First, let’s be clear as this is often confused: when we say “early-stage”, we mean small to medium-sized brands - which is anywhere from zero to mid-eight figures. 

After 20 years in this industry, having worked with large global corporations as well as those “early-stage” brands - either directly in-house, through consultancies or advising for investors - there are a number of common pitfalls that kept making themselves known.

Essentially, repeatedly advising on the same topics led me to start this collective. While there is so much brand and business advice out there, the majority of it is not catered for creatives trying to build a luxury or high-end brand. 

There is a lot of advice on building general brands, launching start ups, or independent small and medium sized businesses, but the luxury and high-end sector is so unique. As a creative, the very cost of producing your exquisite product can dwarf other early stage businesses. There is no getting around this; if you want to operate in this sector, there are certain qualifiers your product and brand need in order to be accepted as a credible player. That needs to be the common understanding before we even start looking at the rest of the business operations. 

My intention with this collective is to try and shed some light on all of these areas, to show where you need to be thinking high-end, and where it’s vital you focus on the robustness of your business framework. 

I’ve seen too many creatives stumble - some never really getting their business to be a long-term commercial success, or some having to sign away a large percentage of their life’s work to an investor who may or may not really get what they’re trying to build. In those moments, I’ve always wished I could have got to that creative sooner. Hence the reason for being for this collective. I’m so glad you found us and I hope we can help you build the brand, business and expansive life you aspire to. 

That said, here are some of those common pitfalls I see with early stage luxury and high-end brands:

1. Not understanding the creative brand and commercial business are two sides of one coin

There are countless brands that are wildly creative, led by true artists, and yet there is no scalable and sustainable business under them. There is an industry flurry and noise for a few years and then they disappear. It was all just gorgeous smoke. We’ve seen this time and again (I’m sure you can name a few). 

On the flip of this, there are creatives who allow their cult brand to be commercialised to the point the business is booming, but their commercial choices destroy all desire for the brand. Soon, no one credible would be seen dead associating with it. It is not long after that the decline in sales follows, and with it, the whole business. 

Even with heavyweight global brands - this fine balance between short term sales and long-term brand building is much debated over. Striking that balance is an art. If you are the leader of a creative brand and you are in this for the long game - this is the art you must master. 

2. The lack of future-proofing 

It’s disheartening to see just how many businesses with great potential had to fold in recent months. Many of these businesses were in a tricky position, having grown big enough to warrant certain overheads and yet they were not able to pivot their businesses quickly enough, whether through: ramping up their direct to consumer and e-commerce arms, adapting their existing product lines into what people actually wanted to buy during a pandemic, or adding in different revenue streams that complemented and fuelled their existing business. 

If you are a creative brand, there is always something that can be commercialised in your business, regardless of the global climate. Being quick and brave enough to recognise and act on that is the key to surviving the storm. 

As true for life as it is for business - the only constant you can rely on is change. All businesses must transform with the world around them if they are to succeed. 

3. They don’t level up their thinking as they reach each new stage 

Every key milestone for a business is a cause for celebration and those “firsts” are a great feat: the first sale, first major stockist, first seven figures, first eight figures… 

And yet, it can be easy to get caught in the day to day evolution and not take time to take a step back and realise what needs to drastically change to get to the next stage of growth. One of the common things I see in the early stages, is that businesses aiming for their next milestone still carry the internal baggage from their previous one. 

They may have got to a healthy medium size and polished up their external presence, but looking behind the scenes at their actual business structure - the founder still may not be taking a proper salary, or there are people in the company who are critical to the business in too many areas. This set up may have been essential in those early years to get the business off the ground, but as they seek investment or a major buyer - these are red flags. Even if they are not looking for an investor, understanding when they need to level up their business structures is essential if they want sustainable growth. 

4. They believe their own hype 

Everyone knows that starting and growing a business is not the easy road. Those first few years are precarious and while those key milestones must be celebrated to keep the morale up during the long stretch, it’s also important to see them for what they are. 

Revenue in is always a delight, but when it quickly bleeds out the another end, it is not. Winning industry awards is a wonderful boost for the brand, but when the business is flailing, those awards will not pay your staff, never mind for your next collection. Don’t let those glossy things seduce you. 

A Madonna mantra I live by is: eyes on the goal - which in this case must be your actual profit when all is paid and done. If it’s not where you want it to be, this is what you need to fix first. Everything else is vanity and must wait. 

5. They don’t leverage the assets they have sitting under their nose

Creative brands are often viewed as high risk, particularly in comparison to an area like tech. Beautiful things are a nice to have - by definition, they are a luxury, not a necessity. Therefore funding can often be hard to come by. 

While creative brands may be attractive, the underlying business questions remain: How do you commercialise creativity? How can you do it without killing the creativity? How can anyone make any money from this? 

Of course, this is why cultivating a desirable brand with rich storytelling are so vital, with that solid business framework running underneath. But there is another asset that these businesses are sitting with that is arguably even more valuable - the creative (or creative team) themselves. 

There is untapped gold there. Unlocking the power of that creative allows the creative to truly flourish; it strengthens the value of the brand (both long and short term), and it opens up commercial opportunities to fuel the business - even during unforeseen times of global pandemics. 

Some of the most successful luxury brands of all time have been built on harnessing this asset. In our age of cheap internet stars, it is an area that needs to be managed carefully, but if cultivated properly, legacies can be formed. And with them, commercially successful businesses and brands that stand the test of time. Managing this asset should be a strategic focus for all creative brands. Not doing so, is a wasted opportunity. 


If you want to explore how we can help you with your own creative brand and business, please book a call with us

If we feel we’re not best placed to help you, we will always try to recommend an alternative. Our aim is to support as many creatives as we can, even if we don’t end up working together directly. We want to equip you with the resources you need to truly thrive. 

I look forward to learning more about you and your beautiful brand. 

To your enduring success. 

Joon Haque

Founder, Beautiful World Collective

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