From photographers to musicians to artists and fashion designers – creative entrepreneurs – this post is for you. We are the freshly minted creator economy. Welcome to your complete starter kit for how to start a creative business.
I’ve broken everything into 4 main sections, starting with a casual introduction before wrapping things up with a full launch-guide for your business.
This post is jam-packed with a ton of useful information.
The flow is a start-to-finish format. But of course, feel free to hop around and start wherever you feel you need the most help.
OK, now let’s get it!
Part One: Introduction
- Who Are Creative Entrepreneurs?
- 5 Benefits of A Creative Business
- 6 Types of Creative Businesses
- The Entrepreneurial Mindset
Part Two: Creating A Business Plan
- Your Niche, Mission + UVP
- Finding Sellable Products & Services
- Market + Audience Research
- Follow This One Marketing Rule
- Drafting A Business Plan
- Legal + Logistical Stuff
Part Three: Your Starter Kit
- Your Website
- Accepting Payments
- 4 Tools for Awesome Content
- Communication Channels
- Business Management Tools
Part Four: Launching + Growing
Part One: Introduction
Welcome to part one. The sections below provide some online business footing and inspiration.
We’ll cover the awesome benefits of starting a creative business, the different business models you can choose from and the importance of having the right mindset.
Who Are Creative Entrepreneurs?
Starting any business online is super rewarding. It’s exciting, educational and – although sometimes stressful – totally worth it.
But what is a creative business exactly? Or rather, what does creative entrepreneur mean?
Examples of creative entrepreneurs include all sorts of people, from Walt Disney and Steve Jobs to freelance photographers, sellers on Etsy and bloggers.
They’re all using their creativity to add unique value to the market and generate fans. In turn, a business is born.
Let’s look at some common traits that creative entrepreneurs tend to share:
- Passionate about what you do
- Not afraid to take risks
- Flexible and independent
- Curious and open-minded
- Ready to adapt and learn new things quickly
- Intuitive and thinks outside the box
Sound like you? If so, I guess you’re in the right place!
5 Benefits of A Creative Business
Starting a business offers a lot of benefits. Although there are risks – of course – the positives far outweigh any concerns.
Here are few of my favorite benefits to starting a creative business.
Owning a business means you’re your own boss. The flexibility this reality offers is definitely appealing – especially for balancing your work and life.
Owning a business means you’re providing real value to people and the market. And turning your creativity into a living? Well, this is extremely rewarding.
Making money is a core function of running a business. And being an entrepreneur means you have much greater control over how much you can earn. The sky’s the limit.
Get Unmatched Experience
The process of starting a business is a huge learning experience, and requires wearing many hats. You must be able to adapt, pivot, make decisions, solve problems and roll with the punches – an awesome skillset to have.
You Can Pursue Your Passion
As a business owner, you’re calling the shots. Whatever the creative niche is that you’re pursuing, taking that leap to turn a passion into a business is an incredible journey.
6 Types of Creative Businesses
Below, I cover six popular online business models that you can choose from.
While not every business model is listed here, you may end up mixing and matching some of the models.
Because having something like an art consulting business, while also selling online courses, is totally awesome.
So here is a short list for inspiration.
This business model is perfect if you’re going to be selling physical products.
Ecommerce is a booming industry with a variety of avenues to pursue. You can opt for the more hands-off approach, and dropship your way to success.
Or, considering your creative inclinations, you may want to focus on selling your own unique, custom products – such as handmade jewelry or custom artwork.
2. Selling Information Products
Selling information products like online courses can be a great (and passive) income business model.
Actually, this type of asset can be paired with other business models pretty easily.
Essentially, if you have a specific skill or some specialized knowledge, then creating a sellable online course just makes sense for the modern creative entrepreneur.
3. Coaching + Consulting
Consulting is a fairly trendy business model recently.
In fact, consulting steadily grew to a massive $160 billion industry by 2019! Although, 2020 saw a slump (not terribly surprising…).
Still, it’s fair to say that consulting isn’t going anywhere.
