How to launch a creative business

At the start of 2014, Pip Jamieson launched The Dots – an online professional network specifically aimed at designers (think LinkedIn for creatives). Since then the platform has gone from strength to strength, with leading companies including the BBC, TATE, Facebook, Wolff Olins and Pentagram using the site to promote their brand, attract clients and hire talent. 

It hasn't been plain sailing though. At Reasons To Jamieson talked through her Dots journey, and Creative Bloq was in the audience. Here's what we learned about how to launch your own successful creative business:

01. Build diversity into your teams

The dots team includes individuals from a range of backgrounds

Before launching the Dots, Jamieson worked at MTV. She recalls how for any given role, the company would attract hundreds of interested creatives – so to avoid having to spend hours finding the best person for the job, they'd turn to their little black book of contacts. Hiring friends and existing contacts eventually led to the output becoming stale and samey. It's unavoidable: you need an injection of fresh ideas to keep things interesting. 

When hiring for The Dots, Jamieson purposefully looked to employ a mix of people, a balance of genders, and people from different backgrounds, to build different perspectives into the product.

02. Go all-in...

Launching any business is going to be a rollercoaster

"You can't really execute a business idea unless you're all-in," says Jamieson. It's a risk, but if you really want to see the potential of your idea, at some point it has to stop being a side project. That means taking a leap of faith, giving up your main job and committing yourself fully. 

And even then, it's going to be tough. "[Launching The Dots] has been the happiest I have ever been, and it's also been the most desperately sad I've been in my life," Jamieson says. But she's adamant that if you're not going through a rollercoaster of emotions, you're not pushing yourself enough. And it'll be worth it in the end. 

03. ... but don't burn yourself out

At a certain point, working harder doesn't equate to increased productivity

"It's seen as such a badge of honour to work all the time when you're starting something new, but it's actually really stupid," emphasises Jamieson. While you need to dedicate yourself, there's a point where it's proven that productivity actually starts going down.

Plus, burn yourself out and you're looking at time off work, and that's not helpful for anyone. Jamieson suggests being wary if you're getting colds or feeling under the weather a lot: it's a sign you're pushing yourself too hard. 

She also advocates trying to pin down what saps your energy at work, then (if possible) outsourcing it. For example, if money matters leave you drained, hire a good accountant, and put your energies into things that will keep you energised. Similarly, work out what gives you energy in your personal life – whether that's doing yoga or going out on the town – and make time for that.

04. Build relationships based on trust

BBH co-founder Sir John Hegarty has joined The Dots as chairman

At particular low point in the Dots journey, Jamieson and her then-business partner found themselves three weeks away from going out of business. In a meeting, they were offered investment from an individual the pair instinctively felt was wrong for the business. Rather than take up the offer, Jamieson remortgaged, and her partner borrowed money from his parents, to buy The Dots another month. She maintains it was the best decision they could have made. 

"Going into investment is like going into marriage – you have to trust the people you're taking money off," she says.

05.Use OKRs rather than KPIs

OKRs ask teams to take control of how to reach their goals

OKRs – or Objectives and Key Results – were popularised by Google several years ago. Unlike KPIs, OKRs provide teams with purposefully ambitious goals and asks them to innovate and work out how to reach them for themselves. Jamieson swears by them, and credits this approach with contributing significantly to the happiness of her employees.

06. Find some novel self-promo

Pip Jamieson runs The Dots from her houseboat – a popular spot for client meetings

Getting people interested in your business can be an uphill struggle. Thankfully, Jamieson had an ace up her sleeve: her houseboat, Horace. While cold-emailing people to meet tended to yield poor results, invite them to a houseboat and suddenly there's more interest. "People would say yes just because they wanted to see the boat," she smiles.

07. Keep it positive

Building a business difficult enough – don't let negative people into the fold

One of The Dots' core values is positivity. Building up a new business is difficult enough, says Jamieson, and when things are tough, you need people who will focus on solutions rather than problems.

Maintaining a culture of positivity also means getting rid of people who are bringing negativity into the workspace. "You have enough to be getting on with to have have wingers on the team, or people who like to play politics," she warns.

To try and make sure everyone stays happy, The Dots employees periodically complete a survey asking them what they're happy with and what frustrates them about their work. This gives management a chance to adjust things and make improvements that suit the team.

Related articles: