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Business plans: tips for arts, culture and the creative industries

Experts and entrepreneurs offer their insights and top resources for writing a successful business plan

Vikam Modhwadia, programme coordinator, School for Creative Startups

Before you think business plan, think business model A business plan is a smart and sassy document you write for investors, lenders or potential partners to give them an understanding of your business, so they can make a decision to support it. A business model, on the other hand, is the practical understanding of how it will work. The School for Creative Startups has developed some key questions that will help you create your own:

  • The proposition: What do you do that people want? How do you know that your product is answering a need or fulfilling a desire?
  • The customer and market: Who are your customers and where do you find them? What are their attributes and what are your market segments?
  • The competition: Who are you up against and what can you learn from them?
  • The industry: What do you have in common with your competition? Which trends are impacting your industry? How can you predict future trends?
  • The channel: What are the different routes to finding customers?
  • The relationship: What financial relationship do you have with your customers? Do you want to sell your product by subscription, via a payment plan or as a product people buy at a fixed price?
  • The pricing model : How much should you charge for your product or service? What are your customers willing to pay? What are the other business costs to factor into your pricing model?
  • The key partner: Who is your key partner? How can suppliers, distributors and marketing companies become one? Who can you bring on board to help you deliver your product or service?
  • The asset: What is you key asset? What do you have to your advantage, to help you win customers? Is it physical, intellectual, human or financial?
  • The key competency: What activities must your business be good at in order to prosper? What skills and experience do you bring to the business?

Pip Jamieson, founder and CEO, The Dots

Collaborate Getting your team excited about the business plan is key to its success. Before getting into the detail, a great first step is to spend an afternoon with the team and key stakeholders to work on the business model canvas : a useful visual collaboration tool that helps teams understand at a much deeper level the business’ relationship with customers, distribution channels, partners, revenue streams, costs and its core value proposition. This will help you consolidate your thinking before diving into the detail of the plan.

Keeping it visual can help My first business plan was a whopping 54-page word document, which was a big mistake. If you can’t articulate your plan over 10 to 15 well-designed presentation slides, you will lose your audience. The key is getting the structure right from the get go, with a slide for each key component of your plan including business overview, target market, unique selling point (USP), market conditions, marketing plan, competitor analysis and so on. Keep text to a minimum and use graphs and visuals to explain some of the trickier bits. A good rule of thumb is that if someone can flick through your business plan in 10 minutes and get it, you’ve done a cracking job.

Andrew Harding, managing director, CIMA

Structure your plan A challenge for anyone who is passionate about their business is to explain it in terms others can understand. A structured way of doing this is to articulate your business model in terms that lead to financial outcomes.

Start with your customers or the market segments you serve. Explain what assets, resources and relationships you have (or need) to serve them. Next, outline the processes and intangibles (specialist knowledge, skills, reputation etc) that enable you to meet customer needs competitively. Finally, you can explain what costs you will have and how you will generate income. Thinking about your business in this way will help you identify how to manage its performance and what strategies you will need to develop your business model. A business plan is simply a means of telling this story.

Sarah Wood, co-founder and COO, Unruly

People power Remember that the point of the plan is to help you and your team focus. It should be an operational plan of action, not a bunch of theoretical concepts, notional market sizes and fanciful financial projections.

The people who you put in the plan are more important than the numbers you submit: who will you hire, when will you hire them and how will their success be measured? What alliances and partnerships beyond employees do you need to succeed? Although it’s good to be ambitious, the most useful business plans don’t look five or three years ahead. Things change too quickly for that to be much use. You want to have an agile, flexible mindset and a business plan to match so you can change direction if necessary.

Stuart Rock, editor-in-chief, Business is GREAT

Sift, aggregate and test Don’t just read one guide to writing a business plan; sift and aggregate the advice from several. None of them will provide you with passion, creativity and vision – that’s down to you – but you’ll have the all-important structure of a valuable business plan. Then test it with that most important constituency: the people who you believe will buy from you. Also, test it with someone who you can trust to be objective. Your plan will rarely survive contact with reality, but it’s a challenging process and an important discipline.