So if you have specific expertise or an in-demand skillset (and you like the idea of working directly with an ever-evolving client base), this could be a good fit for you.
This business model is perfect if your focus is providing services, such as photography or videography.
Actually, freelancing is kind of a catch-all term.
But if you have specific knowledge, expertise or tools, then other businesses are willing to pay you top dollar (rather than try to learn the craft themselves or pay for expensive equipment).
Teaching is great – it’s flexible, rewarding and in-demand.
Honestly, people want to learn new things on a variety of niche topics.
According to findings from Pew Research Center, over half of YouTubers use the platform for educational purposes.
So why not capitalize on this intent with teaching?
6. Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketing is another on-trend business model. Probably because it’s another passive business that sort of runs itself.
Of course, there’s a lot of upfront work and strategy needed first. But then again, that’s true of any business.
If you’re interested in learning more, I currently use Wealthy Affiliate. They have a lot of free resources worth exploring.
If you do pay for their membership, it’s around $49/month (a little pricier than going at it yourself). But they provide a lot of support: training, website hosting, website setup, one-on-one support – and more. So it’s worth it.
The Entrepreneurial Mindset
Before we dive in deeper, I want to briefly mention mindset.
Being an entrepreneur requires a certain frame of mind to be successful (and to basically just stay sane most days).
So here is a short list of some helpful tips for staying on track and fostering that entrepreneurial mindset:
- Be Decisive
- Stay Confident
- But Be Humble
- Be Accountable
- Focus On Quality Over Quantity
- Practice Gratitude
- Focus On the Positive
- Embrace Failure As Learning
Part Two: Creating A Business Plan
This section is all about organizing your creative business. You know, getting things ready.
The sections below all tie together, helping you draft a powerful business plan.
These points will provide you with structure, organization and direction – key elements.
Your Niche, Mission + UVP
First things first, who are you and what is your niche?
Deciding your niche? Sure, that’s pretty standard stuff.
But clearly defining your purpose is surprisingly overlooked…or just glossed over (guilty as charged!).
These concepts should be your North Star though.
And once you’ve clearly identified your niche and purpose, it will be much easier to define your unique value proposition (UVP).
Let’s start there.
OK, now that we know the goal – a powerful UVP – let’s explore how we can get there by developing our niche and mission.
Here are some helpful tips.
Make Your Niche Specific
This may seem obvious, but niches need to be, well, niche. This means being hyper-specific.
For example, let’s say you’re an artist and you want to sell your work. That’s awesome, but “artist selling artwork to people who like artwork” is way too general.
On the other hand, “a traveling artist selling custom, travel-inspired acrylic paintings to location-independent millennials” is way better. It’s niche.
If you’re stuck, hone in on what makes you you. Think about people you look up to and find your purpose, or mission.
Your Mission Should Be Personal + Solve A Problem
Your mission should hit home for you (while solving an actual problem for people for a double win)
You should know exactly what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
This will help foster your brand identity, strengthen your messaging and marketing and connect more deeply with your audience.
You can get started by writing a mission statement. This will be a great addition to your site and brand.
It’s another North Star…
UVPs + Improving Upon What's Already Working
Thinking of a UVP can seem daunting. So if you’re feeling stuck, try exploring what’s already working in your niche – and simply improve upon it.
This can take some time and research, but don’t stress if you don’t have it all figured out from the start.
Running a business is dynamic and don’t feel bad if you’re discovering and rediscovering your brand and identity more than once.
Just remember your mission and who your end consumer is.
Finding Sellable Products + Services
If you’re still not sure where to start – or what your niche and UVP should be – that’s totally fine.
Another remedy to this is finding what’s trending or sellable. It’s really quite helpful for inspiration and ideation.
And if you do have your niche dialed in, this section will help you find great services or products for that audience.
Here are some tips for finding sellable products or services.
Research + Find the Trends
Marketing and product research is an important step.
We don’t want to just dive in all willy-nilly with no plan, direction or understanding of the market.
It’s all too easy to just assume we know what the customer wants, when in fact our assumptions can be way off base.
