Using long-tail keywords to supercharge your SEO strategy

Like it or not, the digital age is built around search engines. They’re the beating heart of information sharing online. The visibility and potential success of your digital business relies on them – and nowhere is this more prevalent than with your keyword strategy.

Through keywords, information can be categorised correctly by search engines and other algorithms, for audiences to subsequently find and consume information online. Get it right, and watch as your search rankings climb the proverbial ladder towards greater exposure and readership over time. Fail to focus on your critical keywords, however, and – well, have you ever searched on page three of Google?

Of these keywords, long-tail can often be the most effective to deploy. But what exactly are long-tail keywords and why should you care about them?

What is keyword length?

There are three types of keywords: short-tail, mid-tail and long-tail.

Long-tail keywords are longer and more specific keywords or phrases used in search engines. These are search terms that users and visitors are much more likely to use when they are closer to a point of purchase. Or, when they are using voice search.

Generally, a long-tail keyword is around three to five words. The longer the keyword, the more targeted it can be.

For example, a short-tail keyword or ‘head term’ could be  ‘pizza’. This would have an extremely high search volume and potentially answer a wide search intent.  However, it’s also an extremely broad keyword and is unlikely to give you the specific answers you’re looking for (unless you just want to know the dictionary definition of pizza…and who doesn’t know that, right?)

A mid-tail keyword would be ‘gluten-free pizza’. This is more specific. It would see a reduction in search volume, but increased engagement due to its specificity.

Long-tail keywords are even more detailed. This would be ‘Best gluten-free pizza recipes for vegetarians.’ This is a highly tailored and specific keyword designed to better reflect how search engine users make queries.

So why the term ‘long-tail? Because if you were to plot out the search terms from any given month on a graph, it would create a left-to-right curve moving down and across, like an animal’s long tail.

Why are long-tail keywords important?

Targeted search phrases match search intent. So, with highly specific and targeted long-tail keywords, you are better at presenting yourself and your business to new audiences and customers.

In the highly competitive keyword ranking ecosystem, the more you can match search intent, the better. This will mean that search engine users can better find your business and your content, over that of your competition.

By using longer, less competitive keywords, businesses can boost their chances of appearing higher up on search engine results pages. This can drive traffic to your website in greater volumes, leading to customer interactions and potential conversions.

‘Matching search’ – what does it mean?

If you are unaware of the term ‘matching search’, think of it in the context of user experience.

In shaping and implementing an effective long-tail keyword strategy you are creating an enhanced user experience for your potential customers. This is an indirect user experience, but it can be hugely effective when deployed correctly

Think back to a time when you used a search engine to find a new product or service. Did your location combine with a top-of-page result that immediately matched what you were looking for?

If so, that business has used long-tail keywords to match your search intent, attract your attention, direct you to their website and potentially convert your intent into a sale or a conversation.

This kind of SEO strategy has become even more important, following some core updates from Google.

What does Google think?

In March 2023, Google released a core update that furthered the search engine giant’s commitment to returning relevant results from searches.

In short, it resulted in previously top-ranking pages and results taking a significant hit.  By leveraging more long-tail keywords, businesses can either re-build their SERP strategy to regain their pole positions, or they can use them to usurp the positions of competitors that have fallen down the rankings.

Long-tail strategies and tactics

Long-tail keywords almost always have less traffic, but don’t be fooled into thinking this makes them less effective.

In having less traffic, they are less competitive and will usually come with a much higher conversion rate. Think of this in the same way as your sales and marketing funnel,

 – those at the end of the journey are more likely to make a purchase than those at the  start.

Ways to find and utilise long-tail keywords for your advantage include:

Ever heard of the dark funnel? You’d be forgiven for thinking it sounds like a Jim Henson film or a Stranger Things rip-off. But it’s not as scary or mysterious as it sounds.

It’s no secret that marketers love data. We pore over numbers, analytics, and reports to build the most accurate picture of performance and inform our all-important marketing strategy.

This data is gathered from an array of sources, whether it’s a company’s website, paid advertisements, third-party businesses like HubSpot, or countless other avenues. In fact, businesses put huge amounts of money into collecting as much data as possible about their audiences.

By having an informed plan, underpinned by data, you’re able to craft a marketing strategy tailored to your audience and optimised to target specific demographics. But what about the touchpoints in a buyer’s journey or the sales funnel that can’t be tracked?

This is what’s known as the dark funnel.

Originally coined by 6Sense, the phrase refers to interactions over the course of the sales funnel that you can’t follow or gather data from. To my fellow data-loving marketers, this might seem like a nightmare. But fear not – you can actually harness the power of the dark funnel to further nurture your leads and open the door to new business opportunities.

View image in original blog here.

But before I get ahead of myself, let’s take a look at some examples of dark funnel data:

The above data points are either incredibly difficult to track, or untraceable altogether. But I think we can all agree any marketing that shares your brand with more people is important. You should also note that the dark funnel doesn’t just consist of these data points – it also includes all of the research a potential buyer may have undertaken during the consideration stage (before converting).


But why is it so important?

A valid question, indeed – why should this concept matter to you and how does it affect your business?

According to CXL:

“over 80% of a customer journey is spent navigating dark channels”

This staggering figure illustrates the huge potential that can be found in dark funnel marketing. This facet of marketing is largely focused on nurturing your leads.

By nurturing your leads, you can increase brand loyalty with your audience before they’re ready to buy. And as 95% of B2B buyers are not currently in the market to buy, it goes without saying that you still want these buyers primed and ready for when they’re prepping a shortlist.

Another reason to consider dark funnel marketing within your strategy comes from the fact that Google is set to phase out third-party cookies. With this huge shift in data privacy incoming, it’s important that your business doesn’t rely too heavily on tracking them. When these get phased out, you likely won’t have enough data to understand your buyers and measure performance, and you risk losing leads.

“…harness the power of the dark funnel to further nurture your leads and open the door to new business opportunities…”

If the dark funnel was a total mystery when you started reading this blog, that’s exactly why you should embrace it. Many companies aren’t doing this yet, which creates a great opportunity for businesses to set themselves apart from the competition and give their marketing a significant boost.


Sounds great, right? But how can we take advantage of the dark funnel?

As previously mentioned, dark funnel marketing is all about nurturing leads without analytics, so that they’ll remember your brand and consider your business when they’re ready to make a buying decision. So how exactly can you get people thinking about, talking about, and considering your business over others?

Consistent organic posting

Putting paid promotion behind your social media posts will undoubtedly help your marketing efforts, but it’s crucial that you don’t underestimate the power of organic posting. This free method of marketing solidifies your brand’s online presence on platforms with millions of users. And it’s not just social media. Posting blogs on your company’s website, for example, is a great way to attract potential leads and build your reputation in the market.

