Four Ways a Crystal Clear Brand Can Help You Build Your Creative Business | Eleanor Snare Sustainable Marketing for Creative Businesses

Four Ways a Crystal Clear Brand Can Help You Build Your Creative Business

On 28th September 2017 I’m launching a new do-it-yourself product for creative business owners to help them create a crystal clear brand.

It’s a downloadable workbook that takes you through all the essential, heart-and-soul elements of a brand, from your purpose and vision to your personality and core messages.


A brand sounds great – but it also sounds like a lot of work.

Why is having a crystal clear brand useful for creative business owners? Here are four simple ways it’ll help you build your creative business and reduce the stress and struggle you might be experiencing.


1. More effective decision making

With the right brand, the biggest impact you’ll see on your business is your ability to make more effective decisions. A brand is like a guiding light; it helps us decide what’s worth spending our time and energy on, and which things we should let go.

This applies to operational decisions – like the sort of products you should make and how you should make them – as much as it does to marketing tactics.

2. Less stress and struggle.

With more effective decisions comes less stress and less struggle. Creative business owners already have a hundred different plates to spin, from graphic design to accounting to email marketing.

Having a crystal clear brand makes spinning those plates much easier and smoother, making the whole experience of running your business more enjoyable.

3. Easier and enjoyable marketing

A consciously-created, crystal clear brand also makes it easier and enjoyable to focus your marketing in the right direction.

Rather than thinking about all of the things you should be doing, because someone on the Internet told you it was important, you can use your brand to guide you on focusing on what’s essential and relevant to you and your customer.

4. A consistent, clear message

For me, one of the most exciting things about developing a crystal clear brand is that it means your creative business will have a consistent and clear message for your customers.

Instead of not knowing what to say to your customers online, in print or in person – or worse, not really knowing why you’re saying it – your brand will guide you. You’ll have consciously created a message that’s clear and consistent; one of the key ways in which businesses achieve success.


In this article I talked about how brand is created whether you’re doing it consciously or not. With a brand that’s crystal clear, you realise you can be in charge of that conversation.

You can give your customers the message you want them to have, not rely on the one they make up about you when you’re not in the room.


Follow me on Instagram for more updates on the Crystal Clear Brand workbook

Screenshot of Trello board with lists on desktop

Three More Tools I Use to Maximise My Energy and Time + Choosing the Right Tools as A Creative Business Owner

I recently shared an article on the Five Tools I Use to Maximise My Energy and Time as a Creative Business Owner. There, I mentioned that:

“Having the right tools to help you do the jobs you need to do can make a huge difference to your enjoyment and fulfillment in your creative business.”

Here are three more tools that I rely on heavily in my daily work to bring me enjoyment and fulfilment, plus some helpful tips on choosing the right tools for you and your creative business.


Voice to text apps

One tool I use a lot is the voice to text function, particularly in my email and Google Drive. I’ve even started using it in Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

I’ve started using this because I discovered my work, and my comprehension of the work I’m doing, is often most effective when I explain it out loud. Ideally, I like to explain it to other people, but that’s not always possible – so explaining it to myself is the next best option.

It also saves me having to type out my thoughts; surprisingly this does take quite a long time, even for someone who’s spent five years doing big copywriting projects.

I’m prone to arm and shoulder pain if I use my phone too much (damn you Instagram!) so using voice to text in messaging also saves me that discomfort.

One benefit of the voice to text function is you can often be more natural in your writing and, at the same time, more concise. Both of these are great for clear communication.

This one tool has saved me a huge amount of time; I recommend you try it if you end up having to write lots of emails.

Screenshot of the voice to text function in Google Docs
Screenshot of the voice to text function in Google Docs

 


Journal and diary

I use a couple of non-digital tools as well as these online ones. These tools are important to me both professionally and on a more personal level.

On Instagram, I share pictures of my journal; I use this to have an overview of my week in one place. I try to make this overview as appealing to look at as possible, so I actually want to check in on my calendar. It also means I’d encouraged to look back on it, to see what I did, achieved and was grateful for.

As well as this journal I have a small diary which I use almost like a future planner – my journal is for the week ahead while the diary is for the whole year. It helps me to see, very quickly, whether I’m busy or not, what days I’m working and when I have availability to work with clients.

I do include some information about what I’m doing on the day in the diary, but really it’s an overview.

I find it a lot easier to check this overview on paper, and if someone wants to set a meeting or book me in for some work, I find I remember it more when I write it down.

This process of doing something on paper and then translating it into a digital form (like my Google Calendar) might seem like it’s not the best use of my time or energy; for me, it works well.

By writing it down, it means I’ve acknowledged and will remember I’ve committed to something. The digital version is then a helpful reminder for me and other people.

 


Trello

The final tool I use every day – and probably check something like every hour – is Trello. I’d originally tried to use Trello for some of my work with my students and a couple of client projects, but I never really got the hang of it.

