Should Creative People Study Business?

by Maddison Costello
Posted: November 20, 2015

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Creativity and commerce can play together. Here are three good reasons for learning a new skillset. 

Andy Warhol once claimed that “good business is the best art”, and considering he was worth more than US$220 million when he died in 1987, he might have been on to something. While it’s traditional to keep commercial and artistic concerns separate, having even a basic understanding of business principles can be an enormous help for creative types in launching, marketing and growing their projects.

“The dream for a creative person is to make a living from what you love and to be able to immerse yourself in your passion every day,” says Ashley Syne, fashion blogger, stylist and former business student. “But in order to do this, it really does come down to business. How can I make a living from this? How do I make a steady income? That’s where the business side comes into play.”

Here are three compelling reasons why creative types should take their business skills to the next level.

1. You understand your finances

It may sound like a bore but to Jeremy Wortsman, founder of artist agency The Jacky Winter Group, this is the good stuff. “I love bookkeeping now – I love that sense of organisation that it gives me and I love that I have so much more control over my business,” he says. “I feel that really empowers me.”

Wortsman, whose organisation helps artists and illustrators to finance, produce and promote their work, moved from a background in art direction to be at the head of a company with many arms, artists and clients internationally.

“The same thing that motivated me to want to start my own business made me want to operate very holistically. It’s my business; I want to make sure I know everything that’s going on with it.” And it’s the same for artists and illustrators, says Jeremy.

“As a freelancer you’re running your entire business yourself, so you have to have those kinds of skills.”

Evan Kaldor agrees. A former investment banker who went from finance to community radio by taking the helm at Sydney’s FBi 94.5 – and now runs his own digital radio station for children, Kinderling – Evan knows first-hand the difference that a mind for finance can make in the creative world.

“For day-to-day management, it’s so important to understand cash flow and accounting – basically being able to match the money coming in and the money going out,” he says. “You need to be able to do a long-range cash-flow forecast if you’re running a start-up or a business.”

Even if that business is an Etsy storefront with a staff of one, being able to master your own books gives you a clearer picture and more control of your enterprise.

2. You have a competitive advantage

With all those financial affairs in order, there’s more room to focus on the part of working you love. “A lot of people think that they can just do their artwork or their creative pursuit and not worry about the other things,” says Jeremy. “But, in fact, the better you are at keeping your books the more time you have to get better at that creative practice. And the better the clients you’ll get because you’re working so professionally.”

When it comes to the fashion industry, Ashley Syne swears that behind that artistic veneer is “pure, hard business”. 

“I really believe my business approach to making it in the fashion world has put me ahead of others who may not be that way inclined,” says Ashley. She’s not alone – self-starting entrepreneurs are on the rise in the fashion world, with business-trained individuals such as Russian Miroslava Duma (founder of digital magazine Buro 24/7) leading the way. 

Evan Kaldor’s foray into the creative world came after more than six years with some of the world’s top financial firms in New York and Australia, and a stint studying at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. With his polished understanding of the commercial and finance world, finding somewhere to use his talents was easy.

Combining a lifelong love of music with an “entrepreneurial voice” that he couldn’t ignore, Evan landed on the board of volunteer-run FBi Radio, an FM station based in inner Sydney.

“When you’re involved in an organisation, particularly at a board level, they’ll say ‘OK, we need to have a marketer, a lawyer, a fundraiser and a banker’, and these people provide frameworks that can then help guide a lot of the creative energy,” says Evan.

When the station’s general manager resigned, Evan found himself doing the job.

“It was a really interesting opportunity,” he says. “I was really attracted to the positivity, and the creativity, and the tenacity of that place, so I was very happy to do it. I thought I’d do it for three to six months and I ended up staying for five years.”

3. You learn a different way of problem-solving

Evan’s background in finance and investment meant he brought a unique perspective to the table at a community radio station. But the flow of ideas went both ways.

“Where there were complex commercial issues that I couldn’t solve, I would bounce ideas off [the creative team] and get a different way of looking at things,” he says. “And similarly, where there were creative discussions happening and they were trying to find a way through, I could think about things somewhat differently and provide a plan that could help. So it was mutually beneficial in that respect.”

Evan believes the ‘soft’ skills you learn doing business – negotiation, communication and understanding the varied roles in an organisation – can also contribute to a positive experience in the creative world. “They are really important for cohesive environments,” he says.

These skills are equally valuable for teams of one, adds Jeremy. “As a freelancer, people are coming to you because they want things and you want something from them, so there is always a negotiation.

“I think in illustration or any kind of creative career it helps to have some kind of focus. Just being exposed to all the different areas – including the ‘non-creative’ side of things, like client services and the financial side – it’s definitely going to help people to be more successful.”

Image of Jeremy Wortsman by Emma Philips. Images of Jacky Winter Group by Sean Fennessy.

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Maddison Costello

Maddison Costello

Is an online journalist with a particular interest in fashion, lifestyle, travel and food. Her work has appeared in Qantas Travel Insider, Dubai Tourism and InStyle Magazine. Maddison currently works at Bauer Media Australia and has previously worked for CLRI (NSW), Nine Network Australia and The Intermedia Group Pty Ltd.

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