strategy

Brand devotion to Nike in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Easy Marketing Strategy

At last the winter gloom is retreating, along with the withdrawal of shop window ‘sales’ signs and the recycling of Easter egg boxes. In spring, brands large and small can harness their promotional calendar, seizing the season’s many events and bank holidays as opportunities to promote their offer and grow sales. This all must stem, of course, from a carefully honed marketing strategy…

What is a marketing strategy?

In this post, we will explore how your fashion or creative start-up can develop an easy marketing strategy. In laymen’s terms, this is how you – consistently, across all platforms – promote your products or offers to your consumer to entice them to buy. This ensures all your marketing and promotional activities are in sync, cohesive and with a consistent brand identity and tone of voice reflecting your brand so your customers come to recognise and trust it. Not, as we are all – unfortunately – familiar with, a rushed and regrettable scatter-gun approach which didn’t achieve what we wanted…

This blog post will take you step-by-step through three stages – identifying your business’s marketing mix, understanding the objectives of a marketing strategy and, going forward, considering your business’s direction.

Why do I need a marketing strategy?

Having a road map and plan for what marketing activities you will do and how and where you will promote these lessens the risk of wasting money and time, and missing – or worse, confusing  and alienating – your customer. Thinking your marketing through gives you the opportunity to keep a tight focus on your message, your visual identity, the tone and message of communications, and the objective – the goal – for either brand awareness or short term sales. All this ultimately leads to an ongoing and financially rewarding relationship with your customers = sales!

The Marketing Mix – the 7Ps

Right at the heart of any marketing strategy sits the Marketing Mix, or 7Ps: product, price, place, promotion, people, physical evidence and process. The 7Ps is a very simple and easy to use theory; in essence, it’s a framework for getting all your business’s ducks (or Easter chicks) in a row. I cut my marketing teeth on this some fifteen years ago from David Jobber[i] and still use it with my fashion and creative clients whether pre-start or more established SMEs. It’s that easy!

According to the Chartered Institute of Marketing, this is: “Successful marketing depends upon addressing a number of key issues: what a company is going to produce, how much it is going to charge, how it is going to deliver its products or services, and how it will tell its customers about this.”

So, any marketing mix must ensure offering the right product (or service) at the right price point, in the right place(s) for the customer, with the right promotion, with trained people (staff/after sales), considering all physical attributes (store, packaging, logo), with ease of consumer process.

This all serves to build that better relationship with your customers. So, in practice, this means getting to grips with:

Product – What is my product? Does the customer want it???

Price – How much will the customer pay? And how much do competitors charge?

Place – Where does the customer shop? Online or local?

Promotion – How will it be promoted and where? Is this relevant to my customer and will they see it?

People – Whether its trade fairs, pop-ups, galleries or department store concessions, who will be selling?

Physical evidence  – Spanning appearance, packaging and brand identity – this is the first thing your customer sees.

Process – Quick, convenient, easy, secure, and with good after sales/returns options. Remove the barriers and give them a good experience and reason to return!

Planning an easy marketing strategy

Now armed with a clear understanding of your own mix or offer, you can develop a simple strategy or guidelines from it. I would recommend my ‘what, who, how, where, when, why’ approach – your marketing objectives:

What – what is it that I am selling or communicating? The offer or product in your 7Ps.

Who – who is my customer? What do I know about them – age, gender, spending power, spending frequency etc?

How – how will I reach them? Through events, pop-up shops, or regular host website or stockist (the ‘channel’) – direct or indirect distribution strategy?

Where – where is my customer, are they local, online or reached via a catalogue, are they actual end consumers or stockists and retailers?

When – when will this start and how long will it last?

Why – why am I doing this? What am I trying to achieve? The marketing objectives – sales, new customers, brand loyalty building etc.

How (again!) – how will I measure the success of this? Customer feedback, sales and turnover, Google analytics, or feedback from the retailer, etc.

For your overall marketing, the above provides an overview and a guide to refer to. However, you should break this down further so that with each promotion that you undertake, you set out these objectives too – whether this is a social media competition campaign, or invitations to an event or pop-up. We will explore this in my next posts Easy Ways to Promote Your Business: Part 1 and Part 2.

