10 tools to start your creative business

10 tools to start your Creative Business — part 1

Ok, here we go. Second blog! You’ve got the idea and the team (covered in the first blog How to start a Creative Business- Finding the Idea, the Founding Team and Always Learning). Now how do you start turning your idea into a creative business? Let’s run through getting clear on ‘the why?’, managing the to-do, market research, managing internal comms, gathering feedback, the company bit, name, logo, website, Google Analytics, Google Maps, newsletters and social media. This blog is by no means exhaustive (impossible to be), but hopefully will give you the basics to start!

But first, start with ‘the why?’

It was tricky to decide where to put this bit as ‘the why?’ is important throughout, but you can get really bogged down in it before figuring out what the true idea is. You will early on need to get comfortable on why you are setting up a business (what’s the passion you have behind solving a problem through your startup?), what kind of business you want to set up (is it a lifestyle business or one you want to make you a billionaire!?) and its purpose in the world (e.g. do you want to be a BCorp that gives back along the way?). Unless you have a clear why and are passionate about that — you simply won’t be drawn to put the endless hours into it. I guess the real crunch point on this is when you come up with a name and start building a website and doing social media / marketing activity (see below) as you will be projecting ‘the why?’, how and what more. You’re going to eventually need a style/brand and knowing the ‘why’ will help you with this.

For me, I think it’s best to be natural with your brand and allow your inner voice (or the voice of one of the co-founding team who enjoys the content side and has the mutual tone of the group) to speak when writing content and making marketing material. People will see through it (and rightly so) if it is fake. Listen to / read ‘Start With Why’ by Simon Sinek to get a better sense of this. Having your ‘why’ clear in the early stages will help you project what you are doing and how you go about achieving setting up your business.

Exploring an idea

So, you’ve had a few beers or glasses of wine, you’re out with friends or work colleagues and you are discussing startup ideas. You come up with a few cracking ones that solve a real problem! Now what!?

The tools and tips!

Whether you’re working full-time together, occasionally together or remotely, the below tools and tips may be of help to get you up and running — quickly and cheaply.

If you have a specific issue / job to do, you’re highly likely not to be the first person with that problem! There are tonnes of new software tools emerging from new startups trying to solve all sorts of problems. I tend to stick to tools from slightly older (6–12 months plus) companies with a bit of a track record and who quickly add new functionality, as it provides more stability for my precious business.

Decide to explore it solo or with a few people — managing the ‘to-do’

If setting up solo or with others, it’s a great idea to set up an Asana or Trello account, to keep you accountable and on your toes. I’ve given some tips on startup co-founders here, but at this stage just exploring with people is fine to see how it goes. We use Asana. It’s really easy to assign each other tasks (and swap!), set completion dates, add comments, add attachments and lots more besides. We use it every day to see what’s important and more importantly, to mark things as done when they’re done — *high fives*. But at this stage, it’ll just help to ensure months don’t drift by in the early stages. Momentum is important as it energises you to do more, otherwise the idea will fizzle out — as I’ve experienced quite a few times :(.

*Top Tip* So many startup founders go out and meet tonnes of people and get incredible feedback, suggestions and intros — but don’t really follow up. Note things down properly in your notepad or Evernote when meeting people and add useful actions to your Asana/Trello to-do list straight after the meeting. Also, always go through your notepads at least once a week, to make sure you didnt miss anything.You want to make them hours of travelling and chatting pay off in the long run — not just get lost in the ether!

What’s going on out there? Market research.

Starting out, you’re going to want to have a look at market trends and competition in the space, along with just getting a sense for what is happening. Even if you’re familiar with the industry, it’s worth taking a holistic look at it again with fresh eyes — you might spot something fresh and useful.

