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The salsa of success: 3 top tips for building a thriving business in the creative industries

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By Melissa Penn

Working in the creative industries can be one of the most liberating things you can do. It gives you an opportunity to follow your passions, and to pass on your unique skillset to others.

It can also be soul-crushing, as creative industries are notoriously competitive, and subject to often-unforeseeable trends. Added to this is the need to let people know that you are attempting to make a living from your talent, which can be extremely difficult.

I know first-hand all the highs and lows involved with starting a business that relies on creative talent. For 12 years, I owned, ran, and taught at my own salsa dance school.

I had the dedication and qualifications to back it up, too, as winner of the 2004 Hawaiian Salsa Competition and Australian representative at the Mayan World Salsa Competition. I started the school because I love to dance, and I taught because I love passing on my passion of dance to others.

I discovered, though, that while loving what I do and being good at it goes a long way, it’s not quite enough to build a successful creative practice. One of the biggest keys to success in the creative industries is marketing. From the enormous international fashion brands to niche dance studios, creating and distributing a brand identity is imperative.

To help other creative professionals who are just starting out, I’ve put together a few important tips that will give you a head-start in the race for recognition.

1. Engage in shameless self promotion

This is one that many people have difficulty with. ‘Shameless self promotion’ has become a dirty word in marketing circles, and as a result, ironically, people are ashamed to be shameless.

It’s time to take back your own brand of shamelessness! If you are actively attempting to bring something creative and beautiful into the world, there’s nothing to be ashamed of!

Social media make self promotion much easier than it used to be, so I thoroughly recommend getting on as many pertinent social platforms as possible to show off your services, skills, or wares.

Don’t stop there, though. Your target audience may not be on the same social platforms as you, or may not engage regularly. Take your marketing a step further by printing posters, business cards, and flyers, and make your presence known on a local scale. Put on free workshops or classes, or hold competitions, with your creative works being the prize. In short, do whatever you can to be seen.

2. Surround yourself with your creative peers

This may seem strange in creative circles where people are often competing for the same commissions or demographics, but the key here is strength in numbers. By working with other creative types, you have the potential for a much stronger physical and digital presence.

In addition to this, by working with other creative people, you are surrounding yourself with talented and motivated individuals who are trying to achieve the same thing as you. You have each other for support, advice, and constant creative inspiration.

A third benefit, and by far one of the best, is collaboration! When you are working around other creative talents, you’ll get the opportunity to work with other creative talents. You might be able to use their original music in your performances, for example, or will be able to work together to show in a group exhibition. Collaboration with others also reduces the strain on your marketing timelines and financial budgets.

3. Believe in yourself

Too often, creative people compare themselves to their heroes and inspirations, and find themselves lacking. This often results in artists not believing they are good enough to have a solo exhibition, headline a gig, or even run a dance school.

Comparing yourself to others is a sure-fire way to fail, as you will always find things that certain people can do better than you. Instead, focus on what you can do, and capitalise on that. Make it your point of difference, and your unique selling point. This ties in somewhat with the shameless self promotion, as you need to believe in your skill in order to promote it.

As a creative individual, you have a talent that is unique. Nobody else in the world sees things exactly the same way as you do. Take pride in that, and believe in what you can offer. The more you believe in yourself, the more other people will believe in you and your services. If you can do that, you have strong foundations upon which to build your creative practices.

The bottom line, and the thing that made my business a thriving success, is that you just need to get out there and do it. That applies to both the creative and business aspects of your creative practice, as one won’t work without the other.

Melissa Penn is the National Franchise General Manager at First Class Capital, one of Australia’s most progressive lenders, and supporters of small business. She has more than 20 years’ experience in management, media, and marketing roles, as well as extensive experience as a creative entrepreneur. Taking great pride in helping others succeed, Melissa is motivated to share her extensive knowledge on all aspects of business, management, and personal growth.

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