However, this year I’ve got much more interested in it because of the way I’m planning my time. I use a particular system which I learnt in a program run by Jo Martin from One of Many. In this system, you allocate tasks and batch them together according to the type of energy they require.

For example, if you are at a time in your creative business where you need to have lots of meetings where you’ll be making decisions, you would match those meetings together; not because they’re meetings but because you are in a specific type of decision-making energy.

I’ve found Trello to be useful in helping me quickly code and allocate activities to different days depending on the energy they require.

If you haven’t used Trello before, it has a very similar feel to Pinterest. There are different boards which have different cards on them; a bit like Pinterest boards with different pins on them. Each card is a task and each board is a project. There’s another layer to Trello called lists, which are what the the cards fit into.

 

Screenshot of Trello board with lists on desktop
Screenshot of Trello board with lists on desktop, showing different days and tasks as ‘cards’

 

An example would be exhibiting at an upcoming craft fair. You might create a board for this craft fair (called ‘Craft Fair’) where all of the things you need to think about and the tasks you need to undertake would go.

You might have a list titled ‘Display inspiration’, and another called ‘Marketing’ (for thing you would do before and after the event. You may have another list called ‘Stock check’ and another called ‘Promotional materials’.

On each of these lists you would have a number of cards, each of which was a task you needed to do. So on the ‘Stock check’ list you might have cards saying:

  • Look through current catalogue
  • Count how many different products I have
  • Decide which new products I need to make

In your ‘Promotional materials’ list, you might have:

  • Take photographs for flyers
  • Write copy for flyers
  • Design flyers
  • Get flyers printed and delivered

 

Screenshot of a single list in the Trello mobile app
Screenshot of a single list in the Trello mobile app

 

Trello was originally developed as a tool to facilitate work between different people, but I’ve found using it independently to be really successful.

You can set deadlines for your tasks and tick them off as complete. You can also colour code them according to different activities; for example, you might have three different craft fairs you’re going to do in the next two months, so you could assign a different colour to each of those and to the different tasks.

 

Screenshot of single Trello card showing image attachments on desktop
Screenshot of single Trello card showing image attachments on desktop

 

The tasks themselves are also very rich in detail; you can add photographs, links, documents and comments – which is great for when you’re keeping an update of what you’re doing (essentially, talking to yourself!).

Most creative business owners have a huge number of things going on at one time. I’ve found Trello to be really useful in helping me plan my day, my week and even my months effectively by having a list of tasks to look at every day, so even when there’s lots going on I feel like I know what’s coming up next.

In particular, Trello’s flexibility is very appealing; if something doesn’t get done, I can quite literally move it to the next day.

 

Screenshot of single Trello card showing checklist attachment on desktop
Screenshot of single Trello card showing checklist attachment on desktop

 

I can also keep all of the little bits of information I need for a task in one place; for example, I recently visited a client and on the card for this task I included a link to their office on Google Maps, a screenshot of the walk I would need to do from the train station, and a screenshot of the train times – all in one tiny card! This saved me a lot of time because I wasn’t constantly opening apps or searching for the right information.

Although it can be tricky to get started with Trello, it’s one of my most-used tools, and one I’d highly recommend if you’re a creative business owner who likes things to be visual.

You can download and see Trello here: Android / iPhone / Web


Choosing your tools

Having a good set of tools to help you run your creative business can make things more enjoyable, maximise your energy and maximise your time. Everyone is different, so the tools that’ll work for you and your business may be very different to mine.

However, for a creative business owner, here are some of the things to look out for when you’re choosing the right tool to use.

The ability to set deadlines or time frames
This is helpful to keep you on track and make sure the things you want to get done do get done. Some tools have better deadline-setting options than others.

Colour coding or another type of categorisation
I find colour coding the most effective way to see categories quickly, and all of the tools I’ve mentioned have this functionality. If you’re a ‘visual’ person, this can make a huge difference in your use of a tool and how well it maximises your time.

Look for tools where colour coding is a normal and comprehensive function.

Flexibility
A tool should be flexible – which means you should be able to use it easily, change things easily, and not feel like it’s taking you more time to use than it is to do the things you want to do.

One of the problems I have with Outlook Calendar is it sometimes feels like it’s more time-consuming to use it with my colleagues at the university than simply emailing them to arrange a meeting time.

Flexibility is key, otherwise that tool will not be doing what it needs to do which is maximising your energy and time.

Content-rich
Most online tools now will allow you to add images, links, and more. If the tool has this functionality, use it; it helps you keep all the bits you need in one place, which ultimately saves you the energy of having to look for everything.

One of the most important things to remember when you start to use tools in your business to maximise your energy and time is to spend time setting them up properly.

If you use a tool incorrectly, it’ll end up costing you more in time and energy than it’s saving you.


What’s next?

The old adage is ‘the right tool for the right job’. That applies whether you’re trying to put a table together, or organise the next year of your creative business. Finding the right tool takes time, setting it up can take even more time, but this is time well spent.

