7 Positive Steps to Successful Creative Content Marketing

Marketing for Creatives

Digital exports are a major growth point for the creative industries. A Creative Industries Federation report estimated that they were worth £46bn in 2016, a figure which is probably considerably higher in 2020, despite Covid-19.  In addition,the increase in online gaming during the global lockdowns will see increased incomes for major games companies in the UK e.g. Rockstar and King. Clearly, increasing this aspect of UK exports provides a potentially significant contribution to growth and employment.

In this context, marketing support is one of the few areas of ‘The Creative Pipeline’ which has seen significant movement since 2017, most noticeably within the areas of advertising and screen industries.  This focus has been on international exports for the creative industries, but they also need to develop their UK domestic markets. In addition, it is very metro-centric and so far failed to tackle the needs of freelancers, sole traders, and micro-companies.  A failure which still points to the need for a new marketing support strategy dedicated to sole traders and micro-companies, and which is web/social media orientated.

In 7 Positive Steps to improving Creative distribution it was clear that the advent of digital distribution has not increased the earnings or potential growth of some creative industries’ sectors. However, following on from discussions held at the BCre8ive seminars, the Creative Industries Council International Strategy, has set a new agenda for exports. This is being driven by Creative Industries Trade and Investment Board (CITIB), with a focus on new exporters, in particular, small businesses, who make up over 90% of the UK creatives industries. It is estimated that around half of all creative businesses do not export at all.  Reasons for this have been discussed in earlier blogs.    The agenda reflects three of the key points suggested in ‘Expanding The Creative Pipeline’ :-

  1. Support freelancers and micro-companies to engage with existing and potential customers.
  2. Undertake market research for creatives in key web based content markets.
  3. Use of existing internationally recognised creatives to promote new talent and content.

Living the Screen

In the above respects developments have improved the scenario for some members of the creative industries but the overall weakness of marketing remains. The scale of the problem is most obvious when it comes to the screen-based sector, in particular film. This is a sector dominated by freelance workers, short term contracts, and micro-production companies.

The UK film industry exported a record £2.6 billion worth of services in 2017 (the latest year for which data is available), of which £2.2 billion (83%) comprised royalties earned overseas from the exploitation of UK intellectual property(IP) and £0.5 billion (17%) comprised the sale of UK-based audiovisual and related services to foreign investors. An apparent success story which hides a decline in UK indie film production, the export of UK IP ownership, and a lack of access to market for many screen-based creatives.

Though the steaming platforms have led to some UK-based TV-style successes e.g. Sex Education, the overall situation for UK  indie film making has remained largely unchanged from 2009 to 2018.  The average UK independent market share for the 10-year period was just under 10% with a slight upward trend from a low of just over 5% in 2010.  In 2019 only one of the top 20 film releases in the UK&Ireland was a UK independent feature, made possible by Focus Features and Perfect World, both US based companies. Meanwhile, budgets for UK independent films remain low, limiting their ability to reach much beyond the festival circuit. A position reinforced by the fact that the producers have little or no access to marketing spend and the UK distributors cannot match the spend of the major US-based distributors.

One area often mentioned as a source of potential revenues for screen creatives is YouTube. YouTube saw 500 hours of video uploaded every hour in 2019. The most popular of these are either reality (mainly young children), or animals (often cats). This results in a market flooded with content with very little room in which sole traders or micro-companies are able to flourish.  However, UK Vloggers DanTDM (2018 Earnings: $18.5 million) and PewDiePie (2018 Earnings: $15.5 million) were in the top ten of YouTube vloggers in 2018.  This was dependent upon their brand contracts, and in some cases online channel contracts, indicating this is a lucrative platform for some individuals. However, it is clearly not an environment for new creative content, and relies heavily on a personal investment of time and marketing spend, factors not available to the vast majority of creatives in the UK (see musicians and writers income in 7 Positive Steps to Improving Creative Distribution).

Living for Art

Almost everyone has heard of the UK most successful artists, e.g. David Hockney, Damian Hirst, people who occupy 50% of the top ten richest artists in the world list in 2020. However,  there are 60,000 artists in the UK and their average income from their art practice in 2016 was £6,020 (Livelihoods of Visual Artists survey). This figure includes the 39% of those surveyed, who earned less than £1,000 and the 69%  had another job in order to support themselves. As with other creative content creators highlighted in previous blogs this situation illustrates not only a gap between public perceptions of creatives income and the reality but also a need, and an enormous opportunity, to improve the economic contribution art can make to our society. It is perhaps worth noting in the only major survey of global cultural sales visual arts was only outranked by television in 2015.

However, a digital based approach, the use of websites and in particular e-commerce platforms, has seen a major change in the craft sector.

A Crafty Vision

Craft is another creative sector dominated by sole traders and micro-companies who often pass under the radar of national statistics and government policy, a situation highlighted by the Covid-19 crisis. This is, in part, because the craft sector is one of the smallest within the creative industries earning £300m in 2018. The estimated total number of craft jobs in UK according to DCMS in 2018 was  9,000. By way of a contrast, e-commerce sites show a vastly different picture. In December 2018, Etsy reported that there were 220,000 active sellers in the UK with a further 9,000 makers on Folksy.

 

However the craft sector size is measured, craft goods worth £4.84bn were exported in 2017, an increase of 5.3 per cent over the previous year. In this context, the Crafts Council developed an export strategy. This strategy includes a tips list for craft exporters which in part can form the basis of a wider marketing strategy for the majority of the creative content creators, artists and makers within the creative industries.

Some Key Exporting Tips from the Crafts Council’s strategy

  1. Protect your brandIntellectual Property Rights are critical to growing trade
  2. Identify the right marketsmicro-companies do not have the resources to do this on their own
  3. Choose trade fairs carefullya  critical role for Department for International Trade (DIT)
  4. Shipping and packaging (for non-digital objects)  – an essential part of an overall marketing approach in the form of branding

In order to make such a strategy effective there is a need to create a Exporting Toolkit, for each specific group of creators,which include:-

Working with micro-companies, sole traders, and freelancers in the ‘direct-to-consumers’ market with digital marketing is a major route to improving productivity and growing exports in the UK.

7 Positive Steps to Successful Content Marketing

  1. Creation of a digital online support hub, with sector specific portals, for sole traders, freelancers and micro-companies in the creative industries.
  2. Support for Creative Industries Council International Strategy beyond 2022
  3. Creation of online Export Tool Kits for all sectors of the creative industries targetted at freelancers, sole traders and micro-companies.
  4. Creation of  a Marketing Fund for freelancers, sole traders and micro-companies.
  5. Ensure realistic marketing spends are part of all production/distribution grants, and financing in the creative sector.
  6. Create compelling stories around new entrants into the creative industries.
  7. Ensure freelancers, sole traders, and micro companies are part of all international trade activities.

Images from unsplash

Posted in Creative finances, Creative industries, Creative Policy, Feature films, freelancers, Funding, micro-companies, Short Film, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

7 Positive Steps to Improving Creative Distribution

Distribution

Will Covid and the new mass use of digital networks change content distribution for UK creatives.? Traditionally, distribution systems were dominated by the few big players in the creative industries. From major integrated studio networks in film, television and music to international publishing houses, and major games consoles these corporate bodies have had control of distribution for creative content. In the last decade however some disruption has occurred. This has given some sectors and individuals in the creative industries an opportunity to benefit.  The question is how big is this opportunity for content creators in the age of global online distribution and e-shopping?

Digital Disruption and Creative Content

Is Music the Most Disrupted Sector?

In 2018 a total of 139,352 people were employed in the Music Creators’ sector in the UK. In 2019, there were 52,000 musicians in employment in the UK. In the same year, it was estimated that music creators (musicians, composers, songwriters, lyricists, singers, producers, engineers) accounted for £2.5 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA.) of the UK economy.

However, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), musicians earned on average £23,059 in 2018 – well below the national average of £29,832. For the majority this income is earnt from a combination of performance, arts admin, teaching, merchandising  and, of course, music sales.

Streaming of music now accounts for nearly half of £15.2bn global music revenues, and while independent labels have grown in the last decade in 2018 the three major record labels took almost two thirds of these global revenues.

Meanwhile, musicians  are campaigning for a major change in the payment structure of the digital streaming system. Why? A few examples have been posted as part of the #BrokenRecord campaign by artists. Violinist @tasminlittle received only £12.34p from Spotify for her 755,000 monthly listeners, while the band, Electrelane, earnt less than a fiver for their 75,000+ plays a month.  Spotify’s 2019 revenue was £6.8 billion. A similar scenario can be posted for all the major streaming platforms.

