Five Tips for Running a Successful Creative Business

Written by Ashleigh Davids




It was 2010, South Africa was gearing up for the Soccer World Cup and organizers were procuring talent from all over Cape Town to entertain the masses in desginated areas. I was poorly trained, passionate and the lead singer of a fly-by-night Rnb/Pop/Hip Hop band auditioning for a spot on a lineup at Grand West. Looking over the auditorium during our slot, l realized for the first time how many talented people reside in the Mother City. It’s something we all know  by default, but l think there’s at least one significant experience in every individual’s book which cements the belief. l’m sure you’ll forgive me for being cheeky and  saying that it becomes fact, not statement!

The second revelation on my part during a five year stint in the arts is that there were so many CEOs, record labels, artist managers and production companies (among other ‘impressive’ titles) who were in operation according to email signatures and business cards.

Music Exchange 2016 was one of the first networking events l attended this year after a quick, sudden and unexpected departure from a more full-time career as a maker (of music, of poetry, of words) in 2014. I was visibly awkward. Somehow l collected some of those business cards l mentioned above. A handful of them have translated to email signatures at the bottom of correspondence in my inbox. I also watched an amazing presentation on virtual reality.

So who am l? I’m a nobody actually. With a measly two songs on two radio stations you probably don’t have to read any further. But indulge me. My name is most likely a distant memory to ‘friends’ l have collected on Facebook and people l have met and seen often at park jams, open mic nights and the occasional trip to ‘studio’ with rapper friends.

Have you ever wondered what happens to the overzealous youth who types/typed LiKe tHIs AnD bEGged for OnE sHoT bY blOWinG uP yOur inBOx?

Hopefully, mostly, some of us grow up. We write you blog posts from the sober position of counting our losses, having hopes for the future and anticipating that we may not accomplish anything different by doing the same thing we did five years ago.

Some of us decide that being a performing artist may not be the only thing, the most important thing or a thing at all. We may stop completely, and for the sake of ears everywhere and besides our personal reasons, that may be a very good thing.

Some of us become entrepreneurs. We identify our tenacity to create as the potential to be the problem solvers, the thinkers, the doers of great things. We find ways to tell stories and compose music in spaces that were once exclusive, mute and void of art. Spaces now realizing the power of a song and a dance.

I am one such person and l form part of teams such as Exilic Music. I am an independent contractor, self-employed, a freelancer, a supplier, a service provider, a business owner. I haven’t done much and l probably don’t ring a bell but l have just began affording my expenses and paying my bills with money that is not promised at the end of every month. I am fresh from a time when l could not do that at all, when satiety had to be found in applause and exposure – oh, the ‘e’ word.



I don’t know if it will count for much but as we round up 2016 there are bound to be a few frayed jerseys and pulled hairs amongst us. And for the weariness, the weariness that has promised to give up and stop while ahead, or the weariness that has no idea where to start –  this is my five point trail to running a successful creative business.


1) It’s not about your title

Small businesses lend themselves to multi-functioning roles and large portfolios that change often depending on the needs of your clients and back pocket. Though it’s great to identify responsibilities within a team, if you’re starting out or reinventing yourself it’s probably not necessary to slap a C and O on everything. More importantly, focus on defining your brand (get specific) and make sure you deliver on the things you say you do. Your word is your bond, not your job title. If you must, use friendly or practical terms such as ‘Team Leader’ instead of ‘Chief Executive Officer’. I am an assistant who works virtually so calling myself a ‘Virtual Assistant’ is not a far stretch. We recently interviewed Marvin Levendal of Mobcow Entertainment and he is known as an  ‘Event Activation Specialist’. And guess what? He does event activation! Never would have guessed!


2) More moves, less announcements!

This phrase is commonly used within indie circles and rightly so. Social media marketing lends itself to ‘talking about’ but a better approach would be to ‘show AND tell’ – document your journey as it happens or after it happens. This is great for minimizing the detours you may have to report should you experience disappointments or simply change direction. Both instances are common in new business and nothing to be ashamed of. In closing, even if you love the occasional announcement what should be pronounced here is movement. Do it, do it!


3) Straight lines, crooked paths.

One of my favourite passages reads the following:


I will go before you and l will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron.


Though l believe that overnight successes are a good few years in the making, it could still be true that some of your peers and colleagues have a very linear, simple, one foot in front of the other kind of lifestyle. Their milestones and achievements happen in ascending order like clockwork and yours, well…yours. I’m not encouraging you to look to the left or right very often but what l am saying is…

You need to be open to ziz zags, choppy slopes and curves. I am a late bloomer today not only because of my upbringing and temperament but because of my business. It may take me ten times longer to do things my friends do without blinking but l’m comforted knowing that something bigger than my humanity guides my forward and prepares my way.


4) It’s okay to be ahead of the curve.

I was really excited about the virtual reality talk l mentioned earlier because my entire business rests online and within the digital world – there are instances where l never meet my clients face to face and don’t need to. I spend a lot of my time explaining my work in South Africa because it’s relatively new. l’m not demotivated because a few years ago we didn’t know much about blogs and online shopping either – both are common features on biz websites today. To level up, market myself and find work l have had to look abroad for intelligence, resources and dollar bills. I am as Pan-African as they come but should you find that your business idea is yet to do summersaults within the local market, position yourself on a global scale to survive and grow. Don’t give up because it’s not how we do things here, yet. Trends change all the time and though being ahead of the curve can be lonely, you could be considered a pioneer in your network once your niche starts to pick up in your geographical location.


5) Living for a ‘thank you’ and where that gets you…

Just like exposure doesn’t pay the bills, gratitude doesn’t either. Though saying thank you seems simple enough for anyone to do liberally when required, a courteous email or pat on the back is hard to come by. This is important to note because a portion of your new business strategy may include going over and above for your team, your clients and your client’s clients. Instead of waiting around to be acknowledged for your good work, trust that you will reap the fruits of your labour in due time. What is done in private usually comes to light.


With this l leave you and wish you all of the best for the future.


You can find me at to find out more about my virtual admin services or chat about your entrepreneurial journey.



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