Corwin Hiebert: Creating a Business Action Plan

CorwinHiebert-LeatherWe’re thrilled to announce an exciting workshop for creative entrepreneurs: Corwin Hiebert will be presenting Getting Down to Business: 8 Action Planning Steps for Creative Freelancers, a live workshop  on May 11, 2015 with HOW Design University.

A consultant and business manager to independent creative entrepreneurs, Hiebert helps designers and photographers focus on what they do best by guiding them through a business action plan.

“Creative entrepreneurs crave to break free from the constraints of the modern workforce, be autonomous, happily pursue their creative enterprise and make money while they’re at it,” Hiebert said. “It’s my mission in life to help talented artists live that dream. I’ve dedicated myself to this cause so much so that I’ve rendered myself virtually unemployable in any other field, industry, or job.I’m all in and I love what I do.”

Hiebert manages people like world-renowned photographer and best-selling author David duChemin, and he’s the the Director of Awesomeness at duChemin’s publishing company, Craft & Vision. He presents business and marketing lectures at conferences and colleges, and in 2013, he released a book with Peachpit Press called Living the Dream: Putting Your Creativity to Work [and Getting Paid].

His company, Taendem Agency Inc., is a boutique consulting and management firm that provides professional services and training to artistic solopreneurs. He started Taendem with his wife and business partner, Eileen Rothe, to help creative people build and run better small businesses, elicit curiosity in their art, and create opportunities that generate demand for their ideas, services, and work.

Hiebert and Rothe live in Vancouver, Canada with their 15-month daughter Johanna, spending his days drinking espresso and craft beer and skateboarding to work… “because it’s gnarly.”

In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, he’s also hilarious and terribly charming.

“I believe that being a freelancer doesn’t mean one has to be a lone ranger,” Hiebert said. But that doesn’t mean one can’t be a lone ranger. “I think I’m going to start wearing a black mask and say ‘giddyup’ more… it would make me more mysterious.”

S3649Based on the concepts and insights behind his Business Action Planner Toolkit, Hiebert’s workshop will guide you through the process of removing the chaos and mystery from your creative business, helping you address key questions and make better management and marketing decisions. (The Business Action Planner —now available in MyDesignShop—is a self-paced, hands-on resource that you can use to bring structure and focus to your business building efforts.)

In his jam-packed workshop, Hiebert will walk you through the following eight action categories that will help you grow as an entrepreneur and as a creative:

  1. Clarifying the current condition, and future, of your freelance career.
  2. Taking aim and pulling the trigger on your most pressing goals and objectives.
  3. Analyzing and acting on your potential as well as your pitfalls.
  4. Establishing and leveraging your unique brand in order to create a niche you love.
  5. Finding and understanding your audience and your customers.
  6. Creating and communicating your value through benefits-oriented pricing.
  7. Eliciting curiosity and generating demand so you don’t have to worry about the competition.
  8. Managing and enjoying financial autonomy because making money should be fun.

What’s more, his live workshop promises to be both informative and engaging.

“I have a tendency to fire-hose audiences with too much information,” Hiebert said of his business and marketing lectures, “so I’m thinking of incorporating an interpretive dance routine were I frolic about the stage in neon green leotards to Whitesnake’s ‘Here I Go Again’—that should mix things up a bit.”

Um, count me in.

You can register for the workshop at HOW Design University. In case you need more proof, however, here’s what Hiebert had to say about himself, his workshop, creating a business action plan, and helping creative entrepreneurs:

What motivates you as a creative professional?

My creativity comes in an awkward, but necessary package in that I’m not an artist (not by a long shot) but I have artistic sensibilities that seriously influence my work. I have just enough visual skills to be dangerous but effective as an instigator and consultant. When the camera comes out or I crack open Adobe something-or-other my friends usually run for the hills, but “I like to play”- Garth Algar, Wayne’s World. I work hard to understand the craft and the intent of my clients’ work (and the needs of buyers) so that I can engage with the business needs and issues at hand. Though most of my work takes the form of scheming meetings, flow-charts, emails, project plans, phone calls, contracts, Adobe PDF mark-up, chicken scratches on a whiteboard, writing, and checklists… I’m energized when I see my efforts produce new opportunities for the talented people around me. I have to be creative in my approaches because traditional business efforts are only so applicable to a creative endevour. When I’m dialed in to both the artist, and the viability of their art in the marketplace, I feel like my place in this world makes sense… at least to me.

What’s your best piece of advice for other creative professionals?

You must always dedicate time, energy, and money working ON your business, not just in it. Actually, that’s Michael Gerber’s advice but I like to whack creatives over the head with it as often as possible. If you’re your own boss then you need to be an entrepreneur first, and a technician second, otherwise you’re just a contractor for hire and that’s not the same as business ownership. The big variable of course is your uniqueness, your artistic vision. Non-artistic small business operators don’t have to wrestle with their muse but you do; finding the creative sweet spot between ownership and the actual work is a struggle that’s unique to the creative arts and there’s always tension. The most successful artists I know live by this principal; they focus on their business model, processes, offerings, pricing, and marketing with as much fervor as their craft. Success requires a well-oiled machine because you’re selling the whole package, not just what you create.

