What Prompted You to Decide to Start Up?

I formed my first creative company All The Skills in 2008 in partnership with a friend as a “one stop shop” for performing and visual arts workshops serving the needs of schools, community groups and businesses. Prior to that I was self employed as a freelance drama and dance tutor since graduating from LIPA in 2005. My business partner Sean, was a trained secondary teacher and experienced circus tutor so we felt by combining our skills, administration and marketing efforts we could attract more clients, and each get more work.

In 2016, I set up my current business Brush Stroke Order, a creative writing company which provides workshops, mentoring and support to those who write for live performance. This was part of my transition from working in participatory theatre to new writing and literary development. By forming the company, I built up my experience of leading writing workshops, script reading and dramaturgy without relying on a theatre to give me a job.

What sort of things did you research?

I was lucky that in my final year at LIPA there was a compulsory module about being self-employed and how to approach a business start up. So, for All The Skills I revisited my old uni folders for a guide on what to do. This included how to write a business plan, different business structures and how to register as a partnership with HMRC.

It’s really important to know the market you are entering so each time I researched my competitors, their products, marketing and pricing strategies. I also spent time listing who potential clients might be, how I could approach them and when.

We also looked for where to get business advice and extra funding. For a while, we had Martyn Walsh from The Inspiral Carpets as our business mentor for All The Skills who helped us think more commercially and how to engage with corporate clients.

How did you fund it?

Both of my businesses had very little start-up costs. For All The Skills we each put £100 in at the start to buy extra circus equipment, a stereo and to cover initial marketing costs. We already had a lot of our own equipment plus Sean (my business partner) had a van and the skills to build us a website. Shortly after launching All The Skills, I applied for a LIPA Graduate award which gave us £1000 to invest in the business. We used this money to brand the business by commissioning a graphic designer to create flyers to send to schools, then getting van signage and staff hoodies and circus equipment in our company colours.

For Brush Stroke Order I used savings to commission someone to build my website, design a logo, fonts and company stationery so in total an initial outlay of £1000. After that I’ve relied on customers paying for workshops, script reading services and mentoring to keep the business going.

What are the highs and lows of having your own company?

The highs for me include being your own boss and having control over your working life. You choose your projects and set your own hours. There’s also a massive sense of pride when you are successfully running your own company.

Lows – Being self-employed, there are times when the diary is scarily empty and you’re financially stretched. You can also end up working all the time and have no work/life balance.

Tips for others starting out

  • Before launching your business, take time to do a detailed business plan – especially the cash flow forecast, which predicts how much money will flow in and out of your business month to month and when.
  • Don’t work for free to gain “exposure” when starting out. Know your worth and make sure others know it too.
  • If you decide to go into partnership (even if it’s with your best friend or partner), ALWAYS write a partnership agreement clearly stating roles & responsibilities, financial splits and how you will mediate disagreements. Choose several people whose judgement you trust to act as mediators in case there is an issue you cannot work out between yourselves.

This post is part of A Younger Theatre’s ‘How to be a…’ careers series. Interested in reading more? Read Robert Evans’ ‘How to be a Theatre Maker’ and Keisha Thompson’s ‘How to be a Producer’.