  • Do a bit of Googling — in UK and US (US can be a couple of years ahead of the UK)
  • Look for keywords / insights (check out beginner guides from Google Analytics, Facebook insights or Moz — can get a 1 month free trial with Moz and Google Analytics is typically free). See what search terms around your idea people are looking at and get a sense of how many customers might be out there. Google Trends is also worth a peek too
  • You could, look at some COBRA reports on market trends in your local library (double check they have a subscription, not all of them do)
  • Go to events related to the idea. E.g. check out Startup Digest London or a local equivalent, follow influencers in the space on Twitter / FB / Insta / Linkedin (so you can read what they post), subscribe to relevant newsletters from sites you find during your search. It’s great at this point to absorb lots of information on the space, so you can flesh out the original idea and be better able to handle some follow on questions when you start speaking about the idea more
  • Look for reports from consultancy companies and membership bodies working in your industry

Once you’ve done that, you’ll hopefully have more of a sense for where your idea fits in (if at all), who the influencers that you can learn from are and where you can go to find out more information.

Managing comms

Written

If you’ve been making a bit of progress on an idea with people, I’d also suggest you set up a Slack account for saving articles and thoughts on the idea for yourself or other people you are exploring it with. You could have Slack ‘channels’ like the below, which is what Diana and I have.

DO NOT USE E-MAIL FOR INTERNAL COMMS as things just get lost, even if you’re good at having suitable subject headings. Slack is free for basic functionality and works really well on Apple and Android. The only exception would be if you really need to send a whopper of an e-mail (e.g. 200 words plus).

Using Slack is easy. I love it and save tonnes of articles into it that I think we should both read. You can also set it to snooze so you don’t get notified if focusing on something. It is easy to add attachments to it also. HipChat is another startup friendly tool similar to Slack that you could use, a friend has recommended it to me.

Video

I do tend to use Skype or Google Hangouts for video calls, but have recently heard good things about Zoom, where you get 40mins of a group call on the free version and unlimited 1-to-1s — a good excuse to have an efficient and productive group meeting!

Hot off the press. Apparently Meet Franz does the following, which is ace! “Franz is a free messaging app / former Emperor of Austria and combines chat & messaging services into one application. Franz currently supports Slack, WhatsApp, WeChat, HipChat, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Google Hangouts, GroupMe, Skype and many more. You can download Franz for Mac, Windows & Linux.”

Might be worth a download. Let me know how it goes!

Get out of the room

If you’ve done a little desktop research on the idea (no need to spend weeks on this), the product / service continues to make sense in your head(s) and you’re still enjoying the journey of exploring it — get out of the room and speak to friends, family, work colleagues and randomers walking down the street to see what they think. You’re making progress, let’s ramp it up a bit! It’s very rare someone will steal your idea and successfully set it up. I firmly believe being open about an idea will lead to way more good things (advice, connections) than bad. Ask for criticisms and don’t be defensive about them when they come. You may miss a useful nugget.

E-mails, storage and calendars

You’re gonna need all this to communicate with the outside world.

E-mail

We use Gmail (hellomyoplace@gmail.com, kinda as a back-up) and we got Microsoft Office 365 / Outlook through GoDaddy for free for a month when we registered our domain with them — so use hello@myo.place through that as our main e-mail (after a month it costs c£5pm). We found some integration issues with Gmail on Diana’s iPhone at the start, so went with Outlook for main external comms. Probably cheaper / better options.

Storage and calenders

I prefer Gmail as it integrates well with Google Drive — where you can get 15GB of storage for free. We didn’t want to pay for G Suite just yet, so availed of the ability to make an ‘@myo.place’ e-mail with the free Outlook e-mail (you have to pay G Suite to set up an @[yourcompanyname] e-mail account). We’re a few months in and have tonnes of pictures and are on 9 GB in Drive, so won’t need to upgrade that soon. It’s more than enough for now and it’s easy to back-up to an external hard drive if you like, but also integrates seamlessly with my Android phone. As does the Outlook app. Google Docs, Sheets and Slides are all brilliant for collaborative work and for sharing for feedback / editing.

