Creative Entrepreneurs: Plans and Planning

Brittany Harrington-Smith, the founder of the Breaking Winds Bassoonbrittany-harrington-smithQuartet

1.Did you have a business plan when you started your business?

No, we didn’t. Basically, we did it for fun. Then we started getting popular, and we thought, oh, we can build something here. Basically, everything we’ve ever done has been not out of the necessity. Someone wants us, so we would figure out how to do that. Basically it’s like figuring out how does it go.

2.How do you reach your audience?

We usually get people interested in us and contact us. And we will build a tour based on that. Now we just got an agent. They have contacts or a friend or people who are interested in us. It’s not super methodical. It’s very network based.

  1. Do you think business plans are necessary for entrepreneurship?

It’s a nice idea. When you are breaking into a territory that on one has done it before, this is entrepreneurship. So having a business plan would be nice, I don’t think it’s not necessary. Whatsoever, it will be nice.

  1. If there was one thing you wish you had planned ahead for, what would it have been?

I feel like we have been so organic, and so I wish we just had known how serious people would be about our music, so we would have more things and places before we spread geographically. I don’t think there is anything I really wish we had done, because I don’t think it would be what it is now.

  1. What three pieces of advice can you offer developing arts entrepreneurs?

First, stick to what you want to do. Be true to what you want to do. We have had a lot push back from some more traditional generations, because we do a lot of pop and funny things. And it’s not always serious and that’s the point. Even our name we had a lot of push back but now it’s like we’re accepted for it. Second, have fun. I think anything in life is not worth if you don’t have some fun with it. Third, don’t think about things too hard, just do it. A lot of times we don’t know what we are doing, and we had to figure out and a lot pf people would think it is too hard, but we gonna figure it how to do it. So don’t be afraid to try things and don’t be afraid to fail, just do it. If you fail, try something else.

Dylan Smith works as freelance musician and assistant director for Studentdylan-smithAffairs at Division of Music

  1. Did you have a business plan when you started your business?

Sometimes being a performer involves negotiating, writing contracts, invoices, paying taxes and instrument repairs, so it involves costs and revenues. Knowing all these things is crucial to having success as entrepreneur. Usually the plan is to produce the best product as you can and test the market to see who’s willing to pay for the products. And since a lot musicians are doing the same exact thing, there has to be some way to differentiate your self. So when I was studying trumpet in undergraduate, I knew that I had competencies in both jazz and classical music which already differentiate me because not many of my colleagues were comfortable in both areas as much as I was. I felt like I could continue to pursue both areas really well. That was one thing, having the double bass as another avenue for revenue was really helpful. Then I realized I had other skills in terms of arts administration, so I had some jobs in orchestra and radio station and use those opportunities to develop my professional skills in terms of art management. That’s kind of how I differentiate myself. Performance goal in different style, different instruments and also I can do some administration.

  1. Do you think business plans are necessary for entrepreneurship?

I do. I think there are a lot of resources that are free and a lot of really smart people that are test cases of many different types of business models that you can adopt. So you definitely need one and spend sometime thinking about other people’s business models. And a lot of time they are related even if the type of business is complete different. I also recommended to students some books on how to have ideas about having a business plan for whatever they’re doing.

  1. What three pieces of advice can you offer developing arts entrepreneurs?

First, I would say that every relationship that you make is important and to put your network at high premium is going to pay off. Second, Help the people in your network when you can. Because that will only strengthen your business and your brand. Last, don’t be afraid to do something. It’s often times you create something that is not perfect but you will get better by completing a project and getting it out there and then when you would revise it in the future you will automatically improve it. I think that the more projects that you can see from the beginning to end, the bigger portfolio you would develop and more experience you would have and the more you would learn.

Damon K. Clark is the founder of Damon K Clark Vocal Studio and he worksdamon-k-clarkas freelance musician and singer

  1. Did you have a business plan when you started your business?

So as a freelance, when I started my career at my 20, I did not have a business plan. Then four years later I went into the corporate world and I took banking. It required that I understand business and understand how to put together business plans and presentation and budgets. When I started singing again, absolutely I created a business plan. I had to think of myself as the product but also as CEO, and all of the things. The first I thought is who am I as an artist now? Then that determines what kind of staffing you’re going to do on the inside to take care of those roles that are required, and then on the outside. And the vision has to match the music itself. So I figured out what music am I going to do mainly, which helped me inform my overall marketing book. Then I had to ask myself: will the clientele and the venue pay the amount of money for me that will sustain my lifestyle? I had to change my look a bit and make a little bit outside of the box of the genre that I was dealing with because I started doing market research. I found a genre that feels like neo-soul but it’s called neo-folk. That’s how I distinguished myself in Colorado. Next thing I knew: I would have five hundred to a thousand people at a show in Colorado.

