How to start a freelance creative business

 launching a creative start-up – from securing funding to how to make those all-important contacts…


I’ve got an idea for a web-based service/e-commerce site but finding it hard to start that journey towards making it a reality – and very daunting! Do you have any sources you can share for information and inspiration? Donna

Depending on the idea you might consider applying to be a part of the School for Creative Startups programme. Applications are now open at

The School for Creative Startups would definitely provide the help you need, as you must make sure you have thought through every aspect of a business before starting the journey. Businesses are so multi-faceted. Rosie

Me and my friend would like to set up our own PR agency as we’re so fed up of seeing it done badly. We’ve got the right contacts but is now a good time to be launching a business? Most people have been warning us off it, especially as we both have families and people relying on us. On the other hand, we don’t really want to wait around. An aspiring entrepreneur

Although times are tough out there, it is exactly times like this when businesses need people like you. If you believe you can provide a service that isn’t being done well enough you need to pitch to businesses that perhaps don’t feel they are getting their moneys worth. Good luck. Rosie

There is no one right time to start a business. If I were you I would ask myself, who are my first clients? Do you have someone aching to take you on? If not, where will they come from? Remember a business is only as good as the revenue it creates and the profit that produces. As you have people who depend upon you, it is all the more important that you plan your business out before you jump in. Doug

I currently run a design and marketing micro-business but am desperate to set up and try a series of (about 5), online micro-businesses. The advice I get is ".. be sensible and realistic .. focus on one business!" Well that just isn’t me – I don’t want to live that way. So, do you have any tips on how to run multiple micro-businesses? E.g. managing multiple business names, phone numbers, email addresses, business banking etc. Sarah

Anything is possible. So I’m not going to tell you that you cannot run multiple micro-businesses. But don’t under-estimate the challenge. It is directly contrary to my approach to business and it probably means that no one activity will get adequate focus. But if you are going to do it, make sure you have single web-based accounting system that you can use to track all of the activities and have one bank account with multiple trading as names. Good luck. Doug

How do you go about patenting your idea so that no-one else can nick it? And at what stage does it become completely your own – is it only after you’ve been through a legal process to secure it? Christina Durman

Assuming you have a patentable idea which may or may not be the case then I would recommend you start at the Intellectual Property Office which has a wonderful web site ( But bear in mind very few ideas are patentable. There are other forms of IP protection too you should consider. If your idea is patentable it will be protected from the moment you file the patent. Doug

IP is a very difficult and grey area, but if you create/invent/design something it automatically belongs to you. The best advice I can give is to keep drawings, write ideas down and date them. Some people even post the drawings to themselves so it has a dated post mark. In the event of someone using your idea you can then prove you thought of it first, and then start a long legal battle…. Rosie

What is the most important thing about running a business? Not starting it but to keep it running. Many thanks.. Vanessa Harriet

Cash flow. Cash flow cash flow. Doug

Yes, your cash flow is super important, but I’d also say that getting advice at every hurdle is equally important. You should have a local business centre that may be able to offer advice, it’s always worth listening to peoples’ experiences and opinions. Rosie



How do you go about getting initial investment for a start-up? I’d like to run my own bakery business but I’m not sure who to approach – people talk about angels, is this a good idea and who are they?! Mollie

Angels are floaty people with big wings. OK just joking. Angels are individuals who put their own money into young companies. Right now there is a big incentive for angels to invest because of a new tax system called SEIS (Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme) You should approach angel groups and also look up anyone doing SEIS programmes. You should also look at CrowdCube which is crowdfunding for start-upsDoug

My friend runs a community start-up and having real trouble getting funding to expand and push things forward. Meanwhile, other companies with more cash behind them are jumping on his idea! I feel like he needs to have some sort of business development manager/plan, but they have no funds to pay someone. Do you have any basic tips that I could give to him? Thanks! Emily

Emily if by a community start-up you mean a social enterprise then your friend should consider going to Unlimited the funders of social enterprises who provide small amounts of capital to social enterprises. Also the Fredericks Foundation will loan money to entrepreneurs who cannot get money elsewhere. Doug