How can your Business Action Planner help creative professionals start or focus their businesses?

A well-managed business is intentionally designed to meet the needs and wants within the marketplace; that intentionality needs to be documented so that it can be strategically applied over the course of time. Most emerging entrepreneurs feel the pressure to create a business plan, but most planning efforts end up producing an elaborate document that gets printed and then shoved in a drawer never to see the light of day (assuming it actually gets completed). I think a business plan should be a perpetual work in progress; an actionable process for your business building pleasure that helps create focus and momentum towards the most important business needs. I also believe action planning should be managed in a digital workspace so you can always have it at the ready. Word-processing documents, sticky notes, buried emails strings, and casual scribbles in some journal somewhere are so 1995, they are the best way to capture, and stay accountable with, your business planning efforts.

The Business Action Planner organizes key business elements more organically based on my experience helping creative freelancers identify, address, and solve their management and marketing problems. Some of the categories and items are drawn from traditional business planning terminology but some are not. The toolkit we created is a non-prescriptive, self-paced resource designed to decrease the chance of inertia and increase your entrepreneurial momentum. We believe it’s a powerful catalyst for creative people looking to ask better questions of themselves, their creativity, and their business concepts. 

How does the Business Action Planner utilize Evernote?

Before I rave about the benefits of working in the cloud I have to mention that the planning components of the Business Action Planner are also included in the PDF guidebook. This way, if maintaining the illusion of being a luddite is important to you, the action items can still be distilled, even printed if you wish, so it’s all there for everyone to read and use. But… yes, the heart and soul of this tool lives in the form of an Evernote notebook—an app that my clients and I have come to love (and I mean ‘love’ in the strongest sense of the word… we’re talking champagne, caviar, and silk bed sheets here).

There are never enough hours in the day. A freelancer rarely has large chunks of uninterrupted time to dedicate to planning, organizing, and scheming up business ideas and marketing efforts. This is why traditional business planning efforts don’t fit the jib of a creative freelancer—they take to much time and energy. I believe planning ones’ freelance business anytime, anywhere, and on any device is how a creative person can actually make good things happen. Whether you have 3 minutes or 3 hours, you can always be working on your plan using Evernote. You can jot ideas and tasks down in a relevant notes, set calendar reminders, tag a note, drop in a link or image… this is what business planning looks like in the real world. This is how Evernote makes action-planning sing.

Once our .enex file has been successfully uploaded and synced to your free Evernote account you can start working on your very own plan from any device. The eight (8) key elements correlate with the guidebook so you can stay in sync with what you’re reading about and what you’re working on. Each numbered section starts off with the objective and kick start questions followed by the planning elements, which are broken down into five (5) bite-sized components (many include suggestions): action items, deliverables, next steps, and success indicators.

Oh, and because we felt like it, we put the guidebook into an Evernote notebook as well so your entire action planning reading experience is in one environment if you wish. Okay, I’m done raving now; besides, it’s free – if you don’t yet use it, check it out.

The Business Action Planner includes helpful interviews with industry professionals. Whom can we expect to see in it?

We had so much fun interviewing designers for our guidebook. I made sure to include interviews that represented a wide range of business experience because I wanted readers to be able to identify with professionals at different stages of the entrepreneurial journey.

We interviewed Sean Carter, co-founder and Director of Design at Carter Hales ( – I think I have a man-crush on the guy. Sean has won over 140 design awards from every major North American design competition and I think his expertise and business acumen provide the kind of industry insight that every emerging designer craves. Anthony Hooper ( is another pro who is rockin’ the freelance thing and he’s killing it! His take on how to educate his buyers on the design process is bang-on. I think I’m in love with him too. This is getting awkward.

The Guidebook includes information for crafting a business objective. What’s a good example of a strong objective and why?

Nothing is more important in business planning that a clear and compelling statement about what you are aiming to accomplish. Clarifying an aspiration means it’s not just a goal, it’s an actionable concept that helps you achieve your bigger goal. A great example is when we get into the section on Offerings:

Develop distinct offerings so that your creative services are easier to sell.

With this objective I’m calling out talent and saying it is not enough. A designer will never be able to turn prospects into clients if the buying experience is clunky or confusing. In a competitive marketplace designers must make it easier on clients to engage with, and hire, them. Packaging up the design process, the skills and tools required, the tangible deliverables, the ideal milestones, whatever it looks like, can simplify the selling experience. Based on a niche or style or felt need, one-to-a-few packages can help to create a baseline that is more conducive to a prospect saying, “Yeah, I want that.” Of course concessions get made as every project varies but a distinct offering can help improve your sales efforts without the use of pixie dust, bribery, or blackmail.

In your webcast, you’ll present a few action planning steps for designers. Would you share a brief description of Step 1 to give us a taste of what you’ll be talking about?

Step 1 is all about laying down a foundation for success. Clarifying was is (a reality check), what will be (a vision statement), and how you’re perceived within the marketplace (a business biography) is just enough navel gazing to get things going in the right direction. Every successful business has a starting point and your freelance career will be built upon what you are able to envision. That vision will grow and shift—trust me, but without it your management and marketing efforts will flap in the wind like piece of toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe.

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