Erica Wolfe-Murray's Top Tips
Having worked with nearly 300 companies in the creative, cultural and tech sector over the last seven years, Lola Media founder Erica Wolfe-Murray helps businesses to grow, to innovate and to build revenue streams that encourage greater commercial resilience. Having worked as both a creative head and a financial director, she harnesses both aspects of business to ensure as imaginative commercial evolution.
Her new book ‘Simple Tips, Smart Ideas : Build a Bigger, Better Business’ is out on 24th January 2019. Full of easy-to-use advice, contemporary case studies, quick tips, diagrams and innovative ways to think about growing your business – its 288 full colour pages will help you transform your business. Available to pre-order now https://amzn.to/2NZngLD
In this series, Erica will be offering up tips on how you can grow your creative enterprise with confidence and resilience.
Defining your hopes and dreams – both personal and work-related – will give you a horizon to aim for.
The very first question I ask freelancers, company owners and boards when I start working with them is to tell me their hopes and dreams. It seems such a simple question, but so many find it hard to answer. Yet these should be the foundations of why you are working and doing what you do.
I don’t expect the answers to be purely limited to business ambitions either. It is vital that you have your personal aspirations out there too. What do you ultimately want from what you are doing?
This question can feel exposing if there are several in the room together, but it is important to know each other’s dreams – even if they are very different from yours.
The hopes and dreams of company founders, of freelancers provide the horizon for the company’s aims. The lodestar for the route your business will be following. It should be at the very core of your business planning.
So start 2019 by finding the time to explore what these are for you, for your team. Now you know the reasons underpinning the route you are travelling.
Build your business on your strengths
This sounds painfully obvious, doesn’t it? But most companies do not spend time really understanding what their strengths are. They think they know them, but have never mapped them out consistently, or indeed fully.
An easy way to do this is to get everyone with influence in your business to tell their life story. And listen, really listen to their experiences, the passions, their career. Write down all those key points that you recognise as a strength. The list will be lengthy as you cover everyone’s lives. Languages, hidden skills, childhood events, overseas homes, different worlds, under-used skills… they make a unique cocktail of strengths for your business to draw on. One that is hidden in plain sight.
Once you have distilled the list, think through how best you can use these as a springboard to help your business move forward, develop new products and services or approach a new audience.
- Use your past client list inventively to target new business
When I wrote a list of all the clients I had ever worked with throughout my career in advertising, design, licencing, tv production and now business innovation and growth, it was well over 350.
As I wrote down each name, I recognised the influence that client or their project had on who I am, how I think and work. There was not a single project that hadn’t taught me something – big or small. And I had learned much about each of their markets, their audiences and their businesses.
To start with I listed them chronologically to make recall easier. Then I shifted them to an alphabetical list, then a sector-based list. It was enlightening. I began to see links and overlaps in ways I hadn’t anticipated. New sectors I could approach became apparent – I spotted a ‘luxury brand’ sector I’d never identified before. Another sector I called ‘downtime’ was the sector wrapper for clients whose customer appeal is leisure-based, linking my broadcaster work to publishers, purveyors of food and events, poets, RPG archives and the like.
If there are several of you running a company, the list of clients/companies you have worked with will be long. But it’s an exciting prospect that between you there could be countless new sectors to embrace and work with. Don’t feel you have to come up with the answers – put it to your team, a friend, whoever to see what overlaps they see. Diversity of thought is crucial to gain insights in unexpected ways.
- List everything you have actually been paid to do – are you harnessing all these to build your current offer?
Just as your past client list analysis can lead you to seeing different sectors, creating another list detailing all the aspects of what you have been paid to do throughout your career can be incredibly informative. But when drawing up this list – don’t be lazy!
Really think through what it was you did for each customer or client… For example – ‘brand development’ is too much of a catch-all. Whereas ‘strategy development, market positioning, brand development for the launch/exploitation of a new food concept’ tells you much more about the actual skills you called on to deliver their project. ‘Film production’ is another easy title, when in fact it is a lengthy list of hard earned knowledge and skills.
So why does this list matter? These are all the things you and/or your company and team have been able to sell to one or more clients. As we move through life and on to new projects, into new companies and relationships, we overlook or forget our capabilities. Yet these could be reframed/repackaged to offer a new product or service to all your current or future clients, at little or no cost to your business. Why wouldn’t you want to do this?
Strengths and weaknesses are internal, opportunities and threats come from the outside.
Pretty much everyone includes a SWOT analysis in their business plan. But there is often confusion as to what goes in which list. So keep it simple. Whether you are a freelancer, a micro company or somewhat bigger – everything included in the Strength and Weakness lists should come from you personally, your team or from internal aspects of the business. They are your strengths, your weaknesses – not anything external.
On the flipside – Opportunities and Threats are all about external factors. They represent the market forces, the rising behavioural trends you’ve identified, the worrisome downturn in the world you have around you.
By mapping your unique range of Strengths against those Opportunities is what gives your business growth potential, with earlier identification of Threats allowing you to mitigate against them.
Leave the numbers out of your business plan until you have worked out what you really want to do
It seems odd advice from an ex-financial director, doesn’t it? Too many business plans focus on the numbers before the team really has worked out what they want to offer, what really sets them apart from the competition, what drives their ambitions.
If you don’t get these aspects really nailed down, any financial projections, any income or spend analysis will be skewed as you are not basing them on your correct decision making. So don’t even think about financials until you have got much further down the line ensuring you understand your offer, then fully identifying the opportunities and markets this offer can play into – which may not have been obvious at the outset.
- Building a range of income streams for your business develops resilience
How many income streams do you have? I don’t mean the number of clients paying you but different types of income streams.
Perhaps you offer a service so are paid by the hour. You might also host events, so earn through ticket sales. It could be that you own some archive footage that brings in a licence fee. And you have an online aspect to your business that brings in welcome revenue whilst you sleep. Or have you been smart, negotiating a share of growth with a client on their nascent project?
So many businesses are built on just one income stream, which can be snatched away if a major client leaves, if the market swings, if you become ill. By quietly building several different streams that all emerge from the core of what you do, you can protect your business from market variations, pivot your business should you need to, building greater resilience into your commercial life.
Identifying these additional streams should be a key aspect of your planning, whether you are a freelancer or company. So look at all the ways other companies earn revenues, could you do something similar within your business?