Business for bohemians by Tom Hodgkinson

One of my guilty pleasures over the years has been reading the books of Tom Hodgkinson. I read both How to be Idle, and How to be free while I was studying and working in a relatively competitive environment and found them to offer both light relief and an idea about a different way of living. I may have not quite got to that different way of living, but the idea persists for me, a number of years later.

I was pretty intrigued to know what he would do with a ‘how to’ book of business. The core theme of Hodgkinson’s body of work has concerned working out how to do not very much at all, and how to ensure that what you do do is enjoyable and mind enriching. Tax returns and VAT aren’t either of those things, so I imagined it would be a stretch to continue in the same light style.

Business for Bohemians is actually a pretty sensible, pretty amusing book about starting a creative business. The book is in part an instruction manual, with very sensible advise about writing a business plan and keeping accurate and up to date accounts. But in the main it is memoir of his own attempts to publish a magazine, run a coffee shop/book shop, organise cultural events and run online courses. His style is self deprecating and aside from the numerous name drops, funny. He is generously candid about all of the mistakes he made along the way. The message, I think, is something along the lines of ‘look at the mistakes I made so that you don’t have too’. Anyone looking for serious advice about accounting, tax and VAT should look for something far more specialist. As a guide to beginners thinking about what it is they are trying to do, and what they are trying not to do, it is I think very helpful.

Cool artsy stuff with Jade Herriman

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A few weeks ago I came across the blog of Jade Herriman. It looked like she was doing something interesting but it wasn’t until this morning that I had time to take a bit of a dive into her blog to see what was going on.

I really like her site. Jade is based in Australia and has set up an arts and mental health based business. The talented lady is also an arts therapist and a life coach. I particularly like a series of blog posts she has written about the effort and struggles it takes to set up a successful business, for example this one here.

Last week I wrote a bit about how, among other things, I’m not very comfortable with the current trend of calling colouring books or origami books therapy. They may feel therapeutic, but they aren’t what you would get from a skilled therapist. Turns out Jade has some similar thoughts, and can speak to this from the point of view of a professional.

Anyway, I really like what she’s trying to do, so go check her out.

Business bites: Ethics and affiliate marketing

When I set up this blog one of the things I was interested in learning about was if it was really possible to earn a living by being ‘online’. I’ve been exploring how to do that and have read one or two (badly written) books about earning ‘passive income’ that didn’t really help me that much. I’m not going to name names, but I felt that had probably been written at speed, possibly as an attempt to create a passive income product in themselves, and lacked practical detail.  Both had an underlying passive aggressive tone that suggested that anyone who wasn’t trying to set up their own online empire was basically an idiot. This is of course rubbish. There are many splendid and enjoyable ways of making a living that don’t involve owning a website.

In the last 2 weeks I’ve been looking at the idea of affiliate marketing and found a bit more concrete information. The idea is that you can sign up for an account with programme like Amazon associates  and they will then pay you a small commission every time they sell something through a recommendation you make on a blog or other social media platform. For Amazon affiliates the process is that you open an account that will allow you to search for products that you have used. It will then generate a link for each product that you select. The link has a special bit of computer code in it that will connect to you and your account. You can then use this link in your blog posts – if anyone clicks through from your blog and goes on to buy the product you get a little kick back.

The psychological principle behind this is a simple one. People are more likely to buy something when someone they know and trust has already tried it, liked it and recommended it. I studied the principles of persuasion through my PhD and I think the evidence then (8 years ago now) was pretty strong in suggesting that personal recommendations will be far more successful in selling a product than advertising alone. So the psychology behind this is pretty straight forward, however it does leave the affiliate with an ethical problem. The more things you link to, the more your earning potential increases. This in itself isn’t ethically problematic, but it leads to the temptation to link to just anything you happen to see while browsing. Given that the principle is based around trusted recommendations, it’s a breach of that trust to link to things that you’ve not tried, or that you don’t like or didn’t find helpful. So I think it is possible to be an ethical affiliate, and but it takes a little thought about what you are linking to.

