Top Tips for Creative Start-ups – how to scale up a creative start-up

Harriet Kelsall
Harriet Kelsall

Fresh from winning the start-up inspiration category of the Business Book of the Year 2019, Harriet Kelsall, author of The Creative’s Guide to Starting a Business (affiliate link) gives High Growth Scotland readers some creative tips on starting and growing a company.

You don’t have to know very much about business to start one and scale it up. You don’t need qualifications or social media expertise – I knew NOTHING about business yet started and built a successful and innovative creative business, and so can you. If you have an inquisitive mind, and are prepared to work hard, you can easily learn what you need along the way.

Define what success means to you. Whether it means having lots of money, being able to run your business around your family or to become a household name, your personal vision of success is important and needs to be clear from the start. Otherwise, how will you know when you’ve got there? Many people who start a business don’t have a clear enough vision for what kind of success they are aiming for.  For creative people there is often a conflict between creative success and financial success that needs thinking through before you start.

Don’t sell at prices that you can’t sustain. When you are selling something as a sideline or within a very small business, you can afford to sell at low prices but when your business gets bigger you will have to pay significant bills out of those prices, so they will have to go up and you may find that customers are then not willing to pay.  It’s important to understand pricing right from the start.

Be creative and don’t mimic another business model –Find a real ‘gap’ in what you do, and ideally in how you approach the market too.  Today, there are many jewellers offering some kind of bespoke service, but we forged a completely new path and were the first on the high street.

Think about your customer first and then build your business offering around what they want….not the other way around! This is key whatever size your business is, and you won’t be able to grow your business unless you always bear this in mind.

Trust your gut instinct– don’t be talked into things for what seem like sensible reasons that don’t feel right. If it feels wrong, it probably is wrong.  If it feels right it probably is right, but do some market research to check.

When you can, help other people.  This is partly about “giving back” for the sake of the many people who helped you along your way and also partly about making new connections and opening your mind in new ways.  I find that it even helps to feed my own creativity. 

Small steps are still worth taking – they can still get you somewhere – you don’t have to rush.  I helped to pioneer Fairtrade gold and improve ethics within the jewellery industry by taking on this huge issue one small step at a time along with others.  There is still a lot of work to do but we are a few big steps closer.  You don’t have to rush headlong towards your vision, you can take it in small manageable chunks.

Get nominated for business awards because you might just win them.  You can get nominated for start-up awards in your very first year of business or later on awards for growing your business. Awards impress your customers and motivate your employees – they are a great way to make new connections too.

Don’t always trust the ‘expert’ consultants that will approach you offering their business development services, e.g. Marketing or strategy help, for a hefty fee. You can waste a lot of money and time this way as they don’t know your business like you do. Good advice is not something you need to pay a ‘consultant’ for.

Think around the subject and continually inject new ideas into what you do. Whilst our core business is telling people’s stories in the form of bespoke jewellery, we do other supporting things, including open days and children’s jewellery making parties. There are always new things to do to keep customers inspired.

It is the little things that can send a busy business person over the edge- for instance if your child suddenly announces they have to bring a cake into school the next day! Whether its advice on work or home life, ask friends and business contacts for tips on juggling being a creative person with a business and a personal life too.

Talk to people – all kinds of people – and really listen and engage with them.  Make bridges, make connections and keep smiling. Also build a big support network together – do favours for each other. I believe that one of the keys to building your business is collaboration with others.

Get the book here (affiliate link)

Entries for The Business Book Awards 2020 open in June. Find out more at

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