Gathering that feedback outside your inner circle

You can use Survey Monkey to do polls and questionnaires and easily review them. It’s great. Send it to everyone by e-mail / social posts, post it into relevant group boards, hand out a printed version at events, ask influencers to re-tweet it or send out to their mailing lists. The more feedback the better, of course. So chase, chase, chase it. Asking only a few friends and your Mam at this stage is not going to be enough — you need to get out there! Google Forms could also be used, but take a little longer to pull together. You could also post the survey out across social channels using Facebook ads, for example. More on Facebook ads to follow on next posts.

If you can, start testing the product with people as soon as possible to get realtime feedback. How to get it to the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) stage differs depending on what type of product / service you have. There is tonnes of advice out there on that. One thing to note is that getting feedback on your MVP should be a scary thing to do! Don’t wait until it’s perfect, that’s too late. If it’s safe, won’t break anything / anyone and a couple of people have tried it (somewhat liked it) and it worked, go for it! Just be clear with people that you are starting out, it isn’t the finished product and you’ll take all feedback on board and refine it. Ideally, charge for the privilege of buying the MVP, as will provide more constructive feedback and help keep you in business. We got 12 people down to the M.Y.O creative studio very early on and charged them a tenner (usually £25–40) to do a creative session with us and give their feedback. We learned tonnes and got lots of photos of people in the space to use on marketing material.

So, things are still moving along, the idea is still resonating with you and you’re putting hours into it each week

This is brilliant! Good work! You’ve done some research, tried the MVP out with some people and gotten lots of feedback. The team you’ve bandied together is functioning, but you want to take it up another level.

The company type, name and company registration

The company type

Check out HMRC’s site for advice on sole traders, partnerships and limited companies here. In general, the HMRC website is really helpful on advice around company formation, tax and trademarking. Think about what’s best for you and chat to a legal advisor friend if any questions.

The name and registration

In every startup, much brainstorming goes into trying to come up with a name that says exactly what you do or does the opposite (so you can define it e.g. Google). This is usually done very scientifically (not), by scrolling through dictionaries, going to the local hospital to read the signatures on people’s casts, reading old NME magazine / Lord of the Rings books or mashing your keypad on your phone and shouting out what comes up at the top of your voice…. You’ll then want to see what other pesky startups might be using the name (via their website and social channels).

  • Check Companies registration
  • Take a peek at the trademark register if you think that will be required later down the line
  • Google the name
  • Check the main social media channels for it — Facebook, Insta, Twitter etc.
  • Check what domains (your domain is the website address which you then basically link to the website you build — further information on that below) you can use (we did it on GoDaddy — for no other reason other than it is the one I heard about the most!) and see does it work with different endings (am sure there is a technical term) -> .Com, .Place, .London, .Space, .co. Are loads of choices now. We went for MYO.Place as we’re a physical space. We didn’t choose .space as MakeYourOwn.Space didn’t sound right to us. Go with your gut.

A few rules I have:

  • Do spend a decent chunk of time considering the name up front.
  • Do choose a name you will not mind saying 10 million times over the next 10 years. Seriously, because you will have to and employees will have to.
  • Do NOT choose a name that is the same as a popular name, but with an extra silly letter in the middle or at the end or just put ‘ly’ at the end — just causes confusion with customers I think. “Hi, SSlack calling, that’s ‘Slack’ with 2 s’s at the start..no we have nothing to do with that company….eh, hello? Are you there?”
  • Do ask a few people what they think of the name and propose it alongside a couple of options. Do this with 4 or 5 people, not 10s.
  • Do trust your instinct, it’s your startup. It’s not ideal, but you can always re-brand later down the line.
  • Do NOT choose a stupid name because you think it’ll be funny, unless you are very funny. “BlueBalls Boutique calling”….
  • Do NOT stick with a name if after a few months everyone is saying it is $hit and it is affecting the company negatively. It is a pain, but you’re in this for the long haul right?