What is vital in both instances is that you thoroughly know your offer (yes, this sounds obvious, but often this can be easily diluted when desperate for sales), you know your customer, and you are keeping tabs on your competitors’ activities. In my earlier blog posts on market research, customer research and competitor research, I have explored these issues, but this knowledge is again necessary to make sure your marketing really hits home. If you want to undertake more rigorous and full research, then take a look at The Design Trust’s [ii] recent post The Design Doctor: How can I do market research which is a helpful guide.

But what if you are a little further down the line with your business, or are just more confident in your marketing? Perhaps it is time to refocus and rethink, to reach out to new customers and expand into new markets, or develop your product range? Where should you begin? This is where Ansoff’s Matrix comes in.

Ansoff’s Matrix

Over sixty years old as a theory and practical guide for marketing, Ansoff’s Matrix[iii] from 1957 shows that no matter how you might develop your business, ultimately there are only four simple directions that you can go in. I always use this with my clients as it is great for clarifying direction and focusing, plus highlighting areas of risk – crucial for start-ups and SMEs.

Ansoff’s Matrix

ansoffs_matrix-1

 Source: business-survival-toolkit.co.uk

This means you develop your business in one of four ways:

Existing products in existing markets

Here, you don’t spend money on developing any new products or investigating new markets (regions or customers) but instead focus on promotion, perhaps in new ways to pique existing customers’ interest. This is the lowest ‘risk’ as you are sticking with what you know but you still need time and money spent on promotion.

New products in existing markets

You might introduce a new prints or homewares line to your current customers and overall market. You will have spent time and effort on product development and have built up inventory – you need to be sure to sell these products, will your existing customers want them? This carries some risk financially, and also risks potentially alienating customers.

Existing products in new markets

You might export your existing menswear accessories range anew to Japan or India, or to new age groups or genders in the UK. Here, you don’t develop new products but the market is as yet unknown (cultural differences, export taxes, exchange rates etc), so is still risky and costly.

New products in new markets

Here you would combine new products and expansion into new geographic or customer markets. This is the most risky and unknown combination. Be sure to fully research, take advice and build financial contingencies in here.

So, back to strategy and promoting your products or offers. To sum up, you will now have understood the different components of your own marketing mix and ensured that they are in sync – this creates a cohesive package that is more identifiable and less confusing for your customer.  You will fully understand who your customer is and where and how to reach them from your research, and also know your competitors and their activities inside out, again from your earlier research. You may even know your new direction – developing new products, or venturing into new markets.

Now your next steps are to start planning some promotions! And this I will cover next time in Creative Planning Next Steps 6: Easy Ways to Promote Your Business, Part 1 and Part 2 where we will look at the different types of promotion that are right for your business, where to get ideas, and how to plan them into a promotional calendar.

Until then, enjoy spring!

If you have any questions after reading this, or would like me to work with you on your creative business, then feel free to email me on hallandco@outlook.com, or drop a comment on the blog.

 

[i]Jobber, D. (2012) Principles and Practices of Marketing, 6th Edition, McGraw-Hill

[ii]www.thedesigntrust.co.uk

[iii] www.business-survival-toolkit.co.uk

 

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Selling hill-tribe childrenswear in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Easy Distribution Strategy

With social media giants Facebook and  Pinterest moving to retail products through gift feeds and online shops, this opens other sales channels for social designers and makers. This must, surely, be good news for small fashion and creative businesses? After all, as much as you love making and designing, you want (and need) people and stockists to buy them. Where and how you will sell is basically your distribution strategy, and that’s what we will look at in this blog post…

Sales, sales, sales

Often, small creative and fashion businesses are understandably desperate to recoup costs, or (wrongly) feel surprised and grateful that somewhere would want to stock or present their offer! Retailer or stockist opportunities are grabbed and rejoiced – perhaps they are local to you, perhaps online, or perhaps overseas. Negotiations begin, price points and margins are squeezed, and deals are (sometimes reluctantly) struck. And then on to find the next stockist… However, many times a scatter-gun approach can start to appear. Your range might be sold cheaper in a tourist stockist, part in a small, unfrequented gallery, some (marked down) at sales events. I think it is fantastic to get sales – and any sales! – it is a sign that your product is working. But this can negatively impact on your ‘brand’.

