Having run Starling Arts for almost ten years, we’ve learned a lot about running a business in that time. We’re often asked what the most significant things we’ve learned are, so here are 7 pieces of advice if you’re thinking of setting up shop.
You’re in charge
This might sound like a dream, but sometimes not having anyone to report to can be a struggle. We’re lucky we can hold each other accountable for getting things done. If you’re thinking of running a business solo, make sure you’ve got someone who can check in with you, be it a formal business mentor or a friend or family member. Every boss needs a boss!
You can spend a lot of time quoting and pitching for work you don’t get when you run a business. While clients choose to go in another direction or work with another provider, don’t be afraid to follow up with them sooner rather than later. From a courtesy email after an initial call to a prompt after you’ve sent over a proposal, remind them you’re there and keen, without going so far as to shower them with flowers and a basket of mini muffins.
No week is ever the same
Some weeks we are swamped with work and barely get a chance to breathe (something that is made harder when we also go out to run rehearsals in the evenings), while other weeks can be very slow with not much work on. Over the years we’ve got very good at pacing ourselves, planning ahead to ensure things aren’t too hectic, and knowing that when there’s a lull we can always do things like draft future blog posts or emails, or get a head start on an arrangement, so that when things are busy, we have things in place to help us with the load.
It can be boring
“You’re so lucky you do what you love” is something we hear a lot, but that doesn’t mean that running your own business comes without the mundanity that some others job have. We’re a full time team of two with some freelancers joining us for front line activities, but behind the scenes we still have to deal with admin, finance, and the other day to day running of the business. It’s not all singing! As we both work from home on the admin side of things it can get a bit boring and lonely sometimes. We try to inject fun into solo working days with dance breaks, fresh air and having regular breaks to ensure we’re not always at our desk.
It’s not all 9-5
We are all brought up with a damaging idea that hard work means working a 40 hour + week. In the digital age of remote working and multi-hyphenate careers, it’s just not true. Some days we’ll work for 12 hours, others we’ll work for 2 but, thanks to the 40 hour + week culture, we can struggle with guilt if we feel we’ve not done a long or continuous day’s work. In reality, some weeks we work more than we would in a 9-5 and have the added (and sometimes tiring) element of having to be ‘on’ for a large chunk of our working time; leading rehearsals or workshops, or recording music and dance tutorials takes a lot of smiley energy and you have to power through, even if you’re not feeling well or are tired. Creative inspiration doesn’t work on a 9-5 schedule, either! Anna often comes up with her best songs just as she should be going to bed, while Emily likes to write and choreograph on the train, so don’t feel limited by what society says about how and when you should work. Are you getting the work done? Great! Are you taking breaks and giving yourself a rest when you’ve overdone it a bit? Even better. Once you eradicate the guilt, you feel more free to have a long lunch with a friend or go for a run in the middle of the day. We think that having the freedom to do those things ultimately makes you better at running your business!
Not everything is financially rewarding
You can work very hard running your own business and sometimes you might not get anything in return, but it’s all part of the process. It sounds obvious, but many people sacrifice paying themselves properly for the sake of the business. Don’t get into that trap! From Day 1 make sure you turnover enough money to pay you and any team members a regular fee so that when projects come along that might cost a bit more than expected or you’ve a passion project that doesn’t pay so well (or at all!), you’re still able to pay the bills and put food on the table.
Turning your passion into a business means it can be easy to think you’re the expert and you’ve nothing else to learn. While you might know everything about your particular company, there are always things to learn about your trade. Go on courses, attend workshops, have lessons, read around the subject; there are always things to learn and improve on, and that can only help your business!
Are you the founder of a business or are you thinking of setting one up? Share what you’ve learned or any questions you might have!