I opened an account last week (it was very simple to do this – I’ve linked the site above). I’m going to be using affiliate links in the blog to see whether in reality you can make much money this way. My blog currently generates very little traffic so I’m not setting high hopes for this experiment, but will update you if I turn out to have been wrong on that. My ethical line on this is that I’m only going to link to products or books that I have used or read myself AND have found helpful.

 

Business bites: bank accounts

I’ve gained a load of new followers this week. Hello! So lovely to see you over here. For the who are new (which is the majority) one of the threads running through this blog is a exploration of how easy it is to start up an online creative business from scratch, and from a very small initial financial outlay. I had been experiencing quite a lot of anxiety at work and was looking for ways to reduce my hours and put at least some of my working efforts into my own creative projects.

As someone who has always worked for someone else, I have no previous experience in business, so am learning as I go along what is possible, what is difficult, what is confusing. I’m taking a social sciences approach to the research, reading books and talking to people. This week I’ve been getting myself snarled up in the finances side of things. At the moment I’m not making any money, so I’m not too worried about the confusions here, but there is a lot of confusion. I’ve been reading this book ‘Refreshing simple finance for Business’ by Emily Coltman,which is very helpful, and I have learned the following;

Running a tiny business on my own which brings in at the moment very little money (nothing at all) means I can set myself up as a sole trader. This means I don’t have register as a limited company at companies house, or get an accountant. It does mean I have to register my self for tax purposes after the end of the tax year in which I started the Magpie, and will need to do a self assessment, pay tax on my income, and probably some extra national insurance. So far, so clear.

However, this book, along with others, advises that while you can probably use your own bank account, it’s better to have a separate one to keep you business transactions separate from your personal ones which will make the end of year accounting much easier. This is where I hit problems. Most basic current accounts don’t let you use them for ‘business purposes’. So I looked at ‘Start up’ business accounts, and there are several that will allow you to bank with them for free for the first 18-24 months while you are getting up and running. However to apply for one of those you need to give an estimate of your anticipated annual turn over (um…) and have a business plan (should probably have thought about one of these) and you need some tax reference numbers that I don’t understand (possibly don’t have yet). So I’m going to need to go to a bank and talk to someone about what I need to do. I will let you know how I get on.

Business Bites: the ‘getting started’ to do list

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I think I’ve been blogging for about a month now and I thought it would be a good time to take stock of where I’ve got to on this ‘I’ll just set up my own business, that’ll be simple’ path I’ve taken myself down. So far I’ve done the following;

  • Bought a domain name
  • Set up a blog
  • Had a few people actually read the blog (eeek)
  • Read a few books on business
  • Bought some other books, not all on business
  • Outed myself as having both anxiety and a strange affection for kissing gates
  • Started to work out what it is that I actually want to do with this whole business thing (probably should have started here but never mind)

There is much more to do, and each time I learn a new thing I find a door opens to a whole new set of possibilities, and that my ideas evolve all the time as a consequence. This week I have come across 2 things that have helped me enormously. The first is this book on tax and accounting by Emily Coltman called ‘Refreshingly simple finance for small business’ which has already answered several questions I had about tax and what I would need to do about that. I do recommend this to anyone who is just starting out. I think one of the anxieties that stopped me from getting started sooner was being put off by the idea that the paper work would be really complicated, and this book was pretty re-assuring on that point.

The second is this website called Puttylike.com, which is run by Emilie Wapnick. She talks about a category of people she calls multipotentialites, who are people who have multiple interests and never quite fit into a particular niche. She strongly encourages people not to try to force themselves into a niche, but rather to find a way of bringing those interests together into what she calls a Renaissance Business. This works for me, I think I’m one of those people. In my time I have studied medicine, psychology, social sciences, animation, and film making. My parents are both artists so my childhood was like being in art school. And I like walking in the woods. And kissing my boyfriend at each and every kissing gate we encounter. So I think the next thing for me is to wok out if these things can be bought together into something co-herent. It’s really helpful to know there are other people out there doing this stuff, but at the moment I’ve only really discovered American peeps talking about it. Any UK multipotentialites out there?

