The Creative Entrepreneur – WOW

Good networking event last night hosted by WYLLN, bmedia and nti.

Explored a couple of questions:

  • In a fast-moving industry dominated by freelancers and SMEs, what does ‘Leadership & Management’ really mean?
  • Why is it important?

More prosaically put – why are so many creative/digital businesses poor at establishing basic business processes, managing other creatives and getting paid?

My opinion?

It is because we (the business support industry) insist on training digitals and creatives (and every other entrepreneur) that they have to do all this stuff if they are going to be successful in business.

And this is, frankly, nonsense.

It damages people.

It distorts them from their true purpose.

The challenge is being comfortable with who you are, what you want to become and what you want to spend your time doing.  Enterprise is a long term process of becoming, of exploring and realising potential.  And then finding people you can work with to do the rest.  It is about negotiating your self interest and building the right team.  All really successful business are team starts.

Why don’t we teach this?

  1. Find out what you love.  What you really love. Something that will keep you engaged for years while you strive for mastery and excellence.
  2. Get really good at it and keep getting better.  Specialise.
  3. Understand the importance of other things that you do not love.  Learn to respect and value them.  If you are a creative/digerati this is likely to be management, sales and marketing. (Most creatives and digitals have spent many hours over many years working alone honing their craft.  They tend to be introverted and uncomfortable with conflict.  Hence the aversion to management, sales and marketing.)
  4. Find other people who love doing the bits you hate.  Form a team.  A strong team. Form it with care. Take your time.  Unpicking the wrong team can be very expensive.
  5. Collaborate on developing a vision and an action plan for the business.
  6. Act – act often.
  7. Reflect and learn.


DO NOT TRY TO DO IT ALL.  You will build a mediocre business.  You will find yourself falling out of love with large parts of it.

Dave Pannell from the Design Mechanics recognised that he would perhaps never have been a really great graphic artist (I think I heard you say that Dave).  And my guess is that this freed him up to run a great design business.  His job is to work on the business as it grows and to spend less time working in it.

Liz Cable from Reach Further is building an agile team of freelancers and employees covering all the main bases.  Balancing the demands of MD/entrepreneur working on the business, and passionate digerati working in the business is already a challenge.  Being  1.4 of an FTE is not sustainable.

I suspect that Liz will either have to spend more time in the MD role or find someone the team trusts to take this on, freeing her up to surf the wave of technology and its application to building better businesses.  Or she may find a way of balancing the two.  However if the growth plans she outlined are to be realised I suspect a decision one way or another will be required before too long.

You see the real job of the entrepreneur is to manage the art of becoming.  It is about the emergence of identity; building a life and a living – not the development of cash flow forecasts or the ticking of boxes on a competence framework.  And when we take this seriously we will develop much more powerful and engaging process for enterprise education and build more powerful, sustainable and great businesses.

We must remember that the Latin root of educate is ‘to lead out’.   Our job is to facilitate the emergence of identity – not to pour in the trivia of business skills.


  1. I captured Liz Cable’s performance here, sorry about the video quality, it was an experiment

  2. Helen Whitehead says:

    “… the real job of the entrepreneur is to manage the art of becoming. It is about the emergence of identity; building a life and a living …”

    I do think you’ve said that very well, Mike. I was speaking to some social entrepreneurs yesterday and they were passionate about what they did and how it was their life, not just a “job”. And those of us who take the plunge are lucky to feel that way and be able to run with it.

    • Cheers Helen. That means a lot coming from a proper writer! I think there is no doubt in the truth of the statement. The problem is that much professional practice – what is done in the name of enterprise education completely ignores it!

      Even worse it runs counter to it. “To suceed you need to be something you are not. To be successful it is not enought to be creative. You must also be able to sell. You must be good with finances and financial planning. You must be rational and analytical and emotionally intelligent. In order to succeed you must become superhuman – wearing your underpants over your trousers.”


      To succeed you must be human. You must work on becoming more human. You have to learn to be social. You have to negotiate your own self interest.

      Thanks for taking the time to post. I do hope I get the chance to work with Reach Further more closely!

  3. paramountlearning says:

    Hi Mike.

    Some really interesting points. I agree with your concept about balanced teams – stick to what you enjoy doing and are good. Then bring others in to do the essential tasks that might not float your boat but are essential in ensuring your business stays afloat .

    However this can be difficult in a two or three person business where the owners enjoy being creative, coming up with fantastic ideas but do have the business acumen to turn their ideas and concepts into a roaring success. In my general opinion they have to be able to learn some basics of running a business or risk losing everything if they stay as a small core of creative people. At the end of the day we can only stay in business if we are good at business.

    My old boss used to say to me

    What do we make here Peter?

    “Chemicals” I replied.”

    “No” He said, “We make money. Never forget that in business, We just chose to make chemicals because that is what we are good at”

    I guess he had a point that to continue in business we need to be good at all parts of the business.

    Some thing struck a chord with me in Liz’s presentation. She talked about flexible working and having people in the business with specific skills – not necessarily employing them full time as that puts a financial strain on the business. Reach Further have a number of part time flexible workers including an experienced FD to keep their team balanced and on track.

    Liz has been smart enough to realise that having people on board with key functional skills is an essential part of the overall make up of any business and has come up with a smart way of achieving this balance.

    All in all a good though provoking event.

    • My point is that a ‘small group of creatives’ will almost certainly not have sufficient diversity to do anything great. They have to access the complimentary skills and passions. They have to learn to trust and respect other disciplines. This is always difficult – but worth the effort.

      ‘Enterprising’ cultures make this easier because the additional pairs of hands are readily available and know how to collaborate effectively.

      We just chose to make chemicals because that is what we are good at? We chose to make chemicals in the first place because that is who we are. That is what we are. Chemists. Now we need to alloy our chemistry with some entreneurs and see if collectively we can make some cash.

      Success, identity and the negotiation of self interest are all closley linked.

  4. Interesting discussions coming out of this event and I hope to see them continue. We also held a panel discussion on Monday about Project Management for business, which raised more interesting questions about how to get the balance right between the ‘creative’ and ‘management’ sides of a business.

    We’re always looking for more collaborative event ideas, so if there’s more discussion to be had, nti will be more than happy to open it’s doors for another debate!

    Hope everyone enjoyed themselves and thanks to those who attended 🙂

  5. I’m really thrilled that so many people at the event and here are opening their eyes to the benefits of employing flexible and remote workers.

    Our partners in the Beyond 9 to 5 project are flexworks-uk, if you’d like to talk to experts in flexible worker recruitment, and get an idea of how it could work for your business. They are at

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