Once they’re up and running, the right tools should help you, not hinder you. They should allow you to put your energy and your time in the place which is going to make the most impact for your creative business.

The tools I’ve mentioned all help me do this; what will you use?


Crystal Clear Brand - A Workbook for Creative Business Owners horizontal
The best tool for your creative business

In a few weeks I’m launching a do-it-yourself product on the best tool of all for maximising your time and energy in your creative business.

It’s a workbook guiding you through creating a crystal clear brand in an interactive, friendly and engaging way.

Your brand is the best tool for your business, because it helps you make decisions about everything from the products you make to the pictures you share on Pinterest, saving you time and energy.

If you’re interested in updates about the launch, sign up below.

To say thank you for signing up, once you’ve confirmed your email address you’ll get a free copy of my guide written specifically for creative business owners: How to Sell In Person Without Feeling Weird.


 

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If you feel like you're always trying to spin a hundred plates as a creative business owner, take a look at these three essential tools I use everyday - plus some advice on choosing the right tools for you to use.

The 5 Tools I Use to Maximise My Time and Energy as a Creative Business Owner - logos of tools - Eleanor Snare

The 5 Tools I Use to Maximise My Energy and Time as a Creative Business Owner

In my article today I wanted to share with you some of the tools I use regularly, often on a daily basis, to help me make the most of my energy and time when I’m running my creative business.

Having the right tools to help you do the jobs you need to do can make a huge difference to your enjoyment and fulfillment in your creative business.

I’ve used and tested these tools in running my business, including keeping track of my client work and the marketing activity I do, and they’ve helped me a lot.

Whatever your creative business, there’s definitely a case (and a space) for using them.

 


Google Calendar

I use Google Calendar and its full functionality to help me keep an accurate schedule and communicate what I’m doing to clients and family.

I have a specific public calendar which shows which days I’m available for work; I update this every day and I can send potential clients a link to this calendar on my website. All they need to do is check the calendar and see if my free time fits in with their project.

Another calendar is used to show my partner and family what I’m doing and when. So, if they ever need to check I’ll be home for dinner or free for a day out, they can do so without having to take too much time out of their day (or interrupt me in my work). And I also have a simple calendar which shows me the work activities I’m doing that day.

The monthly view on the Google Calendar app, showing my two different calendars.
The monthly view on the Google Calendar app, showing my two different calendars.

I really like Google Calendar because of the colour coding options, the reminder system and a whole host of other features which let you plug your schedule in and rely on it to do the complicated work for you.

It takes a bit of time to set it up properly, but once I’d done it I’ve found I save my time – and other people’s – from having the information in one place.

Google Calendar is much easier to use and more intuitive than any other calendar I’ve tried; if you’re not already using it to communicate with your clients, then – especially for service-led creative businesses – this could be a really good and completely free option.

Here are two separate calendars: the yellow is my public 'availability' calendar I share with my clients, and the grey/orange is my personal calendar I share with family.
Here are two separate calendars: the yellow is my public ‘availability’ calendar I share with my clients, and the grey/orange is my personal calendar I share with family.

 


Google Keep

Another Google tool I use is Google Keep; mainly as a phone app but also occasionally in my web browser. Google Keep is essentially a board of sticky notes, which you can colour-code, attach pictures to, include links and more.

The set up helps you keep on top of the myriad of little things you want to do, read, buy or see but perhaps right now you want to focus on something more important.

I use Google Keep to brain dump anything interesting I think about or find, when I find it. So on my phone, if I spot an interesting blog post I want to read later and not interrupt my current work, I’ll share it from my browser via Google Keep. This creates a sticky note in the app which I can go back to later and sift through.

You can also categorise your sticky notes; for example, I tend to keep a track of the money I’m spending each day in Google Keep and then formally add these to my expenses these at the end of the week.

It’s a really good alternative to constantly jotting down things to look at in my notebook, because it takes up less space and there’s more options for visual categorisation.

This can really help save time when it comes to engaging with the things you want to look at or read later on.

For me, it stops a five-minute distraction becoming a 55-minute one, saving me time and focusing my energy in the right place.

Screenshot of the Google Keep mobile app
What Google Keep looks like in the mobile app, including pure link notes, colour coding and links within notes.

 


Outlook Tasks

Because I work in two different capacities – one as a marketing consultant for creative businesses and one as a marketing tutor at university – I have to use different tools to fit in with the different organisations I work with.

This is especially true when I’m working directly with others who are used to doing everything via email, or a more traditional file-based system.

When I’m working at the university, one of the tools I rely on the most heavily is the task functionality in Outlook. I find this tool very useful, because I get a lot of emails and small tasks sent to me via email; for example, to dig out a document for someone or respond to a student email.

The task functionality in Outlook allows you to very quickly set an email as a task, including categorisation by colour and a specific deadline. This means instead of having a stuffed inbox which I have to sift and respond to, I have a task list of administrative activities each with a specific, simple deadline.