Digital ‘disruption’ may initially have cost the industry 15% of its global revenues , but it has not so far changed the control of the existing gatekeepers, and certainly has not changed the fortune of the freelance musicians who produce the content for it. However. alternatives are being posed. and #BrokenRecord is challenging the status quo, but with current Industry responses, even the Covid-19 freelance income crisis may not change this. A situation which will become even more dire if the revenue for music downloads in the UK falls as predicted from £200m in 2017 to £117m in 2022.

Publishing a New Digital Frontier?

The UK publishing industry has also been negatively affected by digital disruption. The impact of Amazon on booksellers being the most obvious example. However,  has this change in distribution also affected the creators of books – the writers and illustrators?

The UK publishing industry has an annual turnover of £6bn, of which the digital income from books and journals rose by 3 per cent to £1.8bn in 2018.  The industry employs 29,000 people in the UK (though the Covid Crisis may substantially affect this), with 60% of its revenue coming from exports. Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the Society of Authors estimated that payment to authors accounted for a mere 3% of publishers’ turnover in 2016.

In 2018 ACLS reported a fall in professional writers income in real terms of 42% since 2005, and 15% since 2013. This meant the median income for writers in the UK was £10,437 p.a.  Only 13% of professional writers earnt their income solely from writing.  The rest of the writing community earnt their living, like the musicians, from a combination of lecturing, self-publishing, teaching,  PLR, grants and bursaries, plus income from ALCS, prizes and fellowships. Only 5% of writers earned over £30,000 from their writing in 2018. A recent survey revealed 57% of respondents reported that their incomes had declined since the outbreak of COVID-19, while 55%  were not expecting to benefit from UK government support measures.

Tech and Creative Content Investment

The Tech sector is the largest segment of the creative industries. In 2018, IT, software and computer services, accounted for 733,000 jobs, and the sector accounted for £40.6bn of GVA in 2017 – an increased by 59.9 per cent between 2010 and 2017.

In 2019  the Tech sector attracted £10.1bn of investment. However, not one of the 7 unicorns created in 2019 were focused on creative content because the majority of tech companies are in fintech, biotech, healthtech or retail, which offer little opportunity for such content. Virtual Reality(VR) and Augmented Reality(AR) are the obvious areas for content creation and exploitation in the tech sector. However, though the UK ranks 3rd for VR and in the top 5 for AR investment, these funds are being directed at healthtec, agritech and cleantech options.

The Audience of the Future investment of £12m from the government, plus the CreativeXR programme are seeking to change this.  However, the idea that VR/AR was to be a content driven consumer boom seems to have faded substantially in the last decade with little evidence of any change in the foreseeable future.

Games is the one sector still providing an area of ongoing content development, though still dominated by the big global console-makers, and it is also being affected by the Covid crisis.

The question of how can we change distribution and payment for creatives is a crucial one if the majority of the creative industries are to grow.

How can this be achieved?

As discussed in ‘5 Postive Steps to Increasing Content Development?‘ the ability of creators, and micro-companies to retain the rights to their own Intellectual Property Rights (IP) is a key starting point. This involves a new financial structure and strategic approach as discussed in ‘7 Positive Steps to Increasing Content Investment‘. In addition, it is essential to expand the focus of export strategies targetted at supporting micro-companies and freelancers.

The dominance of the major corporate players in distribution is unlikely to change in the near future. However, a  new strategy which benefits creatives financially needs to be considered, an approach which establishes a better creator-to-customer business structure, and improves support for existing initiatives e.g. bandcamp.(US):Music Glue (UK).

A New Digital Structure

The biggest disadvantage micro-companies and freelancers face, compared with the corporate players in the global market place, is marketing. Therefore, any business strategy which intends to expand the growth of the creative industries needs to include a substantial targetted marketing spend. In the digital world of SEO, online Ads and digital distribution, the creation of such a marketing spend can really transform the power of creatives to reach customers.

This potential is limited by two major factors. The first is access to the finance necessary for such a marketing strategy by micro-companies and freelancers. The second is the time needed to undertake such an approach. Research has shown that creatives are stuck in a merry-go-round of commissioning and undertaking alternative employment,  just to survive. In 2017, the Creative Industries Federation recommended the creation of a digital hub designed specifically to support creative freelancers, and sole-traders. The need for this hub is even greater now.

7 Positive Steps to Improving Distribution

  1. Creation of a UK Creators Council  to advice government on all issues relating to creative freelancers, sole traders and micro-companies.
  2. Make all self-employment part of a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) ministerial brief.
  3. Introduction of Legislation which breaks up the vertical integration of production and distribution companies.
  4. Application of anti-monopoly and cartel legislation to creative distribution corporations, companies and conglomerates.
  5. Creation of a digital hub that provides business advice, legal support and marketing strategies for creatives.
  6. Creation of a marketing fund for creatives to export digitally to global audiences.
  7. Improve creator supporting digital distribution services e.g. bandcamp or Music Glue

All images from pexel

Posted in Creative finances, Creative industries, Creative Policy, freelancers, Funding, micro-companies, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

7 Positive Steps to Increasing IP Content Investment

Covid-19, Creatives and Money

The impact of the Covid crisis has been documented on theatres, galleries, games, film & TV productions etc. but its impact, as a result of the initial weakness of the Government’s strategy on creative sole traders and freelancers is less well known. Many in this group are still to receive any support, and are being forced to register for universal credit.  All of this when the sole traders, freelancers, and micro-companies form over 90% of the creative industries in what is seen to be a very successful part of the UK economy.

The UK Creative Economy

The Creative Industries contributed £111.7bn to the UK economy in 2018, (Latest Government statistics) – an increase of 43.2% in real terms since 2010. Of this the Cultural Sector contributed £32.3bn to the UK economy in 2018 – an increase of 21.9% in real terms since 2010. Seperately, the Digital Sector contributed £149bn to the UK economy in 2018, accounting for 7.7% of UK GVA (Gross Value Added). These creative sectors are clearly major growth points for the UK economy. So the question is – Why do creatives struggle to find finance and support ?

Access to Finance

The problems of access to finance for creative organisations, and start-ups, has again been well documented since 2011. Numerous initiatives have been tried from loans e.g. Arts and Cultural Impact Fund through to The Creative Scale-Up programme. to improve the situation.  Yet the problem remains, and acts as a major barrier to creatives and the growth of the sector over all.  A fact recognised by Peter Bazalgette’s report on the creative industries, which led to the largest single government intervention in the sector.

Government Investment

The Creative Industries Sector Deal, valued on launch at £150m, has been substantially increased by additional match funding from business and new British Business Bank investments. However, these initiatives are dominated by the larger corporate enterprises, universities, or national bodies located in the South East;  so very little of the extensive investment has reached freelancers and micro-companies.

Tech is not Creative Content

The global dominance of tech platforms and the profusion of apps have to some extent blinded people to the lack of investment in creative content in the UK.  Given that digital is seen to be the largest sector of the creative industries by GVA this is perhaps unsurprising. However, the business model of this section of the creative industries (with its obvious scale-up approach, and global role models) is not viable for the diverse individual and micro-company content creators.  This has led to a focus on scale-up investments, and a lack of focus on the opportunities offered by the freelance and micro markets. The scenario is made worse by the regional disparities in investment.

R&D in the regions

Regional disparities are highlighted in NESTA’s  latest survey.  This shows that the East of England and the South East receive private investment at the level of £720 per person and £522 per person respectively. This compares with £115 in the North East and £160 in Wales.  It is perhaps worth noting that only London and Scotland derive more from public sector investment than private investment.

“We need to devolve serious amounts of funding to the nations and regions of the UK, at the same time building capacity in those places to make the best decisions about how to invest those funds.”

NESTA: The Missing £4b. May 2020

In November 2018 Santander published their report on the need for regional banking development to support SMEs – support particularly needed by micro-companies and creative sole traders.  One bank which has directly intervened is Triodos, (with Creative England), which backs the Creative Growth Fund.  This fund provides loans from £100-500,000 to companies with a turnover of over £300,000 at interest rates over 7% repayable in four years. This is potentially, a step in the right direction as it is not focussed on the South East, but the criteria favour the larger agencies and companies – again failing to address the needs of the majority of the sector.

These strategies to date only reinforce the metr0-centric approach to solving financial challenges faced by creatives.  The reasons for the problems with investing in creatives has been addressed earlier in ‘What are the problems with funding creative content?” in 2017, and little has changed.