You do need sales to survive as a business, but your brand positioning – how your consumers perceive you in relation to other brands – needs to remain intact. Too many sales and discounts online or in-store and it dilutes a higher-priced, high-end brand, as does selling in the wrong place. You need an approach to follow and stick to so that you ensure consistency in your brand positioning and customers’ eyes.

Some distribution questions

In my last post, The Right Strategy For Your Business, we explored your strategic approach and I explained that most small, creative and fashion brands I work with are differentiated – they offer something additional of value that customers will pay extra for. Sometimes, the product offer is niche – exploiting a new and narrow gap in the market, bringing an innovation to customers. David Jobber, in Principles and Practices of Marketing]i[, proposes that there are two types of distribution strategy – direct and indirect, and three main types of distribution approach – intensive, selective and exclusive distribution. But before we explore this, Jobber poses the following questions which I suggest you answer:

  1. Who is the consumer? Where are they? How much will they pay? Do they want delivery or to browse and buy?
  2. How will costs/time/brand position be affected? Does brand want volume sales or exclusive positioning?
  3. Will channels be mixed? How can these be integrated and managed…?

What is distribution?

Now you can answer the above questions, let’s review distribution. Direct distribution is where you sell directly, through one or more channels, to reach your consumer. So, you sell from your own website, own store, or market stall or a mixture of these, There are no middlemen and associated costs, and you are fully in charge of how your products – and brand – are portrayed and retailed to the customer, including your price points and how and when you mark down. This is, perhaps, more work, more monitoring and pushing of sales, dealing with returns etc. But here you also have the benefit of knowing and having a direct relationship with your customer – you can gather data for newsletters and social media to encourage repeat custom. Your control is greater.

Alternately, you can sell indirectly, through retailers, or through a wholesaler who then sells to retailers. Either way, if this is a wholesale arrangement, you get paid for the entire order – this clears your inventory and secures you payment earlier rather than waiting for the individual sales to come in. However, the more links in the chain between you and your customer, the less control you have over how your brand is priced, perceived and even displayed. Also, you don’t know or work with the end customer to exploit opportunities.

In the end, you may have a mixture of direct, and indirect – many of the small fashion and creative businesses and start ups I work with do this. Invariably, they build up varying distribution channels and after two or three years need to review how and where they sell as there are some channels less cost effective and time consuming. But that is really common, almost a rite of passage for a new business. And it’s actually positive, it shows business has been good…

Intensive, selective and exclusive distribution

Upon deciding whether you will go direct or indirect, let’s consider the approach. First of all, intensive distribution is where your pieces are, literally, everywhere – you produce a higher volume of cheaper priced products that is retailed in a wide number and variety of stockists and this risks over-exposure. This is also known as saturation coverage. For this, you need a high production capacity to churn through these and meet orders. This means you are more mass-market in your offer, and often your product is more standardised and quick to produce. One example of this might be stationary or interiors products or small gift items where you outsource the production, perhaps overseas, and secure deals with several high street retailers, plus online (your own website and others’), and you may also sell to trade e.g. interior designers and through events.

In a selective approach, you are more choosy with where you sell (yes, you can be choosy!).  The considerations here are how many different outlets, what type of outlet, and how much of your range you sell. This way, you are not over-exposed, running the risk of customers losing interest in you, and you retain a more exclusive brand positioning AND price point. You are producing less, and charging more so this needs to be suited to, and reflected in, your product design and brand. Here, you might be a jeweller or menswear designer and you stock your range in a selection of mid-high end galleries, concessions in upmarket department stores, or independent boutiques. In addition, you will retail on your own website (without visible mark-downs – instead think ‘VIP sales events’) and carefully selected platforms alongside similar level of brands where you will be visible.

Lastly, you might secure an exclusive deal with one stockist. This one stockist is your only stockist and they love your work and want to sell it – perfect! Here, despite the fact that they should be trying to win your sole custom, as a new brand you can often be squeezed on your margin so you need negotiation skills par excellence! This common occurrence is well described in Porter’s ‘power of the buyer’.  So, if it isn’t working out – the sales aren’t good from a smallish order, the margin is too low, the relationship is bad, etc – then you are tied to them alone for the duration which is risky. For guidance and information on navigating this, I recommend Toby Meadow’s How to Set Up and Run a Fashion Label[ii] –not just for fashion brands, but all higher end designer-makers.

