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Does My New Small Business Need Creative Direction?

Um. Yeah.

It's something that you know intuitively, in fact, or else you wouldn't be pondering this. In the 21st century, it will be a rare instance that any new venture without loads of capital backing will get far without a cohesive creative plan that includes unique in-house content. Yet you may not be sure yet as to what scale you should be investing in your creative needs.

I felt motivated to write this article as a result of my experiences being approached by newbie fashion designers, entrepreneurs, and other enterprising individuals as potential clients. You have the best idea ever, and you're ready to hire me to help you achieve your vision. Or so you thought. You're smart though, because you already know how important this is. Now, let's assess your readiness...

Got budget?

I'm not talking about a number that you pulled out of thin air. I'm not talking about what you think or feel is a fair cost to pull off your first round of marketing, either. I'm talking hard numbers that take into consideration:

  • the cost of every tangible and intangible artistic element involved

  • the possible cost of transportation, food, location

  • talent fees, which depend on whether your productions are union or non-union and whether or not said talent will have conflicts as a result of their participation

  • labor fees, whether this involves an elaborate one-time shoot, an all-digital campaign, or a long-term employment plan... TIME IS MONEY

  • printing, PR (if applicable), and online marketing fees

If you've got friends in the biz who are willing to help you for free or at reduced cost, take advantage! I've participated in several projects just for the love of my colleagues and their vision. Just make sure your friend is actually talented though. And remember, you get what you pay for. If you don't budget for it up front, you don't get to have it. Do the research, know the costs, write a financial plan.

Do you know your market?

I'm not talking about who you think is buying or will buy your product/service. I'm not even talking about who you think you want to market to. Again, I'm talking hard numbers that take into consideration:

  • the gender of your target market, if relevant

  • how much money they make per year

  • where they spend their time online and on social media

  • how often they spend their money on the kind of product/service you offer

  • how much they typically spend all at once

...and so forth. You've got your primary market, and then there's market segmentation. Doing the leg work to get as many details as you can about who you're trying to get in front of will strengthen your creative and your business at large. Know who's going to buy your stuff.

What are your goals?

I'm not talking about vague goals like "To change the perception of manatees in the Northern Hemisphere." I'm not even talking goals like "To increase my profits." Again with the specificity!

  • is it to increase overall profits? by what percentage? over what period of time?

  • is it to make more individual sales? by what percentage? over what period of time?

  • is it to increase Instagram followers? by how many? over what period of time?

  • is it to raise brand awareness? amongst whom? how? how soon?

I'm sure you're starting to see a pattern here. What this boils down to is knowing your own business idea intimately and realistically. Know your mission and vision and define specific goals.

What platforms will you use?

Yeah, there's social/digital media. There's also traditional media - television, radio spots, flyers, postering. There's also events, both small and large. There's also clandestine activations, bake sales, trade shows - really, you're only as limited as your imagination when it comes down to how you'll deliver your message. Just remember, "the how" depends heavily on your budget, market, and goals. One size does not fit all, and blitzing every possible platform all at once does not equal success. Conversion does. Choose your platform(s) wisely.

The Point

There is a lot of thought and planning that goes into even the shortest, smallest Instagram campaign that the largest companies produce. I'm not making a case for overthinking and overproducing; you can go big on a smaller scale (I do it all the time), but it requires thoughtfulness and consideration of the time it takes to achieve your goals. I, as an artist and creative director, would love nothing more than to create and create aimlessly until the cows come home. It's fun, engaging, easy for me, and I love it! But at the end of the day, we've got businesses to run and goals to achieve. The most successful creative campaigns have a strong and concise foundation that they're built on. Write a business plan. The more ready you are as a client, the better creative output someone like me can produce and deliver to you.

If, after reading all of the above, you’re thinking to yourself “Wow, I’m nowhere near ready,” think again: you are already heads and shoulders above all the startups who haven’t even begun to consider any of these factors. And there’s a lot of them, trust me. All it takes from this moment forward is to reserve just one hour out of your day to put pencil to paper, using 15 minutes for each section above to outline your plan. In doing so, you’re not throwing your time, money, and energy down the drain on aimless - and therefore, ineffective - content that gets you no closer to your specified goals. So congratulations, you’re on the path to readiness!

Creative Director

*an earlier version of this article was published on LinkedIn on July 13th, 2016

Alexia Lewis is a Creative Director, Photographer, and Aesthetic Consultant in Los Angeles, CA. Her clients include music producers, bloggers, national magazines, solopreneurs, event planners, and just about any business who places a high value on quality visuals. Visit to see her work.

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