Time to Move On

It is five years since ‘Routes to Finance’ was published by Creative Industries Federation, while the Creative Finance Network supported by the Creative Industries Council appears to have been incorporated into Better Business Finance.  Perhaps we need to move on, and seek a more targetted, and easily accessible, model that caters directly for freelancers and micro-companies.

How Much is Your Work Worth?

It is imperative that the value of creative Intellectual Property (IP) is known and understood. The IP Tool Kit from the Intellectual Property Office sets out  a framework for companies to assess IP value, including a jargon buster!  The Tool Kit aims to ensure investors and companies can  understand each other and recognise the value of an IP-based enterprise. Unfortunately, its focus is predominantly on material based assets not the intangible assets of creative work.  This is a crucial issue for all funders when seeking to support creatives, especially sole traders and micro-companies.

Establishing a value framework that is trusted by financiers and creatives alike, is essential to help most creative companies succeed.

This is not as difficult as many might suggest!

Assessing Creative Content Investments

The first step is to accept we are working with a value-based approach rather than a cost-plus approach to pricing.  The second is to recognise there are existing markets for all forms of content, and so value pricing is possible. There is a problem of disclosure with regard to fees, etc. but the aggregation of information e.g. investopedia has reduced this problem substantially. Finally, information on how markets work is far more transparent than it has ever been. So the question becomes which content and when to invest?

The Three Tiers of Investment

Seed Money

All start-ups need seed money but creative start-ups are still under financed. Some public funding initiatives have seeded new productions and infrastructure, which points the way to possible second stage investment opportunities.  The difficulty is these funds tend to be dominated by the industries ‘gatekeepers’, or local authorities, which severely limits access for freelancers and micro-companies. However, the biggest barriers to private and public finance are the restrictions on supporting sole traders – freelancers – at this level. In particular, the low levels of income, and part-time nature of working, owing to the current structure of the market. Expanding freelancers’ income streams has been shown to lead to higher growth – 13.2%.

The Arts Council’s Developing Your Creative Practice fund (re-opened in July 2020 after a COVID-19 forced closure) provides a potential model for small scale seed investments. Small amounts of monies have also been made available e.g. the BFI network and targeted sector funds e.g. UK Games Fund.  However, these funds only support a small number annually, with as little as £5,000, and  tend to be urban-centric. These initiatives do, however, provide some indication of value for some new projects.

Development Money

As stated in ‘5 Positive Steps to increasing creative content development effective development is critical to growth. The creation of effective accelerators for independent creative projects combined with positive value management of investment could yield major returns in digital markets that have substantially grown during the Covid crisis.

The UKBAA published a report on Investing in Screen Based Industries,that highlighted the need for more industry intelligence, and some key investment leaders. This led to a series of information/educational events for investors and a pitching session in 2019. BCre8ive also hosted a series of seminars with Digital Catapult, which highlighted the possibilities for investment in various creative companies. Both initiatives highlighted the need for the mutual education of investor and creatives.

SEIS/EIS funds could also be used, if a portfolio approach (i.e.investing across a number of IP projects with a single investment), was more readily adopted by investors and creatives. While, a match funding scheme for small projects who crowdfund, would unlock many creative productions.

Production Money

Global broadcasters, film studios, international publishing houses, and games manufacturers etc. still attract the lion’s share of production funds.  In this context the need for large scale equity financing which supports UK owned producers to retain IP rights is critical to long-term success.   This initiative could be kickstarted by investing in IP rich properties e.g. children’s TV series or books.

In the short-term production finance directed at web-based distributed content can help to empower creative content growth and exports.     

7 Positive Steps to Increasing IP Content Investment

1. Creation of an extensive UK-wide investment education programme involving angels, equity funds plus creative freelancers and micro-companies.

2. Development of investment value frameworks for all sectors of creative content creation.

3. Use of the British Business Bank plus LEP and Mayoral regional funds to support the development of local creative collectives/portfolios ready for investment.

4. Extension of the Creative Industries Council’s International Strategy beyond 2022.

5. Creation of a new seed funding grant mechanism for creative individuals and micro-companies.

6. Creation of a series of online digital accelerators for content development.

7. Creation of match-funding for private investors, who invest in creative content driven activities e.g. Angel Co-Fund.

Phil Parker

Comments and suggestions on action welcome.

Posted in Creative finances, Creative industries, Creative Policy, freelancers, Funding, micro-companies | 6 Comments

5 Positive Steps to Increasing Creative Content Development

The Lockdown during the Covid crisis has produced an explosion of creativity not only in the UK,  but also globally. This has ranged from performers in their own homes e.g. One World Together to Grayson Perry’s Art Club and innumerable individual rainbows and children’s craft activities. Evidence, if it was ever necessary, that people want to make creative outputs, if given the chance or a major reason to do so.  However, this is a long way from people creating careers and companies from their individual creative ideas.

Developing Intellectual Property

Content development is big business in the advertising world with new websites and campaigns exploding across the digital universes.  However, this is not where the major financial gains from content development are to be made. For this we need to look at ideas which can be developed into Intellectual Properties(IP) which are then sold and/or licensed globally.  These range from the obvious blockbuster films, and novels, to fashion and fine arts. It may still surprise some that globally the Visual Arts are second only to Television. Combined the cultural and creatives industries globally gross more than telecom services and employ more people than the automotive industries of Europe, USA, and Japan combined.

The UK government defines the creative industries as “those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property”

However, the lack of focus on content development with respect to IP potential within the various creative industries initiatives remains a major limiting factor in the development of creatives, but also future growth, employment and productivity with in the UK.  This is especially true when over 94% of creative businesses employ less than ten people.  So what are the problems with creating IP which is valued, and exploited throughout the world?

A Culture of Inaction

As with the belief in meritocracy and the class issue, cultural attitudes to content development play a large part in framing the inaction with regard to developing creative content IP in the UK.  IN addition to the reality of a failing meritocracy, the cultural presence of such phrases, as “No-one knows anything”  and “Talent will out” have  inhibited any serious attempt to improve content development over the last forty years.

This has had an impact not only within colleges and universities but also within whole industrial sectors and has substantially contributed to the failure of UK based creatives to successfully exploit their own creative work, and to build up successful careers and companies.  There are of course exceptions from J.K. Rowling to Damien Hirst, and Aardman Animation.  The problem being these are exceptions, they are not the norm of the UK creative environment. Going forward with the existing attitudes and approaches will clearly not solve this problem.

Why Content Development is difficult?

In order to foster good IP focused creative development we need to stop confusing creativity with content creation.

Many people are creative in their work. Many politicians, bureaucrats and lawyers are very creative in the way they use language, many engineers are creative in the way they use materials, many parents are creative in the way they occupy their children.  These expressions of creativity are about solving practical problems with existing or new  tools.  Content creation is of a different order of creativity.

IP development requires inventing something new in an apparently ‘white space’, that is capable of potentially engaging a minimum of hundreds and, generally, millions of different human beings in an emotional, and intellectual, experience, which they are prepared to pay for.

A New Creative Conversation

In all areas of creative conversation people talk about coming up with ‘The Idea’, ‘The High Concept’ ‘The Hook’ ‘The Vision’ ‘ The Voice’ or its equivalent – yet audiences, readers, players, etc. engage not with an idea but a complex narrative experience, which is pitched at the level of engagement which they find acceptable. Millions of people have come up with good ‘ideas’.  The issue is how do we turn them into complete narratives/experiences, that people want to engage with.

Without proper development an idea is worth nothing – other than as a potential marketing angle. In this context finding a good or even great idea is only the start of the process, which involves many conversations.

Creating a better informed, taught, and skilled, development culture is critical to future success.

IP Content Development is the application of skills and knowledge by creative individuals to a new work, from the point of creation to the work reaching its audience/s.

This involves the development of  Collaborative Teams.

Teams not Individuals

The dominant vision of the creative person in modern society is still wedded to a concept, born of a by-gone age, of the lone artist, often jokingly referred to as ‘living in a garret’. The reality is within a digital age the majority of content is developed by teams of creatives. However, the focus on the out-of-date ‘artist’ notion means most of our resources, training and education are focused on individuals not on building teams.

“If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.”   Ed Catmul, Pixar : Creativity Inc. : 2014

The skill of development, which includes managing talent, and ideas development, is little understood in the UK.  Providing Mentors is a common offer to companies/individuals, often involving individual one-to-one sessions over a short time frame. Seen as an important tool within corporate structures, this has limited value in a micro company environment. In addition, content development is of a different order, involving often a lengthy and time consuming engagement. This is more akin to the role of some tutors in art colleges, and editors in publishing.

