Creative Entrepreneurs Founder Carolyn Dailey talks to Creative Review about the challenges that creatives face when starting their own venture – and how Creative Entrepreneurs is hoping to provide some much-needed support.
This article was written by Rachael Steven for Creative Review on May 2, 2018.
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Creative Review has been bringing the creative community together since 1980, first as a print magazine and now across more platforms than ever. It delivers the sharpest opinion, analysis and advice on life in the creative industries, with a focus on insight, leadership, process and inspiration.
Creative Entrepreneurs started out as a side project – an online resource aimed at creatives looking to launch their own business. It now runs training courses and events and aims to provide a much-needed support network to help creative entrepreneurs get started. It has also been advising number 10 on how the government can better support creative businesses.
Creative Entrepreneurs was founded by Carolyn Dailey – the former Managing Director of Time Warner International – in 2016. Dailey spent two decades at Time Warner and worked across its various entertainment brands – including HBO, CNN and Warner Bros. She left in 2011 to set up a branding consultancy – but quickly discovered that she had no idea how to go about launching a business.
Carolyn Dailey, Founder of Creative Entrepreneurs
“There were all these things – from making a three-year plan to filing VAT returns – that I knew nothing about because I’d always been an employee,” she explains.
“At the same time, I had friends in tech who seemed so on top of it. They had two-year plans, they were doing their series A fundraising – I didn’t even know what series A fundraising was – and they were going to events all the time where they were talking to their peers or other people starting businesses,” she continues. “They knew how to meet investors and where to get mentoring and all this stuff and I thought, ‘how come they’re so good at this?’ But tech is very good at nurturing [entrepreneurs].”
Tech founders in London have access to a wealth of information and support – website tech.london lists a range of events and programmes aimed at startups. Dailey assumed there would be similar events or programmes aimed at creative entrepreneurs. But there wasn’t. Or at least, there didn’t seem to be.
People would get really emotional about it. They’d say ‘it was so hard. We didn’t know what questions to ask or who to ask for help and we didn’t have any training in this’
She began speaking with creatives who had founded successful businesses – people who had launched fashion brands and design studios and production companies – and all told her the same story. They hadn’t known where to turn for business support when they were starting out, they had grown too fast or not fast enough and they had made mistakes “that never should have been made” due to a lack of knowledge and support.
“People would get really emotional about it. They’d say ‘it was so hard. We didn’t know what questions to ask or who to ask for help and we didn’t have any training in this’,” explains Dailey. “A lot of people also – myself included – felt very intimidated by things like annual accounts and business plans. How are you supposed to organise those numbers? So it kept getting reinforced to me that everyone in the creative sector seemed to be in the same situation.”
The Creative Entrepreneurs Wesbite
This gave Dailey the idea for an online resource. The plan was to create a kind of one-stop-shop: a platform that brought together advice and information from around the web. She mentioned the idea to the Arts Council and was offered some funding to get the site up and running. It launched in 2016 – and Dailey immediately began receiving emails from people asking if Creative Entrepreneurs would be launching in other markets.
She also received emails from people who were keen to attend networking events aimed at creative entrepreneurs. As a response she set up the Founder Files – an ongoing series that offers the chance to hear from successful founders and CEOs. Past speakers have included AKQA’s Ajaz Ahmed, makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury and architect Amanda Levete. (You can read our writeup of Levete’s talk here.)
The press don’t [often] talk about the entrepreneurial side of creative businesses which makes sense because they want to talk about the creative output – but that means that entrepreneurial journey and the role model story often gets lost
At each event, a different entrepreneur – in conversation with Dailey – explains how they set up their business, the challenges they faced and mistakes they made along the way. This is followed by a Q&A with the audience and a couple of hours for networking. Each event has sold out and Dailey says the response has demonstrated a clear need for a programme that offers people the chance to hear from creative role models.
“The press don’t [often] talk about the entrepreneurial side of creative businesses which makes sense because they want to talk about the creative output – but that means that entrepreneurial journey and the role model story often gets lost,” explains Dailey. “We decided to have these events where we showcase creative founders and say, ‘you know, Charlotte Tilbury has the fastest growing beauty brand in the world but Charlotte was a makeup artist – she has no business background – so how did she do that?'”
Charlotte Tilbury and Carolyn Dailey at one of Creative Entrepreneurs’ Founder Files events
The first event featured Matt Miller of ustwo – the design studio behind smash hit mobile game Monument Valley. “[Miller] took us through the story of how he and his partner founded ustwo and the questions that came out of it were so exciting. People were just hungry for really practical information. It was almost like a consulting session – people were asking ‘how did you do this’ and ‘how did you do that?’ – and we saw there was a huge need for this,” adds Dailey.
