It got me thinking about what running a business has taught me, and the advice I'd give to others thinking of setting up shop and making their passion their profession.
All too often lists of 'Top tips for starting a business' are only concerned with the logistical side of things: manage your finances, have a business plan, get funding, etc. While these are, of course, essential to good business, they overlook the heart of what actually makes every business, and indeed the world, work: people.
If someone asks me what my top tips for running a business are, I'd list the following long before I started advising them on anything else.
- I Can't Do It Alone
To quote the musical Chicago - murderous nightclub singers aside, of course - 'I Can't Do It Alone'. Starling Arts is a double act. While we regularly work with other people and, as the business expands, will take on more people to assist us with the day to day running of the company, our 'Starling sisterhood' is at the root of this business and always will be.
There's conflicting advice about whether going into business with a friend is a good idea, but I think it's a case of 'When you know, you know'. Find someone who has a completely different yet totally complimentary skill set to you, talk to them regularly (and not just about business; remember you're friends!), and make sure it's someone you trust with every fibre of your being. If you can tick those three things and still want to hang out at the end of the day, you've struck gold.
- Love it
People regularly tell me you, "You're so lucky you love your job", but we wouldn't have set up Starling Arts if we didn't love the idea. While running your own business can be incredibly rewarding and enjoyable, it's also a lot of hard work! You still have to do the everyday, mundane jobs alongside 'following your bliss'. You have to love your philosophy, your product and your brand inside out. If you do, that passion shines through in every part of your work, making a better business in every way, and it makes those everyday jobs much more enjoyable, too!
- Think in Circles
I like to think of everything as a circle, letting ideas and projects bounce off the side of an all-encompassing whole, rather than getting stuck in the corners of a defined shape.
The metaphor can also be used literally in business. We've mused on this blog before about why we use circles in arts-based workshops or in the classroom; they make it easier for us to share, communicate and collaborate. For many people, 'Circle Time' is something that you left behind at Primary School, but the act of being in a circle is a democratic way of engaging with everyone you work with and responding to their needs. Being open to change and flexible to others' needs is essential to good business. Try standing in a circle at your next meeting: No desks, no hierarchy, just an open space to create.
- Listen to People
What I have always loved about making music with others is the gift of listening. In life and work, we all need other people to get by, and the best way we can do that is by listening to and understanding one another.
As colleagues and friends, Emily and I constantly listen to and talk about our thoughts and feelings, and we make sure we do the same with anyone we engage with. We work with hundreds of people every week - from our choir community, with whom we have regular contact, to clients we may only meet and sing with once - but by listening and responding to their needs, we've been able to make improvements and grow our business. No one knows everything! But listening to people can help you know more.
- Be patient and learn from mistakes
When we set up Starling Arts, we didn't know where we'd be in one year, let alone six, but having patience and a belief that things will work out means we're still thriving.
We've had projects that have fallen flat on their face, but led us to valuable contacts or brilliant opportunities. There have been ideas that now seem laughable, but without trying them out, we wouldn't have known what did or didn't make business (and often, in our case, artistic) sense. Don't throw the towel in just because something loses a bit or money or doesn't work out like you thought it might. Review, learn from, and use it to make better choices in the future.
- Believe in people
I always thank my parents with believing in me. They may have had fears or concerns under the surface, but they never let those get in the way of their belief that I could do and be anything. I carry that with me in life and work, and it's at the heart of the Starling Arts philosophy.
Believe in your co-workers, your clients and your community, and you'll be rewarded with repeat business, happy customers, and a happy workplace.
Whether you're looking to set up a business, make a great workplace, or just want to get by in this mad world, I hope this list helps you with your journey.