Creative entrepreneurship

Creative entrepreneurship: should grads make a job or take a job?

Hannah Clements examines how graduates can mix creative flair with entrepreneurial ability to make money from their skills

No matter whether you already think of yourself as an entrepreneur or not, being vocal and visual about who you are and what you do matters. This was the key message of Enterprise Week 2011, an annual week in November dedicated to raising awareness of enterprise activities, which coincides with Global Entrepreneurship Week. The focus is on giving people the opportunity to consider new ideas and ways of being enterprising. Any organisation can add events to Enterprise Week with the intention of building skills, recognising opportunities and inspiring confidence.

At the University of the Arts London, we scheduled more than events this year in collaboration with external partners. These events led me to consider the terms used and what they actually mean to students and graduates.

What is an entrepreneur?

The term entrepreneur is often connected to people such as Lord Alan Sugar and Richard Branson who are considered to be pioneers and trailblazers in their fields, but not necessarily role models for practice-led art and design students. So who are the role models that would satisfy this student cohort's imagination as pioneers and trailblazers in the arts world?

The BBC's Dragon's Den promotes entrepreneurship as the ability to make money from creativity. The show emphasises the importance of commercial awareness and solid financial understanding. But are practice-based courses doing enough to prepare emerging graduates? With so many art and design graduates going into self-employment, should lessons in financial management should be a prerequisite? This is why Enterprise Week is so useful to highlight and promote these issues.

New Deal of the Mind recognises the economic, social and cultural value of Britain's creative talent and urge:

" 'Make a job, don't take a job' should become the rallying cry for the creative sector. The sector has traditionally had a far higher percentage of freelance workers – around 40% of the total, compared with 12% in the economy as a whole. In times of recession, this can be turned to advantage."

What does it mean to be enterprising?

Being enterprising means thinking of yourself as a business in your own right. How do you stand out from the crowd? How do you let your manager and team members know about the work you are doing? This does not have to be shouting and screaming about every project you do, but taking opportunities to share your challenges and successes, speaking out at team meetings or offering to present your findings, research or project. I am not suggesting this is an easy thing to do, but it is worth thinking about how to project yourself so that you keep moving, developing and opening up opportunities for yourself.

Additionally, it is a good way to network, talk to people and make more contacts for professional as well as social reasons. Think about this in relation to how you can add value to your team or organisation, and how you can contribute your particular expertise. Considering the following might help you to develop this further.

Knowing yourself

What are your skills, expertise, knowledge and achievements?

What makes you unique?

What can you offer to your team or organisation that they really need right now?

Do your research

Do you know your market and where you currently fit within it?

Can you succinctly differentiate yourself from others in the field?

Can you articulate your USP (unique selling point)?

Promote yourself

Do you have an online presence; for example, website, social media, blog?

Are people aware that you exist and what you offer?

How are you meeting potential customers and clients?

How can arts students and graduates maximise their creativity?

Enterprise Week 2011 highlighted the importance of putting creativity alongside business, especially as many people do not always think of creativity and business as a happy partnership. As David Parrish remarks in T-Shirts and Suits: A Guide to the Business of Creativity: "Some people regard creativity and business as being like oil and water – they just don't mix."

He also adds: "Successful creative entrepreneurs embrace both creativity and business."

Have you wondered how you are actually going to make money from your practice?

Richie Manu, founder of Consurgo, works closely with students and graduates from practice-based arts and design courses and advises the following three attitudes, attributes and behaviours to boost your creative entrepreneurship:

Professionalism: The first step for any student or graduate is to start thinking (and being) professional.

Forward thinking: creative students need to start thinking beyond their course and make business connections that will become important for them in the near future.

Collaboration: it is important for students and graduates to understand the value of collaboration. For example, a graphic designer should make their skills known to a much wider circle of creatives, say, photographer, artists, and illustrators. These peer connections also go a long way in future project development.

You may not consider yourself to be an entrepreneur but it is up to you to consider your work and what you would like to do with it, especially if you are hoping to make a living from it. You could start by thinking about who you admire and how they developed their career. What did they do that you can emulate?

Whatever route you take, now is a good time to start thinking about it.

Hannah Clements is student development officer, in the Student Enterprise and Employability service (SEE) at the University of the Arts London.