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An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with Prosper

Creative United’s Prosper has delivered business support for arts and cultural organisations across England. Tyler Magas asks three organisations what changes they have made and what advice they would give others seeking business support.

Photo of two clowns in outdoor performance

Offering business support to a sector as diverse as arts and culture is no simple task. Aimed at providing professional level support to organisations across England, Prosper has had to consider several notable barriers to successful delivery, as each organisation requires tailored support to reach individual goals.

We talked to three organisations currently receiving our business support about their experience so far.

Commercial focus

NYMAZ is a charity based in North Yorkshire that provides access to music for children and young people. Its Digital Project Manager, Emily Penn, explains the change in thought process made possible by Prosper.

Our biggest realisation was that having a commercial focus doesn’t mean a huge shift away from what we already do or how we already work

The most useful piece of advice from our advisor was to focus on one specific area of our plans.

Our biggest realisation was that having a commercial focus doesn’t mean a huge shift away from what we already do or how we already work. The key principles of delivering services and activities that meet people’s needs, and ensuring our plans are evidence and needs-based, remain the same.

The biggest change we have implemented is developing specific plans for traded services, turning them from ideas into concrete plans and actions.

The hardest part was making time to focus on the commercial development activities alongside a busy programme of funded activities.

My advice to others receiving business support would be to go in with an open mind to the different perspectives from other sectors and to where the journey will take you.

Viable revenue streams

Clowns without Borders is a London-based charity bringing laughter to children in crisis. As the Director and Founder, Samantha Holdsworth’s time is in demand and in short supply.

The most useful piece of advice from our advisor was not to worry about having all the answers or creating the perfect product before trying it out. That was such a relief. It can be a positive to get something out there even if we don’t feel it’s completely ready.

Our biggest realisation was the fact that it’s all possible. My vision for the charity is a small team of dedicated and passionate people, reaching set goals. Our advisor did some quick sums and told me that would be possible in the next five years. Having somebody I respect, with tons of business experience, take my ‘pie-in-the-sky’ goals seriously had a massive impact on my confidence and ambition.

The biggest change we have implemented  is mapping out what an ‘Affiliates Schools Programme’ looks like - connecting UK children with our artists. It’s an opportunity to support children to become change-makers and develop a sense of agency. Profits from the programme will support our international tours. There’s a beautiful symbiosis here - UK children supporting children living through disaster. And it’s a massive concept for us. The idea that we can generate our own income from a service we are deeply passionate about could ultimately mean we don’t have to rely on fundraising and grants. It’s a game-changer.  

The hardest part was time. With a small team working flat out, we must prioritise. It’s been a great reminder of how important it is to reflect on what we’re doing, especially when I’m so close to the work. It helps me see the bigger picture.

My advice to others receiving business support would be beg, borrow or steal to find ways to continue receiving support. Having the opportunity to focus on sustainability and growth helps to prepare for the future within the sector, whatever that might be.

Internal planning

Deputy Director, Lhosa Daly, of Bristol-based Spike Island discusses the challenges of balancing time constraints with the strategic planning activities of a multi-faceted gallery and arts development organisation.

The most useful piece of advice from our advisor was reviewing and preparing our five-year business plan. This time resulted in very minor feedback from Arts Council England upon assessment and a robust plan that we are all happy to work with.

Our biggest realisation was that there may be more opportunities to improve facilities at Spike Island.

The biggest outcome we have implemented is reviewing and preparing for opportunities which were present either internally (Spike Film & Video, production facilities) or externally (Jacobs Wells Baths).

The hardest part was that very little affordable business training is available for staff in the cultural sector. There wasn’t enough time to make best use of the webinars and face-to-face training with our business adviser, Matt Spry. If the senior management team could have more time with Matt, it would have had a more effective long-term impact.

My advice to others receiving business support would be collect data to make the best use of the advisor’s time.

Time to focus

The recurring theme from our participants was time. Finding the time to focus on the future can be a challenge. But as the Prosper programme shows, if you can carve out time in your schedule to concentrate on productive developmental activities the long-term rewards will speak for themselves.

Tyler Magas is Marketing and Communications Manager for the Prosper Programme.

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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