Once you’re happy with the name, it might be a good idea to register it with Companies House for £40 there and then, so it doesn’t get taken, especially if you are getting serious about this. This can all be done online. I’m not going to get into shareholder agreements and the like here, check out LinkiLaw or Buckworths for some advice on that.

That logo of yours

Now you have a name, you can use Fiverr or Canva or graphic design freelancers to sort out a logo. Have a look around and see what brands you like and what they do, but try to ensure your brand is a reflection of you and what you want the business to be.

I do think Canva is one of the best and easiest design tools going. They also have a free design course for anyone who wants to understand a bit more about design -> Canva Design School.

*Top Tip* Make sure the logo is suitable for where it’s going to be used! Will it stand out when reduced to a post stamp on social media, on t-shirts, for example?

Oh that pretty website of yours

Domain purchase

You’ll first need to register / buy your domain (which will link to the website you design / build) and pay for hosting (typically done through your website builder). As mentioned above, we used GoDaddy to buy the domain which cost £20 as we got a couple of domains (MYO.place and makeyourown.co), as they are the one I heard about the most. Try the different combinations with your name and see what is available. GoDaddy can be a small bit tricky with getting clear pricing, so you may also want to check out this review on Namecheap v GoDaddy.

Website design and purchase

On the website hoster, we spent quite a while looking into this. I’m damn glad I didn’t spend weeks learning how to build a website, as I had planned a few years ago — always felt some smart people would make it super easy. And, they have. Yes!

Before choosing, have a look around at sites you like and see can you tell what hosting provider they are from. Also — important — think 12 months ahead in terms of what functionality you would like on your site and go with a provider that can support that. If you’ve survived 12 months, you should have some money to develop bespoke site if you need to.

*Top Tip* If you find a website you like, right click on the website and choose ‘view page source’ — it’ll usually show near the top the hosting provider. You can be pretty certain if from a newish company, that its been done by Strikingly, Wix or Squarespace and that there is a template you could use that matches with what you could use. Just get onto the customer support team of the website hoster you choose and ask them which template it was (send them the link to the site you like).

Strikingly — this is what we use. It’s really easy to edit, lots of nice templates and good for having a long 1 pager of a site, if you feel it would suit your business. We’ve found the editor very quick to make changes (when you gasp after spotting a typo from your bleary eyed late night edits!) and to see what the changes look like on mobile and desktop — to make sure it looks ok in both. Gotta look the part right? You can also manage SEO and some analytics from it. They are constantly adding new features and you can easily include newsletter sign up, links to / feeds from social channels, nice images, contact forms etc. It also integrates with a decent amount of third party apps. About 2 months in, we decided to upgrade to pro ($16pm) to get the increased functionality — better analytics choices, can add more than 1 page, integrate newsletter sign up with Mailchimp, add a few more features for when someone views on mobile (pop up call me button), add a Facebook pixel ID (to track ad campaigns on Facebook) and do custom coding (which I have no idea how to do…). Finally, pro also allows you to take off the ‘Strikingly’ logo off the site, which I think makes one look a tiny bit more established. Any time I have had questions, the support team has been brilliant also.

You can also use its store functionality and list products and services on your Strikingly site, with the ability to accept payment through Paypal or Stripe, which I must explore (just put into Asana). I could try embedding our Eventbrite events onto the site also (into Asana again…). I also started writing these blogs on Medium, so can try and embed that on the site too and see what it looks like.

  • Wix — don’t have any issues with it. Lots of good templates and pretty easy to tweak and update also. Have used it on previous projects. Just think Strikingly is a bit slicker and easier for a basic site. Can get a lot out of Wix’s free functionality also, see here.
  • Squarespace — I did have a go at pulling together a website in Squarespace for another recent project and found it difficult (albeit with limited knowledge) to change the template from the one I decided to use. It seemed a lot easier to tweak templates in Strikingly and Wix. Squarespace looks amazing and the support team is really helpful there also. If you’re looking for a really slick website and have some more time, you could go with them. There isn’t really a free version with them — see pricing here. Although you can, as with all of them, mess around with building a site for free. With Wix and Strikingly you can continue for free with decent functionality.