We Do Not Have Time

The first statement from most creatives with respect to content development is “We do not have time for our own development”. Trapped in a commissioning merry-go-round freelancers and micro companies have little or no time to undertake original content development outside their commissions. However, development takes time, and commitment.

This means there is no short term fix for a project which is failing, or a quick route to successful content development. If content development is to work we need to move from short term models, often confined by annual budgets, and commit to longer term team and ideas development.

In order to do this we need to change our IP content development culture. This involves moving away from finding the big idea, recognising the reality of IP content development and abandoning the notion that it is all a matter of genius and/or luck.

The failure to do this will mean UK Creative IP will continue to be exploited by non-UK companies, or worse never developed in the first place.

5 Positive Steps to Increasing IP Content Development

1. Provision for  a national IP content development training programme involving

  • Online courses in all practical aspects of creative development
  • FE/HE short courses for freelancers and micros on current developments in each of the creative industries
  • Marketing existing online resources to freelancers and micro-companies

2. Creation of a digital online content development network, a combination of mentors and funding for individual and micro-company development projects.

3. Development of online accelerator Labs for creative sole traders and micro-companies.

4. Provision of tiered development funding (see 7 Positive Steps to Increasing IP Content Investment)

5. An expansion in the support for the majority in the creative industry to sell direct to customers globally. (See 7 Positive Steps to Successful Content Marketing)

Images from Pixabay

 

Posted in Art of development, Creative Collaboration, Creative Education, Creative industries, Creative Policy, micro-companies, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

5 Positive Steps to Inclusion in the Creative Industries

In 2017 BCre8ive published ‘The Creative Pipeline’ a proposal to use digital technology to massively expand the capacity of,  and support for, creative freelancers and micro-companies, who make up over 94% of the creative industries in the UK.  Since then we have seen the Creative Industries Sector Deal, Brexit, and Covid-19 impact on freelancers and micro-companies. So what does the future hold for creative content creators?

This is the first of a series of blogs looking at the ways in which support and development for the creative content creators in the UK can be provided to increase their potential and value. The aim of these blogs is to create a solid framework for action going forward into 2021 and beyond.  They are based upon the five aspects of the pipeline between creators and their audiences/market identified in ‘The Creative Pipeline’.

Inclusivity

Access to the creative industries, and movement within it, has been brought into sharp relief over the recent years from #MeToo  and Black Lives Matter to the Bazalgette Review for the UK Government.  This has seen new codes of practice, policy inititaitives and numerous new diversity operations.  However, policies and intentions will not be enough to shift the balance of power and improve inclusion on their own.  Underlying problems obviously remain and will undoubtedly continue into the future.  Some of the practical steps needed to be taken by companies have been outlined in previous BCre8ive blogs.

The bigger questions about access and inclusion which can only be tackled by government and a sustained effort by the major players within the creative industries include social class, metro-centrism, diversity, and a lack of skills/qualifications, and lack of digital support for freelancers and micro-companies.

The Class Barrier

Access to arts education has declined in UK schools over the last decade.  This has been noted by many commentators and arguments published against it.  Education is the stepping stone to many creative careers, which are often the major benefits for some children after school. A situation which is made more challenging with  14.7% of working age adults having no qualifications. In this context, with over 20% of the UK adult population having level 1 or below literacy skills, a lack of a good education remains the biggest barrier to  accessing a creative career.  Without basic literacy the vast majority of cultural and creative jobs are not open to these individuals. In addition, with the dominance of digital based work in the future, the fact that approx 12m adults lack basic digital skills is another significant barrier to entry.

It is also worth noting that the vast majority of those in poverty are classed as working class, and thus improving access to arts education and arts careers would substantially affect levels of poverty in the UK.

A report on the impact of class on the arts was published in 2018 by Create London , which revealed three distinct areas of concern within the creative and cultural sectors.  The first of these was a dominant belief in meritocracy amongst those in the most senior positions within creative organisations.   This is the idea that hard work and talent will inevitably be rewarded and is part of a culture of resistance to change involving such phrases as ‘Talent will always win out‘.  It ignores not only the persistent impact of art colleges, film schools, and music academies on people’s careers but also the nepotistic nature of creative networks in the UK.

Beyond the question of this culture dominating key decision makers thinking there are other substantial barriers to people from working class backgrounds making it within the creative industries.

The second area identified was Internships and free working, which have become a standard part of entering much of the creative industries.  For working class individuals who do not have the financial support available to those from upper-class and middle-class backgrounds this option is limited, if not impossible to take up. Furthermore, it is compounded by the informal networks by which many, if not most, of these internships are set up.  As the majority of posts are never advertised, new entrants who are not already part of an established network are automatically denied access.

Government supported paid Apprenticeships were seen to be the alternative to internships. However, searches in 2020 reveal that no apprenticeships in creative and design were available in London, let alone the rest of the country. The impact of Covid-19 is likely to see many  redundant people seeking the few vacancies initially available, and numerous students desperate to break into the sector, eager to take unpaid positions.  So without significant commitment from companies and a change of government policy ‘nepotism’ is likely to remain a major factor in recruitment.

The third area identified was the unrepresentative nature of the ‘culture class’. Given the history of recruitment and access it is inevitable that the current composition of the creative industries is unrepresentative of the country as a whole. The impact of this is to not only provide a limited view of life in the UK, but also limits access still further as existing practitioners from lighting technicians to gallery owners tend to recruit people they know, and/or are like them.

Diversity

Issues associated with BAME ,  and other minority groups representation within the industry have been discussed and written about on several occasions. In addition, several campaigns have been launched around gender-related issues. Indeed, as long ago as 2015 The Creative Industries Federation published a detailed look at diversity with a substantial series of action points that are yet to be carried forward in policy and practice.

New digital sites promoting diversity and paid internships are helping but also illustrate how much more needs to be done. In addition,  the Creative Careers Programme is actively promoting the creative industries in schools. This will take time but without transparency around recruitment, promotion, and in particular, pay for freelancers, the impact of Covid-19, and Brexit, may well see a retreat in this area.

Regional Creativity

The concentration of the creative industries in London and its environs has been long noted. The recent flurry of activity by other major metropolitan areas to establish creative funds and creative hubs illustrates an awareness of the importance of creatives to the future of cities beyond London.  The limitations of many of these approaches has been pointed out  in ‘Finding Your Local Creatives‘.  The metro-centric approach is also present in the AHRC’s £80m Creative Clusters Research and Development programme supported by £39m of government funds.  Each of the nine successful bids is focused on a major city with minimal reference to the rural parts of the UK.

The bigger question is how to support creatives who do not, or cannot, move to the major cities. With only 90+ cities over 100,000, while there are over 900 between 10,000 and 100,000 the scale of this challenge is obvious, and this does not take into account the 17% plus of the population who live in rural areas. The failure of the sector deal, and other government initiatives to address this issue exposes a long standing metro-centric vision of creativity in the UK.

A Digital Future?

A major solution to the latter point and a substantial means of supporting the diversity of freelancers and micro-companies would be the creation of a UK wide digital support network, as outlined in BCre8ive’s  ‘The Creative Pipeline.’ Some progress has been made on this front since 2017, in particular, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) collection of nearly 200 finance and other support for businesses online, and the Creative Industries Trade and Investment Board Charter all point to developing a new approach to support the majority of the creative industries. However, much of this support is generic and not tailored to creatives or creative enterprises.

The danger is that post Covid-19, and Brexit, these small significant changes will be overrun by the demands of the bigger creative companies. Companies that have an established lobbying power, and seek only to maintain their dominant position in the global markets at the expense of freelancers and micro-companies.

The consequences of such a scenario would be the retention of the existing networks and a furtherance of the lack of access, and inclusivity, into the future. A scenario which would inhibit growth and productivity across the creative industries.

5 Positive Steps to Increase Access to the Creative Industries

1. Provide substantial educational support for those people who are seen to have poor literacy skills, and a lacking in basic digital skills. Note new Skills Toolkit

2. Increase the level of transparency around recruitment, pay levels for freelancers, and internships within the creative industries via new labour legislation and transparency culture.

3. Improve the national and local/regional access support for freelancers and micro-companies to ensure future growth and productivity. In particular:

  • Ensuring all schools provide creative courses within the national curriculum, including BTEC.
  • Provide one-year access courses to creative work for all school and college leavers, who choose it.
  • The provision of materials grants for university students from low income backgrounds.
  • The provision of an annual voucher system for freelancers and micro-company employees to access free training.
  • The creation of a national digital information portal focussed on business and training support for freelancers and micro-companies in the creative industries.

