5 December, 14

Mention planning to most creative thinkers when they have a storm of ideas flowing and they often frown with discontent, as if the mere idea will dampen their spark. Over the past year we’ve coached over 70 creative professionals and one of the common pitfalls is planning. Here are five top tips that I often share:

 Keep Some Pennies Behind

It’s often tempting to assign every last penny to the budget to stretch it as far as you can. But, therein lays the first pitfall. It’s a good idea, once you’ve allocated your earnings, to keep a margin of 30% for your materials budget unallocated. This isn’t about duping your client; instead, by planning it allows you to have a contingency. If you break that special piece of Perspex or buy an image that doesn’t end up working you’ll have that spare kitty. It might be painful at the start, once you’ve kept the margin, you’ll find creativity flows better as you can afford to make mistakes.

Hide the Deadline

You’re not being dishonest if you keep the actual deadline from your suppliers. Even if it’s your mate that is supplying some welding or a professional printer providing the final artwork, never ever give them your real deadline. You’re not challenging their integrity, instead just be mindful that genuine delays crop up and with suppliers there is little you can do to influence them. We’ve all stretched a deadline by a day or two – but if you haven’t built this into your actual timeline then you’ll feel like your world is collapsing in on you when you face your client’s deadline.

Show Your Cards from the Start

Collaborative working gets the juices flowing and is often the method of choice by creative thinkers, but somewhere down the line the partnership can often get in a tangle, communication lines crossed and ownership confused. Save yourself a lot of emotional waste by writing a short agreement at the start of the project planning. Agree the aim of the project, assign roles and set out some deadlines. If you’re creating something that might generate money (an app, licenced design etc) then set out how the finances will work – who will get what share, how quickly it will be paid, when and how you will resolve any grievances. If you need advice on legal structures find out more about support here>>

Check Understanding

One of the most common headaches in creating new work for a client or in a collaboration is misunderstanding. No matter how many times you explain yourself during the planning, sketch the idea, build a model, they still ask stupid questions – a familiar feeling? The trick here is less is often more. Instead of over explaining (which is exhausting for all), take time to ask questions. Ask them to explain back to you in their own words what they think you are saying, ask them to explain the idea to a colleague in the meeting or to one of your friends. Don’t fret if they get it wrong, instead listen to the areas where they stumble and try to illuminate their understanding. And remember communication is ongoing so keep up this skill right until the end.


It’s difficult not to hear the voice of your mum or a teacher in your head when someone says “have you written a list?” but without them, frankly your planning is screwed. I always encourage people to go one step further and plan a list alongside a timeline. It’s really good to plot each activity on separate lines so you can work out which deadlines to give to each activity and to let your suppliers know their deadline.