Sarah Thelwall’s Creative Business Lessons From The Levant

Sarah Thelwall describes herself as a sailor, strategist and maker of mischief. She makes the topics of financial management, business processes and marketing interesting and accessible to microbusinesses internationally – and that's exactly what she joined us to discuss on Day 2 of Small is Beautiful 2015.

Sarah came armed with 6 (creative business) Learnings from the Levant. Though we urge you to watch the video, here's a summary of her lessons learned.

Lesson #1. Income now AND later
Echoing Tony Robinson's urge to bootstrap, not borrow, Sarah showed how businesses can live and work within their means by telling us the story of a Beirut company whose office had a hole in the ceiling. She praised their imperfection, for getting on and doing what they could. It might mean doing whatever you can to pay the bills, but it can mean doing all sorts of things and learned lots from it. "You've got to have money to live on... and to stay in the game long enough to achieve your goals."

Lesson #2 – Rent? Really?
Sarah shared the story of Raffi, a shoemaker in Armenia, and his rent-free space. Raffi said the space is limiting, but also gave him room to experiment. He would rather live with the constraints til he's outgrown them. "Really, what should you be spending on rent? Perhaps you're better off working from home or in a scruffier space for now." Sarah's advice: think about whether spending a large chunk of your turnover on rent is a smart idea.

Lesson #3 – Innovate, don't imitate.
Space is cheap in Beirut, so you can have big production spaces. You can just get on and do stuff without needing massive investment. Restricting innovation into an area that feels manageable and isn't costly often means just getting on and doing it.

Lesson #4 – Meet Your Market
Following on from the last point – it's all well and good to get on with it. But how do you meet your market? The fashion designer House of Ronald wanted to move out of the bespoke Beirut fashion market and into the UK market. If the local market doesn't suit you, go find the appropriate market for the way you work. Change your definition and design accordingly.

Lesson #5 – Use Local Labour & Skills
Using local labour and skills creates benefits for a sustainable business & to strengthen the community. Sarah suggests that people Scotland can also harness what they can do with the resources around them, and what they do locally.

So why is there such a thriving culture in Beirut? What is it about how they work that nothing seems to get in the way of it? Sarah's answer comes in the form of her final lesson.

Lesson #6. Bulid Big Stuff –Together
Collaboration has made Beirut a hub for the creative industries in Lebanon & surrounding countries. All of this despite a lack of governmental support for the arts.

Learn more about Sarah Thelwall here.

Like what you see? Small is Beautiful 2016 takes place in Edinburgh on 14 & 15 June 2016. Register here.