4. Involve freelancers and micro-companies in all national and regional industry decision making bodies.

5. Engage with under-represented people in a meaningful plan of action to change the current situation to make creative enterprise more inclusive.

 

Please comment, share, and take up these points with the people you live and work with.

All images from Pexels

Posted in Creative Education, Creative industries, Creative Policy, Education, freelancers, Inclusivity, micro-companies | 15 Comments

COVID-19 Financial Support for Creatives

The Government is being lobbied to provide a national programme of financial support for the Creative Industries.  Negotiations are ongoing but until such time as the Government agrees to recognise the specific needs of the Creative Sector then Creative Organisations themselves are stepping into the breach.

Here are some of the programmes that are available:

Arts Council England:  ACE has suspended its main grant programmes to create a £160m emergency response package for individuals and organisations affected by Covid-19 including £20m to individual practitioners and freelancers.  The current funding round is open to 30th April.  (Applications to be made through the ACE grants portal ‘Grantium’ (See ACE Covid-19 webpage for details) HOWEVER people are reporting delays and difficulties with the system, so be prepared to spend some time.

Paul Hamlyn Foundation is offering a £20m emergency fund and will this year split its £1m visual artists and composers’ awards amongst EVERY eligible entrant.

Directors Charitable Foundation:  The Directors Charitable Foundation is offering small grants to support theatrical and screen directors through its Directors Support Scheme. Application form and more information here.

PRS Emergency Relief Fund:  The Performing Rights Society members’ fund and PRS Foundation have partnered to launch a relief fund for PRS members.  The First round of funding has just closed but keep an eye here for future information.

Facebook Small Business Grants ProgrammeFacebook is offering $100M in cash grants and credits for up to 30,000 eligible small businesses in over 30 countries where they operate.  An international fund and not solely targeted towards the Creative Industries but definitely worth applying if you fit the criteria.

Gift Aid:  The Government has indicated that it will enable theatres and other cultural venues to keep Gift Aid on payments made for events cancelled due to coronavirus. The Charity Tax Group and others, including Arts Council England, are lobbying for the tax relief to be applied to any refund donated to charities in lieu of cancelled tickets or debts not to be collected.

Additional Sector Specific Support includes:

WRITERS

Society of Authors:  The Society of Authors in collaboration with other foundations and funders has created a £330k Authors Emergency Fund.  Maximum grants are likely to be up to £2,000 Applications are open to all professional authors who are resident in the UK or British subjects.  See Society of Authors for details.

Writers Guild of Great Britain also has a Welfare Fund for members in emergency and unexpected financial need.   For further information see Writers Guild website.

FILM and TV

The British Film Institute has repurposed National Lottery funding to provide a programme of support, targeting specific areas of the sector including exhibitors, freelancers and producers.

The BFI Film Audience Network (FAN) has opened the BFI FAN COVID-19 Resilience Fund, offering emergency relief for small and medium sized audience facing organisations with a particular focus on venue based exhibitors. Deadline for applications is Wednesday 6 May 2020.  Applications to be made through the regional BFI Film Hubs (see here for Hub links)

Screen Scotland:
Bridging Bursary Scheme to support freelance or self-employed screen practitioners working in Scotland’s screen sector who are experiencing immediate financial difficulty due to the loss of screen sector income in Scotland as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Also:

Film & TV: Single Project Development Funding: £1million of ring-fenced funding for Scotland’s independent film and television production companies, supporting them to develop projects across film and television in scripted and unscripted genres, for live-action and animation.

MUSIC

The Association of Independent Music (AIM) has launched a support fund to support contractors and freelance workers in the independent music industry

Musicians’ Union Hardship Fund:  £1m hardship fund for current MU members experiencing hardship. Maximum grant currently  £200.  See Musicians’ Union website for more information and application details

PERFORMANCE

Equity Charitable Trust:  Offers grants to industry professionals who are eligible for an Equity card (you do not have to be a current Equity card holder to qualify) See website for details Note: this is not a COVID-19 specific scheme and operates on a regular application cycle

The Actors’ Benevolent Fund:  Is considering applications from professional actors, actresses and stage managers who have contracted Covid-19, or are self-isolating because they are unwell and have already claimed Universal Credit/Employment Support Allowance or are already receiving other means tested benefits.  Application details and further information  here.

The Royal Theatrical Fund:   Support for people of all ages whose main career is in the performing arts working for at least 7 years and are unable to work due to illness, injury or infirmity.  All benefits and grants available from the Government need to have been claimed. Further information Here.

FASHION

British Fashion Council Foundation Fashion Fund for the Covid Crisis is making £1m available to support creative fashion businesses and individuals to survive the Coronavirus crisis.

PUBLISHING

Google is offering a global emergency relief fund for local news publishers

MUSEUMS AND HERITAGE

Historic England Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund:  Support for third-sector organisations and voluntary groups managing heritage projects, as well as heritage organisations and self-employed contractors working in the heritage sector who are severely affected by the impact of Coronavirus and who need additional emergency financial support beyond the Government’s measures.  Applications open to 3rd May Further information and application details Here

The National Lottery Heritage Emergency Fund is accepting applications for funding from £3,000 to £50,000 from not for profit organisations who have received current or previous funding from the Heritage Fund. Applications are currently open – Deadline 30 June 2020.  Further information and application details Here

REGIONAL AND LOCAL AUTHORITIES

Liverpool Mayor’s Fund for Creatives:  £400k fund to support Creatives in the Music, and Film/TV industries.

West Midlands Combined Authority: Scale-up support package for creative businesses.

Arts Council of Wales:  Arts Resiliance Fund:   £1m across 3 programmes Urgent Response Fund for Individuals (open now), Stabilisation Fund for Individuals (opens Tuesday 21/04/2020), Stabilisation Fund for Organisations (Opens Friday 29th May 2020)

 

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Money for Creatives Part 2: Specific Creative Work

As part of BCre8ive’s work on developing support for creatives in the UK this is the second in a new series of blogs  linked to our series on local creative cluster development. Each of us tends to work in one part of the creative industries, and often it is difficult to find money which is specific to our needs. This blog sets out the main sources of finance for a range of creative activities. We do not claim it is comprehensive, and please write to us if you know of other sources, beyond competitions that is, which we cover in our Facebook and Newsletter postings.

 

There exists a heavy bias towards the screen-based industries e.g. TV, Film & Games within the existing grants and funding structures. However, changes in the Arts Council’ s grant system and the funding of fashion initiatives within the AHRC Clusters programme has created some new opportunities in the last twelve month.

This blog is broken down into the following key sectors,  in the hope it will help you find new sources of support :-

  • screen,
  • games,
  • music,
  • arts,
  • fashion, and
  • crafts

plus the important regional/national funding options.

Screen

This sector is dominated by government backed organisations, who seek to support the distinctive cultural role of screen narratives. The significance of this sector can be seen by the additional £60m made available in April 2019, from government, to support the creation of UK content for children’s programming, and its prominence in the AHRC Cluster Funding decisions.

BFI Film Fund 

The BFI aims to use National Lottery funds to develop and support original UK filmmakers and films, and to increase the audiences who can enjoy them.

Funding for feature film development and production, which includes international co-productions and completion funding.  In addition to the development and production support, the bfi aims to support UK distributors, sales agents and exhibitors in order to increase the diversity of films made available to UK and international audiences.

Screen Scotland, a recently dedicated part of Creative Scotland, which has seen an increase from £10m to £20m in the last two years.

Screen Scotland Funding includes a range of funds including:- Broadcast Content Fund: Cinema Equipment Fund: Film Development and Production FundDistribution and Exhibition Fund: to support distribution of Scottish films. Production Growth Fund; Professional Development Fund:

https://www.screen.scot/news/2018/08/3million-fund-to-boost-television-production-announced

Northern Ireland Screen provides support in the form of grants and investments/loans in much the same ways as the other national UK bodies. These include the following:- development funding ;production funding ;short films schemes;  and skills fund .

Ffilm Cymru Wales provides support for welsh filmmakers and for projects which reflect Welsh culture including :- Development funding ; Production funding; Company support; and  new film entrepreneurs awards of up to £6,000 to go toward mentorship and/or specialist consultancy.

Games

The richest part of the UK creative landscape, worth £5.7b in 2018.