Some considerations

Within these considerations are further issues. As I mentioned previously, you need to be realistic about your production capacity and also your desired cashflow and sales – The Design Trust have done a great blog on how to forecast this for the first time, so do read their pointers. You need to think about where you want to be seen, and who else is stocked alongside you; if you are selling on different online host platforms you need to ensure visibility from searches and also consider the commissions you will be charged.

Another consideration is the type of sales arrangement – perhaps wholesale, where your products are bought and paid for upfront – what, you might think, could be better than this! However, the risk here is that you have less control over what end price the products are retailing at and when products are marked down – both of these can affect brand positioning.

Or perhaps it will be a sale-or-return arrangement where you end up with stock that isn’t selling and is returned to you after a period of time when, by this point, you might also struggle to sell it. Both of these have pluses and minuses… So, in summary, the key word here is strategy – think strategically about how and where you want to sell. Think beyond the need for short term sales and covering costs. Expect to learn the hard way, to have disappointments and unexpected triumphs, for relationships to become less desirable. And remember, you have great products that will be in demand so you can be choosy!

Happy selling!

Next time, in Creative Planning – Next Steps 5: Easy Marketing Strategy we will be exploring your marketing and I will suggest some simple tips for you to follow. If you have any questions after reading this, or would like me to work with you on your creative business, then feel free to email me on hallandco@outlook.com, or drop a comment on the blog


[i] Jobber, D. (2012) Principles and Practices of Marketing, 6th Edition, McGraw-Hill
[ii] Meadows, T. (2009) How To Set Up And Run A Fashion Label, 2nd Edition, Laurence King

Flower market stall in Bangkok, Thailand

Reviewing Your Business

I am sure your business and sales will fluctuate with the seasons (and the British weather). Most of the creative clients I work rush through autumn, in a manic flurry of making and promoting for the pre-Christmas gift market, to then find spring slow; buyers and clients are less willing to spend money. It can be hard to be positive when sales are thin on the ground. However, this down-time is ideal for planning!

But the outlook isn’t bleak! No! This year you are focusing and streamlining and moving the business forward. Like many of my clients you are probably using this period as reviewing or thinking time. And my Creative Planning – Next Steps blog series can help guide you.

So, last time, in Taking Stock of Sales and Costs we looked at your Revenue Streams and Cost Structures and now, tax return behind you, you are on top of the financial side of your business! Let’s continue to review the other areas of your business. This post will now help you audit all of your business and develop action points. But do refer back to my last post if you need to.

If you have armed yourself once again with the Business Model Canvas[1], Post-it notes, pens and a cup of tea, I will take you through what to review and some action points for you below, step by step.

How to fix your business problems

Customer Segments

You may have different groups of customers/buyers with different needs and relationships (more on the latter later). Some will be more or less profitable and price sensitive. Different segments may have differing distribution channels – where and how you sell. You may have distinct product or service offers for distinct groups e.g. private commissions vs. trade or retail.

Action point: Consider how you can cut back time, investment, and involvement on the less profitable and reach more profitable customers – you may need to put some customers or types of work on hold for now if they are not earning their keep. Plus, is there any way you can reduce your time and money on the profitable customers throughout all your activities without it being apparent?

Value Proposition

This is where you offer something different that the customer wants, your unique mix of elements catering to meeting their needs. This can be price based, or speed/ease of service, or design – perhaps the originality (or breadth) of your creative process or finished piece(s), or the customer experience of your offer.

Action point: Is there a part of your offer that deep down you know isn’t quite good or original enough, or needs a refresh or update? Is there a new feature or innovation that you want to build in? Do you know if your customers would want this? Try honing your offer, but ensure through some research that it is actually desired and also doesn’t dilute the brand or confuse the customer!

Channels (of Distribution, Marketing, and Sales)

As mentioned before, this is how and where you sell your offer to your customers, clients and buyers. You may sell directly to the end customer through your own website, stall or shop, or you may do this indirectly through other retailers, online or offline, or wholesalers. You may also have individual clients.

