love to you!

  3. after reading kelly rae's post today, i'll have to come back and read this tomorrow ;) i'm all filled up for now.

    but i wanted to leave a comment anyway! i love your "i am an artist" badge at the top of your blog. that is so awesome. very very cool...

  4. Wow, fantastic interview, thank you so much! Just about to go forth and frolick amongst the rest of the goodness on your lovely blog.


  5. what a fab blog you write! Love it. All top banana stuff in my book.

  6. so nice to read this and so informative! i love the question what do you wish you would have known when you were twenty :) thank you so much for sharing and being so inspiring!

    xoxo, juliette

  7. fabulous interview
    I've become a follower

  8. oooh, just dipped over here from flying lessons. Am going to sit down later and read through this with a nice drink and relax (am currently trying to do the garden!)

    Great inspiration!


  9. Hi Beth, I too came over for a peek from flying lessons. Great and inspiring interview. So many blogs... so little time. xoxo Valerie

  10. Thanks so much for the amazing interview......thanks for sharing and reminding me how important it is to have your ducks in a row :)

    Love, violette

  11. I like reading your interview with Kathy. She is inspiring. You can really learn something from her experiences and advices.

    Thanks. I think I'm gonna recommend Yoga to my sister who is going to study playing violin next month.


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