This saves me a lot of energy because I’m not having to make decisions every day about which tasks to complete, nor am I searching through my email for the right documents; it’s all joined up in the task functionality.

Your email provider might be able to do this for you; I also use Gmail and there are options for setting emails as tasks and ‘snoozing’ them for a certain time so you can respond to them when you have the right energy.

Screenshot showing Outlook tasks on desktop
Here’s what the Outlook task functionality looks like on my desktop at work; you can see how it divides up tasks according to deadline.

 


Tide

One app I really enjoy using is called Tide; I shared a picture of this on my Instagram stories recently.

Tide is a very simple, free app which helps you focus through playing ‘white noise’-style sounds. You can choose your sound style, including rain, a busy cafe, the ocean and rainforest. These sounds play for a specific amount of time; automatically the app sets a 25 minute period of focus, but you can change this (if you prefer or need something shorter or longer).

After 25 minutes, it pings to let you know to take a break. You can even set a specific length of break, and when it’s done it’ll automatically start playing again.

Screenshot of the Tide mobile app with the Forest sound selected
My favourite Tide sound selection: the rainforest. Click on ‘Start’ and the circle begins a countdown.

I found this app useful because I spend a lot of time on the computer, which isn’t always good for our health. Being able to focus intently for a short period of time – for example, when I’m writing up a workshop for a client – then be reminded to take a break where I can stretch or make a cup of tea is really useful.

Mentally, it also helps to know if you’re doing a particularly challenging task (like me sorting out my expenses), you just have to listen to the sounds: when the sounds stop, you stop.

It’s a good way to chunk out big projects that feel overwhelming too.

Screenshot of the settings in the Tide mobile app
Tide’s settings let you choose the length of focus time, break options and even ‘focus goals’.

 


Toggl

While I use Tide to focus for a specific amount of time, I use an app and website called Toggl to help me track the amount of time I’m spending on business activities.

In Toggl, you can set up projects and record how much time you’re spending on different tasks and different projects. If, for example, your creative business involves commissions, this could be a great way to track how much time you’re spending on each of your clients.

It could even be as simple as helping you price your products accurately by understanding how long they realltake to make.

It’s very simple to use; you click the ‘play’ button and it’ll start to time you. When you’re finished, you click the ‘stop’ button and it will have recorded the amount of time you’ve taken on the task.

Screenshot of Toggl showing the main timer summary
The summary page from the Toggl app; the colour coding applies to different projects. On the right are the times taken on a task.

A great feature is the weekly or monthly reports you can access which show you, in one glance, how much time you’re spending on different activities.

By understanding where I’m spending my time, I can make the most of it in the future, and Toggl saves me energy as I’m not worrying about how much I am over- or under-quoting on client work.

This app is very useful if you have lots of different projects going on in your creative business (which I know you do) or if you want to do an audit of how much time you think you might be spending on tasks. Like scrolling through cake recipes on Pinterest.

That there’s an app as well as a website is ideal, because you can time activities which are more ‘portable’ such as meetings, networking or a photography shoot.

The key is to remember to press play and stop; my sister used a similar app to time her walk to work and it thought she’d spent 12 hours getting there…

Screenshot of Toggl weekly report on desktop
An example of the weekly report you can see on the desktop version of Toggl. You can see daily activity as well as activities broken down by project or client.

 


What’s next?

Everyone’s creative business will be different, so the tools that are right for you might not work well for the next business owner. But if the tools I’ve tried, tested and recommend sound useful, here are the links to download them.

Google Calendar: Google Play / iPhone / Web

Google Keep: Google Play / iPhone / Web

Outlook : Google Play / iPhone / Web

Tide: Google Play / iPhone

Toggl: Google Play / iPhone / Web


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Plus more ideas on how to run and market your creative business enjoyably, just for subscribers.

 

The 5 Tools I Use to Maximise My Time and Energy as a Creative Business Owner - Eleanor Snare - Keeping on top of all the tasks in your creative business is tough. These are the five tools I've tried, tested and use every day to help me manage my work and enjoy what I do.


 

Competitor Analysis for Creative Businesses - a step by step guide from Eleanor Snare

Learn How To Make Your Creative Business Stand Out From the Crowd with this Step-by-Step Guide to Competitor Analysis

One of the fundamentals I teach our fashion marketing is students is competitor analysis, because to be a successful business you’ve got to know who you’re up against. Creative business owners don’t always take the time to work out who their competitors are, especially if they’ve started organically or are still developing their business alongside a day job.

Knowing and analysing your competitors gives you a really good understanding of where you are in the business eco-system. Are you high or low priced? Are you in a certain clique, or aesthetic, or making style? Are you totally, radically different, or subtly unique? And knowing the answers to these questions will help make your creative business stand out from the crowd.

By doing a competitor analysis, you’ll be able to:

  • See who you’re competing with for customers
  • Understand what other businesses are doing well (or not so well)
  • Come up with ways for your business to stand out

 

But I don’t have any competitors!