So do some exploring and due diligence into your target market, competition and industry.
I talk a bit more about market research in the section below. But for now, know that these insights are invaluable.
Solve A Customer Pain Point
Yea, this is a hallmark of business and marketing.
Successful entrepreneurs solve specific problems in the market and address specific pain points that their audience is having.
So look for “pain points” that your audience is experiencing. Explore social media comments, group boards, reviews, blogs…
Find problems they’re having and simply offer an amazing, specific product or service that solves that problem.
Remember Your Passion + Creativity
It can be easy to lose focus on our initial drive and passions when pursuing profitability and market potential.
So remember your passion, purpose and creativity – and rest assured, your audience is out there.
Go Niche + Tap Into Enthusiast Markets
Niching down is great (beyond the “general” niche, I mean). It helps us get even more granular on who we are trying to reach and with what message.
Customization and personalization get easier here – and so does beating out the competition.
Larger, more general niches face fierce competition and high barriers to entry.
Niching down solves a lot of these obstacles, and can reveal niche products or services you can offer.
Market + Audience Research
A crucial point in business is understanding your market and your target audience.
So here’s a crash course on how do some basic market research and how to clearly identify your target market.
1. Identify Your Main Product or Service
Step one: know what you’re offering.
Whether you’re a graphic designer, a photographer, an artist, an aspiring musician, or make handmade quality goods, each of us has a unique skill to offer the market.
So whatever your niche is, identify how you’re turning that talent or skill into a product or service that the market actually needs or wants.
Besides spending time on platforms where your audience also spends time, you can search on Google, or use Google trends, to check if your product or service has demand.
2. Create A Buyer Persona
Understanding exactly who you’re serving is necessary.
Not to sound like a broken record, but clearly identifying your target market will guide your product offering, marketing and overall creative business strategy.
A great way to do this is by creating a buyer persona. A quick and easy way to do this is to identify the following points:
- Demographics (age, gender, location, etc.)
- Values + lifestyle
- Interests + hobbies
- Fears + pain points
3. Research the Competition
If you don’t know your competition or have specific people or brands in mind, then try starting with the first-page results of a quick Google search.
For example, let’s say you your product is abstract organic-inspired artwork and your ideal buyers are spas, yoga studios and personal care businesses.
We could then search a term like “artwork for spa” in Google.
From here, we would analyze the first (and even second) page results.
Is there search volume? What are the prices and the offers? How is my style and content different? What are the opportunities?
4. Discover Opportunities
All of the information above can guide us in creating a compelling and unique offer.
The opportunities are in identifying a UVP, or unique value proposition, so we can stand out and be competitive.
Or, we can simply do better than what’s currently out there.
Ether way, researching your market, competition and audience will reveal awesome opportunities and ways to provide unstoppable value.
Follow This One Marketing Rule
A well-rounded marketing strategy will use both free and paid methods – each have their pros and cons.
Regardless of which you choose, there’s one thing that will make your marketing truly great…
Using a sale funnel.
A sales funnel is a visual representation of the customer journey.
At the top of the funnel are people who don’t know your brand and at the bottom of the funnel are customers and loyal fans.
A full funnel marketing strategy uses the sales funnel concept to make specific goals and content for each stage and its respective audience.
The goal of marketing is to gently nudge people along from the very top of a sales funnel, through the middle and all the way to the bottom (i.e., to sales and conversions).
Here’s what a sales funnel marketing plan looks like.
Top-of-the-funnel marketing is often the first interaction(s) a potential customer or fan will have with a brand.
This is cold traffic. That is, people do not know who you are (yet) and sales rarely happen at this stage (beside impulse purchases or cheaper products).
Your marketing objectives should focus solely on adding value and starting the relationship (not selling).
At this point, the audience is warming up to your brand. They now know who you are and are starting to trust you.
This is where we strengthen relationships – continuing our focus on adding value. Sale may start to trickle in here.
Here we are, the coveted bottom of the funnel. This is where most of your sales and conversions happen.