High-quality work

This might seem obvious, but by always striving to meet and exceed client/customer expectations, you give people the best reason to talk about you and take control of your reputation. The quality of your work is a direct representation of your business and its values. By producing top-shelf products or delivering first-class service, you allow your work to speak for itself – and people are far more likely to help you spread the word.

Attending events

This is another great way of boosting your brand awareness and holding space in people’s minds, even without trackable data. By attending events, speaking on panels and growing your personal profile (and encouraging your colleagues to do the same) you start to make those all-important face-to-face connections. These interactions tend to stick in people’s minds far more, giving you a chance to leave a lasting impression.

Using the right channels

There are so many online channels where perfect prospects are talking and interacting (with each other, not your content). If you can enter these spaces without selling, whether it’s getting involved in LinkedIn groups, Facebook pages, or something else entirely, you can take part in your prospect’s conversations. But don’t be tempted to lead with your business or credentials. You can get your brand in front of all the right people, and engage with them to form positive relationships, simply by being your helpful, knowledgeable self.

“…Google is set to phase out third-party cookies. With this huge shift in data privacy incoming, it’s important that your business doesn’t rely too heavily on tracking them…”

Just ask

A highly effective yet often-overlooked way to make the most of dark funnel marketing is to ask your leads how they found out about your business. Plain and simple. You can do this by adding a section on your website’s contact form or a step in your checkout process. Alternatively, you can try reaching out via email. This will give you a really strong sense of which of your dark funnel channels are gaining a response from your audience, and which might need a bit more attention.


What’s next?

Hopefully you’re no longer in the dark about dark funnel marketing or its potential to influence your marketing strategy. Now all that is left is turn ideas into action.

While data can get you so far, there are plenty of ways to get front of mind and build your reputation without a cookie, or a dime.

We’re currently offering free marketing consultations, so if you’d like to find out how your business could discover untapped potential, get in touch at [email protected].

Apart from having over 900 million+ professionals on this platform, research shows that 4 in 5 LinkedIn members drive business decisions. This is especially important in lead generation for B2B, because the decision making is more complex and involves more people than in B2C purchasing.

View image in original blog here.

We know first-hand that LinkedIn marketing is a great place to start adding value to your business with both paid advertising and organic marketing having delivered measurable results for us and a number of our clients.

Here are our top tips and tricks to boost traffic to your page and convert your leads to customers.


1.    How to follow a best-practice content strategy

What content should your business be posting?

Following the 80-20 rule is a simple, yet effective way to think about your content creation.

“The 80-20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, is a familiar saying that asserts that 80% of outcomes (or outputs) result from 20% of all causes (or inputs) for any given event.” – Investopedia

80% of content should be focused on brand awareness, aiming to educate, entertain and solve problems within your sector – your output.

And just 20% should promote your business, products, and solutions directly – your input.

Craft powerful benefit-led headlines

This is possibly the most important element of your content creation. In this attention economy, you need to engage your audience by using headlines that spur action.

When creating a LinkedIn ad, you need to highlight to your user that you have the solution to their pain-point, this will help you generate more ad clicks and build brand awareness.

Create a compelling, clear CTA

You need to consider the business goals of your campaign. What action do you want your users to take once they’ve seen your advert? Do you want buyers to visit your website? Download an ebook? You can let them know with a clear call to action.

It’s also important to make sure that the offer, link or download meets or exceeds expectations and benefits set out in the ad copy.

Some good examples of effective CTAs are:

Posting high-quality, relevant content on your LinkedIn Business page will improve your bid in LinkedIn advertising auctions. This is because the LinkedIn relevance score rewards marketers who regularly post content that earns ample clicks, likes, comments, and shares.


2.    Why you MUST know your audience

It’s essential to have a deep understanding of your target audience.

An informed approach will ensure you’re targeting the right people and not wasting money or resources. You can build these out by conducting competitor analysis, understanding your ICP (ideal customer profile), evaluating current clients, and reviewing your data and analytics. LinkedIn analytics alone can reveal a lot about your audience.

Ensuring you have these details is critical for informing campaign-creation tasks, such as audience segmentation and persona- or vertical-specific messaging.

This way, you know the content you create and the paid advertising you run will resonate with your audience as you’re targeting them based on their intent.


3.    Are you falling short not utilising employee advocacy

The importance of employee advocacy when it comes to your online reputation cannot be overstated. If your employees champion your brand and engage with your content, you can drastically expand your reach. And what’s more, it’s totally free.

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, people are 3x more likely to trust company information shared by an employee than content shared by the CEO, so you can’t underestimate the power of employee advocacy.

Employees being active on LinkedIn and engaging with company content is just as important for their personal branding and career development as it is for your company. And if you take into account that every employee in your organisation has their own network, which is an average of 10x more connections than a company has followers – that’s a lot of potential reach for your content.

A simple way to do this is to create a communications channel with your employees and send a link to the post once it goes live on LinkedIn. Encourage them to share their knowledge, opinions, and insights on the thread.

For the most effective performance, commenting, tagging relevant people, and liking the thread will help maximise reach. And hopefully, with a bit of help from your internal teams, you’ll see your network grow.

It’s important to establish an employee advocacy program for this to be successful. LinkedIn itself boasts a helpful guide to leveraging employee advocacy for maximum impact.


4.    Paid advertising

Aside from organic performance on LinkedIn, you can boost your lead generation by running paid ad campaigns. According to research:

Brands have seen a 33% increase in purchase intent from ad exposure on LinkedIn.

Depending on your campaign you can choose a number of different objectives, but as we’re focusing on lead generation that seems like a good place to start.

However, it’s important to take the stage of your audience’s buyer journey into account. This means that running brand awareness and consideration campaigns alongside lead generation is a must.

Once you’ve set up your campaign objective, you’ll start building out your target audience. You can upload your own audiences, whether company – or contact-focused.

Alternatively, you can use LinkedIn’s own targeting options, making sure the right people are seeing your content at the right time.

Some of LinkedIn’s targeting options include:

Once you’ve set up your target audience, you can choose the format of your ad. Depending on your campaign objective you can choose from single image ads, carousels, videos and more.

For instance, a manufacturing company may choose a video ad, sharing an explainer video to promote a new product and demonstrate its benefits. This is more likely to be successful than a single image ad because the video can add context to a complex solution that’s tricky to summarise.

Next, you’ll be asked to set up a budget and schedule of your ad. A common rule of thumb is: B2B companies should spend around 2-5% of their revenue on their marketing.