You might think that if you run a very niche, very specialist, or very small business there’s no point doing a competitor analysis – after all, how many competitors can you really have?

The answer is more than you think.

Although no one might be selling exactly the same hand-carved wooden yoga sandals as you, there will still be creative people carving wooden ornaments, making beautiful sandals and tapping into the ever-so-bendy yoga market.

Even for independent creative businesses whose service work depends on other businesses – like self-employed marketing consultants and copywriters, ahem – competitor analysis is important. I know there’s quite a few copywriters and marketing consultants in my area.

I know their specialisms, USPs, prices and client base. I know where I sit in the market and what my USP is.

I found all that out through a competitor analysis – not because I had some spare time, but because I wanted to make sure I was running by business in a credible, sustainable way, at the right price, and with a USP that had a true U. Doing it has helped me focus my marketing and my services, and kept my business on the right track.

 

A Guide to Competitor Analysis for Creative Businesses - Eleanor Snare

 

How to analyse your competitors

A competitor analysis really is very useful, and lots of creative business owners don’t do them. But if you do one, you’ll be able to make your business better by working out exactly how to stand out.

This guide is going to give you step-by-step instructions on how to do a competitor analysis that you can tailor to your unique creative business. This is something you can revisit in the future when new folk arrive on the scene, or when your business evolves.

You don’t need anything fancy for it, although doing it on the computer makes it easier to keep track of all your information.

It covers:

  • Working out who your competitors are
  • Desk research about your competitors
  • First-hand research
  • Understanding strengths and weaknesses
  • Highlighting danger areas
  • Lessons you can learn from your competitors
  • What makes you different (and how to use this to help you)

 

Step 1.

Work out who your competitors are

 

As I mentioned, it can be easy if you have a creative business that’s particularly niche, or you work independently, to think you don’t really have any competitors. But it’s very likely that you do.

Working out who your competitors are gives you a starting point for your competitor analysis. Your competitors might be ‘direct’ competition – they have the same business as you – or ‘indirect’ – they have a business which overlaps yours but isn’t quite the same.

For example, other freelance copywriters are my direct competition, while freelance community managers are my indirect competition; we don’t do the same thing but it does overlap.

You can start by thinking up a list of all the types of creative business that might be direct or indirect competitors. If you’re a fashion photographer, that might include non-fashion photographers, bloggers, creative directors, stylists – anyone who does something a bit like you.

You can make that list more comprehensive by considering these factors:

  • Geography: who in your local area could be a competitor? What about national competitors? Or international?
  • Product: who sells similar products or services to you? Who sells specialist products like yours? What about people who sell general products, but include ones like yours?
  • Aesthetic: whose business looks and feels like yours? Who has a similar aesthetic? Whose business could yours be confused with?

For example, a fashion photographer might find there’s no people doing fashion photography in her local area, but there are several photography studios which could be indirect competitors.

Step 2.

Do some desk research

 

Desk research means looking at the information that’s already out there and putting together your findings (normally sitting at a desk, of course). In your competitor analysis, it means researching your list of potential competitors online or in print and recording what you find out.

It’s time to be a detective.

I’ve found the easiest way to do this is with a spreadsheet which lists your competitors and different elements of their business. But if you want to work visually, or on paper, then choose the right tools that work for you.

There will be a ton of information that you can record about your competitors, but here’s the essential list to find out and record:

  • Basic details: name, business name, contact, website, social media links, email, where they operate
  • Business type: a short description of what their business is
  • Products and services: short descriptions of the type of products and services they sell (if you’re working on a spreadsheet it can be handy to give each type a different line)
  • Prices: individual prices for their product types or services
  • Aesthetic: description (plus pictures if you can) of their visual style and branding
  • Marketing: a description of what you can see they’re doing to market their business (like writing blog posts, sending newsletters, etc.)
  • USP: what you perceive their USP to be, or ideally what they say their USP is (if you can find out)

Don’t expect this to be a quick process. People have a habit of hiding the most important information in places you can’t find it, or being very vague about what their business actually does. But recording the information like this allows you to see, at a glance, what your competitors are doing – and later in your competitor analysis, it’ll help you work out how you fit in to this creative business eco-system.

 

Step 3.

Do some first-hand research

 

It’s always useful to support your secondary research with first-hand research – the stuff where you actually go out and find out new information. This isn’t always possible but it’s really, really useful if you can do it because you get first-hand experience of the business.

You can try visiting your competitors, checking out prices, seeing what their customer service is like, and generally being a ‘secret shopper’. It sounds sneaky but it’s exactly what big brands do when checking out their competitors (or what they do when testing the quality of their own staff).

 

Step 4.

Strengths and weaknesses

 

Once you’ve got all this information together, it’s time for some analysis of everything you’ve seen. Starting with strengths and weaknesses of your competitors is useful because it’ll help you quickly identify any common themes and any areas you need to think about for your creative business.