Scott Phillips, founder, Rise Art

Revisit your plan We continue to iterate and improve on our business plan each quarter. I’m constantly looking at the latest research and speaking with our customers to see how we are doing in the real world. Our business plan always changes based on what we’ve seen that has worked and what’s not. We revisit it and modify the assumptions accordingly. Setting the business plan and agreeing regularly on the key indicators with the team also helps keep everyone honest. We know what is working and what is not, and we can measure our success or lack thereof accordingly. We also know where we need to focus our energy.

A really handy way to see if your product resonates with customers is to routinely survey your customers and establish net promoters scores . You’ll see how over time customers view and will recommend your brand.

Bernadine Bröcker, CEO, Vastari

A business model isn’t just a box-ticking exercise It needs to ooze passion, drive, inspiration, as well as ticking the boxes. Make sure you think of all commercial and strategic angles, but also make sure that any potential investor or partner can also read how inspired you are in making this business a reality.

Arts Council England: Starting a business (pdf)

Barclays: Writing a small business plan

Business is GREAT: Writing a business plans

Chartered Global Management Accountant essential tools booklet (pdf)

Creative Industry Finance business planning workshops

Gov.uk: Write a business plan

ICAEW: Writing a business plan (pdf)

Nesta Creative Enterprise Toolkit

Peter Thiel: sample pitch deck

The Prince’s Trust business plan pack (pdf)

RBS online business planner

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Business planning guidance for arts and cultural organisations

The purpose of this guidance is simple – to help you write the best business plan you can. It is based on preparing a business plan that:

  • collates and clarifies your business model(s)
  • is clear, coherent and realistic
  • has an appropriate level of ambition
  • is attractive to stakeholders, funders and investors

What has shaped this guidance?

In developing this guidance we have drawn on three main sources of inspiration and evidence: • our own experience of working with clients in the sector developing and implementing business plans • the wide range of available popular and academic literature on business planning for both the non-profit sector and organisations more generally – some key examples are listed in Appendix A • feedback from Arts Council England and other funders on their experiences of assessing business plans for potential funding

The world in which arts and cultural organisations operate is changing rapidly and in uncertain ways. Reductions in public funding, new models of funding such as commissioning, shifting policy priorities, localism and now Brexit are all transforming the funding landscape. The adoption of new technologies is remaking old industries and creating new ones.

We cannot control or predict the future but in trying to understand and plan for it organisations can help to shape that future and ensure that they remain relevant and therefore successful.

Who is this guidance for?

This guidance is for anyone who is involved in developing a business plan for a non-profit arts or cultural organisation, which includes micro organisations, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and large scale organisations. It is therefore designed to cover a wide range of organisations with a breathtaking diversity of purposes and activity. The underlying principles of business planning remain the same whatever the focus of your organisation but you may have to adapt elements to your particular needs.

he guidance has not been written as an application ‘template’ that current or potential Arts Council-funded organisations should follow slavishly. It draws on good practice and you are encouraged to apply it appropriately. While the most common constitutional form will be that of registered charity and Company Limited by Guarantee, it is not assumed that this is the only model. The guidance therefore uses the terms ‘organisation’ and ‘business’, ‘board’ and ‘governing body’ interchangeably.

Who has produced this guidance?

The guidance has been produced by Dawn Langley (Alchemy Research & Consultancy) and Susan Royce who are both consultants in the creative and cultural sector. The guidance was commissioned by Arts Council England and is designed to provide independent advice and support.

Commissioned by Arts Council England

Download Business Planning Guidance in full (PDF)

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How To Write a Business Plan for Performing Arts Organization in 9 Steps: Checklist

By henry sheykin, resources on performing arts organization.

  • Financial Model
  • Business Plan
  • Value Proposition
  • One-Page Business Plan

Welcome to our guide on how to write a business plan for a performing arts organization! The performing arts industry in the US has been experiencing significant growth in recent years. According to the latest statistics, the industry has grown by XX% in the past year alone. With such promising figures, now is the perfect time to step into the world of performing arts and create a successful event-based model organization.

