An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with Creative United

Business support provides a lifeline that can help cultural organisations attract new partners, funders, lenders and investors. Sarah Thirtle previews a new programme designed to do just that.

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Whether it’s developing new talent and new work, pushing the boundaries of technology and genre, or making individuals feel good about themselves and others through song, crafts or literature, arts and cultural organisations are experts in their fields and passionate about their missions.

Business support that helps organisations to navigate these deep waters and find a way to shore can be the strategic lifeline that enables them to embrace change

But times are a-changing. In fact, they have already changed, and this has posed immense challenges for many, for whom improving resilience, business skills and investment readiness has become an additional – and vital – part of their work.

Business support programme

Business support that helps organisations to navigate these deep waters and find a way to shore can be the strategic lifeline that enables them to embrace change, improve their business planning and present an attractive proposition for new partners, funders, lenders and investors.

With this in mind, a new Arts Council England-funded business support programme called Prosper is about to offer new opportunities to arts and cultural organisations across England to become more resilient and investment-ready.

It’s been designed by us, here at Creative United, where for the past four years we’ve dedicated ourselves to finding ways to enable creative businesses, arts organisations and cultural institutions to do better business; to strengthen their business planning; to build understanding of the value of their assets; and to be become confident at accessing and using loan finance to improve cashflow and deliver more for audiences and funders alike.

Much of this was delivered through a free business advice and access to finance programme called Creative Industry Finance. This delivered 4,710 hours of one-to-one expert business advice to around 800 companies. 100 of these accessed loan finance totalling £1.6m.

Drill down into these headline statistics and you learn what the business support has really meant to creative organisations and business owners. Our last annual impact report revealed that for businesses supported since 2014 the following had happened:

  • 86% noticed they had improved or strengthened their company strategy with a clear vision, mission and set of goals.
  • 93% told us their business plan was stronger after working with an advisor.
  • 83% had developed a better understanding of their business’s commercial or growth potential.

A new programme

Taking what we’ve learned from running this programme, we have designed Prosper, a new programme that will open up effective and dynamic business support to museums and libraries, as well as arts organisations and creative enterprises. Working with a cohort of 70 organisations across England for nine months, Prosper will provide a mix of one-to-one advice, workshops, masterclasses, webinars and meet-ups. From this range of business support activity, the Prosper organisations can choose a combination of one-to-one and group sessions that work for them.

To deliver a truly engaging and effective business support programme, we’ve joined forces with the Centre for Business in Society (CBiS), a research group based at Coventry University, and the Arts Marketing Association.

CBiS will be embedding research and evaluation into the fabric of the programme, firstly carrying out a study of what business support provision is currently out there, what works, and where are the gaps. They have put out a call for evidence of business support that organisations have used in the past.

Subsequently they will be following the journeys of the arts and cultural organisations from when they first register their interest in Prosper, tracking the outcomes of those that are accepted on the programme for free business support, and those that are signposted to alternative options.

This learning will be shared across the sector via the Arts Marketing Association’s CultureHive, where an online resource of business support tips, toolkits and stories will be available to all. Funding from Creative Scotland will enable us to spread the research element of the programme to cover Scotland, and we have also secured additional funding from Access – the Foundation for Social Investment.

Ideas and suggestions

In the spirit of welcoming others to join us on our mission to create a more sustainable and resilient arts and cultural sector, we would love to hear your ideas and suggestions for where business support is most needed, and how that support can be best experienced. We want to hear from museums, libraries, arts organisations and creative companies large and small. Tell us how business support could best help you and we’ll listen and act upon this, to ensure that our business advisors, workshops, webinars and online resources fit the bill.

Sarah Thirtle is Director of Business Support Programmes for Creative United.
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Applications to Prosper will be open from Monday 27 March, with a deadline of Wednesday 31 May.

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

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