Here are some questions to help you analyse your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths:

  • Is your competitor well-established? Are they well-known in their field?
  • Do they appear to be popular on social media? Have you seen them in print or featured on websites?
  • Are they busy? Were there lots of customers or phone calls when you were in the shop? Is their calendar booked up?
  • Is their website easy to understand and use? Do they appear in search results for words related to their business?
  • Do they have a strong list of clients or retailers?
  • Do you think they look, feel and act professionally?

Weaknesses:

  • Is it clear what they and their business offer? Can you understand their USP?
  • Are they actively marketing themselves? Do you think it’s working effectively?
  • Was their customer service acceptable? Are customers satisfied with their products or services?
  • Was it difficult to get hold of them? Do you feel they look, feel and act professionally?

You might not feel like you can answer all these questions – how are you meant to know if they’re busy all the time, or their marketing is working? – but actually, you can. Because you are an expert in your field and therefore you can make a professional, educated judgement about what these competitors are doing.

The more of them you look at the more knowledgeable you become about what’s right for your industry and your business.

 

Step 5.

Danger areas

 

The whole point of a competitor analysis is to understand where you sit in the business eco-system (not just to make a handy list of who you should be keeping an eye on). So using what you’ve collected so far, and especially your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, you can highlight some danger areas.

Danger areas are elements of your competitors which could be dangerous to your business. For example:

  • A competitor offering cheaper services could undercut you
  • A competitor whose brand is similar to your own could confuse customers
  • A competitor stocking the same products could make you seem less unique

Not every competitor will present your business with a danger. But documenting as many of these danger areas as possible will help you in making sure your business stands up to the competition.

 

Step 6.

Lessons you can learn from your competitors

 

If you’re thinking, “I have so many competitors! There are so many danger areas! Eep!”, fear not. This is the part where you learn from your competitors to make your creative business even better.

Every competitor, no matter how small or indirect, will have something they can teach you.

Work through each competitor one by one, look at their strengths, weaknesses and danger areas, and see how they can help you improve your business.

Strengths is a great one to start with. Is there a competitor who is really doing well with local press? What’s her method? How does she get involved? What about one whose online presence is excellent? Learn from that.

Weaknesses next. Which of your competitors makes it hard to find out what their services are? Is there one who seems to be over (or under) priced? Think about why this could be and learn from it.

Danger areas can help you learn lessons from the future. If there’s a competitor stocking similar products to you, what could you learn to help you choose unique suppliers in the future? Or if their brand is so similar to yours it could be confusing, what could you do now to make sure yours is the one customers remember?

Keep these in mind when you’re moving your business onto the next step, as it’ll help you make the right choices so you fit effectively into this creative business eco-system.

 

Step 7.

What makes you different

 

Now you know your competitors inside-out, understand their strengths and weaknesses, and have learnt from what they’ve done, it’s time to re-affirm exactly what makes you different.

Having something which makes you different from your competitors is the way a creative business eco-system thrives. It’s means you’re developing a creative business which fits into a niche.

It’s the same reason why 8.7 million species survive on the planet, or why 18,000 beetle species were found in 2.5 acres of rainforest in Panama. They all find a niche.

That doesn’t mean all those beetles aren’t competing; it means they’re not all competing for exactly the same thing. You and your creative competitors will be competing for customers, but not for exactly the same customer. Explaining what makes you different means you can seek out that customer more readily.

It also means you have a snappy comeback to suppliers, clients or other customers who say “But so-and-so is cheaper/better/greener/whatever-er”.

“Yes they are”, you can say, “but here’s exactly why you should go with me instead.”

For example, I know there are freelance marketing consultants and copywriters out there who are much cheaper than me (and some who are way more expensive). But my cost is based on my experience and skills – which are really quite good.

So I can say:

“Yes, so-and-so is cheaper than me…but they haven’t worked with international brands or given one-to-one workshops or [you get the picture]”.

Compare yourself, honestly, to the competitors on your list. Ask yourself what makes you different. Are you:

  • More experienced?
  • Better priced?
  • Friendlier or more professional?
  • Easier to work with?

Write it all down and be ready to use it as your snappy comeback, and as a reminder about exactly why you’re worth buying from.

You’ve done it.

Phew.

Congratulations – you’ve completed a competitor analysis for your creative business. If you’ve followed each step closely, you’ll have a great database of who your competitors are, what they’re doing well (and not), and the ways in which you can make sure you stay one step ahead.

Everything here can help you decide what to do next with your business, from developing new services to making sure your branding is the one customers remember.

 

Eleanor Snare 4 Ways to Manage Your Creative Business

Four Ways to Manage Your Creative Business and Keep Your Cool

This year I’ve taken some big (ish) steps with my own business. I submitted my first proper tax return, I redesigned my whole website, added new services to my offer and moved into a new office space.

While none of those things were stress-free, I did them all to make sure that the future of my business – and the way I work – would be as stress-less as possible. Doing all of them made me feel really good. Even the horrors of submitting an online self-assessment resulted in a jump for joy, although the tax bill didn’t.