For Wix, Strikingly and Squarespace, get in touch with their support team, send them screenshots of sites you like and see what they say. They’re the experts, you don’t need to be.

  • If you want to go a bit more custom, than I’d suggest Rocketspark if you can pay someone to build it or don’t have the time — they have really good rates and are startup friendly. The old Wordpress if you’re happy to spend tonnes of time learning the ins and outs of it is another option or you can get a pro to build your site in Wordpress. I’ve steered clear of Wordpress as don’t want to spend the time learning it — otherwise I think it may be a pain to tweak. There is a free version of Wordpress on wordpress.org. I’d like to be able to make tweaks on my site without knowing how to code (there’s enough to remember as it is), which I don’t think can be done with WordPress. But, a big consideration around Wordpress is that it does have a bigger capacity for scaling as it has thousands of plugins and is flexible — so if you feel you will need a fairly complex website, it may be worth looking at. Currently, I don’t envisage that for us, but that may change!

Lastly, on websites. If you feel your site is mainly going to be an e-commerce site, Shopify is worth looking at. You can do a free 14 day trial with them and over 400,000 startups have done that. Pricing is $9 per month plus thereafter. A recent review on it is here.

So in summary, if you want to get a site up quickly, that is straight forward and looks decent — go for Strikingly or Wix. If you want it to look a bit slicker and have a bit more startup cash — go for Squarespace. If you haven’t the time to learn / build yourself and want to build for the long term, go for Rocketspark. If you really want to be able to fiddle around and build a complex website in the near future, go for Wordpress and put a big chunk of hours in learning the ins and outs. If pretty much just an e-commerce site, have a good look at Shopify.

*Top Tip* Mobile v desktop. Your website must be set up to look good and work in both. You can’t compromise on that any more. Be conscious of that when choosing images, formatting, spacing etc. Typically, the above have options to view your edits in mobile and desktop. Make sure you check each time as first impressions really count. Some information on the importance of an online presence in the modern day here.

Social media

Now you have a bit of a product, a co-founding team, a name, a site, a logo and some admin tools. Excellente! Time to start getting your brand out there and your product / service noticed. Social media can help. Check out beginners guides from https://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-social-media and https://blog.hootsuite.com/the-essential-guide-to-social-media-marketing/.

To start scheduling social media activity (saves time in the long-run), check out Buffer vs Hootsuite. Thunderclap is a cool tool to use to help launch your business by using the crowd and I’ve also been told Influencer is great for content marketing and getting the most reach out of what you create.

I’m not a social media expert, so check those sites out for a start. My main advice is try to make a brand a reflection of your personality and let that flow through your social media activity. It will feel more real, because it is real! Also ensure you set up a system and schedule that works best for you and is achievable.

Analytics

We’re a couple of months in and haven’t really spent time looking at analytics (by that I mean where traffic is coming to our website from). We have been trialling lots of things — different types of posts, Facebook ads, flyering, blogging, direct mail, word of mouth etc and give out a feedback form at the end of each session to figure out where people heard about us. However, we did set up Google Analytics a couple of weeks into what we’re doing, so that we can have a look at it when we have some more time (with hindsight, may have been better to do this right from the start and to look at it more frequently!). See Get started with analytics. Google is pretty helpful, but it is a task that’ll take a decent chunk of time to get your head around the basics of it (1–2 days), if doing it from scratch. For the type of business we have (a physical location in London, although we can travel for team building events in companies) the value of going deep in analytics isn’t massively apparent yet. Although keeping an eye on things like what Facebook ads, newsletter, social posts are driving traffic to our site is useful. For an online retail business with global customers and high volumes, the need to go deep is a lot clearer. For our Pop-Up where there was limited capacity, it wasn’t so important, but will be when we re-launch with a fuller schedule later in the year for sure. You will want to ensure your marketing time / money is paying off.

