As the dark winter evenings draw in, we took to the Market Town Corner on Wednesday 4th November for a workshop designed to help makers, creatives, and independent businesses connect more effectively with their customers. It was led by the wonderful Pete Mosley, creative business coach and author of The Art of Shouting Quietly, and curated by Janet Currie from The Refectory Table, which runs creative business courses, workshops and events for makers, artists, and independent businesses. The event was split into two connected halves - a talk by Pete in which he shared knowledge gained from his considerable experience in this field, followed by a series of exercises in which we applied that knowledge to our own professional lives and formulated action plans for our future business activities.
A quick round of introductions demonstrated the range of professions represented by the participants - from bakers, to potters, to creative entrepreneurs. Whatever your area of activity, Pete assured us, what you do is still a business and should be treated as one. For independent businesses, makers, and creatives, the character of the people involved forms a larger part of the business' identity than it would in a large corporation. Customers want to know the story behind the venture, as if they find that it shares their values they can connect with it on a personal level. Once, this might have involved interacting with your customers face-to-face, but in the technologically-driven modern world it is important to recognise that how we represent ourselves now has an intangible dimension as well as a tangible one. If you have a physical shop, for every one of your customers that encounters and falls in love with what you do in person, there will be another who discovers you through your website, or through social media.
As such, Pete pointed out, even if self-promotion does not come naturally to you, it is important to view your online presence as just as much a representation of you and your values as a face-to-face conversation would be. Many people who run independent ventures have tremendous skill and expertise in their chosen field which goes unappreciated for want of being successfully communicated to others, but an online profile that effectively communicates both your expertise and your values will help customers truly understand the merit in what you do. This might take the form of a short biography on your website's 'About' page, or videos of you in action to let your customers get a glimpse of your processes. So, for instance, the website for an independent bakery might explain the founder's reasons for starting the business, for working in the way that they do, and what they hope to achieve in the long run - someone who reads this and finds their values are reflected in the business' ethos can then feel more confident in giving their support.
After a break for tea and cake, we moved on to the exercises. In order to help us identify our customers and consider how we interact with them, Pete asked us to complete a series of exercises with our businesses in mind. In the first, he asked us to think about the reach of our business in terms of how far afield our presence could be felt. Do we have customers in one town, one county, one country, or all over the world? This proved to be rewarding as several participants realised they could potentially stand to benefit from expanding their activities - as one person put it, "I've always thought my world was just Loughborough, but there's no reason why it couldn't be bigger than that". The second had us identifying the three core values that define our professional activities, such as striving for aesthetic excellence, supporting the local community, or helping the environment.
Finally, Pete asked us to choose one aspect of our business - whether that be our premises or our website - and think about how we would like people to respond to it. If someone came into your shop, what would you want them to see, hear, and think? How would you want them to feel? By putting ourselves in the shoes of the people we want to connect with, he suggested, we can think about whether we are accurately representing our values and being seen in the way we would like.
Armed with Pete's words of wisdom and our completed exercises, we concluded the workshop by creating a personal action plan that outlined specific actions we wanted to take, how we could achieve them, who would be involved, and the date by which we wanted to do so. Having clearly outlined, achievable goals proved excellent motivation for some of the participants, and the mood by the end of the event was decidedly inspired and hopeful. Pete regularly speaks on working in the creative industries, so if you get the chance to see him in action we highly recommend you do so!