An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with Prosper

Librarians in a London Borough have developed a more commercial mindset and the CEO of a crafts gallery is more confident to approach prospective funders, both as a result of the Prosper business support programme. Bethan Hall Williams explains.

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When Prosper kicked off in the middle of last year we were equipped with a small army of business advisors, a curriculum of training events and 70 organisations ready to learn. What we didn’t know back then was the journey each organisation would take.

The result was a room of public service workers discussing money-spinning ways to make their libraries more self-sufficient

We’ve seen a wide range of experiences and encounters. There were the discussions on how a farming museum could turn a life-sized model of a cow into a driver for donations, and then a subculture arts group and an orchestra brainstorming ideas for collaboration.

But here are two stories about two quite different organisations: one whose main purpose is to provide a public service, and the other that is intrinsically creative by nature. Both were in need of business support and are participating in the Prosper programme.

Entrepreneurship for librarians

Entrepreneurship may seem like a characteristic reserved for the Richard Bransons of this world, but with cuts to budgets and funding, organisations of all shapes and sizes need money-making ideas.

Mike Clarke, Director of Libraries & Archives at London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, recognised this. He asked his Prosper business advisor, Paul Sturrock, to run a seminar on how to develop commercial ideas. The staff from across all four library sites attended a commercialisation workshop, a three-hour session, to get their ideas flowing.

But where do you start with a sector that is not by its nature commercial? Paul asked participants to find a newspaper article for inspiration, think of a business they could reasonably start, and the first step they would take to start it. Fittingly for a room of librarians, the caveat was that ‘doing research’ wouldn’t count.

Dog attire for safe road-crossing. Library speed-dating. The ideas, some feasible and others far-fetched, flowed. The point of the exercise was not just to get people into a different mindset, but to illustrate that limiting where you look for ideas will paradoxically inspire more. Don’t sit down with a blank page and expect people to come up with that million-dollar idea. List what you already know: your customers’ needs and your own current services and resources. How can you match these up to create a new offer?

The result was a room of public-service workers discussing money-spinning ways to make their libraries more self-sufficient. An impressive first step towards a goal shared by so many.

Making an impression

Apparently, so we are told, it takes seven seconds to make a first impression. But what’s in seven seconds? It’s a glance at a website, the time taken to greet a customer or read a mission statement. We adapt how we describe our work to suit different audiences – to new employees or even distant cousins. But how about when we have a meeting with a potential funder? Or a member of the public who wants to volunteer?

The key is the holy trinity of any organisation: we focus on the vision, mission and values.

Beth Alden, Chief Executive Officer of New Brewery Arts, wanted to gain clarity on ‘why you do it’ rather than ‘what you do’. She attended an afternoon workshop with Mairead O’Rourke on the importance of clarity and conciseness. The session allowed for a rundown of top tips: differentiate between vision, mission and values and understand when to use each; drop the jargon; and take inspiration from the companies you admire. Then there’s the articulation part. Think about your mission statement, say it aloud to yourself and then say it to strangers.

Beth said afterwards: “A clear understanding not only helps you decide what to do, but also what not to do, and what is a diversion. It was a chance to get objective comments and to understand how what we do, and the way I articulate it, is received.”

Taking a step back from the day to day is always helpful. Attending the workshop allowed Beth to take some time out and go back as she said: “with clarity and focus – a better leader of the team, and with renewed enthusiasm for our purpose”.

A universal need

From local government authorities to sole traders, the thirst for business support is universal. Creative United understands this, and our mission is to provide help that is accessible and direct. We all find ourselves in tough times and the constant need to adapt can be overwhelming. Programmes like Prosper exist so we can continue to enjoy the artistic and cultural experiences that enrich our lives.

Bethan Hall Williams is Project Manager (Business Support) at Creative United.
Tw: #ProsperSupport

For more about Prosper workshops, webinars and masterclasses that are running across England until the end of March click here.

This article, contributed and sponsored by Creative United, is one of a series on making business support work for the arts and culture.

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