It’s been exactly 3 years since we launched our studio D&D Creations. The 3-year milestone is a very important one; we are officially out of the start-up zone, more doors are getting open, but with more possibilities come more responsibility and expectations. I’m looking forward to new challenges, and I hope that from now on, each year we can take a little bit more risk that will eventually pay off.
My co-founder had over 15 years of experience in business, but for me, this is my first company. Everything I experienced here was something new, each experience was (and is) a learning experience, each challenge I face makes me stronger and wiser. Since everything was new to me, 3 years ago I pictured myself passing the 3-year milestone, celebrating success like crazy, looking forward optimistically to the future, enjoying the freedom of having full control over my schedule, thinking that one day the world would be my oyster. But today, I woke up with much deeper thoughts (and it’s not the champagne talking), reflecting on the things I’ve learned during this 3-year journey, both in general and as an artist. Then I decided to write them down. I’m not gonna tell you how to run a business; there are several books and courses for that (which is highly recommended to take if you don’t have any background in business). I‘m not writing this to preach, but I genuinely hope it may help some of you, in one way or another. What were the lessons, do-s and don’t-s that I personally experienced as a young, first-time business owner and artist? What would I do differently if I could go back 3 years in time? Because I’ve made a few bad decisions; and sometimes I purposely chose the rough way, purely for the sake of learning from it. Well, here they are…
- Know your strengths and accept your weaknesses (under the conditions that you’ll work on improving them). No one is perfect, even the most successful people have weaknesses, you just don’t know about them, because they focus on what they’re good at. Find a co-founder with the same goals and passion that completes you, who has the strengths you are lacking. Your strengths will complete his/her weaknesses.
- Having a couple of high-end computers and a website does not count as “start-up capital”. Do not start a business without having some $$$ in store, even if it’s legally possible. Hardware may need to be replaced when you least expect it, and you need to pay bills even when you have a break from work.
- It’s highly recommended to have your “core crew” (and choose them wisely) – co-founder, attorney/legal advisor, accountant, insurance agent, mentor/advisor – *before* launching…. And you better be aware of their rates.
- Starting a small business without a fix income is risky as hell. Possible, but it will require a lot more sacrifice. Even if you’re not a 9-to-5 type of person, even a part-time job provides more security than a start-up, unless you have enough backup. Banks would offer you loans to kickstart you, but it’s better to cover your expenses from your income than starting a business with debt, and you don’t have to worry about paying back your investors as well. If you have a throrough business plan and work your ass off for a couple of years, there comes a point when your business will be self-sufficient.
- If it takes 3 years to acknowledge no.4, don’t blame yourself. It’s all part of the learning process, and you just became wiser.
- If your partner is a better negotiator than you, just shut up and let them do the talking. Even if things seem weird at first, trust their skills. They know what they are doing.
- Getting each of your contracts reviewed and approved by your lawyer costs a lot less than the consequences of an unclear, insufficient contract. ….I don’t think I even have to mention to always get a contract signed, even if your client is a friend (of a friend). And stick to it. No changes without any written consent.
- The directors care about deadlines, the management and the investors care about figures, the client cares about both. Your creativity is the bottom of the food chain. Put your creativity in your personal work, and you’ll be content.
- Never sign a contract without making sure that a proper pre-production has been taken place (unless your crew is responsible for that as well). It will end up in several hours of excess work and endless arguments about figures, and you end up losing more than you can possibly gain.
- A few clients might try to intimidate you and make you believe your skills are not worth their money when it comes to invoicing. [Note: this is rather an experience as a freelance artist. As a company, they take you more serious, though this still might happen]. Remember, they hired you, out of several other artists, because they needed to fill a hole in their pipeline with the skills you have. It’s all a game; of course people want to get more for less. You do have the skills. Stick to your contract and don’t let them discourage you.
- A lot of people think that creatives are a different species, and they can be treated in another way than other services. The best way to convince yourself that this is not true is to imagine the “restaurant-situation”. Would you ever be able to get a “spec” coffee for free? No. Would you have the option to pay for your meal only if it tasted nice? No. Would you be able to get a free meal in exchange of promoting the restaurant? No. Deliver what you promised and do your best, but you are offering a service. A good result needs work, work needs time, time is money. Period.
- If someone says you are the best, shut up, smile and accept their opinion. Imagine yourself having a cup of coffee at a restaurant (again), complementing the waiter saying they’re the best restaurant in town, and they start questioning your statement. Doesn’t look good, does it? Why would it be different in our industry?
- If you think running your own business grants you full control over your schedule, you’re wrong. This is not the period to turn some good deals down just because your plans are different (such as going on vacation). If a new deal comes, you can forget about planning ahead.
- You need a healthy self-esteem to stay in this business, but don’t let your ego go out of control to a point when you underestimate and discourage aspiring artists. You never know how fast they’ll improve, and one day you might need them.
Back to the introduction about thinking of celebrating our 3-year milestone… reading these 15 valuable lessons, you might think that now that I bursted my bubble and took a bite of the Real World (and – mutually – the Real World also took a bite of me, so I guess now we’re even), what am I supposed to celebrate.
I’m celebrating. But instead of celebrating figures, achievements and the successful reception of all the projects we have already contributed to, I’m celebrating the journey itself. These lessons, the challenges, the experience, the knowledge and the wisdom I gained and could not have gained if I didn’t jump right into this. I’m celebrating the past, and I’m celebrating the future I truly am looking forward to.
I couldn’t have done this alone. So, I say a big Thank You to my partner and co-founder Michel (a.k.a. the guy with the skills I’m lacking), George and Zakhia, our Brothers at our Sister company ASITIS (and these two had some serious achievements in 2015, so I’m extremely proud of them!), our supportive Families, my Mentor (I think I can call him my mentor) Peter, who didn’t just give some great advice, but also kicks my butt if I don’t believe in myself, and “The New Guy” (kidding) Curt, former Art Director at EA, owner of North Powder, and – I think now I can officially say – our closest U.S. partner.
Thank you all and HAPPY NEW YEAR to everyone!
I hereby explicitly state that the content of this article, just as the content of this entire website does not necessarily reflect the opinion of my company.