Your existing customers, people who know you and trust you, fans and loyal clients all reside here.
It’s (obviously) much easier to make sales and conversions at this stage. But it takes patience and a lot of upfront value first.
Drafting A Business Plan
All the previous parts of this section have built upon each other. Let’s bring it all together now.
Think of a business plan as your roadmap, providing detailed instructions on how your business will operate and grow.
Staying organized as an entrepreneur is super important – but often difficult. This is where a business plan can help.
A business plan describes your core activities and objectives and how you plan on meeting those targets.
I’ve listed six core elements of a business plan, so spend some time thinking about these and write them out.
According to Investopedia, most business plans include at least six core elements:
- Executive Summary
- Products or Services Offered
- Market Analysis
- Marketing Strategy
- Financial Plan
Legal + Logistical Stuff
OK, there’s one last thing I want to cover in this second part: the boring legal stuff.
Ugh, I know. But yea, it’s super important and we need to ensure we’re following all the relevant guidelines and digital laws.
This is probably no surprise, but I’m not a legal expert and you should definitely be researching this topic in greater detail yourself.
But here are some things to consider when starting a business:
- Setting up an LLC
- Registering your business name
- Applying for a federal (and perhaps state) tax ID number
- Getting any required permits or licenses
- Insurance protection
- Using a business bank account
- Consulting with a business legal professional
- Website security
- Privacy + terms of conditions
- Knowing and sharing your return policies
- Knowing logistical info, such as shipping and handling
Part Three: Your Starter Kit
Finally, on to the fun stuff!
The purpose of this section is to give you everything needed to launch and grow your creative business (i.e., the complete starter kit).
Remember to have fun with this part, and don’t stress too much about getting everything “perfect”.
Your creative business – especially early on – can be pretty dynamic.
Having a website is a must. Luckily, it’s easier than ever to set one up and hit the ground running with a sleek, modern design.
Most website builders will have helpful pre-built templates that you can just plug and play. These are super convenient and I use them all the time for my own sites and landing pages.
There are however a few differences between building platforms. So it’s important to think about your needs, experience and goals (what you’ll be using your site for).
For example, if you want to focus mostly on blogging, then WordPress is going to be the most popular choice.
But if you want to focus more on just selling, then perhaps a Ecommerce-focused platform, like Shopify, is better suited.
Here are some popular website builders (which I’ve used personally) that you can start exploring.
- One of the most user-friendly site builders
- Has a ton sleek templates and designs
- A ton of app integrations for selling, blogging, messaging and oh so much more
I built my very first sites here
- Popular for creatives and portfolio-based sites
- Also has blogging and Ecommerce capabilities, among many other features
I use Squarespace for my personal brand (music, art and film)
- One of the best known Ecommerce site builders
- It’s a powerful and safe choice, and also has a lot of the same options you’ll get with other platforms
I’ve worked with clients on this platform, it’s pretty sweet
Once you’ve got your website builder, you’ll then want to make sure your design is properly optimized.
Here’s a short website optimization checklist:
- Buy your domain
- You don’t want to use the free host URL under a free account
- Use a reliable web host
- Here’s a helpful list of the best web hosting providers
- Learn some basic UX
- UX is user experience
- This means your design is user-friendly
- Keep your text short and simple
- Nothing worse than big, ugly blocks of text!
- Include an About page and a Contact page
- People want to know about you and how to contact you!
- Add your terms, disclosures and other legal pages
- Legal stuff: crucial.
- Using clear CTAs
- CTA means call to action
- A CTA tells visitors clearly what to do (i.e., Start Here, Claim 10% Here, etc.)
- Make sure your site looks good on mobile
- It’s a fact, most website traffic are on the mobile device
- Use other creative entrepreneur sites as inspiration
- Operative word here: inspiration.
- We don’t want to steal…
- Have fun designing your site and don’t worry too much
- You’ll likely make numerous tweaks and improvements as you grow your creative business
So…we need to be able to accept payments. Luckily, it’s pretty simple to set this up on most site builders.
Essentially we need to set up payment gateways.
