You don’t have to start a company to act like one.
One of the best ways to build a successful creative career is to study the way startup companies operate and adapt their tactics to fit your goals.
Here are a seven simple ways to do that…
1. Figure Out Your Initial Investment
Everything starts with an investment.
It doesn’t necessarily need to be a financial investment, but the pursuit of a creative career always requires you to invest time, effort, and resources.
That investment — your “startup costs” — may include paying for education or training, working hours as an unpaid intern, or simply buying the equipment or materials you need to create your work.
If you’re not willing to make a substantial investment in your creative career, then it’s not a career — it’s a hobby.
As you embark on your creative career, consider the initial investment you can commit to it — how much time and what kind of resources are you willing to invest in your success?
If the answer is “not much,” can you really expect to succeed?
2. Choose A Board Of Directors
A typical company will have a Board of Directors to help oversee it.
Even small, founder-driven companies often have at least a couple people on the company’s “Board” — even if they’re just friends of the founder.
In a startup environment, these Board members bring things to the table to help the company succeed.
That may include a financial investment in the company, but often it’s just experience, advice, connections, or other resources.
You don’t need a formal Board of Directors for your personal career, but it’s helpful to have people vested in your success.
It could be a mentor, co-worker, family member, or fellow creator who’s pursuing a similar path.
Your virtual “Board” can be a powerful asset in your journey.
3. Do Market Research
If you opened a pizza restaurant, the first thing you’d do is research other pizza joints in your neighborhood (I hope).
You’d learn the ins and outs of what they do, why they succeed (or not), and who their customers are.
It’s cheesy (no pun intended), but that knowledge is power.
But most creators do little market research and it slows the progression of their career.
Learn as much as you can about how other creators in your field build their careers. Figure out what works, what doesn’t, and where the opportunities are.
Extend your research to cover your broader industry as well.
If you don’t know what’s happening in the world of your chosen pursuit, you put yourself at a huge disadvantage.
So do your homework.
4. Identify Your Customers
Another part of doing your research is to figure out the target audience for your work.
I’ve written a lot about how to grow your audience, and it starts with identifying who you want to be in that audience.
When you figure out your niche and where those people can be found, you’re able to create more meaningful goals.
For example, if you’re a comedian interested in an acting or writing career, then your “customers” are more likely to be industry executives than general fans.
But if you’re focused on a standup career, then growing a fanbase is more important than appealing to Hollywood executives.
There are many ways to build a creative career, but honing in on the audience you want will help make it happen faster.
5. Identify Your Competitive Advantage
Startups in competitive industries know they need to find a competitive advantage in order to succeed.
The same is true for a creative career.
Figure out what makes you different, how you stand out from the crowd, and what is it about your creations that grabs and keeps people’s attention.
In short, how will you get people to care about you and your work?
If you need some help figuring this out, here’s my advice about how to find your competitive advantage.
6. Reinvest In Your Career
Successful startups reinvest their profits to grow their business — they double down on their work and you’d be wise to do the same.
Instead of blowing the money you earn from your work on something frivolous, use it to fund production of your next creation, pay for training that gives you a new skill, or cover costs of a project that will get you in front of new audiences.
Use your financial success (or at least a portion of it) to create a foundation that enables you to build bigger and better things instead of cashing out as quickly as possible.
7. Choose An Exit Strategy
From the moment they launch, most startups have an “exit strategy.”
Some aim to get acquired, some hope to go public, some attempt to franchise their concept, and others simply look to develop into a stable source of revenue.
Your creative career should also have an exit strategy — even if you don’t plan to exit it for a long time.
Do you hope to build a “sustainable” business where you can support yourself through a direct relationship with an audience?
Are you more interested in getting “acquired” and hired to do your creative work for a larger (or cooler) company?
There’s no right or wrong path, but knowing where you hope to end up from the beginning will help you get there.
A Side Note About This Post…
I get that many people who pursue creative careers have no interest in the business machinations of the typical startup company.
My point in sharing the above tips isn’t to suggest you need to become a slick Silicon Valley venture capitalist or chase dollar signs with your creative work.
It’s that applying some basic business principles to how you think about your creative work can help enable you to do it in a way that’s profitable and sustainable for the long term.
Being strategic doesn’t make you a sell out — it makes you smart.
Thanks for reading.