What does it take to grow a creative practice?

To be a creative entrepreneur implies an intention to grow. That doesn’t necessarily mean adding employees and building a firm, though that is the typical path. It could mean that you’re getting ready to take the leap of going from part-time to full-time, or to bolster your full-time practice into something more sustainable and profitable. In any case, the creative entrepreneur, as opposed to the practitioner, is willing to engage in some degree of risk in order to fulfill an ambition to grow.

Tragic Stories of Creative Entrepreneurship

Unfortunately, the stories behind most creative practices that began to grow are not stories of deliberate, well-planned, and well-executed startup strategies. Rather these stories involve an unplanned open door, which enabled a creative to take the next step. That might be landing a new big client that took you to the next level, or finding yourself at a peak in business activity—offering you more work than you could do on your own.

Those kinds of stories are exciting and adventurous, but they also can have dramatic endings. When that one big client moves on, or the economy experiences a downturn, or you just hit a dry spell—you won’t have enough fuel to sustain the firm you’ve built. These situations, while unpredictable in terms of timing, are absolutely predictable in that they will happen eventually.

Too Late to Scramble Into Marketing

It’s usually after one of these events that the creative entrepreneur starts to give thought to their marketing—or lack thereof. Sadly, the kind of marketing that is most effective for a professional service business can’t be turned on and off by buying more AdWords. Marketing for a creative services business has to be a steady and ongoing effort. So if you wait until you’ve already grown by accident, and then face an inevitable change, without establishing your marketing, you’re going to be in for a tough ride.

Write a Different Story

But the story doesn’t have to go that way. If you’re a creative entrepreneur, and you intend to grow your practice, then you can rewrite this script by making your marketing strategy the bedrock of your growth. Establish your marketing at the front end, watch as it gains traction, and then grow in response to that—rather than on the instability of random sales opportunities—or the undependable basis of referrals.

If you have ambitions to grow your creative practice—if you are feeling the entrepreneurial bug—ask yourself first how many of the clients you’ve won over the past year can be directly connected to marketing efforts you’ve made to find them. If you can make that connection then you’re probably ready to step things up, while also stepping up your marketing efforts in preparation for the next stage of growth. But if you can’t make those connections—if your marketing is not clearly delivering clients and opportunities—what makes you think you’ll have sufficient pipeline after you take the risk to hire that new employee, or quit your full-time job, or provide enough income for the next phase of your life?

Your marketing plan needs to lead the way to your growth plans. You never want your marketing to have to play catch up with you—because you got out ahead of your skis.

Marketing and The Role You’ll Play

While we’re on the topic of planning for the growth of your creative firm, it’s never too soon to consider the role you will want to play when your firm starts to grow. The “entrepreneur” part of creative entrepreneurship will put some downward pressure on your ability to stay focused on the “creative” part. Things like giving attention to your marketing (among other business issues) will have to occupy your attention as a creative entrepreneur. You need to count that cost before you find yourself spending much more time managing your creative business than engaging in creative work.

Considering your long term role will have a lot of bearing on your marketing plans. How you position yourself as a creative practice will direct the kinds of hires you might make—if you don’t want to always be swapping hats between the role of creative and creative business owner.

There are many considerations to growing a creative practice and following the path of a creative entrepreneur. You’ll be well served to give thought to your goals and your marketing plans before you set off on this exciting trail.

Are you ready to take the struggle out of finding new clients?