Action point: Do you have too many channels, stockists, marketing bumpff or not enough? Is it all manageable or taking up too much of your time for not enough profit? Do you need to simplify, or to improve your efficiency with each one? Perhaps wind down your involvement with less profitable and lower commission channels if your sales and income aren’t great.

Customer Relationships

This is where and how you acquire new customers and retain existing ones, encouraging them to buy again (and again) from you. Some customers you will invest more time in because they are, or you hope they will become, more profitable such as a new bespoke or trade client or a new department store buyer. Depending on how you sell to each group of customers, you may need to offer different service levels to each.

Action point: Consider each group of (or individual, if bespoke) customer. How can you better manage your time with them? Should you pull back from less profitable ones, and seek out new customers instead, and do you have time for this? Can you nurture the slower or lapsed customers to buy from you again – are they worth keeping.  How can your best customers be encouraged to buy more? Pareto deemed that 80% of your sales will come from 20% of your customers, so cull and spend time wisely!

Key Resources

These are the ‘assets’ that you need and use to create, distribute and reach your customers. These might be physical resources such as machinery, packaging, kit and stock, or intellectual such as your brand identity, copyright and licensing agreements, plus technological such as your website, e-commerce and social media platforms. There are also human resources – you, your co-director, your staff or ad-hoc freelancers. Lastly, there are your financial resources such as investment, grant funding, cash, capital, reserves and buffers, and credit. Without all of the above you would not be able to produce your work.

Action point: Is your money tied up unnecessarily in any of these? Can you sell or hire out your machinery or space? Can you re-work your existing stock and packaging rather than expend on new? Is your website hosting and transaction process cost effective for you? Can you afford to take on freelance staff to help you increase your productivity? Where can you secure additional funding from? Streamline those that are eating up your cash or capital and put on hold what you can to build up reserves.

Key Activities

The actions and functions that your business takes to operate successfully to create, distribute to, and reach customers. So, for example, design, production, distribution, marketing, PR, IT, plus outside teaching or consultancy, and networking etc.

Action point: Similar to key resources, what functions and activities can you trim or pull back on, what do you need to invest more in to improve your productivity or ability to reach customers? If you currently outsource some functions, or is it cheaper to have an ad-hoc freelancer or do it yourself? Do you actually have the skills to do in-house functions, or would it be more efficient and achieve better quality to start to outsource these?

Key Partnerships

These are alliances that are vital to running your business: your relationships with your suppliers and buyers, your reliance on your investor or partner. Perhaps also support networks and grant-giving bodies.

Action point: Are you engaged in networks and clusters with other similar businesses, and can you share knowledge and expertise? Do you attend networking events, to raise your profile and forge new relationships? Do you spend time nurturing your existing relationships to iron out glitches? Do you need to dedicate time to finding grant funding or gaining free/subsidised skills or business support? Likewise, what can you reduce or say goodbye to? Is it better to work at solving existing issues rather than moving on?

And here is where I congratulate you on having completed your review! Now, warm in the glow of accomplishment, you have your head firmly around your business, and have taken control of what isn’t working, and can plan to build on your strengths and successes and what areas to streamline. Now, you need strategies to focus this down and take it forward.

Over my following blog posts, I will show you where to start with creating strategy, then how to map this out through distribution strategy, marketing strategy, and social media strategy.

Next time: Creative Planning – Next Steps 3: The Right Strategy for Your Business

If you have any questions after reading this, or would like me to work with you on your creative business, then feel free to email me on hallandco@outlook.com, or drop a comment on the blog.


[1] Osterwalder and Pigneur’s Business Model Canvas, from their book Business Model Generation, 2010, Wiley and Sons.

Taking Stock of Sales and Costs

It is most definitely January. Decorations lie forlorn in boxes, sparse pine trees litter pavements, and your tax return still awaits you… What better time to take stock, re-focus and plan for the year ahead? Business detox, anyone?

This will be the aim of my new blog series, Creative Planning – Next Steps. My new posts will be ideal for those of you who have reached the ‘where am I actually going with this?’ and ‘do I really want to/can I afford to keep doing this?’ point in the run up to and during the holidays. Or, perhaps, you are at the year two or year three stage of your business and it is time to review your sales, strengths and successes and to plan ahead. It’s time for next steps.