So, depending on your size, you can decide how you want to split your marketing budget and which platforms will work best for your business (generally where the majority of your audience is most engaged).

You can also monitor how effective your paid advertising is using LinkedIn analytics, so you can continuously optimise your campaign.

But, absolutely the most important thing to remember when setting up your ads:

“Content is King” — Bill Gates 1996

Much like in TV, the real money-makers online are driven by beautiful, well thought out content. The kind that resonates with your target audience and influences decision-making.

So, make sure there’s always purpose behind the content you create and the copy you write. Keep your content strategy thoughtful, interesting, well-researched and, most of all, relevant.

You need to educate and provide value to your audience without asking for anything in return.

There are many lead generation tips and ideas that aren’t just focussed on LinkedIn marketing, and can be applied to any marketing methods, watch Phil Robinson, our Creative Director, provide some lead generation tips and tricks in the video.


If you have any questions at all, send an email at [email protected], or book in a meeting with Sophie Harris, Director of Business Development and Marketing for a (no obligations) consultation.

We’re excited to share that we will be supporting Caring in Bristol, as part of Studio Every‘s pledge of two weeks to two charities this year.

Caring in Bristol work in imaginative and creative ways with people experiencing or at risk of homelessness, with the public and community partners to bring about lasting change in Bristol and beyond.

We will be working with Caring in Bristol to explore ways that they can expand their corporate partnerships to create even more sustainable income for the future.

We look forward to contributing to the future strategy of this incredible charity, to help prevent homelessness.

When it comes to optimising websites for organic search traffic, each industry has its own specific needs, challenges and conventions to consider. In healthcare and medicine, for example, SEO strategies need to bear in mind relevant regulations across different markets, the specific language-use and search intent of HCP audiences, and how to ensure research papers, infographics and other kinds of content abide by Google’s best-practice guidelines.

At Varn, we have many years of experience working with pharmaceutical companies on organic search projects. We have learnt that there are some key areas that particularly impact the SEO landscape around healthcare and medical websites. Here are six things to think about when optimising pharma websites for organic search, in addition to general SEO best-practices, which every website should follow.

1. Geographic Regulations for Pharmaceutical Companies

Because different countries have different laws about how pharmaceutical companies can promote their products, anyone who works on healthcare websites will be familiar with the need to abide by these regulations. This often means creating new content or even whole websites for each geographical market. But did you know that it is possible to let search engines know which version of a page is intended for which location before the visitor even lands on the website? This can be achieved through a piece of coding called hreflang, and can help to ensure that the right pages are found by searchers in the right countries. Ideal for instances when you have multiple versions of a healthcare website targeting different locations, each slightly different in order to abide by the specific regulations in each region.

2. Duplicated Content

We often see duplicate content on the websites of our pharmaceutical, medical and healthcare clients – generally when scientific papers have been published within a journal as well as elsewhere on the internet. In this instance, you might find yourself competing with your own content elsewhere on the web. SEO strategists looking after pharma websites may need to strategically determine which version of a piece of content they want to display in Search Engine Results Pages, and then help to demonstrate this intent to Google using consistent canonical tags supported by an offsite backlink strategy.

3. Keyword Research for Highly-Specialised Healthcare Language

As search engines have become more sophisticated, they have evolved an impressive understanding of how language is used, and the intent behind individual search terms. However, when it comes to niche topics with highly-specialised language, search engines may not be able to keep up. HealthCare Professionals (HCPs) may use language differently to the general public, which means that keyword strategies for pharmaceutical websites have to dive deep into user intent and understand the precise ways in which search terms are audience-specific.

Here’s a simple example: If a pharma website refers to a drug, disease, medicine or molecule by an abbreviation, this abbreviation may have one or more alternative meanings beyond the medical industry. This could lead to your pages getting lost amongst content related to entirely different topics. A clever keyword strategy would therefore need to use contextual on-page information, as well as alternative longtail versions of the relevant keyword(s), to make clear to Google which term your page actually refers to, helping you to rank for the most relevant searches.

4. YMYL Healthcare Content

When Google and other search engines decide which websites and web pages to place at the top of their listings, they are trying to determine which piece of content will be most useful for the searcher. Helpfully, Google has a set of content guidelines detailing the kinds of things that they are looking for. All web content should endeavour to follow the search engine’s E-E-A-T guidelines (demonstrating Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness) but pharmaceutical websites need to go one step further and follow Google’s YMYL guidelines as well.

YMYL stands for “Your Money or Your Life” and refers to any content which has the potential to impact people’s happiness, health, finances or safety. Google has much stricter standards for content which relates to these topics, which is why websites relating to healthcare and medicine must understand and carefully abide by their best practices, including clearly demonstrating expertise and professional accreditation. Most pharma websites will need a YMYL content strategy which incorporates everything from expert content creation to targeting backlinks from reputable professional bodies.

5. Log-In Walls for HCPs

Sometimes a pharmaceutical website may place content behind a registration wall. In order to read the content, HealthCare Professionals will need to register and log in to the website. This can be a useful way to ensure the traffic reaching your content is reflective of the most relevant audiences. However, pages which live behind a wall of this sort – sometimes called gated content – can be hard for search engines to find, read and understand. In turn, this could mean that they choose not to index and rank your pages. Luckily, there are ways of coding your website to make sure that search engines can read all hidden content, even if human visitors to your site need to log in to be able to do so. This is a key item to check when considering the SEO strategy for your healthcare website.

6. Data-heavy Medical Content

Pharmaceutical websites host a range of content, from papers detailing the results of clinical trials to easy-to-digest, condensed summaries of diseases and treatments. The way these different types of information are presented is important for Search Engine Optimisation.

Imagine you have a graph which demonstrates the seasonality of a specific disease. This could be added to your website as a simple image – but will search engines be able to understand this content? Only if you give the image a suitable name, describe it within the alt text, and add useful contextual information elsewhere on the page.

Perhaps elsewhere you are considering hosting a medical paper in pdf form. Whilst pdf pages can rank in search engines, they will likely not perform as well as html website pages. This is because they are less mobile-friendly, unlikely to use proper heading formatting, and cannot be enhanced with Schema markup or structured data.

The list goes on – there are specific considerations to bear in mind when hosting videos, detailed scientific papers, or infographics on websites. The nature of medical and healthcare websites is that they will likely contain lots of data-heavy content in many different formats, all of which need to be considered and optimised from an SEO stand-point.

Need help with a Pharma SEO Strategy?