To ensure the success of your performing arts organization, it is crucial to have a strategic business plan in place. In this blog post, we will provide you with a step-by-step checklist to help you navigate the process of creating a comprehensive business plan for your organization. From defining your mission and vision to outlining your short-term and long-term goals, we've got you covered.

But before we dive into the nitty-gritty details, let's start by understanding the key components and characteristics of the event-based model. This model revolves around producing one-time performances, such as concerts, plays, operas, and dance shows. Revenue is generated through ticket sales, merchandise, and concessions. The success of this model depends on various factors, including the popularity of the artist or show, an effective marketing and promotion strategy, and the delivery of high-quality performances.

With this knowledge in mind, let's now embark on the journey of creating a compelling business plan for your performing arts organization. By following our nine-step checklist, you'll be well-equipped to navigate the challenges and capitalize on the opportunities that lie ahead.

Identify The Mission And Vision Of The Performing Arts Organization

When starting a performing arts organization, it is crucial to clearly identify the mission and vision of the organization. The mission statement serves as the foundation that guides the organization's activities and purpose. It should succinctly describe what the organization aims to achieve and the impact it hopes to make in the performing arts industry.

Similarly, the vision statement outlines the desired future state of the organization. It paints a picture of what the organization aspires to become and the goals it strives to accomplish over time. Both the mission and vision statements should align with the values and objectives of the performing arts organization.

  • Involve key stakeholders, such as artists, employees, and board members, in the process of defining the mission and vision statements. This ensures a collective understanding and commitment towards the organization's purpose.
  • Keep the mission statement concise and focused to effectively communicate the organization's core identity and purpose.
  • The vision statement should be ambitious yet realistic, inspiring stakeholders to work towards achieving the organization's long-term goals.

By clearly identifying the mission and vision of the performing arts organization from the outset, the organization sets a clear direction, establishes its unique identity, and aligns its activities towards achieving its goals.

Conduct Market Research And Analysis

Market research and analysis are essential steps in developing a successful business plan for a performing arts organization. By understanding the market and its dynamics, you can identify potential opportunities, competition, and target audience preferences. Here are some key steps to conduct effective market research and analysis:

  • Identify your target audience: Determine the demographic and psychographic characteristics of the audience you want to attract. This includes factors such as age, gender, location, interests, and preferences.
  • Analyze the competition: Research and analyze other performing arts organizations in your area or those catering to a similar audience. Identify their strengths, weaknesses, marketing strategies, and unique selling points.
  • Understand audience preferences: Conduct surveys, interviews, or focus groups to gain insights into what types of performances, genres, or themes your target audience is most interested in. This will help you tailor your offerings to meet their preferences.
  • Assess market demand: Determine if there is a demand for the type of performances you plan to offer. Look at ticket sales data, attendance figures, and industry trends to gauge the potential market size and growth opportunities.
  • Identify potential collaborators or partners: Research and identify potential collaborators, such as local artists, musicians, or theaters, who can contribute to your organization's success. Consider forming strategic partnerships to expand your reach and enhance your offerings.
  • Utilize online survey tools or social media polls to collect feedback from your target audience.
  • Attend industry conferences and events to network with professionals and stay updated on industry trends.
  • Consider conducting a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis to understand your organization's competitive advantages and potential challenges.

By conducting thorough market research and analysis, you will have a solid foundation to build your business plan. This information will guide your decision-making process and enable you to position your performing arts organization effectively in the market.

Define The Target Audience And Their Preferences

When it comes to running a successful performing arts organization, it is crucial to have a clear understanding of your target audience and their preferences. By identifying your audience and tailoring your performances to their tastes, you can increase attendance and drive revenue.

Start by conducting market research to gain insights into the demographics, interests, and behaviors of your potential audience. This information will help you create a comprehensive profile of your target audience, including age range, gender, income level, and geographic location.

Understanding their preferences is essential for crafting performances that resonate with your audience. Consider conducting surveys, focus groups, and interviews to gather feedback and opinions directly from your target audience. This will allow you to uncover their preferences in terms of genres, styles, themes, and even specific artists or performers.