Let’s explore this topic a bit more and look at some popular tools out there.
Do I need a payment gateway?
If you’re selling products online, then yes, this is the only way to accept payments. Credit and debit cards, ACH payments and even cryptocurrencies are all processed on payment gateways (source).
So, how do payment gateways work?
Payment gateways start with the customer putting in their information. From here, the encrypted data is process and routed to the respective credit cared company or bank (source).
Finally, the transaction is either approved or denied before finally being authorized.
Funds can take a couple days to become available in your account.
What are some popular payment gateway options?
Obviously, learning to set up payment gateways from start to finish is beyond the scope of this article.
So here are some resources for more reading:
$ Tip Jar $
Explore crytocurrency as a payment method.
Things are drastically changing online.
I’m talking about crypto. Web3. The next stage of internet and cultural evolution.
If it makes sense for your target audience and brand, then accepting crypto as a payment method is a trendy option worth exploring.
Read more here!
4 Tools for Awesome Content
Having strong content and visuals are essential for modern businesses. This is especially true for creative entrepreneurs.
I think there’s a heightened expectation for us to be delivering strong, unique visuals on all fronts – at all times.
Having the right tools takes a little pressure off of us.
Although there are many more worth exploring, these are some of my favorites for getting started.
Canva is amazing. I’m obsessed.
It’s your one-stop shop for making any design, template or visual you can imagine.
It’s incredibly simple, intuitive and beginner-friendly. You can easily load up pre-built templates and design creatives for all of your social media, website and online platforms.
It comes with a ton of free tools and resources and it a must-have for creating stand-out creatives online.
Renderforest is still under a lot of people’s radar. I’m not sure why, because I absolutely love the platform and I’m always impressed with just how much you can do.
Renderforest is a powerful platform that lets you create videos, animations, logos, mockups, websites, graphics and more.
It really has almost too many features to name. It’s a creator’s paradise – and extremely useful for any creative or solopreneur online looking for unique visuals and videos.
There a lot of stock video sites these days. I chose wave.video due to its large library, intuitive tools and affordability.
With a subscription, you have access to 2 million royalty-free videos, images and clips.
You can easily add visual effect, overlays and use their plug-and-play templates for quick projects and immediate social media posting.
It’s definitely worth exploring.
I’m rather new to Storyblocks. I only recently came across them for my filmmaking.
They’ve positioned themselves as a leader for accessing high-quality, professional cinematic b-roll footage.
But that’s not all.
With a subscription, you can also unlock images, a new native video editor and audio files to take your sound design to the next level.
It’s a creator’s playground and especially handy if you’ll be using a lot of video in your branding and marketing.
Communication is key. But omnichannel communication is critical. People want multiple options for communicating.
After all, not everyone wants to sign up for an email newsletter just like not everyone uses Twitter. We need to distribute our communications.
Here’s an example of this omnichannel option, from DAObase, a crypto news and information site on decentralized autonomous organizations:
“If email isn’t your cup of tea, you can find updates on our Twitter”.
It’s a short and sweet statement that exemplifies the simple reason for being in more than one place.
So, it’s a good idea that you have at least these communication points set up:
- Your social channels
- Email marketing
- A website chatbot
Setting up these engagement channels is essential – and luckily pretty simple.
Most website builders will have app integrations or plugins that will allow you to easily add these to your site.
Below are my top picks for setting up communication on social, email and chatbot platforms.
1. Your Social Channels
Your socials are your main channels for engaging with fans and followers while growing brand and authenticity. And there are a lot of option.
Here are my top recommended social channels to have in 2022 and going forward:
Like with all digital things, keeping up with the trends and market is key.
Regardless, just be sure you’re focusing your energy on platforms where your audience is actually spending time.
Check out my post on social media for creatives!
2. Email Marketing
Email marketing is an OG for digital communication. But it’s definitely not any less effective.
In fact, email marketing remains one of the top-converting, best ROI-positive advertising and communication channels (source).
