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With creative industries contributing upwards of £306 million to the UK economy every day, it’s time to accept that the binary between lucrative STEM careers and lone “starving artists” is redundant, and that turning a creative vision into a creative pursuit is inherently collaborative.
Last night, Covent Garden’s Middle Eight Hotel lent its warm grandeur to ten pioneering Stack members and formed the perfect setting to toast a £2.5 million Series A raise, debate the smartest way to network and have frank conversations about how burnout can threaten your business.
Undeterred by a volatile financial landscape, ten members from tech to nonprofit work shared their manoeuvres, gains and steps back with DJ and founder of SocialFixt Mercedes Benson.
Using your community
“Networking” conjures up images of impenetrable socialite clubs and university Speaker Days, but opportunities occur constantly and no qualification can level you up like a diverse and dialled-in network. A survey carried out by LinkedIn discovered that 85% of new hires are filled through the power of networking. Everyone around the table reached their current role this way.
“Peer-to-peer networking is vital” said Clara Tan, artist and business owner. “You should have faith in your friends, so it’s organic.” Agnes, founder of Black Minds Matter, noted that women’s networking style can differ to men’s, more focused on relationship building than transactional. If the balance is struck correctly, this new kind of attention that women bring to the fore creates a stronger, more enduring network.
Everyone agrees that biting the bullet and taking action - relentlessly at first - is the only way to forge those connections. Email everyone you respect, and “don’t take it personally when you don’t get an answer!” Mercedes adds.
Despite all the odds these women thrived during everything that 2020 threw at us, from Agnes serving soaring demand at Black Minds Matter whilst battling her personal feelings during the UK’s reckoning with racism, to Roshanne Dorsett bootstrapping skincare company the Glowcery. Founding and managing during a time that defied any attempt at forecasting gives them a perspective on hiring and outsourcing work; “walk away” and “know your worth” slogans that rack up the likes on Instagram don’t reflect the need for evaluating the market.
32% of workers in the creative industries are self-employed, double the percentage of the UK workforce as a whole, and defining boundaries for different clients often requires a whole new kind of creativity.
Denise, who currently works in a marketing position at UniLever, has paid freelancers from fluctuating income streams throughout her career, and advises not to jump to conclusions if a company can only offer half of your rate one month, and double later. “At the end of the financial year (the company is) offloading. No one’s questioning your value, they are just working under these restraints.” Negotiate the deliverables; if a company comes to you with a lower, non-negotiable budget then adapt your offering to suit.
Money and mental health
As an early- stage founder, your funds should direct - explicitly or implicitly - every decision you make. Agnes, who hired 6500 therapists for Black Minds Matter last year, devotes three days a month to going through every invoice with her finance team to iron out discrepancies. “People lie,” she says simply. “You’re responsible. You have to manually check everything.”
But she warns that your biggest financial liability can be yourself, when you ignore the signs of overwork. According to the Health and Safety Executive almost half of sick days taken in the UK are due to burnout; for some companies that productivity loss constitutes an existential threat.
The fatigue of burnout is gradual at first, and then tends to spiral, taking your physical health with it. “My hands just started peeling,” Agnes reveals. Denise remembers being told her cortisol levels were 13 times higher than they should have been, forcing her to finally take time off - a holiday that ended up costing more than hiring or delegating would have.
The creative sector can often feel isolated, but it’s only by tapping into the cascade of knowledge in the community that innovation accelerates. To end, Mercedes summarises the mood of the room:
“I have got to actually structure conversations like this with my friends.”
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Set against the backdrop of the Middle Eight Hotel, Mercedes Benson and founding members discussed all things thriving as a creative.
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