Tips for defining your target audience and their preferences:

  • Utilize social media platforms and online analytics tools to gain insights into your audience's online behavior and interests.
  • Engage with your current audience through surveys or feedback forms to better understand their preferences and expectations.
  • Attend similar events or performances to observe the audience demographics and preferences.
  • Consider partnering with local schools, arts organizations, or community groups to gather feedback from a wider range of potential audience members.

Once you have a clear understanding of your target audience and their preferences, you can begin curating performances that cater to their tastes. This may involve diversifying your repertoire, collaborating with artists or groups that appeal to your audience, or incorporating innovative elements into your productions.

Remember, identifying your target audience and understanding their preferences is an ongoing process. Stay proactive and responsive to changing trends and audience tastes to ensure your performing arts organization remains relevant and successful.

Determine The Organization's Legal Structure And Obtain Necessary Permits/Licenses

Determining the legal structure of your performing arts organization is a crucial step in establishing a solid foundation for your business. It is essential to select a structure that aligns with your goals, offers liability protection, and complies with legal requirements.

Tips for determining the legal structure:

  • Consult with a legal professional or business advisor specializing in the arts industry to understand the various legal structures available.
  • Consider factors such as liability protection, tax implications, ease of administration, and future growth plans when choosing the appropriate structure.
  • Common legal structures for performing arts organizations include nonprofit organizations (501(c)(3)), limited liability companies (LLCs), and partnerships.
  • Research and understand the legal and financial obligations associated with each structure to make an informed decision.

Once you have determined the legal structure, obtaining the necessary permits and licenses is the next important step. These permits and licenses may vary depending on the location and activities of your organization. Some common permits and licenses you may need include:

  • Business License: Ensure you have a valid business license from your local government or municipality to operate legally.
  • Music Licensing: If you plan to perform copyrighted music, you may need to obtain music licenses from the appropriate performing rights organizations.
  • Alcohol License: If you intend to sell or serve alcoholic beverages during events, obtain the necessary alcohol license as per local regulations.
  • Fire Safety Certificate: For venues with a seating capacity above a certain threshold, obtain a fire safety certificate to ensure compliance with safety regulations.
  • Nonprofit Status: If you choose to operate as a nonprofit organization, apply for nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and comply with the necessary reporting and filing requirements.

It is vital to research the specific permits and licenses required for your performing arts organization based on your location and activities. Keep in mind that the requirements may differ, so ensure you stay informed and complete the necessary applications and paperwork.

Research And Secure Potential Funding Sources.

Securing funding is essential for the success and sustainability of a performing arts organization. To ensure financial stability, it is crucial to thoroughly research and identify potential funding sources that align with the organization's mission and goals. Here are some important steps to consider:

  • 1. Identify grant opportunities: Research and compile a list of grants available for performing arts organizations. Explore local, national, and international grant programs that specifically support the arts and culture sector. This can include government grants, foundation grants, corporate sponsorships, and individual donor programs.
  • 2. Contact arts organizations and associations: Reach out to local and national arts organizations and associations to inquire about funding opportunities or resources they may offer. These organizations often have grant programs or partnerships that can support performing arts organizations.
  • 3. Build relationships with potential donors: Cultivate relationships with individuals, corporations, and philanthropic foundations that have a passion for the performing arts. Attend networking events, fundraisers, and donor meetings to establish connections and showcase the organization's value and impact.
  • 4. Explore crowdfunding and online platforms: Consider utilizing crowdfunding platforms or online fundraising campaigns to engage and mobilize the community. These platforms provide an opportunity to raise funds from a broader audience who may be interested in supporting the arts.
  • 5. Create a compelling case for support: Develop a comprehensive case for support that clearly articulates the organization's mission, vision, and impact. Highlight the unique aspects of the organization, the value it brings to the community, and the benefits of investing in its work. Use this case for support to approach potential funding sources.
  • Research deadlines: Keep track of grant deadlines and submission requirements to ensure timely and accurate applications.
  • Customize proposals: Tailor grant proposals to each funding source, emphasizing how the organization aligns with their specific objectives and priorities.
  • Engage board members: Involve the organization's board members in fundraising efforts, leveraging their connections and influence to secure funding.
  • Invest in stewardship: Once funding is secured, maintain strong relationships with donors and sponsors through regular communication, acknowledgment, and updates on the organization's achievements.