Here are some great email marketing software for creative businesses:
3. Website Chatbots
Website chatbots are a great way to automate your messages and be available for customers and fans at all hours of the day.
Luckily, setting up a live or automated chatbot is pretty simple these days.
Here are some popular and simple chatbots to check out:
Check out this post on how to set up and optimize a website chatbot!
Business Management Tools
Business management tools offer a lot of organizational value for business owners.
While you may not need some of these straight away, let’s start with one tool in particular: CRMs.
A CRM (customer relationship management) is a software for organizing and managing all of your customer’s communications and relationships.
Hubspot is one of most popular (free) CRM software solutions out there.
Going back to the sales funnel discussion (from the marketing section above), managing relationships is a crucial component for moving a prospect through the customer journey. It’s relationship strengthening.
Using a CRM will help you.
Here are some other popular business management tools:
Part Four: Launching + Growing
If you’ve made it here, congratulations! You should be ready to launch!
Setting up a creative business online has a lot of moving parts, which can be stress-inducing. So if you’ve made it this far, that’s an awesome accomplishment in and of itself.
Now let’s make sure we hit the ground running.
Below you’ll find helpful information for getting traffic, reading the data and optimizing your new creative business.
Marketing + Getting Traffic
Everything we’ve done up until now wouldn’t be worth much if we don’t have (the right) traffic.
Luckily, there are numerous strategies to starting driving traffic to your website.
For our purposes, let’s consider your two main choices:
- Free traffic
- Paid traffic
Free traffic is of course more appealing. But typically take more time, patience and work.
Paid traffic offers a quicker way to get traffic, but costs more (duh). It’s also riskier and requires more technical marketing finesse.
I recommend starting off with learning free traffic strategies. This can be a sweet asset to building a long-term sustainable business.
Free traffic, from places like Google or Pinterest, comes down to knowing SEO.
Although SEO can sound a bit technical if you’re new to digital marketing, it actually isn’t all that difficult to learn.
It all starts with keyword research and then creating high-quality, optimized content for those keywords.
You can also optimize for local rankings, by listing your business on Google My Business.
This way, you’ll actually show up when people in your area go searching for your industry’s key terms.
Of course, I can’t go into full detail on SEO strategy for this post…
But luckily, I’ve just finished up a brand new post outlining my step-by-step SEO process.
See here: My Complete SEO Guide and Content Roadmap! (It’s a good one! If I do say so myself…)
Tracking + Reading Data
Tracking and reading your business data is crucial. Although, admittedly, it can be a bit dry…
But you’ll definitely want to spend time learning which metrics and KPIs to pay attention to.
Why is tracking business data important?
Tracking your business data lets us make fully informed decisions.
We can quantify our decisions and organize our finances. We can know exactly what’s working (and what’s not).
Tracking KPIs saves us time and money and will optimize your business end-to-end.
What are some good metrics to track?
There’s no shortage of data we can track. But here are some key KPIs to get you started:
- Income sources
- Income + revenue distribution
- Working capital
- Return on ad spend
Growing A Creative Business
Growing and optimizing a business is multi-faceted and complex.
But at the end of the day, a successful business meets these criteria:
- Paying attention to the data and staying organized
- Always adding value
- Hiring out and finding the right talent
- Listening (and responding) to your audience’s needs
- Creating a great product or service
- Having patience and a strategic, long-term mindset
- Adapting to new technologies, trends and market changes
- Know your strengths and weaknesses
- Always be adding value
- Outsource jobs and tasks if you can
- Start small and grow sustainably
- Take care of your employees and partners
- Always keep learning
- Learn and use digital marketing
- Heed the trends
- Know your target audience and reevaluate often
- Ask for help
This post has covered a lot. So you may want to bookmark this page for future reference.
But if you’re ready to start your creative business, why not sign up for a website builder and start designing some pages and creating some content or blog posts.
It’s honestly one of my favorite parts of this whole process. Super fun.
It’s that initial “play dough” phase. It’s creative, it’s fun and it’s low commitment.
Thanks so much for reading. Let me know in the comments what questions you still have about starting a creative business!