Need help creating and/or implementing an SEO strategy for your pharmaceutical, medical or healthcare website? The experts at Varn can offer support with everything from keyword research and content planning to coding optimisations and paid media advertising, as well as developing offsite backlink strategies. We have many years experience working with healthcare and medical publishing clients including Roche, Wiley, Pfizer and more, so you can be sure we understand the nuanced intersections between the pharmaceutical industry and search marketing. Get in touch to find out more.

For a business or a brand, newsletters can be a highly effective tool to connect with audiences.

A timely, well-considered and engaging newsletter can foster engagement, build brand loyalty, drive growth and even drive revenues.

This isn’t to say that newsletters are just relevant for businesses with e-commerce models. In fact, all kinds of businesses can benefit from creating their own newsletters as part of a wider marcomms strategy.

But what does a successful newsletter strategy look like?


Content, content, content

The most important part of any newsletter is the content you put in it.

Firstly, the stories in your newsletter must be relevant and timely to your specific audience. Secondly, there should neither be too many, nor too few. Around three pieces of content is generally a good rule of thumb to follow.

Sticking with three pieces of content. One of those pieces should be hero content. This means it takes pride of place at the top of the newsletter itself. Followed by two supplementary content pieces underneath.

Layout and structure

How you lay out your newsletter content will greatly affect how your audience consumes your content. A simpler approach will benefit you here.

Try to avoid having your content displayed in long lists. Instead, try to lay out your content so that it can be viewed either in one glance or with minimal scrolling.

Great images with strong captions and CTA links to your website or landing pages are a must. Try not to overload the design with images that are too large or videos and animations. Avoid anything that could potentially be slow to load.

It is highly likely that people will be consuming newsletter content on the move, so you will need to consider the actual size of your mailer. If you’re using mailing software such as Mailchimp or HubSpot, templates will do much of this heavy lifting for you. As well as scaling your output for mobile compatibility.

The personal touch

The old adage that people buy from people still rings true. When you’re sending out mass-email marketing ensure that the sender is a real person and not just a generic marketing or hello@ email address.

Whether or not you include the name of your recipient within that email is a decision based on the quality and organisation of your database. Newsletter software can use macros to populate information. But only if that information exists at source.

If you want to say Hello Sharon, welcome to our latest newsletter, you need to be sure that the naming records within your database are 100% perfect. Otherwise, people will receive emails starting a macro fault code, which really detracts from the personal touch.

When something like this happens, you can be sure that the email isn’t getting read and you may lose a subscriber.

Check, check, triple check

One of the most frustrating marketing experiences for a consumer is to receive an interesting piece of content that you want to know more about. Then find that the outbound links are faulty.

You should include directional links to your website. Get into a habit of multiple test-sending to ensure every link is working and directing the audience to where you want them to go.


With mail marketing, consistency is key. Try to establish a regular frequency and cadence of your comms output without overloading the inboxes of your audience.

Try to establish one regular touchpoint with your audience, be it a weekly or bi-weekly update on the latest news and issues in your industry. Establish that as a must-read and then look to build out other mailers around this.

If you haven’t yet implemented email marketing, and if you’re trying to push a product or a service, avoid doing so with your initial newsletters. Don’t go right in with the hard sell, build rapport through engaging content, then introduce the sales elements.

Once you’ve started, keep up the pace. It can be easy to start with enthusiasm and a flurry of newsletters, only to let the frequency drop and your audience engagement dwindle.

Growing your contacts

If you’re only starting with a small list of marketing contacts, don’t worry, you can put in place strategies and tactics to help grow this.

Contact forms: if you have a lot of potential client and customer communication coming through your website via contact forms, include a marketing opt-in selection. This is an easy way to build your marketing databases over time.

Social platforms: link up your social media channels to your mailing efforts. If you’re posting thought leader content on LinkedIn, try ending those pieces by calling on readers to subscribe for more insight. On channels such as Instagram include a Linktree within your bio description. Then you can call on your follower base to subscribe via a link in the bio.

Other content: if you’re posting regular thought leadership content to your own website, then include calls to action and messaging within his content. This will help lure readers into subscribing based on your existing and ongoing content output.

Customers and clients: consider how you can build your mailing list from current customers and clients. This can range from having a subscribe button built into your email footers, to proactively canvassing and requesting customers and clients to subscribe.


Use your newsletters to give offers to your audience.

While this won’t directly build your follower base, it can help grow your bottom line with your existing customer base. This could be anything from discounts on a product, a flash sale, early bird discount for an event, or even a new service you might be offering.

Try to keep your offers limited and sparing. Otherwise, you may devalue your overall service in the long term.

Test and learn

Quite possibly the most important thing when it comes to building email marketing, is to test and learn.

You don’t have to, and nor should you, stick to the same formula. If something is working, then maintain whatever it is that is making it work. But don’t blindly stick to things that aren’t. You can afford to be a little adventurous and try new things, but make sure that you’re using your mailing software’s analytics to study your audience’s patterns, and are tailoring your content to this.


Loom Digital will be hosting weekly digital marketing surgeries throughout September, providing free advice to businesses in Bristol. 

“We know it’s not an easy environment for businesses at the moment, and we’d like to do our bit to give back to the Bristol business community.” Karen Pearce, Director

Every Friday morning in September, Loom will be opening their doors at Temple Studios to marketing managers and business owners in Bristol and surrounding areas who would like advice on anything related to digital marketing strategy, PPC, SEO and content. The surgeries are delivered on a 1-2-1 basis and will last one hour. All information shared in the surgery will be kept confidential and participants will leave with tangible takeaways to supercharge their digital marketing. 

The surgeries are ideal for marketing managers or business owners looking for forward-thinking digital marketing advice. Each surgery will be tailored to your business, below are a few examples of topics businesses might like to discuss::

There are a limited number of slots and appointments are first come first served. To find out more and to request a slot please visit 

This year Loom Digital celebrated 14 years as a Bristol digital marketing agency. Starting off as a niche search agency, over the years Loom has grown their remit to cover SEO, content marketing, Google Ads, Meta advertising, LinkedIn advertising, digital strategy, data and analytics.

In summer 2021 we ran an event discussing funding for creative businesses with the south west team at Innovate UK EDGE and a group of Bristol Creative Industries members.

During the discussion, attendees said it would be useful if we could provide regular updates on the finance schemes that are available for creative companies in the south west and beyond. This guide is our response.

The guide is one of Bristol Creative Industries’ most popular ever blog posts. We keep it updated with the latest funding schemes for creative businesses so check it regularly. We also include the post in our monthy email newsletter, BCI Bulletin. To sign up, go here.   

Latest funding for creative businesses:

£200m South West Investment Fund

The British Business Bank, the government-owned business development bank, has launched the £200m South West Investment Fund (SWIF) “to help address market failures by increasing the supply and diversity of early-stage finance for UK smaller businesses, providing funds to firms that might otherwise not receive investment”.

