A 101 Guide to Running A Lean & Agile Business

Running a business can be a complicated affair – made even more so if you’re a typical creative and not the most organised of people 😉

After just a few years in business things can pile up – accounts, paperwork, reference materials, inspiration, and books. Even the pieces of your own work can become disorganised, unruly and something on your list ‘to sort out’ someday.

If you’re a seasoned illustrator, there are a few signs and symptoms which may sound familiar:

  • You have piles of paper stashed away in drawers and cupboard which you’ve been avoiding trawling through.
  • You have ring binders and folders of reference materials which you know are out-of-date and you haven’t ‘referenced’ in years.
  • Your accounts are something you do – in a panic – once a year.

While this may not appear a problem, it can be – in more ways than you think…

  • When you have old, out-of-date stuff clogging up your life, you leave no space for the new and the fresh to appear.
  • When you have stuff holding you back and dragging you down, you can’t be agile, responsive and progressive.
  • When you have actual clutter, it’s common to have mental clutter too.

All of the above can stifle your creativity, block your progress and (negatively) impact your income and earning potential.

If you’re new, take heart – you can set things up right now so you don’t become that person…and if you are that person, take heart – there are methods and means to help you 🙂

In this 101 Guide, we’re going to walk you through a number of suggestions so you can set up your business to be lean, agile, responsive and progressive – all the qualities needed to thrive in the fast-paced 21st century and beyond.

1. Your Processes

Having well-defined, consciously-designed processes that you follow for each and every illustration project you work on, means you can quickly identify bottlenecks, respond to them and adapt/streamline as required.

As a bare minimum, the following processes are worth thinking about:

  • Your “New Project” process – do you always ask for:
    • Feedback on how a client found you?
    • A contract or agreement?
    • A detailed brief and breakdown of expected deliverables?
    • A payment schedule?
  • Your “Completed Project” process – do you always ask for:
    • An invoice?
    • A testimonial/feedback?
  • Your Financial Management process – how/where do you keep your financial records?

When you have clearly defined processes – ones that you stick to for each and every project – you can be confident that:

  • You’re not constantly forgetting something you need.
  • You’re running your business and projects in a streamlined, efficient, organised and professional way.

2. Tools & Resources

In this era of cloud computing and online tools for everything, there is no need to lose important paperwork or to even have to deal with physical paperwork unless you want to.

The benefits of online tools to run and manage your business are many:

  • You can access them from any computer with internet access.
  • Your data can be very easily searchable.
  • You can easily organise your stuff, usually by dragging and dropping.
  • It’s cheap.

Some of the most useful online tools to manage your business include:

  • Google Apps for a suite of tools such as email, calendar, online word processing/spreadsheets/presentations, and more.
  • Freshbooks, Xero or similar to manage your accounts and invoices.
  • AWeber of Mailchimp to manage your marketing database/contacts.
  • Trello or Asana for project management and group collaboration.
  • Evernote for clipping, storing and organising your resources and snippets of information (doesn’t have to be digital – snap photos to digitalise and upload online).
  • Flickr, Dropbox or Amazon S3 for incredibly affordable storage for your digital images.

From a purely physical perspective, we’re agile and lean because we can carry everything we need to run and grow our business in a backpack – this gives us a mindset of agility and freedom.

3. Skilling Up & Controlling Your Assets

We don’t need to invest anything but time if we want to change our entire business, because we can…

  • Build a new website or adapt an existing one.
  • Tweak our business model in a day.
  • Set up and market a new venture in a day.

We can be this agile because we’ve learned the skills necessary to be able to take control of the key assets in our business.

The assets in your business include:

  • Your website – do you have to pay someone else to change/update your website for you? Or can you learn to do it yourself?
  • Your strategy – have you got a coherent strategy which you can tweak and adjust as circumstances dictate?
  • Your professional network – do you nurture your network as a key asset and resource?

Skilling up in the ‘softer’ skills of running your own business – alongside your own creative skills – enables you to keep your business agile, responsive and lean.

If you need to call in the cavalry every time you want to make a minor change, it’s always going to be a barrier to making the change that’s needed.

4. Your Mindset

Most of all, running a lean and agile business is a matter of mindset. For example:

  • We know we’re not tied to local (even national) clients and instead approach our business with a global mindset.
  • We’re aware of how quickly technology changes and has an impact on everyone’s lives; we can’t predict it but we can usually respond quickly enough to either minimise any damage or leverage the advantages.
  • We know that staying lean and agile is going to be a huge advantage both now and in the future; it truly is survival of the fittest!

It’s easy to get stuck in the belief that things have to be done the way they’ve always been done.

Fortunately these days, there are pioneers leading the way across all industries…will you become one of them?

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