06/10/2014

BLOG: Creative Business Funding

When Edison said that success is 10 per cent inspiration and 90 per cent perspiration he forgot to include the other essential element – money.

Having good ideas is common currency for many of us in the creative industries. Most of them come to nothing, but sometimes the idea to create something becomes so strong you’re compelled to do something about it. Any venture with a tangible product takes time and money to research, develop, build, market and sell; and being able to eat and live at the same time are nice luxuries worth preserving too!

Nom de Strip started out as a project between friends; we wanted to share and discuss interesting things happening in the South West arts in a publication. The project quickly built momentum, and as more people became aware of it, we realised the publication could actually be something more serious. Beyond friends and acquaintances, there was a much wider market interested in what we were doing but we lacked the money and resources to reach them.

We identified quite early on that any success would require the publication being a physically printed ‘thing’ that could be distributed to venues rather than a website, so printing was a significant cash outlay. Making the magazine is a labour of love, so we paid for a small print run of the first issue ourselves, and distributed them to as many venues as possible.

The response from our peers and from the public was really positive and it gave us the confidence to keep going; to get bigger and better. However, to give the project life and realise its potential we needed funding and, to do that, we needed to turn what started out as a hobby into a viable business venture.

The arts sector is a funny part of the wider creative industry – it’s not like film, gaming, or animation, with shoals of investors swimming around looking for the next big thing. Instead we’re very fortunate to have funding bodies in this country who support artistic and cultural activity and so we approached the Arts Council.

Applying for funding is no breeze. It’s not FREE money. It’s a difficult, stressful process, which, to be honest, can take some of the energy and enthusiasm out of the project itself. On the plus side, it forces a level of introspection that probably wouldn’t happen in any other circumstance.

Applying for funding gives you time to really consider and understand every aspect of your organisation: what you do, why you do it, how you do it and who for. I guess it’s a similar process to applying for a bank loan, and no bank will lend you money unless they are 100% sure that you have a successful business which will give a return on their investment.

You have to think hard about what you are applying for, how you want to invest that money and how you will make it worthwhile for the people who are funding you. You also need to think about what you will do if you don’t get the money. Transferring a creative idea into a business application can be a real struggle and competition is tough. Only 40 per cent of Arts Council grant applications are successful, so having a plan B is vital.

Keeping your integrity is also important and we were worried about having obligations forced upon us from funders. There was also a concern that our partners might have a slightly different agenda to ours, but it turned out those worries were unfounded. The key thing is finding the right people to invest in your project is if they believe in what you’re doing and don’t want to change it too much.

However, you also have to accept that as a new venture, working with new people, your project will change and develop anyway. It’s natural. We now work in partnership with Peninsula Arts and Plymouth University and there is a mutual respect and vision for the publication built on honesty and transparency from both sides.

Building a company dependent on arts funding is always a gamble, as there is a real risk of the support disappearing. While there are some projects and organisations out there which understandably rely completely on funding and couldn’t run without it, it’s not a model I’d recommend for the long term. The impact on a business having funding removed is usually catastrophic and so we’ve always considered a mixed-revenue approach as the ideal.

It’s given us the incentive to scale the business to a size where we could sustain ourselves if and when funding does evaporate. Fortunately, the Arts Council encourages this and requests that your bid be match-funded from the outset. Look to the people around you for lots of good advice and creative ideas on how to develop your own business model!


NOM DE STRIP

An ale pub or Bristol nightclub might not be the place you’d expect to find a quality arts journal, but Nom de Strip’s street press model is fast bringing the arts to unlikely places.

Illustrated by Thought Den

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