Aimed at businesses in Bristol, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire, the fund provides:

SWIF is managed by four fund managers:

The region is split as follows:

North of the region:

South of the region:

The funding is split as follows:

Businesses can apply for funding directly to the relevant fund managers here.

Create Growth Programme

This programme from the West of England Combined Authority and Watershed is an opportunity for high-growth potential creative businesses in the West of England to take their journey to the next level. 

The scheme includes monthly training sessions, peer-to-peer networking and a £2,500 grant to invest in professional sector-specific expertise, such as mentoring, coaching, or consultancy. 

Applications close on 1 December 2023 and the programme starts in March 2024.

More details here.

Bristol Council vacant commercial property grant scheme

Bristol Council is offering grants of between £2,500 and £10,000 to organisations taking on a new city centre or local high street commercial property.

The funding is open to businesses, charities, CICs, sole traders and arts and culture groups for both long term and temporary/meanwhile use.

Organisations must employ fewer than 50 people, have a turnover of £10.2m or less, and a balance sheet showing £5.1m or less.

Funding can be used for structural works to a property or equipment to be used in the property (capital expenditure). The funding needs to be matched by 20%.

Applications are open until 11.59pm on Monday 2 October 2023.

Successful applicants must start trading from the funded property by Thursday 29 February 2024.

More details here.

Business Growth and Adaptions Grant

This grant scheme from the West of England Combined Authority is to help SMEs purchase and implement new products and equipment to drive business growth and expansion.

Applications must help the business to do at least one of the following:

Applicants must be based in the Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol, or South Gloucestershire local authority area.

Depending on the age of business and other criteria, grants of between £6,000 – £10,000 and £10,001 – £30,000 are available.

Applications are open until 5pm on Thursday 5 October 2023.

More details here.

Innovate UK smart grants

UK businesses can apply for a share of up to £25m for game changing and commercially viable research and development (R&D) innovations that can significantly impact the UK economy.

To lead a project your organisation must:

You must be or involve at least one grant claiming micro, small or medium-sized enterprise.

The scheme is open to single applicants and collaborations.

Applications for the latest round of smart grants closed on 27 September, but funding is regularly released.

More details here.

Innovation loans future economy competition

UK registered micro, small and medium sized enterprises can apply for loans of between £100,000 and £2m for innovative projects with strong commercial potential to significantly improve the UK economy.

To receive an innovation loan for a new project you must:

The funding available is allocated across a series of competitions as follows:

More details here.

Developing your Creative Practice

This fund from Arts Council England supports individual cultural and creative practitioners in England thinking of taking their practice to the next stage through things such as: research, time to create new work, travel, training, developing ideas, networking or mentoring.

Grants of up to £12,000 are available

The next round of funding opens for applications at 12pm on 16 November 2023, closes at 12pm on 14 December 2023 with decisions on 12 March 2024.

More details here.

Create Growth Programme

Run by Watershed and West of England Combined Authority, the Create Growth Programme provides support to creative businesses in the West of England (Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol and South Gloucestershire) including training and a £2,500 grant to spend on mentoring, consultancy and coaching.

The programme’s second cohort begins in May 2024. You can register your interest here.

BridgeAI funding and support programme

Innovate UK’s £100m BridgeAI programme aims “to help businesses in high growth potential sectors such as creative industries, agriculture, construction, and transport to harness the power of AI and unlock their full potential”.

The programme offers funding and support to help innovators assess and implement trusted AI solutions, connect with AI experts, and elevate their AI leadership skills.

More details.

DCMS Create Growth Fund

UK registered micro, small and medium enterprises in the creative sector can apply for funding of between £10,000 and £30,000 for innovation projects to grow their business.

The fund covers six regions:

The first round of funding closed to applications in February. The second round opens in autumn 2023. Details are not yet confirmed but we will update this post when they are.

You can see details for the first round of funding here. It has not yet been confirmed if the details will be the same for the second round.

Creative Growth Finance

Creative Growth Finance from Creative UK provides scale-up finance to creative businesses. Loans of £100,000 – £1m with fixed interest rates from 7% – 15% are available.

Eligibility rules include:

More details here.

Arts & Culture Impact Fund

This new £23m social impact investment fund is for socially driven arts, culture and heritage organisations registered and operating in the UK. It offers loans between £150,000 and £1m repayable until May 2030.

More details here.

New £200m South West Investment Fund

In the October 2021 spending review, former chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a new £200m fund for businesses in the South West.

Delivered by the British Business Bank, it will provide loans from £25,000 to £2m and equity investment up to £5m.

The fund will launch in Spring 2023 and cover Bristol, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire.

More details here.

The Elephant Trust

The Elephant Trust says its mission is to “make it possible for artists and those presenting their work to undertake and complete projects when frustrated by lack of funds. It is committed to helping artists and art institutions/galleries that depart from the routine and signal new, distinct and imaginative sets of possibilities.”

Grants of up to £5,000 are available. Applications for the latest round of applications close at midnight on 15 October 2023.

More details here.

Arts Council National Lottery Project Grants

Grants of up to £100,000 are available for arts, libraries and museums projects.

The grants support a broad range of creative and cultural projects that benefit people living in England. Projects can range from directly creating and delivering creative and cultural activity to projects which have a longer term positive impact, such as organisational development, research and development, and sector support and development.

More details here.

Start Up Loans

A Start Up Loan is a government-backed unsecured personal loan for individuals looking to start or grow a business in the UK. Successful applicants also receive 12 months of free mentoring and exclusive business offers.

All owners or partners in a business can individually apply for up to £25,000 each, with a maximum of £100,000 per business.

The loans have a fixed interest rate of 6% p.a. and a one to five year repayment term. Entrepreneurs starting a business or running one that has been trading for up to three years can apply. Businesses trading for between three and five years can apply for a second loan.

More details here.

UnLtd funding for social entrepreneurs

If you’re running a creative social enterprise you may be able to access funding from UnLtd.

Finance of up to £5,000 is available for starting a social enterprise and up to £15,000 for growing a social enterprise.

Successful applicants also get up to 12 tailored business support plus access to access to expert mentors and workshops.

More details here.

Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme

Businesses can apply for up to £3,500 to cover the costs of installing gigabit broadband.

Check if the scheme is available in your area here.

€144.5m Horizon Europe Funding

European research and innovation funding includes opportunities for the UK cultural heritage and creative industries, with over €144.5m available. Despite the UK leaving the EU,  the government announced the UK will associate to Horizon Europe. This means UK scientists, researchers and businesses can access funding under the programme on equivalent terms as organisations in EU countries.