The UK Games Fund  is a community interest company(CIC) that has been set up to help develop the UK games development sector, particularly at the early stage. The UK Games Fund will provide grants up to £25,000 to help new and young games development businesses create working prototype games.

In addition it supports talent entering the games industry by running Tranzfuser each year aimed at final year university and college students.

UKIE is the major source of information with respect to the UK games industry. Its guide to finance though over a year old is still the most comprehensive with respect to games development and production.

Note: Abertay University is the recipient of an AHRC Cluster Fund for games.

Northern Ireland Screen is one of the few national screen funds to also support games directly, see games funding – including project development and project production funding

Music

This sector is seen to have a high public profile and a very established eco-system for developing new talent from local venues to BBC’s Radio 6 music, and indie record labels to say nothing of the online opportunities.

The most comprehensive introduction to funding for musician is at the Musician’s Union website .

A major source of financing for new talent is the PRS for Music Foundation who offer support to creators. Note: they only support people who write their own music! They also support organisations.

The ‘Do It Different Fund’ gives £500-£3,000 to music creators who need financial, support having established themselves  in some way at the start of their career.

The Rattle is a new London based initiative, which provides a physical base(studio etc.), business and marketing support, and a community on a  subscription basis(£250per month). Planning to open in LA and other major cities over the coming year. This accelerator approach is proving effective for some musicians.

Arts

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This is a hugely successful sector with regard to  global sales value, far out reaching film and games. However, the need to support individual artists, exhibition spaces and marketing activities remain key to future development.

Obviously, the most comprehensive summary of funding for the arts are the various UK Arts Councils – Arts Council England; Creative Scotland;  Arts Council of Wales; Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

The Paul Hamlyn Foundation provides an up-to-date list of not only the Arts Councils but also major competitions and prizes including for visual arts, photography,film, musicians,and experimental art.

There are a number of foundations specifically  offering support to artists. These include – The Eaton Fund (wide range of arts, incl. film); Aziz Foundation (focused on supporting organisations);  Foyle Foundation( for charities and state schools in UK); Esmee Fairburn Foundation (individuals and organisations)

NOTE: Many of these Foundations have specific deadlines for applications so check their websites as soon as you know what funding you require.

There are also numerous competitions and awards which operate on an annual or regular basis these can be found in BCre8ive’s Competitions listing. One new quarterly example is for visual artists and photographers, Innovate Artists Grants.

Fashion

British fashion designers have been a major part of the world’s fashion business now for some time, but this is a fast changing environment, and new innovations are key to success. In order to support this some new government monies have been made available but many small designers still need support especially outside London.

The British Fashion Council support several initiatives including BFC/Vogue Fashion Fund.   Newgen has become the overall BFC support structure(previously Rock Vault and Headonism) for new emerging designers including those making all accessories e.g. bags, hats etc..

There is also a grants list at Start Grants.

Fashion Angel is the source of start up loans for fashion designers in the UK.

For teenage designers at school, etc. there is the Young Fashion Designer UK awards.

The 2018 AHRC Cluster Programme also provided over £10m for new fashion initiatives at University of the Arts and Leeds University. creating new opportunities for designers and makers over the next three years.

Crafts

This is currently the least supported of the various creator sectors within the creative industries. Many makers are located in rural areas, and away from the South East, which restricts their access to funding and support.

The Crafts Council provides a list of competitions and awards, which  also covers some visual arts and photography awards. They also provide a talent support scheme including course, mentoring and business support.

Individual grants may be possible from some foundations and Arts Councils, but it will depend on the specific project/work you wish to undertake.

Overall, the funding available is in investment terms seed monies i.e. small amounts which are designed to help creatives but not large enough to support them. the few exceptions to this are some a major competitions.

In the list of this BCre8ive is working on new ways of increasing support for creatives in the UK in particular the creation of local creative networks/clusters and increasing the role of local authorities and Angel funding. These funding opportunities will be covered in the next two blogs

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Money for Creatives: Part 1 – Where to find the Information?

As part of BCre8ive’s work on developing support for creatives in the UK this is the first in a new series of blogs  linked to our series on local creative cluster development. In an online world,  with digital connectivity a central plank of government initiatives, it might be assumed that small companies and freelancers would find it easy to discover information to help them in their work. Unfortunately, recent surveys and research reports suggest the contrary is true.

In ‘How to Support Creatives’ we highlighted the need for a new online service for creatives, and some examples of practice that work. In this series of blogs we will provide a summary of current online access points to finance – grants and loans, marketing and business support. Inevitably new sources come online , and current sources close or change but this is the latest information we have and we hope it helps you develop your creative work.

The blogs will focus on the following types of finances and support

  1. National Organisations/Websites – signposts to other sources of finance
  2. National and Regional Sources of finance
  3. Private Equity Sources

This first blog will concentrate on national sources of information, and the growth in online and bank loans being made available to small companies and freelancers.. These websites and organisations act as signposts to more local and specific contacts etc., which may help you find what you need to expand your creative work, and succeed in creative spaces.

A future blog will also look at Business Support Services ranging from financial, and legal to marketing

UK Wide

The following three links will help you find the key sources of finance for major creative work in your chosen creative activity. There are more than you might think. Equally, many finance options which are available to businesses – are in fact accessible to creatives, who often do not define themselves as businesses.

CIF:  Routes to Finance 2015:  Though nearly four years old this is still the most comprehensive source of information for finance contacts.  Designed to cover all the following creative activities:- Film – fine arts – design – music – video games – fashion – TV – performing arts – interactive entertainment – crafts – publishing – photography – radio. This downloadable document provides a good starting point to discover what is out there. Some links do not work but the information is solid, and most of the organisations and websites are still active.

http://www.thecreativeindustries.co.uk/media/322389/creative-industries-routes-to-finance.pdf

Creative Finance Network: This is a comprehensive overview of the sources of finance for creative companies with an industry breakdown for Music, Publishing, Fashion, Film&Tv, Design and Games. Aimed predominantly at existing companies with significant turnover. It is fairly honest about the prospects of creatives obtaining finance form traditional sources.

http://creativefinancenetwork.co.uk/

Creative England and CREATe: A joint initiative from two government backed creative organisations, which provides a short list of key finance sources available after the launch of the government’s Industrial Strategy. Aimed at larger Small to Medium Enterprises(SMEs) this covers the higher end of support and the major government agencies.

 http://www.betterbusinessfinance.co.uk/find-sector-help/post/creative-sector

In addition to these sources there are the four national art/creative bodies who provide grants and signposts to other sources of information.

Arts Council England

Funding Finder is the major source of information for artists in the UK.

Arts Council of Wales / Cyngor Celfyddydou Cymru

This is the overarching creative organisation for Wales. It provides a funding directory for creative professionals, and organisations, with some capital grants also available.

Arts Council Northern Ireland

This is the overarching creative organisation for Northern Ireland. It provides a funding search facility for creatives which lists all their current grants etc, and future deadlines.

Creative Scotland

The major government backed organisation for creative activity in Scotland. It provides a funding listing and an enquiries service.

Loans on the Move

Over the last ten years there has been a growth in lending operations aimed at small businesses who are not able to obtain loans from traditional banks etc. These have often been linked to the government backed Start-Up Loan Fund, but new socially orientated and community loan funds are also growing in this pace. These can be perfect where your creative work is linked to social benefits and disadvantaged groups etc..

