The Single Biggest Mistake When Starting Your Own Creative Firm | RevThink

Every new business makes mistakes. But what is the biggest one?

We exchanged pleasantries, ordered breakfast and the conversation suddenly shifted. She had obviously been pondering something for some time. She seized the moment:

“So when you look around at all these new creative companies, what’s the biggest mistake they’re making?”

She and her husband both eagerly awaited my answer. I sipped my espresso. Or was I stalling? After all, it’s a tough question. Every new business makes mistakes. But what is the single biggest mistake?

Launching Your Own Creative Firm

This lady – a talented producer who worked for my former production company – along with her husband – a superstar creative director / motion designer – each have years of experience working at top motion design, production companies and ad agencies. They’ve been around. Wouldn’t you think they already know the answer to the question?

But, you see, this ambitious couple just recently started their own motion design studio. And they astutely noticed how when it’s your turn to run your own business, the answers aren’t so simple.

“When it’s your turn to run your own business, the answers aren’t so simple.”

Walking a tightrope a few feet off the ground is easy. Raise it a hundred feet in the air and it’s now much more difficult. The task is the same but the stakes are higher. The risks are greater.

The Biggest Mistake

Back to the couple, they asked me this because many of my friends in the industry are owners. For twenty years I owned a successful production company. Now I consult owners across the country. What do I see as the biggest mistake new owners are making? Is it insufficient capital? Too few clients? Weak branding / positioning? No.

The biggest mistake made by new creative business owners is not managing their own expectations.

Here is what that looks like: entrepreneurial creatives start a business to do more of what they love: creating. When in reality, they later find themselves working much harder on the business – and much less in it – than they expected. This can be very disheartening. And the last thing a new, fledgling business needs is a loss of heart!

The Seven Ingredients

The fact is that every business – from restaurants to airlines, animation shops to visual effects studios – must master seven key ingredients to serve up success. Those ingredients are

1. Entrepreneurship

2. Marketing

3. Sales

4. Creative (The Work)

5. Production

6. Finance

7. Operations

Like a weak link in a chain, if a business fails in just one of these areas, the entire business is in jeopardy.

Ambitious creatives pour their heart and soul into Creative (The Work). It’s what it takes to be great. But then they think, “I am now great at Creative (The Work), therefore I am ready to launch a great business.” True, it’s one crucial ingredient. But producing great work is only one of the seven ingredients in a successful business.

“Producing great work is only ONE of the seven ingredients in a successful business.”

It’s a familiar story. When I’m approached by a young creative firm for help, the owner is typically a brilliant creative (designer, director, animator, etc.) that has mastered Creative (The Work), but struggling to master – and balance – all the other ingredients. After a formal RevThink assessment, it’s immediately clear how even an A+ in Creative (The Work) can’t sustain a firm failing at any of the other six Ingredients:

Where do most creative firms struggle? That’s easy: Finance. A close second is Sales.

As a firm grows, the one area you don’t even know you need it – until it’s too late – is Operations.

The takeaway: when you start your own firm, set realistic expectations. If you don’t have expertise in all the Seven Ingredients, get ready, you will soon. Or you will grow and hire experts that do. Your firm’s success depends on it.

“If you don’t have expertise in all Seven Ingredients of a successful business, get ready.”

Or you can move forward with unrealistic expectations. And choose not to manage them when they bump up against reality. But that would be making the biggest mistake.

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