More details here.

Know of more funding and support for creative businesses?

If you know of another scheme that we haven’t listed and you’d like to share it with other creative businesses, email Dan to let us know.

AI in the entertainment industry:

Why brand strategy is more important than ever

There’s no escaping artificial intelligence (AI) right now. Whether it’s facial recognition, your smart speaker or the latest Instagram filter, everyone is using AI – even without realising it. It’s in your social media feed, powering your digital payments, and even helping your phone or laptop to autocorrect.

Whilst some of it may seem like the stuff of science fiction, this is just the beginning. AI is no longer a technology of the future, so what can we expect, what does it all mean and should we be excited or concerned about its potential?

In this paper, we’ll take a look at the impact of AI on the entertainment industry, including what we’ve seen so far. We’ll then explore the potential, the implications, and how businesses and professionals can respond to industry change.

We’ll also discuss the importance of brand identity and how a solid foundation of brand strategy can help you to stay authentic, create cut-through and capitalise on the trend to avoid being left behind.

The growing power of AI

In a recent global artificial intelligence study, PwC estimated that the total economic impact of artificial intelligence will be $15.7 trillion in the period to 2030, making it “the biggest commercial opportunity in today’s fast changing economy”. And when we consider how many areas of our lives it’s already permeated, you can see why.

AI is essential in many of our day-to-day tasks, enabling automation, personalisation and even fraud detection. Most people are familiar with Virtual Assistants or Chatbots online, and are using apps to monitor traffic or weather conditions almost daily.

But AI and its machine learning (ML) subset are nothing new. The concept has been around since the early twentieth century, with science fiction depicting artificially-intelligent robots and dystopian futures, from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis in 1927 to franchises like Star Wars, Star Trek and The Matrix.

By the 1950s, the idea of artificial intelligence was cemented in the minds of scientists, mathematicians and philosophers the world over and, thanks to the development of computers and machine learning algorithms, AI flourished in the 60s and 70s. This continued into the 21st century, with more funding and computer storage bringing us to the age of “big data”.

The human capacity to collect data is now far outperformed by artificial intelligence, which can process huge amounts. Applying AI in this way has been successful in a number of industries including banking, marketing and social media, and of course, entertainment.

Current trends and popular tools

2022 was the year when AI became truly accessible, with the democratisation of Generative AI tools enabling the general public to use these algorithms to create pretty much anything, from the pope in a puffer jacket to Donald Trump’s arrest.

The big hitters in the space right now include OpenAI’s Generative AI model, ChatGPT, and image generators such as Midjourney. These algorithms take existing data and use them to create entirely new content.

Other examples include ‘deepfake’ technology, which uses AI to make it appear as though someone did or said something that they actually didn’t, by replacing the likeness of one person for another in audio or video.

Whilst there are legitimate concerns about the current trajectory of AI, it’s not showing any signs of slowing down, with the potential to improve efficiency, reduce the risk of human error and drive profitability.

From fiction to reality

Since artificial intelligence first graced our screens, television and film have continued to portray the future, with each reimagining of AI more elaborate and fantastical than the next. But now, the things we once imagined are becoming our reality.

In 2023, AI is having a huge impact on everything from imagery and video to set design and theatre robotics. It’s being used in sport to support officiating and by streaming platforms to recommend shows, films or music. It’s even written a play which premiered online in February 2021.

So, what does AI in the entertainment industry look like right now?

AI in the entertainment industry

Like many other sectors, AI has been making its mark in the entertainment space for a while, be it film, television, music, theatre or sport. The technology has already been applied in ways similar to other industries – such as content personalisation on streaming services like Netflix or Spotify – and it’s evolving all the time.

Both platforms use AI and machine learning to provide recommendations based on users’ preferences. Netflix even goes so far as to personalise thumbnails to entice users, by ranking hundreds of frames from movies and shows to decide which are most likely to encourage a click.

Spotify also took personalisation to a whole new level earlier this year, with the launch of its AI DJ feature. DJ is “a personalised AI guide that knows you and your music taste so well that it can choose what to play for you”, delivering a curated lineup alongside a hyper-realistic commentary.

Let’s take a look at how artificial intelligence is being used in other areas of the industry.

Film and television

We’ve already touched on film and TV’s long relationship with artificial intelligence, so what’s changed in the last near century? The short answer: a lot. In addition to personalised viewing recommendations and AI-powered distribution from streaming services, the technology is also being used in a myriad of other ways.

AI-powered platforms and machine learning algorithms are being trained and applied to casting, improving the accuracy and efficiency of decision making. They can also be used to enhance visual effects and even analyse
data of existing scripts to generate new, original stories.

It’s not uncommon for shows and films to be using machine learning or AI in some way or another, but its application in VFX is probably the most recognisable. Recent examples include Lucasfilm’s The Mandalorian where actor Mark Hamill was de-aged to depict a younger version of his original Star Wars character, Luke Skywalker.

Another interesting development comes from Texas-based company StoryFit, who are leveraging AI technology to compile data on storytelling elements in scripts. The platform helps writers and studios understand and better connect with their audiences, providing insights on character relatability, plot inconsistencies or even which books should be adapted for film.

Perhaps one of the most incredible applications of AI in film is the use of Neural Radiance Fields or NeRFs. This new powerful and low-budget VFX tool can learn how light is reflected in a scene and produce a 3D model that looks like it was shot on the same set. Using just a few input images, AI can fill in any gaps not covered by the camera and estimate how that section might look, creating light and manipulating images in ways previously unimaginable.


As a traditionally human-centric art, theatre is perhaps an unexpected place to find the presence of artificial intelligence. But it is seeing development of AI technologies, from lighting robotics to set design and even playwriting.

Examples include the use of tools such as Midjourney for theatrical design, to create set designs in collaboration with AI, and plays written entirely by AI such as THEaiTRE: When a Robot Writes a Play or the Young Vic’s production of AI which featured the GPT-3 system on stage.

Theatre and the metaverse

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the world of live theatre into the virtual and digital space, with creators streaming live or pre-recorded performances to audiences at home. It also saw live theatre enter the metaverse, where AI has been integral to development.

Virtual reality and online spaces allow theatre to maintain its live identity, whilst providing new and more interactive ways for audiences to experience the narrative. One example is YouTuber Rustic Mascara’s appropriation of the video game space for live performance back in July 2022.

In an attempt to fill the live-theatre void during the pandemic, actor Sam Crane live streamed the first ever full production of Hamlet inside the online world of Grand Theft Auto. You can learn more about this and the future of theatre in the metaverse in ‘The Future of Theatre’ Conference from The Stage.