Develop A Detailed Budget And Financial Plan

Developing a detailed budget and financial plan is a crucial step in ensuring the financial stability and success of a performing arts organization. It allows you to effectively allocate resources, track expenses, and identify potential sources of revenue. Here are some important considerations when creating your budget and financial plan:

  • Estimate Expenses: Start by listing all the expenses associated with running your organization. This includes production costs, venue rental fees, artist fees, marketing expenses, administrative costs, and other overhead expenses. Be thorough in your estimation and consider any potential unforeseen expenses.
  • Project Revenue: Identify the different sources of revenue for your organization. This includes ticket sales, merchandise sales, sponsorships, grants, and donations. Research similar organizations and industry benchmarks to estimate the potential revenue from each source.
  • Create Realistic Projections: Based on your estimated expenses and revenue, create realistic financial projections for the upcoming year or specific event. This will help you gauge the financial viability of your organization and make informed decisions.
  • Track Cash Flow: Maintain a close eye on your organization's cash flow by regularly monitoring incoming and outgoing funds. This will allow you to identify any financial gaps or surpluses and make necessary adjustments.
  • Consider Contingency Plans: It's essential to have contingency plans in place in case of unexpected financial challenges or opportunities. This may include setting aside emergency funds or exploring alternative funding sources.

Tips for Developing a Budget and Financial Plan:

  • Seek professional advice: Consider consulting with an accountant or financial advisor who specializes in the performing arts industry. They can provide valuable insights and help you create a realistic and effective financial plan.
  • Review and update regularly: Budgets and financial plans should be dynamic and reviewed regularly. As your organization grows and circumstances change, update your projections and make necessary adjustments.
  • Collaborate with stakeholders: Involve key stakeholders, such as board members, staff, and artists, in the budgeting process. Their input and perspectives can provide valuable insights and ensure buy-in for financial decisions.

By developing a detailed budget and financial plan, you can effectively manage your organization's finances, make informed decisions, and work towards achieving your goals and objectives.

Create A Marketing And Promotional Strategy

A well-developed marketing and promotional strategy is crucial for the success of a performing arts organization. It helps to generate awareness among the target audience, attract attendees to events, and build a loyal and engaged community. Here are some key steps to consider when creating your marketing and promotional strategy:

  • Identify your target audience: Conduct thorough market research to understand the demographics, interests, and preferences of your potential attendees. This will help you tailor your marketing efforts to effectively reach and engage with your target audience.
  • Build a strong brand identity: Develop a unique and compelling brand identity that reflects the essence of your performing arts organization. This includes creating a visually appealing logo, selecting consistent brand colors, and establishing a clear and consistent tone of voice.
  • Consider partnering with local businesses or influencers who align with your brand values to expand your reach.
  • Use storytelling techniques to connect with your audience emotionally and create a memorable experience.
  • Invest in professional photography and videography to showcase the quality of your performances and attract potential attendees.
  • Create a comprehensive online presence: In today's digital age, having a strong online presence is essential. Develop a user-friendly and visually appealing website that provides information about your organization, upcoming events, and ticketing options. Utilize social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, to engage with your audience, share behind-the-scenes content, and promote upcoming performances.
  • Implement effective digital marketing strategies: Utilize various digital marketing channels, including email marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, and social media advertising, to reach a wider audience and drive ticket sales. Monitor and analyze the performance of your digital campaigns to optimize their effectiveness.
  • Establish partnerships and collaborations: Collaborate with other organizations, artists, or local businesses to cross-promote events and leverage each other's networks. This can help expand your reach and attract new audiences who may be interested in related artistic genres.
  • Engage with your audience: Foster a sense of community and loyalty among your attendees by soliciting feedback, responding to inquiries and comments, and offering special perks or discounts for repeat attendees. Utilize email marketing and social media platforms to keep your audience informed about upcoming events, promotions, and exclusive offers.
  • Consider offering early bird ticket discounts or limited-time promotions to create a sense of urgency and incentivize early ticket purchases.
  • Organize pre-event workshops, artist Q&A sessions, or backstage tours to provide unique and exclusive experiences for your audience.
  • Explore collaborations with local media outlets to secure press coverage and create buzz around your events.

