Reinvent yourself: How to start your own (creative) business

(BPT) – Many graduates in creative fields like graphic design, interior design or Web design are opting to start their own businesses. This is because recent figures show only a slight reduction in the unemployment rate, and job growth is at its lowest in six months. So, how can you make your business a success?

Bruce McCain, director of career services for The Art Institute of Tampa, a branch of Miami International University of Art & Design, and Kathleen Holland, director of career services for The Art Institute of Charleston, a branch of The Art Institute of Atlanta, share five essentials they identified as success factors in starting a business.

1. Self-assess and research. It is imperative that you are honest with yourself and truly understand what you are good at and what you enjoy doing. Doing a SWOT analysis (a way to analyze Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) is a great way of assessing that.

2. Know your niche. A business plan is highly recommended to help identify both those industries with a need for your services and your competition. This exercise will also help identify whether there might be a smaller and important niche market where your business can focus and be profitable.

“If you’re a graphic designer, will you be a generalist, offering services to all types of industries, or do you have specialized experience handling retailers that you can build on?” asks McCain.

Knowing your niche will enable you to develop a consistent brand identity in every aspect of your business. The business plan also sets the goals and objectives that will guide many of your decisions.

3. To incorporate or not to incorporate. Many students in creative fields are familiar with taking on freelance work while still in school. But after graduation, it is important to formalize the business. It’s a good idea to invest in some legal and accounting advice to help you make the best decision about incorporation. There are significant advantages and disadvantages to each type of business structure.

4. Develop a stream of business. New business owners often envision being successful within a short period of time. Developing and building a business from the ground up takes time, energy and hard work, but it can be very rewarding. The industry research you did for your business plan will come in handy in determining what a realistic rate of growth means for your industry and area.

5. Network, network, network.

“I can’t stress enough the importance of networking,” says Holland.

Networking may be your only means of marketing for quite some time – it is important to get in front of as many people as possible and give them your “elevator pitch” (a quick story about your business that you can say in 90 seconds or less). When meeting each person, make sure you take his or her business card; this comes in handy when writing a “nice to meet you” note the next day.

“Yes, you should write a quick note to each person you meet. In this note, you should mention where you met them, refer to your conversation, and remind them what your business does and how it can be helpful to them,” Holland says.

It takes a lot of hard work to be a creative business owner and there are no shortcuts to success. So put in the time to reap the rewards.

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