5 time management tips for your creative business

Own a creative business? January is the ideal time to plan how to move it forward for the coming year.

Patricia van den Akker, director of The Design Trust and time management queen (not her official title, just what we call her), has got some top notch tips for getting your company organised this year.

Tip 1: Decide what you want and where you’re going

It might sound obvious, but the first step to managing your time better is to be specific about what you really want to do, change, learn and create. If you don’t know where you want to go, it’ll be difficult to take your first steps and you won’t manage your time well.

Not sure where to start? Try thinking ahead to your ideal business scenario years from now. Imagine it’s January 2025. How much turnover do you have? What salary are you paying yourself? Who are your clients? Where do you show and sell your work? What kind of products or services do you have? Who are you working with? What do you want to be known for by then? There are lots of questions to answer, so take your time! Don’t just think about the answers but write them down, which will clarify your aims and make it more likely that you’ll make your goals happen.

In the future you may well change your mind about your goals, but you still need a general sense of direction or you could end up going round in circles. Now is the time to be proactive!

Tip 2: Break big jobs down into smaller chunks

Overwhelmed by everything you want to do this year? Break down your big ideas into smaller parts. Start with the end goal and identify what you want to do by when to reach it. For example, you might want to relaunch your Folksy shop by June. Write down everything you need to do to achieve this (e.g. making new products, creating new images), then organise all these jobs in order and identify a separate deadline for each. Decide how long each job will take and what you need to do to carry it out.

If any job is vague or will take you longer than a day to do, make it more specific and smaller. This will help you make your project more do-able. With big jobs, I find it useful to write down each smaller task on one Post-it note, and to organise a project plan by area (eg marketing, photography) and in time order.

Post-it notes are really useful as you can move activities around, add things later, and don’t have to have everything perfect straight away. Organise all your activities on a wall or a big piece of paper to get everything out of your head and onto paper. How long will you be working on each activity (approximately) and is your planning realistic? Include some down time too!

Tip 3: Separate urgent from important

This is one of my favourite time management exercises, and one I use when I feel particularly overwhelmed. Fact — it was developed by President Eisenhower, and if it’s good enough for him… Do a quick brain dump and write down all the jobs you need to do on separate Post-it notes (yes, I do love them).

Organise the notes into:

  1. what’s urgent;
  2. what isn’t;
  3. what’s important;
  4. what’s not.

If you notice a lot of tasks in the non-urgent and non-important sections you might be too busy being busy! Think about what you can work on today to get ready for the future, and how to set boundaries around your time. Become more aware of what’s important versus urgent in your business.

Want to explore more around this? Check out my Facebook Live video on the topic.

Tip 4: Do the right things at the right time

Most creative businesses I work with are seasonal, with many making the majority of their sales during the last 12 weeks of the year, in the run up to Christmas. Many of their products (e.g. scarves and hats) are seasonal too.

This seasonality dictates what you need to focus on in your handmade business. Go with the natural flow so you don’t waste opportunities, and so clients are more likely to buy from you. Use quieter periods at work (often January-April and July-August) to prepare for busier times. When it’s calmer spend time learning new business skills, updating your customer database, and setting up financial systems. If you want to sell at Christmas, you’ll need to be ready by early September, and to use the last quarter of the year to market, sell and drive traffic to your website (rather than making more products).

You can use this tip on a daily basis too. Are you using your energy in the right way every day? Work with your energy rather than against it. Focus on bigger projects when you’re feeling at your most energetic, and carry out more repetitive tasks, such as replying to emails, when you’ve got less energy.

Overall, my advice is to spend around 40% of your time on making, 40% on marketing, 10% on administration and 10% on professional development and research, to make your business sustainable. Why not allocate time in your diary for different focuses too? You’ll probably need to spend time on getting to know your clients, reaching out to them regularly (and creatively!), and building up a relationship with them to encourage them to buy from you too.

Tip 5: Make it real

I’m a big fan of visualising your plans, goals and activities for the year. The more you can imagine the changes you want to make in your business, or what you want to achieve in the year, the better! Create a collage of your top three goals for 2018, and put it somewhere visible as a regular reminder. You could also make a visual planner with Post-it notes (like I suggested earlier), to give you more detail and an overview of how different tasks will help you achieve your goal.

I wish you all the best for your business in 2018!

Dream Plan Do

The Design Trust has released a planner journal called Dream Plan Do, designed for ambitious creatives who want to get more focused, and work step-by-step on all aspects of their business. It’s full of creative exercises, thought-provoking questions, handy planners for your finances and social media, and quarterly and monthly planners to turn your ideas into daily actions.

And even better, we’ve got an exclusive discount for you. Use the code MMAKES until 31st January for 10% off any Dream Plan Do products (including the VIP Club). Just go to www.dream-plan-do.com/shop and use the code.

About Patricia

Patricia van den AkkerPatricia van den Akker is a creative business adviser and trainer, and the Director of The Design Trust, an online business school for designers and makers. She runs online workshops on business and marketing topics, including costing and pricing your creative work.

She is also the author of Dream Plan Do, a planner journal for creative professionals to help them get more focused and productive. The next Dream Plan Do journal will be launched on Kickstarter in October.



Feature image by rawpixel.com, first image by Arnel Hasanovic, second by Andrew Neel, three by Corinne Kutz, four by Bench Accounting and six by Anete Lūsiņa. All from Unsplash.