Finding Finance: this is a website, which works along with your post code to find you loans from under £100 to at least £1m, which are available to you in your area.   This is part of the Responsible Finance (https://responsiblefinance.org.uk/) network, which focuses on social value and community benefits for its investors, and loan providers.

http://www.findingfinance.org.uk/

Creative England Investments:  Loans (£50k – £250k) to established creative, digital businesses at competitive rates (5%-10%) – not for start-ups. Criteria: Need to be an established SME working in the creative, digital sector (registered in England outside Greater London) and generating revenues with an intention to grow and create jobs. NOTE: 50/50 match funding required plus a  5% up front admin fee is payable.  Loans to be repaid in 3-36 months.

http://www.creativeengland.co.uk/investment/investments

Better Business Finance

Set up by Barclays, HSBC, RBS, Lloyds and Santander in 2011 and this networking site is managed by UK Finance in collaboration with its business and finance partners. Better Business Finance provides impartial information and support to businesses/entrepreneurs looking to develop & grow. As might be expected from a network created by large high street banks this is a very traditional route to finance.  As a result it focusses on assets e.g. equipment purchases; invoice financing i.e. providing you with finance while you wait for large invoice payments, and loans against capital e.g. Building, stock etc.

http://www.betterbusinessfinance.co.uk/

Co-operative and Community Finance:

Business Loans, Social Enterprise and Charity Loans of £10k – £200k to Co-operative and social enterprise sector “to help people take control of their economic lives and create social benefit.” This could be a source of finance for many arts groups, who work with disadvantaged groups of people, or seek to create social benefit through their work.

www.coopfinance.coop

Fair Business Loans:

Business Loans, Social Enterprise and Charity Loans of £5k – £50k to businesses across the UK which have been trading for 21 months or longer. Loans are available to sole traders, partnerships and limited companies. It considers businesses from all sectors with funding available for most purposes. Its support is targeted at businesses that have been unable to obtain finance from a mainstream provider.

www.fairbusinessloans.org.uk

Newable: 

Newable Business Finance is a joint venture between Newable and Liberis and offers Business Loans of between £26,000 – £100,000 in order to support growing businesses across the UK. Newable Business Finance delivers a package of high-tech loan management with business mentoring all adhering to the Responsible Finance principles. Loans repayable from 1-5 years.

www.newable.co.uk/lending

As you will have noticed much of the lending is still asset based,  and requires substantial financial ability to use. However, the smaller loans may provide the key door opener for many freelancers and micro-companies. £5000 can make all the difference and double your annual income, and even potentially lead to new employees/partners as well as new sales of your work.

However, there is still clearly a need to review the opportunities and online finance services for freelancers and micro-companies working in the creative industries.

In the next bog we will review the grants, and regional/national funds created to support your creative work.

 

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How to Support Creatives?

In this third blog of the series on developing local creative micro-companies and freelancers we look at the various existing resources available to support creatives and what needs to be created to improve the situation. Why is this so important?

“….many creative enterprises reported that those offering finance and support were either lacking in their understanding of the way the creative industries work, or could not tailor their product or service to their specific needs.”  – Growing the UK’s Creative Industries’ CIF December 2018

In this context there is a need to review and develop new business support systems covering not only accountancy but also business planning, financial management and creative skills.  However, the problems do not stop there.

“Many – particularly micro-businesses and self-employed workers – were also not undertaking enough measures to protect and maximise the value of their Intellectual Property ( IP ), and were unaware of the growth opportunities that exporting their services and/or products might deliver.” – Growing the UK’s Creative Industries’ CIF December 2018

The significance of this aspect of new support structures is that without this ability to protect their Intellectual Property and market it to the widest possible audience the creative enterprises remain uninvestible.  The result being that without the investment the creatives are not in a position to protect their IP, and thus are trapped in a cycle of client dependency and no real growth.

 

Increasing the Earnings for Creatives

The majority of small creative enterprises traditionally work with a small client base or market place.  These range from a handful of broadcasters for indie TV companies to weekly markets for makers.  This approach to selling your work has been impacted by YouTube and Netflix developments at one end of the spectrum and e-commerce sites e.g. etsy at the other. However, the vast majority of creatives as explained in – Five Questions for any Creative Cluster  – are too limited by their working time and resources to easily exploit these new opportunities.

The answer to this scenario to date has been either grants e.g. ACE lottery, and Esme Fairburn  or loans . However, as anyone who has been involved with creative activity will know the lack of stable cashflow, the freelance nature of employment, and the reluctance of traditional lenders to give without capital assets makes this approach to growth very limited.

The only effective answer to growth in this scenario is the provision of equity investment.

Investors have proven very reluctant to become involved with creative activity, especially when over the last decade ‘tech’ based companies have been seen as the way to make the most from investment.  However, the failure of many ‘tech’ investments has now shown that this area is just as risky as any creative enterprise.

“67% of the Creative Businesses thought that lenders
find their sector hard to understand and 61% that  their sector struggles more than others to get funding”. Access to Finance. CIC 2017

The need for equity investment in creative enterprise will, obviously, not be solved just by the failure of other investments.  There is a need for micro-companies and freelancers to become more attractive to investors. This can be achieved by a number of new business support services , which are tailored to creative activity, and focus on those creatives who see the potential to grow.

What type of business support – financial?

As is the case with most small companies creatives have access to specialist accounts packages ranging from Freeagent , designed for sole traders at £9.50 pcm to larger packages such as Sage at £10-22pcm. In addition, there are emerging several specialist accountants, again ranging from larger firms such as Ward Williams Creative and Bishop Fleming through to providers who have emerged from specific creative sector need. In this latter group two examples Lime Green from music and AJN Accounting from photography  offer potential models for other service providers, or an expansion of existing services.

The emergence of new challenger banks may provide some new opportunities, for example Coconut, but their charges may prove prohibitive, and the old problem of creative activity being seen as too risky to support could easily strangle any developments in this area.

Each of these firms etc., offer a limited range, and scale, compared with the potential need across the whole creative sector in the UK. An online solution may meet some of this need e.g. Crunch- Online Accounting but ensuring a low cost affordable service is critical to micro enterprises being able to develop a sound financial base.

The major issue with regards to this type of business support is clearly not the management of money, but more how to develop a business plan and ensure solid financial projections going forward.

In  ‘Five Questions for Any Creative Cluster ‘,we identified the ‘Prosper’ model as having established some clear parameters that will work in this sector. Unfortunately, this was a time limited project restricted to the Arts Council’s remit, and though the Creative United team is now funded until 2021, they, on their own, will not be able to meet all the needs across the UK.

In addition, to this work there are several short courses run by organisations from the Creative Industries Federation and Creative Entrepreneurs to the two-year programme of ‘Boosting Resilience’.  Again the issue is one of scale there are only 26 participants on the latter programme, and the short courses tend to be focused in the South East, and run for very small numbers compared with overall need.

The only potential solution to this is not only an expansion of online support, but crucially the development of local creative support systems. Services which could be met by University/college business schools/media departments/accelerators in conjunction with Local Authority economic development units or LEP Growth Hubs.

What Type of business Support – Skills?

One of the major challenges of the whole of the creative sector is the lack of business and creative skills identified within various reports and by the receipt of new funding under the government Industrial Strategy. Despite these initiatives there is the ongoing problem of a range of skills development for individuals working as freelancers, and within the small micro-companies, who do not have enough money/time to take time off for training, or access training  at all when it is focused in large metropolitan areas only.

These creatives need cost-effective flexible training, which can only be delivered by local providers and online services. There is a significant lack of skilled local providers throughout the UK, a deficiency which will not be overcome overnight. This points to an online service, which needs to be easily accessed. Many of the creative skills training/information in this space does exist, e.g. screenskills but needs clearer sign posting, and a local contact point to saves time and duplication of effort.

Building a network of business skills provision and adapting existing provision, especially for graduates, specifically for the different creative sectors is a priority that realistically can only be undertaken by a combination of local and national activities.

What Type of Business Support – Marketing?

This is the weakest part of the current provision for creatives apart from those associated with indie music. Though everyone is aware at a very basic level of the need for a website, and Facebook, or Instagram, presence, the vast majority of freelancers and micro-companies still rely on word of mouth and tender applications for expanding work opportunities. The degree to which this is overlooked in many discussions is a reflection that small enterprises are so bound up in surviving that looking up and planning a marketing strategy appears to be a luxury.

Though this may be the case it is clearly something which has been tackled within the music businesses in the UK. Apart from the now long history of indie labels and the recent successes of BBC 6 Music and The Rattle accelerator there exists a growing marketing support structure for musicians.

Sine Digital, which grew out of Lime Green Records, provides a digital marketing service for musicians, while at the other end of the spectrum Quite Great Music has grown into a substantial PR/branding outfit from its base in Cambridge.

“our approach to marketing for the creative industries and creative businesses means that by freeing you from your desk, you can be more hands on in the areas of your business that you love, whilst we are hands on with your marketing!” Gingerfizz website.

Another example of specific marketing support is GingerFizz based in Huddersfield, which provides a service designed for artists, designers and makers.  With these examples it is possible to envisage a more comprehensive eco-system, where creatives have access to marketing support services that would ensure they are in a more competitive position to exploit their IP.

Therefore, developing a new strategy for marketing creative outputs for micro-companies and freelancers, though a critical factor, is currently missing from the landscape for future investments and growth within the creative industries as a whole, but it is nonetheless achievable.

Academia could potentially play a major part in this with courses such as those provided at the University of Leicester  and the University of the Creative Arts business schools. It is early days for all these ventures and the question of scale compared with the overall needs indicates an urgent need to expand such activity. There is the potential for this within the AHRC  Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC) research programme where Newcastle University are linking with the Department of International Trade.