So where do you start? How do you know how to begin and structure a review? What should you be looking for? Then what do you do with all the info???

Creative Planning – Next Steps will guide you through: reviewing (auditing) your business from a simple format, the Business Model Canvas[1]; getting your head around strategy and focusing the direction of your business; plus mapping out easy (yes, it is possible) distribution, marketing and social media strategies for you to take forward.

When you run a creative business and make, design or produce, this is probably where your heart is and the ‘business stuff’ takes away from your creative time. This is a hard reality to learn, and maybe leaves you slightly disillusioned. Perhaps so far you have been working in a ‘freelance’ mentality, rushing (lurching?) from project to project with not enough income or time to create? Or, perhaps, after all your very, very hard work, you’re still not seeing the financial benefits?

I suggest you need to review and streamline, then focus the business strategically to make it as profitable as you can. Ultimately, you can then hire occasional/part-time/regular staff so you can focus, once again, on creating.

Beginning your business review

In this and my next post, I will help you review and start to refine your business, step by step. I will look at key areas (building blocks) and then suggest action points to help you move forward.

Essentially, a review is where you look at your businesses’ strengths and weaknesses to see what you can make the most of and what you need to prune or cull to be profitable. Usually, this is in terms of sales i.e. which ranges or pieces are doing well, which can be quickly produced to high profit, and which are just not working well at all. Also, you can consider it in terms of customers and clients – if you offer, say, bespoke or commissions rather than products. Should you be advanced enough in your business, you might also look at it in terms of geographic markets e.g. China is slowing, but Japan and Indonesia are picking up.

Begin with the basics – your business sales and costs

First, this means digging out all your sales data. You may have already rooted through your sales receipts and invoices for your tax return. Totting up what sales come from where and how many sales for piece (or range) X, Y, and Z. Are you selling more online from your own website or more from host platforms such as notonthehighstreet.com? Are you running out of commissioned work? Which sales channels take up more of your time for less financial return, and so on…?

Are there surprises in all this paperwork – are some products and ranges not the ones that are your bestsellers after all? Perhaps there are pieces which garner media coverage but little sales; they instead drive web traffic, enquiries and social media followers? These showpieces are valuable samples to you for this purpose, but won’t sell as pieces or ranges – couture catwalk shows don’t reflect what their customers actually buy, they are there to flirt with the media and raise awareness!

At this stage it is probably helpful for you to record your sales information if you are not already doing so. The much maligned Excel spreadsheet can be set up easily, then quickly updated at the end of every month or quarter as you now – being newly organised – continue to monitor your cash-flow. Now you have it all in one place and can view it easily.

Next, as part of this process, and certainly for your tax return, you will have begun to see some idea of your costs. Possibly this is the moment of disillusion – you seem to have generated income well, but actually your costs are high: too many ranges, too many materials, too many different distribution and delivery channels, too much time spent on individual pieces that could be sold at a higher price, not enough high-paying commissioned work etc. This is not good news for profit. So undertaking a review becomes an even more important exercise – you are finding issues that need to be addressed to solve this.

When I work with my clients, and in my MA teaching, I often refer to Ostenwalder and Pigneur’s Business Model Canvas as a structure to follow and a starting point for a review. This is an excellent model for a holistic, inter-connected, all-in-one-place view of your business. And you can just pin it on the wall and scribble or stick Post-it notes on it – easy! This is from Business Model Generation, which I recommend as a bible for early-stage businesses.

This model proposes that there are nine core building blocks or areas of your business. These areas need to complement each other and all work in sync for your business to succeed and overcome its challenges. In this post, I will now take you through the Revenue Streams and Cost Structure areas, and then suggest easy action points for you to follow:

Revenue Streams

Where your income comes from, divided into different streams. So this can be from one-time customer payments, or recurring revenues from ongoing payments, or repeat custom. Here, also consider investment, if you are lucky enough to have some from either a partner, investor or even from crowd-funding or grants.

Action point: How can you secure ongoing or new funding? What relationships can you revisit? Can you dedicate time to crowd-funding or grant applications? How can you ‘up-sell’ more products to customers or ‘cross-sell’ additional products to customers? Perhaps you have existing materials that can be sold off or turned into stock, or perhaps have existing stock that can be ‘tweaked’ into new, higher priced products?