By developing a comprehensive marketing and promotional strategy, you will be able to effectively reach your target audience, create excitement around your events, and ultimately achieve success for your performing arts organization.

Identify Key Team Members And Establish A Strong Leadership Team.

As a performing arts organization, it is crucial to identify key team members and establish a strong leadership team to ensure successful operation and growth. The individuals who make up this team will drive the organization's vision, mission, and goals forward. Here are some important considerations:

  • Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each team member. This will help establish a sense of clarity and direction within the organization.
  • Look for individuals with diverse skill sets who can contribute to different aspects of the organization, such as artistic programming, marketing, finance, and operations.
  • Consider the importance of experience and expertise. Look for team members who have a strong background in the performing arts industry and possess the necessary knowledge to navigate its unique challenges.
  • Ensure that team members align with the organization's mission and values. Their passion and commitment to the arts will be crucial in driving the organization forward.
  • Establish effective communication channels and foster a collaborative environment. Team members should be able to work together cohesively and efficiently.
  • Consider conducting interviews or auditions to assess potential team members' skills and compatibility with the organization's culture.
  • Nurture talent within the organization by providing opportunities for professional development and growth.
  • Regularly evaluate the performance of team members and provide feedback to ensure continuous improvement.
  • Encourage open and honest communication, allowing team members to express their ideas and concerns.

By identifying key team members and establishing a strong leadership team, your performing arts organization will be better equipped to achieve its goals, navigate challenges, and create a lasting impact in the arts community. Remember, the strength of your team reflects the strength of your organization.

Outline The Organization's Short-Term And Long-Term Goals And Objectives

Setting clear goals and objectives is essential for the success of any performing arts organization. It provides a roadmap for the organization to follow and helps in measuring progress and success. Here are some important factors to consider when outlining the organization's short-term and long-term goals and objectives:

  • Align with the mission and vision: The goals and objectives should be in line with the organization's mission and vision. They should contribute towards fulfilling the purpose and values of the organization.
  • Be specific and measurable: Clearly define what the organization aims to achieve and ensure that the goals and objectives can be measured to track progress. This will help in evaluating success and making adjustments as needed.
  • Set realistic and achievable targets: It is important to set goals that are realistic and attainable within the given timeframes. Unrealistic goals may lead to disappointment and hinder the organization's progress.
  • Break down goals into short-term and long-term objectives: Divide the goals into smaller objectives to effectively manage and track progress. Short-term objectives help in staying focused and can serve as milestones towards achieving long-term goals.
  • Consider financial sustainability: Set goals that promote financial stability and growth for the organization. This may include increasing ticket sales, securing sponsors, or diversifying revenue streams.
  • Regularly review and update the organization's goals and objectives to ensure they remain relevant and aligned with the changing needs of the audience and industry.
  • Engage key stakeholders, such as artists, staff members, and board members, in the goal-setting process to foster buy-in and collective ownership.
  • Establish a timeline with specific deadlines for achieving the objectives, and regularly assess progress to identify any necessary adjustments or course corrections.

By outlining the organization's short-term and long-term goals and objectives, the performing arts organization can focus its efforts, motivate its team, and work towards sustained success and growth.

Writing a business plan for a performing arts organization is a crucial step to ensure its success and sustainability. By following these 9 steps, you can create a comprehensive checklist that covers all key aspects of your organization's operations and strategies. From identifying your mission and target audience to securing funding and outlining goals, a well-crafted business plan will guide your organization towards growth and profitability. Remember to continuously adapt and innovate to meet changing audience preferences and diversify your events to remain competitive in the industry.

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