Here I’ll share with you a few simple ways you can manage your creative business and still keep your cool, even when you feel like you’ve got more work than you can handle. For lots of small and creative businesses, summer can be a quiet time as lots of customers are on holiday; use some of the time to reflect on how you work and maybe rearrange things to make sure your methods are stress-less and enjoyable.

4 Ways to Manage Your Creative Business - a guide for keeping your cool as a creative business owner


#1 Get a workspace to call  your own

For the last year (and more, when I was working full time and freelancing) I worked on my business from my bedroom. My computer was on the desk at the head of my bed, and at the beginning of this year I felt like I only lived in one room – and it drove me a bit mad.

I think there’s a bit of a myth about independent and creative businesses. There’s the dream that you can work from anywhere, like a fancy coffee shop or the park, but the reality is there’s only so long you can make a latte last and glare is the screen-worker’s worst enemy. You end up working at home, and it means you never get a break from work.

If you have the space in your house, dedicate a room to being your home office. When you’re in there, you’re working – and when you close the door at night work is done. One of the best business investments I’ve made has been my office space, because it forces me to focus on either work or play. Getting a workspace to call your own, whether it’s a shed, co-working desk, spare room or kitchen corner, is essential to maintaining a calm creative business.


#2 Use the right tools for you and your business

As a creative business person you will already have a whole range of tools for the ‘creating’ bit of your business – maybe different camera lenses, art materials, props, or whatever. Just as important are the tools you use for the less-than-creative bit of your business; the accounting, project management, diary keeping, and all those underwhelming parts.

Sustainability is very important to me so I have tried very, very hard to use digital tools to manage my business. I’ve tried nearly every free project management tool going, set up multiple schedules on Google Calendar and signed up for plenty of accounting software trials.

Every single time, I come back to pen and paper for nearly everything. I don’t want to – I don’t think it’s very sustainable – but I can’t seem to manage my business properly unless I write things down. I use a Filofax for blog and social media planning, and a small, un-sexy diary for workload and appointments. For accounts, I use Google Sheets and keep my receipts in an envelope. It’s a surprise I don’t have an abacus.

But it works for me. Finding the right tools for managing you and your business is important not just for the smooth running of your business, but because trying to keep it all in your head will definitely lead to stress and anxiety – the absolute opposite of calm. If you’re not sure what works, experiment with different tools for two weeks each as it’ll give you a good idea of what you find most appropriate.

When you work two days a week, this is quite a good to do list. 😎

A photo posted by Eleanor Snare (@ebsnare) on


#3 Make your work (and workspace) healthy

Workspaces are the hottest interior porn on Pinterest; scroll for just a few minutes and you’ll see immaculate white spaces with motivational postcards, shiny Macbooks, plates of pastel doughnuts and probably a pug. Creative workers snap their morning smoothie bowl for Instagram before “slaying it” all day on only an avocado. No-one looks tired.

And yet – so much of it is unhealthy.

Health and safety is not fancy. It’s not cute. It doesn’t come with gold handwriting on. But if you don’t get it right for your business you’ll really suffer.

So when I say these white workspaces are unhealthy, it’s because:

  • They have beautiful chairs – that don’t provide any back support
  • They only feature laptops – which you should only use for 20 minutes at a time
  • They put computer screens in front of walls – which doesn’t allow your eyes to get a rest
  • They don’t include carbs – which may be an exaggeration but no-one can do much work on a bowl of pureed berries

Work itself should be healthy too; you don’t need to (or should be) “slaying it” all the time because you’ve got to leave some of that energy for you, your mind and your body to replenish itself. Don’t crush yourself for the sake of what is – at the end of the day – just a job.

Have a look at the health and safety information that’s most appropriate for your workspace and put it into practice – for example, if you run a shop you’ll have different requirements than a home-worker, or someone in an art studio. Check those aggravating clients you have or some of the high-pressure situations you find yourself in – they won’t lead to a calm creative business or a sustainable lifestyle. And get yourself some plants; they’re the ultimate health improver.

Today, in the studio. Not pictured: chocolate muffin 🍩

A photo posted by Eleanor Snare (@ebsnare) on


#4 Find your team mates

There are some universal truths about working by yourself, or at least most of the time by yourself:

  • You will talk to yourself almost constantly
  • And either mutter or babble at your partner/housemate/friend when you see them after an ‘alone day’
  • ‘Friends’ now means houseplants, and you will name them
  • Some days you won’t get dressed or shower, but you’ll eat biscuits for every meal

Running a creative business often means working by yourself, or at least spending a significant amount of time alone – maybe creating, planning or managing your business. And too much time by yourself with just you and your business for company can be hugely stress-inducing (although the biscuits are good).

Finding team mates who you can share ideas with or grumble to is very useful for developing calmer, less stressful ways of working. Spending too much time with ideas in our own head can lead to anxiety or self-doubt; while your team mates might not like your ideas, they’ll be objective and often much more positive than Your Brain By Itself would be.