Cost Structure

These are the costs incurred in creating your product or service and getting it to your customer to maintain good relationships with them. Overheads, materials and labour, packaging, distribution and delivery, website upkeep and hosting, commissions to other hosts stockists, promotional materials, networking events, shows and exhibitions, staffing (even interns’ expenses), taxis to and fro as you heave samples and stock for buyers and clients. Plus any returns’ costs -for products – that you incur, and telephone calls for sales enquiries or for following up on leads.

Action point: Perhaps you have excess stock (inventory) that is costing you, how can you sell this to bring in income? How can you minimise future stock and inventory so that you don’t have to pay for storage, or wait such long times for financial return? How can you streamline all your operations and resources, where can you make cuts, what can you put on hold? This can be hard-going and radical; do be sure not to cut too heavily or without planning contingencies or replacements.

So well done on starting your review and getting to grips on the financial side of your business!

Next time, in Creative Planning – Next Steps 2: Reviewing Your Business we will look at the remaining areas of the Business Model Canvas, to give you the full 360 on your business. From here, it’s easy to begin a review: you break down your business information so it isn’t overwhelming, and then visualise the problem and its solution, one step at a time…

If you have any questions after reading this, or would like me to work with you on your creative business, then feel free to email me on hallandco@outlook.com, or drop a comment on the blog.


[1] Osterwalder and Pigneur’s Business Model Canvas, from their book Business Model Generation, 2010, Wiley and Sons.

Liliana K stall in Whistable, England

Reality: Your business now, your more profitable customers, and your cashflow

“Have you got a Business Plan?” is not a question that brings joy to the heart of early-stage creative micro-businesses. Visions of Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, and alien, small-printed jargon arise; hours, days wasted, lost in unfiled paperwork only to create more unfiled (and unread) paperwork. Sound familiar?

Many of the fashion and creative start-ups I work with don’t have a business plan (it’s all in their heads), don’t do planning (ditto), and run their business like a freelancer. And why not? That way you can focus on the day-to-day must-dos, the making/constructing/designing, and the creative energy.

But planning your direction – whether it is building a strategy, a business plan, or identifying your goals for the next year or three – can be a creative process in itself. And like everything creative, planning is developmental and organic, it isn’t set in stone and can be adapted and improved, scrapped or redone. It starts with the first steps – and that’s what this and my series of Creative Planning Basics blog posts will explore.

These posts will help you focus everything that you already know or have dreamed about your work down into some kind of visual map. This will help stop the chaotic ‘washing-machine’ thinking and instead bring some colour-coded clarity.

Save your Business Plans and Strategy Documents for the bank and investors – you will get to this when you need to – and instead just begin now with how you want your creative business, and life, to be. So, with your old-school paper, Post-It notes, pens, pencils and camera at the ready, read on…

So, decide what time period – one year, two years etc – you want to focus on. Grab different coloured Post-It notes and find some wall space, or A1 paper, and pens and pencils.

This exercise will help you identify:

  1. Where your business is now.
  2. How to divide up your creative business into different customer bases for each strand.
  3. What work to spend more time on to generate more profitable leads and relationships.
  4. And start to recognise when the income is likely to come in and when your outgoings for the work are likely to go out = cashflow.

First, think about how many different aspects to your business you may have. For example, you might be an architect that does residential, commercial and the occasional profile-raising pop-up or collaborative work. You might be a jeweller that provides setting services for trade but are now branching into your own designer collections and bespoke commissions. Or a ceramicist beginning to get interior design wall commissions. Whichever way, you will have different strands of your business, different customer bases, and, importantly, different levels of income from each.

Using your Post-It notes, pens and pencils, colour-code each strand and divide it by income. So, if you are deep down someone who dreams of having their own pottery and shop, and meanwhile is beginning to do one-off wall commissions for interior designers at 15K a pop, but also hope to sell ceramics to high-street chains, plus take part in craft fairs with jewellery, picture frames, and general knick-knacks with your surplus materials, you would give a colour for each of these. Stick each coloured set on the wall, or paper, with a different sticky for each range or piece within it – and write down everything you produce within these strands that you do, or could, sell.