The main tip here is that you should spend the 30–60 minutes setting up the Google Analytics and registering your page with Google, so that if you want, you can look back at it. The data is there. Also, Google are helpful, so call them about it and get them to help you get things set up quickly if you can!

Google Maps and Business Directories

As we have a physical space, we want to be easy to find. Even though we’re partnering with re-creation, we still want to be on the map! We registered on Google My Business, which helps you show up on Google Maps and Google searches. It was easy, I got to add some information into it, site links (good for SEO) and put some pictures in. Google send a physical letter with a confirm code to the address you add, which you then input to activate the listing. Hurrah. Keep an eye out for the letter. You can also do this with Bing Place for Business for the folks out there with Windows phones and Apple Maps Connect — both now on my to-do…

I’ve heard mixed reports on the usefulness of listing on business directories for SEO but I did it on a few anyway. We listed on Yelp, Yell and Cylex. See a page full of them here. After we listed on Cylex, they did an interview with us, which was cool. So, for that alone it was worth some time. If nothing else, doing the descriptions for each listing helps you refine your message.

Mass e-mails / newsletters

Gotta be Mailchimp. It is a free service for up to 2,000 contacts and 12,000 emails a month, so is a great choice if you are just starting out. Templates are good, it looks slick and has a good selection of gifs! You can easily duplicate layouts. It takes 1–2 hours to figure it out, but it’s worth it. It is easy to add images in, add new people and track what is clicked and opened. Make sure that when you add people to your mailing list you have their permission! We partly use feedback forms at the end of creative sessions to get e-mail addresses (with an obvious note saying will include on newsletter if that’s ok) and also make it easy for people to sign up to our newsletter on our Facebook page and website. Also, ensure that there is an easy ‘unsubscribe’ button — no point e-mailing people who aren’t interested is there? It’s also a legal requirement now afaik. We recently got our first unsubscribe, which was very sad — but good as would have been a waste communicating with that person. If they don’t dig it, that’s cool. There’s tonnes of articles on how to draft a good e-mail on the Mailchimp site also.

*Top Tip* Reallygoodemails is a really cool resource if you’re looking for inspiration for a good e-mail.

Worth noting

Tech isn’t everything

As you may be aware, using tech 24/7 isn’t that healthy for you! So use it in moderation and allow time for thinking, reading and for your brain to get a rest from consuming the infinite amounts of information tech can lead to. I’ll dive into that a bit more in a future blog, that I will link to here when done.

That’s all for now. The list is not exhaustive, but hopefully it gives some insights to help you along. In the next part of this blog series, I’m hoping to go through a bunch of things like useful picture tools (to make everything look snazzy), building out your brand, swag, saving articles for use later, bit about Facebook ads, partnering, insurance and getting some marketing materials together. If there is anything else you’d like me to run through, mention it in the comments below. As this is coming from personal experience, with some really helpful suggestions from friends, I’d appreciate any extra suggestions on the tools I mentioned as it will help everyone. Thanks.

Now. Get to it and chip, chip away at that startup or creative business of yours :). It’s in your hands and there has never been a better time to do it!

Sam

I’m co-creater (with Diana) of M.Y.O, a creative space for adults, where you can make things, have fun and enjoy the mindfulness benefits of being creative through arts and crafts. We’ll be adapting as we go, watch this space! If you’re interested to find out more about M.Y.O and our journey, be sure to follow me on Linkedin / Medium, subscribe to the M.Y.O newsletter here and like us on Facebook.

With thanks to Mammy, Diana M, Brian M, Brian F and Andy F for editing — this was a long one. Legends.

Co-creater M.Y.O — a creative space for adults, social entrepreneur, startup mentor, qualified accountant