Team mates can be fellow creative business owners, freelancers, or people you share your workspace with. There are also plenty of networking and support groups on Facebook, which can be good if you’d like specific advice. My team mates range from seasoned freelancer friends to my sister and partner, all of who prevent me from becoming a hermit and offer excellent business advice.


Those are my four top ways to manage your creative business and help you keep calm, no matter what’s happening: get a workspace, use the right tools, make it healthy and find your team mates.

What else would you add to the list? What’s worked for you?





Five Essential Business Advisors for Creative Business People

Before I decided to set up my own creative business, I spent a lot of time asking for advice.

Who you ask advice from is just as important as the advice itself. It’s easy to choose people you know will affirm your business decisions. Asking people who might contradict you, challenge you or make you question your choices is hard.

But these advisors who push you can help you make better decisions and commit more firmly to your goal.

When I was about to leave school I was set on doing an art foundation year at my local college. Because my school focused on academic achievements, my other tutors weren’t able to help me make the right choices. I was sent to my art teacher. I explained what I wanted to do.

He looked at me and asked:

“But are you sure you can do it?”

I was shocked. After being turned away from other tutors, I expected him – the arty, creative one – to fully support my decision. But instead he challenged me to prove it was really what I wanted.

I fought my corner passionately. After I’d finished, he nodded and said: “Then you should do it.”

He wasn’t trying to discourage me. As an advisor, he was challenging me to demonstrate my commitment. He wanted me to come to the right choice independently.

Without his prompting, I wouldn’t have proven to myself that my chosen path was exactly what I wanted.

When you make a business decision, especially one as life-changing as becoming self-employed or running a creative business, you need advisors who’ll make you prove yourself, as well as people who’ll help you along the way.

Do you have these people in your circle?

The Cheerleader - Eleanor Snare

The Cheerleader

“You’re doing great!”

This person supports you, unflinchingly and unfailingly.

Even in the middle of what feels like a total disaster, they’ll point out the benefits and lessons you’re learning. They’ll tell other people how great you are and lift your spirits. Often, these people aren’t your closest friends, because those people know you too well to be positive all the time.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a few brilliant Cheerleaders in friends and former colleagues who have always told me I’m doing well – even when I’ve felt the opposite.

The Challenger - Eleanor Snare

The Challenger

“You already know the answer.”

This person listens to your problems and encourages you to find the way out yourself.

They won’t, under any circumstance, tell you the answer – even if they know what it is. They will also push you to communicate if they can sense underlying problems you’re not talking about. They’ll often be a mentor figure and have a career that’s ahead of yours.

My Challenger is my partner, who knows me – and my problems – very well, as well as having rich professional experience he can draw from.

The Comrade - Eleanor Snare

The Comrade

“Seriously, it happens all the time.”

This person has been there, done that and seriously knows their stuff.

They might not work in the same field as you, but they’ll have experienced every one of your problems twice over. They will often tell you their approach, rather than suggest you find your own way out, but that can be really valuable. Comrades are your siblings in business, who’ll always lend an ear and a hand.

My Comrades include self-employed copywriters, web designers, graphic artists and project managers who have all taught me something useful about being a freelancer.

The Catalkyst - Eleanor Snare

The Catalyst

“Well, why not?”

This is the person who tipped the scales; the one who made you make that big decision.

Business decisions can take a long time to be made, and I’ve found there’s normally one or two people whose opinions finally set wheels in motion. They might not actively encourage you to take big leaps, but something they say will be a trigger for your actions.

My main Catalyst was my dad, who worked in a classic nine-to-five job for thirty years. When I asked him what he thought about being self-employed, he said “If anyone can do it, you can.” That convinced me to make the change.

The Critic - Eleanor Snare

The Critic

“Hmm, I’m not sure…”

This is the person who believes you won’t do it, you can’t make it, it’s not that easy and you don’t stand a chance.

Often the Critic is simply voicing their own fears about how they couldn’t do what you’re doing, but their viewpoint plays an important role in your business decisions. By paying attention to their criticisms you can normally find a grain of truth in what they’re saying, no matter how uncomfortable it is.

My Critics have included nervous friends and ex-colleagues, whose thoughts – while frustrating – made me want to prove them wrong and helped propel me forward.


Five Advisors - Eleanor Snare

Five essential advisors, one centred decision maker

I believe these five people – the Cheerleader, Challenger, Comrade, Catalyst and Critic – are crucial in helping you make strong business decisions, especially if you’re a creative business owner or self-employed.

When you operate independently, you don’t have a team of people around you to discuss decisions with; you have to find your own circle of business advisors.

Choosing those creative business advisors wisely means allowing difficult opinions as well as positive ones into your decision-making. By doing so, you’re much more likely to take a considered and well thought out path.

Without a range of advisors, you’ll end up swaying to an extreme position. Keep the five points in place and you’ll be able to centre yourself and your business much more effectively.

 

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