  1. Do you think business plans are necessary for entrepreneurship?

Absolutely. The reason that a lot of people think business plan is a waste of time is that when you look into the business, it doesn’t look like business plan. Also I think people fail to consult with people who are already doing what you want to do. But even there is no one you can reach out, it’s still a good idea to do a business plan. When you write down the business plan, it helps you to solidify in your mind to understand the steps that you gonna take mostly to get the end goal and you will have less anxiety, and you would not make mistakes because of anxiety. And there is no path. The path will diverge. But still you have structure.

  1. What three pieces of advice can you offer developing arts entrepreneurs?

First, do not stagnate because of fear. Allow yourself to be moved by your interests, and don’t be afraid that that interest is not the right choice. It might not be. But so what, you’ll learn from it and the next thing you tackle will be that much better. Second, when you fall, don’t just lie there and ignore all the wonderful things you can pick up while you’re on the ground and take with you on your ascent. Third, enjoy your successes, because they will motivate you.

Mark Landson, the founder and director of Open Classical and the founder ofmark-landsonNeo Camerata

  1. Did you have a business plan when you started your business?

Open Classical started sort of organically. The problem we had with Neo Camerata was that people lived it, but we had difficult time figure out how to market. What happened was, I recognized that open mic could be the way to have a regular event which you could gather people week after week and eventually to market this group of people other professional events. So that’s what we started doing. We met great pianists there and eventually we took over the event and we changed it to make it better.

In the sense of a written business plan, I didn’t have that, but I did have a general understanding of I’m going to use this vehicle to create the audience, we gonna start from open mic. And I had certain guidelines, like the events gonna be successful because of these elements. The place gonna be our outreach then I would go raise money from wealthy people saying here’s what we are doing, and then I would have to get grants.

  1. Do you think business plans are necessary for entrepreneurship?

Yes. And it helps very much when you are raising money to be able to show people what it is that your plan is, how you’re going to use the money. It’s very normal when you are doing something new that things don’t work out exactly as you expect, so you have to change it. I’ve had to adjust correct force. At times I’ve thought ok, well, I think that our open-mic concept is really strong so we’re going to be able to do in other places what we’ve done in Dallas. People in other locations have tried to do it and it hasn’t been as successful as we’ve been able to make it here. Then I’ve had to think why and is it possible that that might not be the avenue to get to the final place in all situations.

  1. What three pieces of advice can you offer developing arts entrepreneurs?

First, you have to have a determination, that’s the most important thing in entrepreneurship. Second fearlessness. You can’t be afraid to speak to anybody, you have to know you pitch, you have to be able to make a persuasive case. Third, you have to keep an open mind to criticism and you have to be able to accept and attempt to look at your situation in a most objective way possibly. And you have to have passion of wanting to do that, not just passion for it.

Interview Analysis:

Even though none of the four entrepreneurs I interviewed had a written business plan, three of them had ideas of how to differentiate themselves in the market and the sequence of steps to take. And all of them think having a business plan is necessary for entrepreneurs. Not only in the music industry, but also in others, being an entrepreneur means exploring new territory. A business plan helps to lay out the general path to the goal and acts as a guideline of activities.

All of them mentioned that entrepreneurs face unexpected situations, and their advice is to be as flexible as possible. Looking into the advice they gave entrepreneurs, one would be stunned by the importance of fearlessness, which I take as the courage to start and pursue whatever you have interest in, regardless of whether you will succeed eventually. This reflects another point they made – that you always learn from your experiences so that even failure could be a precious lesson that helps you in your next steps.

One of the most important steps in entrepreneurship is to narrow the markets and determine the beachhead market where you have privileges and advantages that make you different. In the music market, it seems more difficult and thus more important for musicians, especially the freelance ones, to differentiate themselves. Unfortunately, in the traditional music education system, musicians lack the chance to gain knowledge about business and therefore lack market awareness later on the importance of being different and even engaging the audience in a different way, especially those in the classical music field. Gaining some business knowledge and thinking of their business plans helps to understand the general situation and musicians themselves. One can then decide to differentiate in music creation or start a music-related business.

What’s so interesting about entrepreneurship is that it’s universal. What you learn from one field can also be helpful in another, except for the specific skills related to a certain field. Being an entrepreneur is a complex role, and while these specific skills account only for a small part of the gains, the majority depends on the attitude taken toward overcoming new situations: being flexible, fearless, helpful to others, determined, and passionate about both your work and doing it.

Xinjie Luo, currently a student taking Developing an Arts Venture Plan in the Arts Entrepreneurship program at SMU, Meadows School of the Arts, conducted the following series of interviews. This interview series has been conducted, attempting to identify if creative entrepreneurs begin with business plans and if such plans are perceived as necessary. Advice and commentary follow.

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