Our panel of creative business experts returned for London Design Festival, featuring design entrepreneur Nicolas Roope.

We were thrilled to see so many of our creative community at Creative Entrepreneurs' special design edition of “The Surgery” – our mentoring and networking event - on 17th September at London Design Festival. For the first time, we welcomed an entrepreneur to our panel of creative business experts in the form of design icon Nicolas Roope. Our experts shared their invaluable insight into everything that a start-up founder needs to know to get their business off the ground, with Nik sharing the founder’s view.

We’ve rounded up the highlights below, and you can watch the highlight reel here.

Quick Tip: if you’re a budding creative entrepreneur and you need some help getting your business off the ground, don’t forget we have an entire feature on our website dedicated to everything you need to know to turn your creative ideas into a creative business, so be sure to check it out!

Meet the panel:

The Design Entrepreneur: Nicolas Roope

An icon in design for over 20 years, Nicolas Roope has been the founder of numerous creative companies that have proved hugely influential across tech and design including: Poke digital agency; the Plumen light bulb (displayed at the V&A and MoMa); and The Lovie Awards, which celebrate the “best of the European internet”.

The Voice of Finance: Shaun Beaney

Shaun is a part of the Corporate Finance Faculty at ICAEW, where his work focuses on promoting access to finance, growing businesses and venture capital.

The Accounting Expert: Lloyd Gunton

Lloyd is a manager at Saffery Champness where he is a part of the Film and TV team. His work specialises in assisting clients in accessing HMRC's creative sector tax reliefs and providing audit services across the creative sector.

The Startup Marketing Whiz: Stephanie Melodia

Stephanie runs startup marketing agency, Bloom, delivering London’s freshest marketing to the city’s best startups in beauty, fashion and technology.

The panel discussion, hosted by Creative Entrepreneurs Founder Carolyn Dailey, focused on the main challenges faced by creative entrepreneurs, and how they can face or overcome these challenges.

Nik’s creative founder perspective:

By Nik’s own admission, as a creative person he is not skilled in the areas of finance and accounting, and when starting out he had no real aptitude when it came to actually running a business.

His main challenge when founding his businesses was finding a way to bring in experts in these fields, who would still give him autonomy, and who wouldn’t inhibit his creativity, but enable him to continue to exercise it. The key things to remember are:

  • Find partnerships that will allow you to run the creative side of your business how you think it should be run. It is your idea, you need it to grow according to your vision.
  • When you don’t understand something, don’t be afraid to ask questions, but be prepared to accept the answers.
  • Appreciate everyone who you bring on board, and incentivise them by showing that you value what they bring to the table.


Shaun’s financial perspective:

The biggest challenge faced by most creative entrepreneurs is raising funds to get their business off the ground (read our article on funding here). This is both easier and harder than you might think. There is a lot of financial jargon thrown around when you’re looking to approach investors or raise your own funds. This can be very daunting and not seem to make a lot of sense, however the actual principals pertaining to raising funds are simpler than they seem.

The hard part is the amount of work involved in raising those funds. Whether your business is a small start-up raising its first finances, or a well-established company raising funds to expand, the volume of work remains the same, and putting the time in to raise those funds will need to become a part of your daily life.

The key is to not underestimate how much work is involved, but to demystify the stereotype that it is a hugely challenging, inaccessible process. The best thing that the founder of a business can do is to plan for when you are going to need an investor, and devise an approach for how you are going to get them on board.


Lloyd’s accounting perspective:

New creative business founders are often intimidated by the idea of filing accounts. They worry about what information they need to keep track of, how best to organise it, and how, when the time comes to file a tax return, to even begin to approach it. The good news is, in today’s digital world, many apps and programmes have been designed to make these processes easier for you. There are apps that enable you to scan receipts and barcodes so that they’re safely stored in one place, apps to raise invoices and keep track of payments made, and apps where you can store all of your expenses.