By now, you know how much each of these costs to produce, and you know, I hope, how much you might be likely to sell each piece of work at from your provisional market, customer, and competitor research (more on this in another post). So by totting this all up, it will visually indicate your more profitable income stream. How many of a, b and c are you likely to sell within the next six or twelve months? What if you only sell one 15K commission but get several of high-street orders for ceramic pieces? However, what if you already have one such commission lined up but are still just at the design/thinking stage on your retailer ceramics? Assess what is realistic to you for the chosen time period, factoring in how much work or progression you can realistically make in that time.

Earlier this year, I attended an event at the British Library Business and Intellectual Property centre – The Design Trust’s ‘More Than Making: Grow Your Creative Business’ – where entrepreneur Paul Sturrock[i] outlined a very simple business approach based on Osterwalder and Pigneur’s Business Model Canvas.[ii] Part of this discussion was identifying how much you need, or would like, to live on with a salary and all costs covered – 25K, 50K, 100K? Then you break that sum down into how many of each business strand you would need to sell to reach your goal.

So, let’s say you want to live off an income of 50K for salary and costs. If your wall commission is now looking (from Post-It note heaven) like your main income stream, you could find three commissions – one for each quarter – totalling 45K, plus another 5K of ceramic orders and craft fair takings to reach 50K. This additional 5K might be ten retail orders of £500.00. That would be almost one order a month, which is perhaps not realistic for this stage of your business. So re-adjust that to five orders of £500.00, then you can push the craft fair takings seasonally around Christmas gifts (yes, you will be busy!) to pull in the remaining £2.5K.

However, is this do-able for your workload at this stage? Could you bridge the income gap initially with a part-time job, or some freelance work using your other skills? Could you also sell some of your smaller pieces on online platforms such as Etsy.com, Notonthehighstreet.com etc? Do you have local shops, boutiques and galleries that might take some pieces on sale-or-return? Do you need to live off 50K? Could you manage on less for now? This is your creative business and life, so design it how you want it to be.

And finally… take a photo(s) of your hard work – don’t worry if you need to do this exercise in stages- and file or print for future reference (and to refer to for my next blog post).

So, what this exercise has helped you with is:

Where your business is now.

Maybe you have no contacts as yet with retail buyers, but do have several conversations regarding wall commissions, one of which is definite. You may really enjoy the buzz, banter and trading with your customers at craft fairs, but this can be a lot of work and time (even if it is in front of the telly of an evening) for a potentially lower return.

How to divide up your creative business into different customer bases for each strand.

You may have clients who are hotel groups commissioning you for wall pieces, or it may be an interior design small business with high-end clients, or a bigger design group. You might be aiming to target the highly competitive nationwide high-street chains for higher volume retail ceramic sales. This means you can identify additional interior designers for further commissions, or perhaps target smaller boutique interior stores with a good clientele who are willing to pay more for distinctive ceramics. A later post will look at how you find and promote to your different customers.

What you can spend more time on (yes, you can be efficient in time management!) to generate more profitable leads and relationships.

By now, you will know that it isn’t just the product or service itself that you spend time on, but also the research, the networking and the promotion (leg work) of it. So it makes sense to spend less time and earn more!

When the income is likely to come in and when your outgoings for the work are likely to go out = cashflow.

So if you break your year down into quarters, you are then already starting to build a loose cashflow projection. Try breaking income and outgoing down further into months throughout the year. This will hopefully help you manage your finances and lessen the sting of overdraft charges.

But perhaps you really do still dream of that pottery and shop, and your business is to help you work your way towards that – maybe you don’t want to be the new darling of the retail ceramics or interior design world. Then these planning steps will help you maximise your income from less time giving more time to you to continue to do the making, creating and designing you love.

Any questions, feel free to email me on hallandco@outlook.com, or drop a comment on the blog.

Next post: Creative Planning Basics 2: Starting to research your market, your customer and your competitors. Really, it’s just chatting, and having a nosey around with a camera.


[i] Paul Sturrock – about.me/paulsturrock

[ii] Osterwalder, A, and Pigneur, Y, (2010), Business Model Canvas, John Wiley & Sons. Also, www.businessmodelgeneration.com