Taking a leap of faith to move on to the next step in a business can be especially daunting when your expertise is creating the products for sale and not in the day-to-day operations of a business.
The “Building a Productive Creative Business: The How & Why of Scaling” on Skillshare is for people with a creative business who make products (think Etsy) or sell their time (think freelance designers) and are contemplating scaling out beyond their bedroom. The instructor, Nick Sambrato, aims to give you an understanding of what that sort of business looks like and, in broad strokes, what it will take to run. So let’s have a look to see whether this course will be able to tell you if you are ready for the next step.
Table of Contents
Who is the instructor
The course instructor is Nick Sambrato, founder and CEO of Mama’s Sauce, a boutique letterpress and silkscreen print shop based in Orlando, Florida. Sambrato got his start like many of the target audience of this class. He paid his way through undergrad by selling toys out of his bedroom before moving on to found Mama’s Sauce. That business started in his garage before eventually becoming a full-scale manufacturer, completing over 10,000 jobs a year.
As he discusses in the class, the success of Mama’s Sauce is attributed to their systems and operations that connect the best designers, agencies, and stationers around the world.
Overview of the content
The lesson starts with introducing two elements of business practices that come with expanding beyond the bedroom: the importance of systems and being able to hit capacity. Sambrato expounds that systems and processes are just as important as your creativity and that these things will not only alleviate the frustrations that come with expansion but are critical to the survival of the business.
Why leave the garage
In the second lesson, the instructor goes through the pros and cons of leaving the garage, though admittedly, he seems to focus more on warning of the potential shortfalls. He seems to emphasize that this move is not glamorous and that the “distance between you and your craft will increase.” So, if you’re looking for a rah-rah pep talk, you’re probably not going to find it here.
What Kinds of Businesses Are on the Other Side
Next, the instructor gives a look at what you are building towards should you move on. Here, he does a concise job of delineating between the possible options of what the business can look like next. One option is to stick to core services and in-house skills and operate as a mom-and-pop. The second option is to scale to a lifestyle business where you’re building to an exit, and either your business is “growing or dying.”
In this section, Sambrato again harps on the true life of a small business owner and emphasizes that not all that glitters is gold. He does a good job of focusing on the message that, as a creative, you must know that it’s all about systems and staying away from chaos in order to succeed at this level.
The Golden Triangle of Business
According to Sambrato, there are three key pillars: Development, Delivery, and Operations. I found this breakdown to be quite illuminating and a useful simplification of business that avoids jargon for the uninitiated.
He goes on to focus on “replacing yourself as quickly as possible, beginning with the areas where you are the weakest.” This is also classic advice that would be good for a first-time creative business owner.
Basics of Business Planning I & II
The focus of the final two sections of the class is a walkthrough of an Excel sheet broken down into multiple tabs that help to create a business plan and forecast. The instructor does a good job of simplifying again to talk about “soft costs” and “hard costs” and avoids using too much accounting jargon. The spreadsheets themselves are made available and help the student use a basic tool to understand the impact of different inputs in order to optimize the business by either adding more volume, increasing efficiency or setting a higher price.
The walkthrough basically gives a first-hand look at how to set up an operating budget, forecast sales, and set targets. The simple three-tab spreadsheet provides a useful tool to help make this part of the process accessible for all.
While the forecasting spreadsheet is surely to be useful to some, I found that the Golden Triangle of Business was the highlight of the course. Given that the purpose of this class was to provide high-level insights about getting out of the garage, it was this explanation of the requirements of business and how to get there that I thought delivered the most relevant value.
There is undoubtedly an abundance of tools and strategies needed to operate a small business. However, it is this understanding of the key pillars of operating a business that helps to decide whether one is ready to take the leap. Do you know how you intend to deliver your product? What systems will you implement to have your operations run well? What areas are you weakest in? Addressing these, to me, is the crux of the value of this course.
How much does the course cost?
Courses on Skillshare can not be bought individually – they can only be accessed by signing up for a Skillshare membership. The good news? Skillshare offers e-student.org learners a full month free trial if you use our link (if not using our link, there is normally only a 7-day free trial). As virtually all Skillshare courses will take you less than a month to complete, you can in effect take this or any other Skillshare course for free – or any number of courses that you can finish in a month.
Once your free trial is over, the cost of Skillshare is $165 per year, which averages out to $13.75 per month. This gives you full access to all 34,000+ Skillshare courses. But if you're not happy to continue, you can easily cancel any time before your free trial ends – just go to your payment settings in your account.
If you have no need for a free trial, you can instead get %30 discount on your first year by using this special link instead. With this link, your first year will be just $115.50, averaging out to $9.63 per month. Note that this offer is only valid for new accounts, so it can't be combined with the 30-day free trial.
Black Friday/Cyber Monday offer 2023: Note that Skillshare is running an even better offer for the holidays, with a 50% discount on your membership (expires 30 November 2023).
Conclusion and Recommendation
Sambrato seems earnest, and his approach is suited to the target demographic. He is not trying to reach too far and succeeds in giving a taste of the reality of building a business. He does a good job in not propagating hustle culture or toxic positivity but instead feels like an even hand looking out for his audience.
The spreadsheet is a good place to start, and the simplification to the Golden Triangle is a novel and easy-to-understand application for someone who may not be versed in intermediate business jargon.
If you’re looking for specifics for a particular aspect of this process or more operational expertise, this is not the course. However, as a high-level introduction and invitation to explore beyond your comfort zone, this course delivers.