Many start-ups fail, not because their idea wasn’t strong or they didn’t work hard enough, but because they ran out of cash, because they were not organised – maybe they didn’t realise they had an imminent tax bill, or that rent was due on a studio they had hired out. It is so important that new business owners implement a cash flow chart so that you can budget.

When you meet with an accountant and they ask you lots of complex questions about your accounts, it may seem like they’re challenging you and being difficult, but there is always a good reason behind it. Ultimately they want long term clients – clients who will succeed - so they want to work with you if you have the potential to still be doing business ten or more years down the track. They won’t see that potential if you have no evidence in place of a sustainable budget.

There is a lot of compliance surrounding accounting, but if that’s not your thing, it’s not the end of the world. Get on top of it by finding someone who can help you. Different firms specialise in different aspects of accounting, and it is important that you find the right one that is relevant to what you want and what you need. No one is an expert in everything - everyone has blind spots – so learn from the right people.

The GOOD news is that this is a great time to get started, as lots of accounting systems are in place that make everything easier, at a lower cost to you. Accounting is more accessible than it has ever been.

The key thing to remember is to ask if you don’t understand something, because accountants can always simplify things for you.


Steph’s marketing perspective:

As a start-up founder herself, Steph is all-too familiar with the many challenges faced by new business owners.

There are two key resources that most founders have to work with: time and money. Entrepreneurs will rarely have both, so identify which one is best at your disposal and optimise it.

In today’s saturated market, it’s key to differentiate yourself so that you will stand out in the marketplace. It can be helpful to set creative boundaries in the initial stages of founding your business, because boundaries force you to then be more creative and to see how far you can push them. You can’t think outside the box if you don’t have a box!

The explosion of businesses such as WeWork has set unrealistic goals for startups, and indeed inaccurate goals that are not tailored to each individual business. Don’t try to achieve everything all at once. Work out what the best path for your business is, and set feasible goals along this.

Unless you have huge budgets and funding to spread your goals wide, it is better to go deep, hone in on what you have, and do it well. Establish what the real meaning of what you want your business to do is, and commit to communicating this to the wider world. Harness your resources. Find those that are most relevant to you and your business and use them.


And a little something extra from the Q&A…

Creative startups are not always scaleable in the same way that, say, FinTech is. This being the case, how can you convince an accountant to work with you?

Not all accounting firms are focused on finding the giants. Do your research, and find those niches where your business fits, and where there are people and initiatives who might be interested in backing you. Don’t approach the biggest firm you can find; find one that caters to your business needs.

Is it a good idea to open your business account with Monzo/Tide?

It may seem as though larger, well established banks have long-winded processes to get your accounts up and running, but they’re running the same checks that FCA regulations require all banks to make. The processes can just be faster for the new, smaller banks.

There is a risk to using new banks such as these though. You should ask yourself:

  • How much trust do you have in them staying afloat in the long term?
  • If you want your business to still be operating in fifty years’ time, is it likely your bank will be too?
  • If you need to withdraw a large amount of funds at short notice, will a smaller bank be able to satisfy this demand right away?
  • You are more likely to have transactional issues with smaller banks, which can be a problem if you have a long list of suppliers who you need to pay. Are you willing to take that risk?

Make sure you consider which factors are a priority for you. A bigger bank will most likely still be around in 100 years, whereas a smaller one may not.

Remember that everyone has difficulty opening accounts and dealing with banks, even the biggest business players, so don’t be disheartened, and don’t think it is only happening because you’re just starting out.

What is one thing you wish you’d known before starting?

  • Naivety can actually be a positive thing, because if you know everything from the get go, it might put you off starting your business. Instead, get it up and running, and go out and learn what you need to do to build it from strength to strength. It is better done than perfect!
  • From a financial perspective, forward planning is key and not something to take lightly. Find the people who will be able to help you and let them. Don’t get carried away when things are going well and then find yourself in trouble when they take a turn. Always be organised and prepared, because nothing is ever certain.
  • Change your mindset. Finance, accounting, business planning – they’re a means to an end. They are there to help you build your business into the biggest success that it can be. They’re not a necessary evil. They’re of great value to you.