In a recent mindfulness course I took my tutor spoke quite a lot about the ‘beginners mind’ which is the stat that you are in when you encounter something for the first time. What does it look like? What it it’s texture? Does it smell?  At the moment I am encountering all of these new ideas and it feels very much like I’m frequently in a beginner’s mind state, which is having some knock on effects that I hadn’t expected. It’s also motivating me to go back to some unfinished projects and take another look, which can only be a good thing I think. It feels like each new little thing I discover is one small pebble, but over time I’m going to have enough stones to build something pretty cool. Exciting times…

Business bites: books I have read

My day job involves a lot of research. It’s what comes naturally to me, so when I decided that I would like to have a go at starting a business, a subject I know nothing about, the first thing I did was start to research how to do it. I’ve made a start with the reading and so far I have encountered a number of books that have a relatively passive aggressive tone of voice, are big on talk, and sadly rather thin on practical content (I’m not going to name names here). I have, however, have read some or all of 3 books which I found actually useful;

  1. Art, inc: The essential guide for building your career as an artist. By Lisa Congdon and Meg Mateo Ilasco. I really liked this one. It was probably the first book that made me think that a creative business was something I could actually do, rather than something I could just think about. I had 2  big take-homes from this one; a) you can be a professional artist even if you haven’t gone to art school and b) the importance of multiple small streams of income for artistic careers. This was a bit of an eye opener for me, I am used to getting a salary at the end of the month so this gave me a lot to think about in relation to my personal finances and ‘doing things differently’.
  2. How to start a creative business: The jargon-free guide for creative entrepreneurs. By Doug Richard. This book lays out how you may want to think about getting started, in a really straight forward set of chapters that describes business type things, step by step. It asks you thought provoking questions about your product or service, who your market is and where you sit within the market. Again really helpful in structuring the way you think about what it is you are actually trying to do.
  3. I can start your business: Everything you need to know to run your limited company or self employment – for locums, contractors, freelancers and small business. By Russell Smith. I’m reading this at the moment. I’ve found this really useful on explaining what the difference between what being self employed and running a limited company is, how the decision to be one or the other may impact on tax, and how you need to handle that. These are basically things I didn’t understand before hand, and now I have a better idea. I also rather like his tone of voice, which is very British in a self deprecating way. Russell Smith also runs a blog here and offers lots of additional support if you have further questions after reading it, so a good investment I would say.

While my research won’t end here, these are the books I’ve found useful so far. I would add that they are full of practical details and ideas to actually do things, and so are a productive place to start.

Getting started

Caberet yarn from Stylecraft

I’m down on the south coast with my boyfriend and his family. At the moment he’s sitting outside with his hoodie pulled up over his head, scanning the Internet on his phone and looking like something out of Mr Robot. Yesterday we went scavenging in the craft shops and I bought some wool and some crochet hooks to try a few new things out. I bought a ball of the cabaret wool from Stylecraft as I really like the texture of it and the blending of colours. Crochet is something I’ve come to quite recently and really like for the simple meditative actions of the work involved.

Over the last few months I’ve been thinking about starting my own small business around some of the craft things I like to make. I like to work with paper and glue. I make small decorative pieces from a mix of recycled and arts quality paper. I like the silouettes of cutting paper into different shapes and the textures that can be produced by creating delicate overlapping layers of those shapes. I also like using wool and copper wire, Perspex eyes for soft animals, or other bits with radically different textures to catch the eye. I’ve not really struggled to come up with ideas for ‘products’ but finding the time to finish off the prototypes has some times been an issue.
What I am struggling with is how to turn my messing about with bits of paper and glue into an actual business. I keep thinking of things I should  be doing, like keep a drawn record of all my designs (mostly they come out of my head through my hands and into a physical piece). The further I go down the road of trying to create something the more questions I have;

Do I try to find a shop that will take some pieces or just go online?

If I go online which platform is best for my stuff?

If I go online how will I package and post these things so that they arrive in one piece?

What does this all mean for my tax (I also have a day job)?

I’m going to blog about how this all works out in the next few months, more to keep a record for myself so I can look back and see how far I’ve got a year from now. I’ve just downloaded some books on tax and book keeping, and there is more research to be done, but it feels good to be creating something right now.