I’d love some advice around finding investment, or more so finding the right investors. I’m the founder of online luxury fashion directory and we’re growing at a rapid pace, and we’re getting to the stage where we need investment to continue our expansion globally. We’re all ready to go with the business plans and docs, but what I’m finding is, there are a lot of venture capitalists and organisations out there but when it comes down to the specifics of finding the right people to talk to and having these companies understand the importance of ‘who’ our investors are, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of organisations that take that into consideration. So I’d love to hear any recommendations for how and where we can find good angel investment groups or contacts that would take this into consideration. Emma Ponsonby

Finding good investors, or at least investors who "get" your business is difficult. But you should consider the British Business Angels Association which lists Angel Groups, and sites like CrowdCube and Seedrs who are innovating new ways to match businesses and investors. And finally, consider coming on School for Creative Startups ( Part of our process is to support people through finding and securing investment.Doug

After launching my first product and getting it on the shelves of a high street retailer within 12 months, I now wish to license my next three products. Despite having very positive meetings with retailers and manufacturers, no deal has been struck. Have you any advice on how else I could secure a deal? Thanks. Lyndsey

A meeting is only as positive as the next steps it generates. If it doesn’t generate a next step then you need to know why and that will tell you what hurdle you need to overcome to close the deal. Doug



I’m thinking of taking a few more people on to help out in my online dress-making business; do you have any tips for hiring employees and picking the best people from interview process? Thanks. Claire

My goal in hiring is to hire someone I know. If I don’t know them then I look for someone who knows someone so I can get a personal recommendation. In the absence of that, I interview in detail, follow up on recommendations, check on CVs and still put people on probation to see how they work out. Doug

When recruiting and interviewing it is important to establish whether you like them and think you can work alongside them, whether they have the right experience and can bring new knowledge and expertise to what you do, and also it is always worth getting references.Rosie

Any tips for setting up a partnership? I’ve been a sole trader for a while, and expect £70k-£80k turnover on current digital marketing clients but don’t want to go it alone. Should I ask a potential partner to bring in the same level of business, or just complementary skills and experience? Suzi Dixon

The partner you want is the one who complements your skills, whom you can trust and who permits you to grow. So if you are the person who creates the revenue then they should be freeing up your time to do so. If you want someone else to be a revenue generator like you, then you need to find someone with that skill set. But ultimately it’s about trust and competence. Doug

I think Doug hit the nail on the head – you should definitely be looking for someone who complements your skills, and brings a different skill set to the business, perhaps an expert in the areas you’re less sure about. Rosie

What is your opinion on outsourcing someone good to market your product, especially in the accessories industry, when dealing with big clients? I am a start-up. AKS

If you’re dealing with big companies they by default often do a lot of marketing on your behalf, which is half of the joy in working with them. PR and Marketing is vital to business, but often when you are starting out there are ways of doing this yourself. Rosie

I am attempting to start up a craft business but am having trouble with finding suppliers. As the business is in the early stages I don’t think it’s feasible to outsource to India/China (as I want to start with only small orders) but am having trouble finding reasonably priced suppliers in the UK. Do you have any tips? Is there a directory or something that I should know about? Thanks! Rebecca

Sourcing in the UK can be tricky as a lot of manufacturers and suppliers don’t have much of an online presence. There is an organisation called UKFT who have lists of suppliers in Britain and actively promote manufacturing in Britain. Get in touch with them as I’m sure they will be able to point you in some good directions.Rosie



A few months ago I started an online homewares store. I’m still working to fund it/pay the bills and it can be hard to find enough time to work on it. So, I have two questions – what do you think the most important things are for a start-up to focus on, and do you have any tips for the best way to spread the word? Thanks! Becky

My advice to spread the word is attend and be part of as many events as possible, as word of mouth is so powerful. The more people you meet and talk to the better. Remember to be excited and confident about what you’re doing. The online presence can come later once you’ve established a connection with people. Rosie

Can you advise on ways to get products (in my case, cards and stationery) noticed by the media and larger retailers? I have a growing online presence and smaller retail stockists but would like to expand further. Thank you! Stacie

As I mentioned to Becky earlier, there is nothing quite like just getting out there and talking to people. Attend trade shows, events and talks and get your product seen and talked about. You are the best advert for what you do, remember to be passionate, enthusiastic and positive at all times. Send samples to shops you’d like to work with and to magazines you’d like to be in. It doesn’t hurt to ring up the big retailers and ask who is the buyer there, then send them a present or try to get an appointment with them. Likewise with the magazines and blogs. Rosie

How important do you think social media like Twitter and Facebook are for marketing a business. I’m really not good with technology but everyone keeps telling me I need to get on them! Do I have to? Any advice? Thanks. Tanya W