Emerging technologies such as AI, big data, and IoT (Internet of Things) are becoming essential components of sport in recent years – and there are already a plethora of applications. One of the most prolific is the introduction of technologies such as VAR (video assistant referee), goal line technology and Hawkeye, designed to help support officiating and decision-making.

Other examples include the use of computer vision for tracking and analysing human motion. Machine learning algorithms can use data to evaluate skills and player potential, ranking them to help with scouting or recruitment.

AI can also be used to predict results or ball possession, and provide game analysis, spotting trends, tactics and flaws.


The music industry has already had its fair share of run-ins with AI, with mixed responses. We’ve highlighted the use of AI in streaming to personalise listening and improve user experience, but what about AI-generated music?

2023 has already seen AI make headlines in the music world, including a music generator that can turn any subject into a Drake-inspired record, or a new Oasis album that imagines how the band might have sounded if they’d stayed together.

But this new era of music making is not without controversy. When French DJ David Guetta used AI technology to add Eminem’s ‘voice’ to one of his songs, it sparked a debate about copyright and creators’ rights. Calls to ensure that artificial intelligence is used to support culture and artistry rather than replace it have been heard across the industry, something we’ll explore in the next section.

It’s clear that the industry is taking note and exploiting AI technology where the opportunity presents itself. But what’s the impact so far, is everyone excited about the potential of AI or are there concerns about its future?

The impact of AI on entertainment

The evolution and increasing popularity of artificial intelligence is controversial across all industries, with many recognising its benefits and potential, whilst simultaneously raising concerns about risk.

In April 2023, Avengers’ Director Joe Russo predicted that AI could be making movies within two years. This, coupled with reports that the first AI-generated feature film will begin production in May 2023 is enough to send filmmakers into a flat spin – our worst fears about robots taking over could be realised in an imminent dystopian reality.

The benefits

For the film industry, one of the biggest advantages of using AI is its ability to save time and resources. It’s also being used to improve accuracy and efficiency, analysing huge amounts of data – such as actors’ past performances or social media activity – to predict who is likely to be successful in a particular role.

This data analysis can also be used to analyse scripts and create new, original stories, saving time for screenwriters and providing opportunities for creativity and storytelling. AI can also save time and money on VFX, making it easier and faster to add visual effects, using NeRF and other technologies.

Theatre has already reaped some of the benefits of artificial intelligence in its ability to connect with larger audiences onlines. But there are also positives to be drawn from the use of AI in other areas.

Set designers Jason Jamerson and Michael Schweikardt discussed how tools such as Midjourney can be used to improve the design process, arguing that if used in the right way, it might help the process of materialising an idea for production. They explain that they don’t want AI to design the set, but it can give them new, interesting concept overlays whilst allowing them to remain the designers.

In sport, as well as helping to improve the accuracy of officiating – making sports fairer and less subjective – AI can also produce personalised training or nutrition plans for professional athletes. Thanks to the development of wearable technology which provides information about the wear and tear on an athlete’s body, AI can even help improve health and fitness or prevent injury.

Computer analysis is also used to influence line-up decisions before and during games. By comprehending metrics such as motion, speed, serve placement, and even player posture, AI helps managers and coaches make better decisions for their players and teams.

But having already seen how AI can be leveraged to support and improve traditionally-human tasks, what other positives might come from implementing this technology across the industry?

The risks

Despite these wide-ranging positive impacts, there are understandably concerns about the risks associated with the increased use of artificial intelligence. The most obvious is of course, the potential for AI to replace human jobs.

As algorithms and AI tools become increasingly advanced, there is a risk that they could replace some roles that humans would have historically carried out. Ultimately, this could lead to job losses in the industry along with a fall in creativity, uniqueness and emotional depth that only humans can provide.

The Guardian reported earlier this year that creatives across the industry are taking action against AI, in a bid to protect their jobs and original work from automation. Photographers and designers are among the first to face a “genuine threat”, and Hollywood filmmakers are worried that advances in the technology will mean fewer jobs across the industry and pose “a real threat to writers down the road”.

Another challenge to AI technology came in the wake of deep-fake technology being used for so-called ‘revenge porn’, with devastating consequences. Understandably, this led to wide-spread criticism and calls for further regulation in future developments.

There are calls for more regulation in other areas too. Apple’s development of synthetic voices for audiobooks has caused controversy and concern among the voice actor community. Some are worried about damage to the livelihoods of lesser-known actors and have pushed for the technology to advance more ethically.

Thoughts from the industry

So, will we see homogenisation or a decline in the quality of entertainment or art? Author and screenwriter Marthese Fenech thinks the technology needs regulation and a cautious approach. She explains, “I do very much understand and empathise with the concerns of my fellow creatives and artists. I still harbour some reservations about the technology; none of us wants to be replaced by a machine, something without a soul or the ability to emote.

“Admittedly, I am often reluctant to adopt burgeoning technology – it took me years to transition from an analog camera to a digital one. As an author, screenwriter, editor, and teacher, I’ve met the growing pervasiveness of AI with resistance and hesitation.”

However, having seen some of Mark’s work, Marthese has shifted her perspective: “Mark’s ability to completely transform a project from something passable to something transcendent has altered my perspective. To see something that has lived in my imagination for two decades come to life so vividly defies description.”

Don’t just compete – capitalise

There’s no denying the huge potential of artificial intelligence. Now, the entertainment industry has the chance to capitalise on the trend and do incredible things.

It’s time to start viewing AI as an opportunity, rather than a threat. So, how can creatives not only stay competitive but make the most of new technologies?

BIFA founders Raindance, explain that “by highlighting the value of human creativity, filmmakers can differentiate themselves from AI and justify their continued employment”. They also stress the importance of staying “competitive by continuous learning and adapting to new technologies”.

The combination of both AI and human ability has huge potential. By collaborating with AI experts or learning how to use the tools effectively, creatives can learn new skills and stay ahead of the curve. This is something Mark is very interested in, with plans to help businesses and brands use AI to their advantage.

Whilst AI is great at solving problems or processing large amounts of data, there are nuances and concepts that only humans can offer. Some tasks are difficult or even impossible for AI to complete, such as those requiring empathy, social skills or physical dexterity.

So how best to maintain humanity and protect originality? One way is to have a strong foundation – to know who you are and what you stand for. In other words, a brand strategy that really stands up.

The importance of brand strategy

As the entertainment industry becomes more saturated and AI tools are used to create content or marketing materials, it’s more important than ever to maintain originality and authenticity that can’t be replicated by machine learning. If you want to create cut-through in a competitive space, having a strong brand personality and a plan for how you’ll deliver your key messages are both vital.

