Creative Entrepreneurs Interviewed by SMU Student Sydney Clark

The following are three interviews with creative entrepreneurs, conducted by SMU student Sydney Clark, followed by Clark’s analysis. This was conducted for the course Developing an Arts Venture Plan. The task is to assess how many creatives began with a business plan and if such plans are considered necessary by the creatives themselves. 

Clyde Valentín ClydeValentin2

SMU Arts & Urbanism Initiative, Hi-ARTS

Sydney Clark (SC): Did you have a business plan when you started your business?

Clyde Valentín (CV): … My first business, we didn’t go into it with a business plan, so, therefore, we didn’t have a good strategy to address our growth; how we should view our magazine. The time we were publishing was the mid-90s (so a while ago) and we lost several opportunities because we weren’t prepared and didn’t have our role down. So, I would say I learned a considerable lesson about how companies are run in our first venture. I would say that in my second venture [the New York Hip Hop Arts & Culture Festival, HI-ARTS] we’ve been doing about 15 years and we’re on our third plan, so we had a new plan about every 3 to 5 years or so. The first plan wasn’t that successful. Each plan has gotten tighter and been more useful as a tool to guide the organization and its stakeholders.

With the launch of Ignite Arts Dallas – which is produced by SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, because I was completely unfamiliar with Dallas and the school but comfortable with [my ability in] entrepreneurship and confident [in my ability to] find spaces in the arts and culture landscape of Dallas in addition to our school. I took a year listening and surveying my [new environment]. I also took the time to collaborate with artists and sponsor some projects just to get a feel for things on the ground.

I found that [this process] initiated the launch of the pilot phase. Now it’s easier to find the connections when I need to. I’ve already done the financials and broken it down, so now I can take the next steps. Through all of these things, I’ve truly gotten a sense of how I can work successfully within the context of social ventures within this organization.

SC: Do you think business plans are necessary for entrepreneurship?

CV: I do. You need to be very clear about what kind of entrepreneur you are, so if you start thriving, you should know exactly when to get out. You need the skill sets necessary, from a leadership standpoint, to move on to the next stages of development. Some entrepreneurs can’t move from phase to phase in their organization’s life, so it’s important to know your own skill sets as well as where you’ll be comfortable. But, I think plans are vital. Outlining an initial strategy [helps you] learn more about your market and what it is that you should offer from a service standpoint. Be adaptable.

SC: What three pieces of advice can you offer developing arts entrepreneurs?

CV: Always listen to your instincts. That’s number one. Number two: Reach out to the people that you find interesting and that speak to what your passions are. And number three: Make sure you’re having fun.

Lauren Cross LaurenCross2

Artist, Filmmaker, Curator, WoCA Projects Founder

SC: Did you have a business plan when you started your business?

Lauren Cross (LC): Yes. I’m an artist, but I also run a non-profit arts organization that I founded a couple of years ago. So in developing that particular endeavor, I did draw up a business plan. As an artist, for each individual project that I work on, I always draw up a plan. I’ll write out a bit of a narrative for my own self: what I want the installation to do, mapping out what would it take for me to accomplish that goal, what kind of materials I will need, etc. Then I give myself a timeline and a deadline to get it done.

SC: Do you think business plans are necessary for entrepreneurship?

LC: It just depends on the kind of endeavor. I think that for artists, when they’re doing artwork, it can be useful to use techniques that you might learn within a business plan and them apply them to the production of a project. For any kind of arts-based business or arts entrepreneurship endeavor, I definitely think it’s help to have some kind of business plan or some kind of vision [laughs] of what you’re hoping to accomplish and your strategy for getting there. It keeps you rounded and keeps you focused on what it is that you’re trying to do. Somewhere down the line, there ends up being more structure. I personally feel like it’s better to have a plan. It doesn’t have to be a business plan, just…

SC: Just something to keep you organized in general, like a to do list or something?

LC: Yeah. I feel like that helped me with my [arts] practice and my organization was understanding the kinds of things that my organization was supposed to be doing. Because it’s like, ‘Oh, this is under the umbrella of things I said we were going to do;’ using abstract terms to describe [what you want out of your company or the purpose and mission]. So when situations come up and people say, ‘Oh, I would love to partner with you,’ then you can look back to your plan and your goals and say, ‘Yeah, absolutely I can partner with you,’ because it fits into my organization’s mission.

SC: What three pieces of advice do you have for developing arts entrepreneurs?

LC: I think that the greatest thing that I’ve learned is to just keep going. There’s so much learning in the process of developing your arts business. But, you evolve. As you keep at it, and keep meeting people and networking, you discover things and you’re able to hone in on the thing that matters the most. So number one is try to start an arts business that you’re actually passionate about [laughs]. The other thing that I would say is I benefitted greatly by gaining mentors in the field. It’s good to have people that you can trust and that you can talk to honestly and receive honesty back. You should pick people whose work you respect so that you’re willing to receive what they have to say.

Lucy Dang LucyDang1

Bridal Designer, Stanley Korshak

SC: Did you have a business plan when you started your business?

Lucy Dang (LD): I had an idea. I didn’t have an official 30 page written business plan until probably a year going into it. You need to have a business plan [but it’s important to] grow organically.

SC: Do you think business plans are necessary for entrepreneurship?

LD: I think in certain fields, it is necessary. For [her field of] fashion, you don’t really know [what the trends will be]. It’s always changing, so you don’t know. They’re asking you to predict sales and figures, but you don’t know what the customer is going to buy this year. I think a lot of it is made up. I go back and look at my very first one and I say, ‘It’s full of fluff.’ [Laughs] That’s just my honest opinion, but you do need a general idea. Later on, as your business grows you want to have goals. That’s basically what my business plan is: ‘How do I meet my goals?’

SC: What three pieces of advice can you offer developing arts entrepreneurs?

LD: I’d say have an end goal. And don’t be scared [laughs]. And don’t be afraid of hard work. Without hard work, you’re never going to get anything.

Analysis by SMU student, Sydney Clark

In the interviews I conducted, there was a general theme surrounding arts business plans: it’s good to have some form of one. Though a business plan isn’t exactly a format that every venture will fit to exactly, a bird’s eye view is something that is necessary: what you want and where you want to end up. Along with the generalities, it seems like there is a point where entrepreneurs just have to jump into decisions because a leap of faith is required. Guttural instincts seem to come in handy in these situations, but also as an entrepreneur in general. Much of entrepreneurship is luck-based and everyone seemed to sort of touch on this theme in conjunction with adaptability.

Evolution is definitely a large part of surviving in the market, but I also think evolution is important to the personal growth and success that comes with developing your own brand. In a lot of cases, you’re not just changing your product, you’re admitting that your ideas are not always the wisest. When you accept that, your ideas become more dynamic and often times more thoughtful because you took in different perspectives in order to shape the idea.

Something that I don’t think I ever realized was the power of mentorship. Having a mentor is an incredible asset to anyone who is an entrepreneur. I’m the type of person that tends to benefit from a certain amount of guidance: not necessarily someone who orders me around, but some to help me when I’m stuck. The comment about mentorship has really motivated me to find someone who can be there for me as well as give experienced constructive criticism. Conducting these interviews really forces me to face my lack of action. I often have great ideas but get caught in not fully executing them. My ‘know-how’ needs to match my ‘can-do,’ and this investigation has given me new insight for that transition.


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