CREATIVE

Build your business savvy

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Creatives in South Africa need to acquire new skills and knowledge to elevate and develop their work into a sustainable business – the commercial aspect of the industry they often are not prepared for.

A University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB) programme aimed specifically at creative professionals will address this. The Business Acumen for Artists (BAA) short course, convened by award-winning poet turned businesswomen - Elaine Rumboll builds “a community of practice and support” in the creative industry.

Rumboll obtained an MBA from Wits University as a means of reskilling herself and later designed the first BAA programme in 2007 to build a much-needed gap between creative professionals and business. “Creatives are not taught the importance of the commercial aspect of what they are doing in schools and universities. It is a systemic problem, not just in South Africa but worldwide,” she says.

According to Rumboll, the course’s content sprang directly from the skills that artists in Cape Town’s creative suburb, Observatory said they lacked most – among them financial management and fluency in the language of business. The programme was developed in-line with the markets changing needs.

Today, a cutting-edge social media and marketing component gives artists the tools to engage with their audiences online. Ari Kruger and Julia Anastasopoulos, who created the South African YouTube sensation Suzelle DIY after attending the course in 2014, have demonstrated how to utilise skills like these to gain national acclaim.

The Do-It-Yourself web series which features Suzelle, a “boeremeisie”, or farm girl, who provides hilarious and often ingenious tips on getting chores done around the house, has gained a loyal following via its YouTube channel and social media pages, which include more than 52 000 Facebook fans. It recently partnered with South Africa’s largest online retailer, Takealot.com, where viewers can access “Suzelle’s Wish List”, a (pink) selection of tools and other items that appear in the bite-sized one to two minute-long episodes. It’s a well-placed digital partnership that would be the envy of entrepreneurs in any industry. Both artists claim that they couldn’t have done it without the Business Acumen for Artists programme.

“Marketing and advertising has never been easier for the people who know how to use the web,” says Dave Duarte, a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and social media and marketing guru who teaches these skills through a combination of formal processes and discussions or practical exercises during the course.

“Whether it’s word of mouth, or simply being at the right outlet at the right time, savvy creative entrepreneurs are using information to guide their marketing decisions,” Duarte says.

Other lecturers include renowned South African ceramicist Lisa Firer, who guides the class through an exercise using a “vision board” to help distil their creative objectives. Identifying ones goals and individually exploring what drives you to create is a vital part of the learning process.

“If you understand the ‘why’, the ‘how’ comes easier,” Rumboll says. She has also designed a series of exercises to help artists identify the psychological barriers to their own success.

Rumboll says along with encouraging an entrepreneurial mind-set, establishing a network of peers is the second broad area covered by the course. This is not only a by-product of having a diverse range of participants, from jewellers to poets, but strong networks are also built through a structured six-month mentorship at the end of the course. Collaborations, in-kind projects – and solid friendships – arise every year.

Well-known South Africa filmmaker Simon Taylor of Periphery Films says he found this aspect of the course “invaluable”.

“I went into the programme feeling like I was on an island. I felt really lonely as a creative entrepreneur, so to connect with people feeling the same way was amazing. It was almost like a support group and the experience was on the level of mind and heart adjustment, it was not just about learning new things,” says Taylor.

Learning to develop fluency in the language of business and to sharpen basic business skills is the third of the three focus areas. Finally, participants are required to conceptualise and concretise a business idea.

“They spend the 13 weeks prodding it from different angles, and by the end of it we want participants to have a product or service that they can actually ship,” explains Rumboll. Participants pitch their business idea to a panel of judges, who evaluate its feasibility.

The course, which is the only one of its kind in the country, offers creative professionals the necessary support to hone invaluable practical skills. Rumboll says artists are the lifeblood of innovation and with their development, South Africa will increasingly feel the economic benefits of this transition from “artist” to “creative entrepreneur”.

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