“It gives people inspiration because they’re seeing this role model, someone who’s very well established but they don’t have a business background, and then they get also direct learning and networking, which is crucial, because there’s not really a place where creative [entrepreneurs] can come together with their peers.”
In October last year, Creative Entrepreneurs launched its first training programme in partnership with the Design Museum: a three-part course offering an introduction to networking, law and finance. This was followed by a three-part course focused on finance. The latest course – which launched this month – offers an introduction to marketing with sessions on branding, social media and PR (details here).
Classes are run by Dailey and industry experts (all of whom who have experience in working with creatives or creative businesses). The aim, says Dailey, is to provide relevant information that is tailored to a creative audience. You won’t come away knowing everything there is to know about marketing or doing accounts but you will hopefully leave with a grasp of the fundamental things you need to know before setting up a business. Courses also provide the chance to meet and compare notes with other creatives.
Creative Entrepreneurs’ training courses are held at the Design Museum
Dailey hopes that Creative Entrepreneurs’ training programmes will change the way creatives think about the commercial side to running a business.
This is often something that creatives are reluctant to spend too much time on – time spent developing a business model or a PR strategy is, after all, time that could have been spent making things – but as Dailey points out, having a good grasp of the business side of things can help creatives make better decisions and grow a more sustainable business long-term.
“If you get on top of the business side … and if you can have a sustainable business, then you’re not worried about paying the rent or living hand to mouth or not doing what you really want to do because you’re having to earn some side money or whatever,” she explains.
“You can make yourself sustainable and keep control as well. A lot of times, what happens is that creative people have a great idea and then they just don’t know what to do on the business side, so someone else comes in and they end up losing some of their creative freedom because someone else takes over the business.”
“We’re not saying you should change hats and become a different person – just that you should know enough so that in the very beginning, you can get yourself going and become sustainable and then hopefully over time, you’ll grow and bring in the best business partners who can help you but you can still maintain that control and control the creative vision.”
The whole creative sector tends to be seen as not that serious – a little bit frivolous
In addition to events and courses, Creative Entrepreneurs has just launched a paid-for annual membership scheme. Membership costs £125 per year – or £70 if you’re under 25 – and includes a three-month membership to Second Home’s new workspace in Holland Park, a 20% discount at MOO.com, a call with creative law firm Lee & Thompson and tickets to a new mentoring event launching in July 2018. Dailey says the long-term aim is to establish a community and of course, raise some additional funding that will enable Creative Entrepreneurs to put on more training schemes and events.
Creative businesses are a different beast to tech startups – and can seem like a daunting prospect for investors. Successful creative businesses aren’t built on doing the same thing on repeat: they are built on taking risks – on telling stories that haven’t been told or making things that haven’t been made. But this can put off investors who understandably prefer a more predictable model – such as a tech business geared towards delivering a single product at scale.
Through content and events, Dailey is hoping to inspire creative entrepreneurs and show that creativity can be a serious business – challenging the perception of the creative industries as something that’s “a little bit frivolous”.
Carolyn Dailey at one of Creative Entrepreneurs’ evening courses. Courses offer a basic introduction to areas such as marketing and finance
“Creative work is often seen as a hobby and people don’t [realise] that these are really successful businesses,” explains Dailey. “[As a result] a lot of people who are deciding on their career don’t see it as a viable career path and a lot of parents don’t want their kids going into the creative sector because they’re worried about their financial stability.”
Dailey says she would like to see the government backing a campaign to promote creative entrepreneurship. She also believes that schools should play a part in promoting creative careers.
“Right now there’s a big emphasis on STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] and that’s fantastic, but if that’s to the exclusion of creativity and creative subjects, then that’s really a disaster because we’re going to start losing this massive world advantage that we have. It also undermines everything else – it sends this message that creativity isn’t to be valued – so I would say emphasising creativity in the curriculum – not as a fun and fluffy thing but as a core skill and something that can lead to great economic success – is really important.”
It’s not about ‘go big or go home’ – we just want everyone to feel that they’re reaching their potential on the business side
Not everyone will want to be the next Ajaz Ahmed – in fact for many creatives, the dream is owning a small but successful studio made up of no more than a handful of close collaborators. But Dailey is keen to point out that Creative Entrepreneurs is for any creative who wants to launch a business – regardless of the scale of their ambition and whether or not they’re seeking external investment.
“It’s not about ‘go big or go home’ – we just want everyone to feel that they’re reaching their potential on the business side.”