The aim of support

The needs have been identified, there are some models for expanding services and there is the potential based upon local cluster research to develop a new infra-structure for creative micro-companies and freelancers.

The aim of all this is to help make these creative enterprises ready for investment and crucially to link them with local angel investors with the support of the new British Business Bank Regional Angels funds, which are being launched in January 2019.

It is this link which will be addressed in the last of these blogs on how to build a local creative cluster and thus help sustain creative activity and grow creative enterprises.

 

 

 

Posted in Creative Education, Creative industries, Creative Policy, Education, freelancers, Funding, micro-companies, Uncategorized | Comments Off on How to Support Creatives?

Five Questions for Any Creative Cluster

This is the second blog in the series looking at how to build and support effective local creative clusters. In particular, how to help micro-companies or freelancers succeed in your area. Having identified the number, type and range of creative enterprises in an area, based on the initial research, there are some key questions which need to be addressed on developing creative clusters.

  • Diversity – how to manage the fragmented, and diverse, creative activities within your area?
  • Development – what skills and resources are needed to improve the opportunities for growth within your area?
  • Inclusivity – how to engage communities, cultures and individuals who are currently excluded or under-represented within the cluster?
  • Quality – how to ensure the quality of new work is high enough to compete in a global market place?
  • Relevance – how to match support to individual enterprises in ways that are effective and relevant to their development?

This blog sets out some of the main points to be borne in mind when answering these questions, and highlights the successful approaches already adopted in some creative cluster projects. In so doing the aim is to help creatives, Universities, Local Authorities, LEPs, plus regional and national arts and media bodies to be more effective in supporting local creative clusters.

The question of diversity – how to manage the fragmented, and diverse, creative activities within your area?

It would make life so much easier if creativity really was clustered in uniform groups e.g. games in one place, visual artists in another etc., as providing support structures and engagement would be simpler. However, the reality of any area is that it will have a very fragmented and mixed creative economy.  So having identified all the various creatives in your area, be it a city, town or rural district, what do you do next?

The first step is to ascertain what each of the different groups of creatives see as the major barriers to developing new work, growing and sustaining their business, and collaborating with other creative enterprises. It is worth bearing in mind at this point the findings of the AHRC’s FUSE work, where some creative enterprises were seen to benefit substantially by being linked to digital enterprises.

Once the key barriers to development have been identified the next step is to look at how these barriers may be overcome in the short, medium and long term.

The fastest way of progressing things is to bring creatives together into practice focused groups and meetings.  This will help to ensure the use of limited resources are best utilised. During this process it will be possible to identify priorities, and those potential leaders who can take the strategy forward within your particular local creative area. This collaborative approach is a major step in solving the fragmented and diverse nature of demands being made on resources.

Note: many creative people like working alone, or in very small teams, so the goal in terms of developing companies, etc. may not be about increasing the size of an enterprise but more about increasing productivity and profitability.

The question of development – what skills and resources are needed to improve the opportunities for growth within your area?

Numerous reports and surveys have identified key skills shortages within the creative industries, some of which have been, and potentially will be, affected by changes in the migration and work relationships determined by UK government policy.  However, at a local level it is the relationships between local colleges, universities, local authorities, and creative enterprises which are critical to meeting skills and resource issues.

Having identified key needs within the local creative economy developing a strategy using existing resources, and planning for increasing support for education, training and resource development, is critical to any potential growth in the cluster.

The danger is thinking one approach will benefit all, the classic example being the creation of large accelerator type projects by converting or building substantial ‘creative hub’ buildings.  Such buildings can benefit some creative areas e.g. music with the provision of cheap studios, etc., or crafts with the provision of collective studios and potential gallery sales space.  However, this type of provision does not suit all creative enterprises. For many enterprises it is much more about access to content development and production finance, or marketing, which will prove key to growth and success.

In all contexts the provision of up to date information on funding support, market news, and access to under-used resources in the area will substantially benefit all the creatives involved.

The promotion of collaborative working, and collective activity has proven to be a major growth factor in the creative industries, and should be considered in any development process and resource provision.

“If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.”   Ed Catmull : Pixar/ Disney

The question of inclusivity – how to engage communities, cultures and individuals, who are currently excluded or under-represented within your cluster?

There is currently a new awareness, and substantial national lobbying around the issues of inclusivity.  As a result, there are numerous initiatives and programmes being undertaken in an attempt to address the obvious lack of representation within areas of creative activity.

Previous blogs have outlined ways in which organisations can improve access, and recruitment to programmes. Therefore, in this context it is perhaps only worth emphasising that many culturally specific activities may have audiences and buyers beyond not just the local area but also outside the UK. This is particularly true of narrative driven content and craft-based activities.  Inclusivity is not just about the person, it is also about visions and outputs.

The question of quality – how to ensure the quality of new work is high enough to compete in a global market place?

There have been many initiatives and in some cases millions of pounds spent on developing new creative outputs only for them to fail in the relevant market. In any discussion with potential investors in the creative sectors it does not take long for the ‘risky’ nature of creative enterprises and the ‘artsy’ nature of creatives to be raised. In this context that the question of quality becomes paramount in developing a successful creative cluster.

There is not long enough in this blog to address all the myths, mis-conceptions, and degrees of ignorance, which need to be overcome in this area from all the potential partners in creative success (see 4 Phrases which limit creativity).  However, one thing which can be addressed is the use of successful creative mentors in the development process. The inclusion of successful creative mentors in the designing of programmes, the supporting of new talent, and the assessing of outputs is critical, not only to credibility, but also to the actual quality of outputs.

Mentors also play a vital role in the final question to be addressed.

The question of relevance – how to match support to individual enterprises in ways that are effective and relevant to their development?

Small creative enterprise often exist in a hand-to-mouth relationship with their buyers be they individual customers, or major corporate companies. This leads to a narrow focus on obtaining and maintaining the few contracts which are essential for the business to survive. In addition, the scale of the enterprises often means they feel they are in a very weak position to bargain any serious head room on the prices they charge, thus margins are very tight. This in turn leads to little time and no resources to address new skills, new marketing, or new product development and its exploitation. It is in this context any business support has to be highly tailored and specific to the needs of creatives.

There have been numerous attempts from the AHRC, national Arts and Media bodies, Government and a number of Universities to provide  such a support structure for creative entrepreneurs over the last decade.

Too often creatives have been asked to attend generic courses, been advised by people who have only a limited knowledge of the creative industries or lectured by individuals who have been successful in other areas e.g. tech or retail. Given this level of mis-match between providers and the creatives it is perhaps not surprising that many past activities have failed. As a result several people have concluded that creatives do not want business support.

This might be the case if it were not for both FUSE 2, and the CIF Freelancers’ survey, indicating that this is not the creatives’ point of view, leading to the conclusion that it is not the issue about the need/desire for business support but more how it is delivered that is the question.

Providing relevant and effective business support to micro-companies and freelancers is critical to any plan to improve the market for creative outputs and the investment climate for creatives. One project ’Prosper’, run by Creative United and funded by the Arts Council England, ran for a very short time in 2017-18, but brought to light one or two ways in which such support could be provided.

‘Prosper’, based upon various offerings of support to a diversity of arts organisations, concluded that a credit system which allowed creatives to access mentors specific to their needs at a time convenient to them was the most desired and the most used.  Though this is only one piece of research it suggests that using creative sector industry mentors, combined with a flexible legal and financial support system designed for small creative enterprise will be a critical factor in developing your local creative cluster.

One final issue which needs addressing is language. It is one thing to talk about a business plan to a techie who aims to build an app and sell on its success within a short time, it is completely other to discuss with a creative how their current work may be exploited on other platforms, or in new markets. The former is focused on potential sales from the outset, the latter only focuses on potential sales after the bulk of development, or even completion, has been achieved. The processes may in fact be very similar with respect to outputs e.g. an app or a creative piece of work, but the language around them are radically different and this has to be recognised in providing any support services to creatives.

Supporting Creative Micro-companies and Freelancers

For any creative cluster to grow, and the creative sector as a whole to become sustainable, as opposed to a few individuals, or companies, becoming ‘stars’/’unicorns’ the process of identifying the needs of creative enterprises in your area is critical. It is equally important to then provide relevant and effective support and resources to meet their needs.

Once this has been achieved then creative enterprises that initially may have seemed very limited in their commercial potential, and un-investable in traditional terms, will now be seen in a new light.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Creative Collaboration, Creative industries, Creative Policy, freelancers, Funding, micro-companies | Comments Off on Five Questions for Any Creative Cluster