Social media is so powerful that it is definitely worth getting involved in, but can never be too forced. You need to engage with it, and then people will start engaging with you. It shouldn’t be used as a ‘sell sell sell’ tool, but rather a way to express what you’re about, your brand values and your world. That’s what people want to see! Rosie

Hi Doug, what was the best idea you ever saw on Dragon’s Den? Based on that could you say what your golden rules are for pitching – it’s the thing that most intimidates me about starting my own business, as even if I know that it’s good the whole process of selling something is daunting. Is it good to be full-on confident and pushy or no? Sarah

The best idea I ever saw was the guy who invented a better way to grow a truffle. But he wasn’t the best pitcher. You don’ have to be pushy when you pitch. Being obnoxious just makes you less nice and many people won’t want to work with you. Tricks for pitching: all pitches should be much shorter than the allotted time so there is lots of time for questions and discussions. No Powerpoint presentation ever needs to be more than 10 slides. Doug

Hi Rosie, any advise for someone doing their first major jewellery trade show? Many thanks. Julia

When we started doing trade shows we were lucky enough to work next door to Bernstock Speirs who had been in the industry for years. Their help and advice was invaluable as there are so many quirks to doing a show. So I would advise trying to find someone to chat to beforehand. Also it always takes 2-3 shows before people start trusting in your label so don’t give up after the first show if it isn’t as successful as you hoped. Also make sure you have a notebook, and make notes about the people you meet, so you can get in touch afterwards and remember what they liked or said. Rosie

I set up my online jewellery business TackyPony this year and began with the markets on Brick Lane, I’m now developing It’s been going really well and I’ve been getting amazing feedback but I find it difficult to motivate myself to keep going with all the product descriptions (I have about 1000 to write, no lie!), but I don’t feel I can trust someone to do it for me. Would you have any tips for making it easier to get it all done? Thanks so much and massive love to Tatty Devine! Rachel Cooke

I have huge sympthay for the sheer effort involved. I’m not sure that you need to do them all yourself, after all you could have someone do them and edit their work which would speed things up. But there’s no doubt about it. Business can be a bit of drudgery. Doug

Product descriptions are really key, as it’s your chance to give the customer your sales pitch. Do you have any friends that are good with words that might like to come and help you with them? Rosie

Any advice for people selling luxury goods, like high-end hats but don’t have the contacts? Any trade shows in particular you can recommend? Thanks. Miranda

Contacts are like experiences, you’re not born with them, you have to make them. Trade shows are the best place to start, and for high-end products I would suggest looking into trade shows that sit alongside the main fashion weeks (London, Paris, Milan and New York), as it means the right buyers are in town!Rosie



In your guys’ experience, how much are start-ups a matter of sheer luck and gut instinct as opposed to the actual product or service? Matt

Luck plays a role in every business. But a product/service that solves a problem or fulfills a desire is the core of any successful enterprise. Doug

Being in the right place at the right time certainly helps, but you still need to know what to say and what to do, so your gut feelings are important. Good decision-making will lead to good products and services, and they often come from your instincts. Rosie

What’s the most common mistake you’ve seen people make when starting their own businesses, and how can it be avoided? Thank you. Liam

Entrepreneurs make lot of mistakes, especially ones starting from a creative origin. We have many talented people on our creative start-ups programme ( but they come in to the programme with many misconceptions. I suppose the biggest one is that you need to start by raising money. You don’t and indeed shouldn’t. There are many steps to take before you need or should want outside money. Doug

How did you come up with the concept of Tatty Devine? How did you go about ensuring that it was a success? I know that’s probably not a straight-forward question but it would be interesting to know your strategy. Ruth Morgan

I set Tatty Devine up in 1999 with my good friend Harriet. We waitressed together, organised big parties together and knew that we made a great team. This built our foundations and the concept of Tatty Devine as it was about working together and making things together. Our strategy is to stay true to what we have created and to each other. Simple, but true! Rosie

Hi Doug, I just wondered what it is that you attribute your business success to? Emma B

I attribute my success to a variety of things. A willingness to get going; impatience with working for others; working a lot, and some luck. The ingredients aren’t special. Doug

School for Creative Startups is a social enterprise that helps people get their creative businesses off the ground. It is accepting applications now for the September class at

Image credit: Rex



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