Whatever your role and niche within the industry, every brand or business needs a unique and authentic voice, even if what you’re saying or selling is the same or similar to your competitors. As AI technology continues to develop, creating human connections with messages that really resonate will help give you the edge.

There are ample opportunities to use AI tools to help you learn more about your audience or find new ways to connect with them. But at some point, you’re going to need that human touch to make whatever you create uniquely yours.

The future of AI in the entertainment industry

When it comes to creativity, there’s always a need to protect what is sacred. But if leveraged in the right way, artificial intelligence could be – and indeed already is – hugely exciting and potentially beneficial for the entertainment industry and business owners that don’t have blockbuster budgets but need to reach their ideal clients.

By having a clear brand identity and a strategy to help you bring your message to your audience, you can remain authentic, stay relevant and make the most of any opportunities AI might throw your way.

I believe in bringing the joy of entertainment to as many people as possible and helping business’s both large and small achieve their dreams. With over 20 years’ experience in the creative space and a finger on the pulse of the latest technologies, I’m here to help.


Mark Horton

Brand Strategist / Creative Human  / Intrigued by all the latest Technological Toys.

(Note this article was researched and written by humans!)

The UK’s creative industries are jam-packed with small businesses and self-employed individuals.

Government data shows 95% of the sector’s companies are micro-businesses, while self-employment accounts for 32% of employment, compared to 16% for the economy more broadly.

With that in mind, Dan Martin asked individual and startup members of Bristol Creative Industries to share their tips for running a successful freelance or small business. We received some brilliant responses which we’ve highlighted below.

Become an individual and startup member of Bristol Creative Industries from only £4.95 a month and enjoy many business-boosting benefits. Sign up here.

We run regular freelancer networking drinks events at the Square Club in Bristol. To be notified of the next events, sign up to the BCI Bulletin.


How to run a successful freelance or small business

Bristol Creative Industries members share their tips below. Click their BCI profile links to find out more about them and to see if there are opportunities for collaboration. We love to see members working together!


Build a network
Working for yourself can be a solitary pursuit and the idea of networking can be intimidating. But it starts with making friendly connections. That can create the basis for future partnerships, referrals and support.

We’re lucky to be spoilt for choice with a wonderful community in Bristol and the South West and Bristol Creative Industries is at the heart of that. I’ve enjoyed every minute of making like-minded connections and friends in the process.

Sell yourself with confidence
Don’t be shy. Remind people of your experience and expertise – don’t assume they know that already. Make it an easy choice for them to buy your services. If you keep it authentic and make a personal connection, selling doesn’t have to feel awkward.

Take time to contract with a clear brief
Over the years I have been eager to make it as easy as possible to get started on a scope of work by writing a proposal from a loose verbal brief. That means doing a lot of the scoping myself which, as well as a lot of time and effort unpicking the client’s needs, can leave room for (mis)interpretation.  I find the most successful partnerships involve the client putting an equal amount of work in up front to shape a really clear brief.

Katie Scotland, Future Me Consulting
View Katie’s BCI profile here

Having a good support network is key. In my experience, this goes beyond family and friends. Of course, you need people around who love you unconditionally. You also need those people who, being self-employed, just get it. People who understand the ups, as well as the downs, and who can give you a boost with some sage words of advice. You never know when you might need to call on those freelance friends – whether it’s celebrating a big win or simply asking, ‘How do I do that thing on Mailchimp, again?!’ Don’t go it alone, you’ll travel farther with trusted, supportive people at your side.

Laura Summerhayes, Great Copy Matters
View Laura’s BCI profile here

The freelance life is full of many highs and lows, and it can be easy to focus on the negative, worries and stresses. When things have felt stressful or a bit bleak, which I know it has done for the freelance community over the last 6 months or so (everyone is feeling it, it’s not just you!), then put the work in, get your head down, send out the emails, chase the leads, get back in touch with previous clients and trust the process. It works. Work comes in, clients get back in touch, and those invoices (finally!) come through.

Being part of a community of likeminded freelancers and solo workers really helps. I created a Slack community for freelance and solo workers in the South West, which has been a great place for us to share briefs, get advice. We also share the wins. It feels great to celebrate your milestones with others as they know the importance of them too!

Kerry Wheeler, Whee Design
View Kerry’s BCI profile here

Work out who you are before you offer services

The creative industry is becoming more and more specialised, so we (as companies or individuals) need to move with that trend ourselves. It’s good to have multiple offerings and skills but you open yourself up to more competition. So when it comes to marketing yourself, it’s better to be amazing at a couple of things than being ‘just good’ at too many things. Maybe you focus on editorial design or you might be an illustrator in the sports sector. This doesn’t mean turning away work that doesn’t suit your marketing; it’s just simply good to have a focus. This makes branding your company far less complicated and helps with consistency.

Create a content strategy

It’s important to show up to work. If you don’t, you get fired. The same thing happens if you’re freelance or a small business but instead, the clients forget about you. Building a consistent content strategy keeps you at the forefront of your audiences’ minds. Write short blogs about your sector, interact with your audience by having competitions or you could even do peer shout-outs. Just make it relevant and consistent.

Callum Crew, freelance graphic designer and art director
View Callum’s BCI profile here

Invest in your own brand

There are so many businesses out there doing the same or similar to you, so make sure you are really clear about who you are. Not just your services, but really what makes you tick, what makes your business individual and why clients should come to you. Look at what you are incredibly skilled at, knowledgeable about, understand and enjoy. Then build on it.

Keep moving forward

Stay relevant, understand the market, keep talking to people to learn more.  Just don’t get caught up in the jargon and hype. Your customers and clients won’t understand it, or care.

Be inspired by your own creativity

It’s your business so you should be excited by it. If you’re not then you’re probably on the wrong path. Look for the type of work you want to do and reflect it in your work. Talk to businesses that hold similar values. Follow people, brands and businesses on social media that give you fire in your belly. 

Care about what you do

Actually give a damn. Care if you get back to someone, care if it is right, care if you think it could be better. Care about what you do and others will too.

Face reality

Running your own show isn’t easy. Always be ready to change the plan, surround yourself with people that are genuinely on your side and want you to succeed. Above all, have the right mindset, stay positive and believe in your own ability. Then just when you’re about to give up, that’s when you need to push even harder.

Give back

It may be a portfolio review, your time, your advice, your energy, but give back when you can and do it genuinely and generously.

Alexandra Shallish, Not The Wolf
View Alexandra’s BCI profile here

Find yourself an accountability partner. When you’re running your own small business it’s important to have someone to talk to. When you don’t have a team of your own, find someone that understand’s the highs and lows of running a similar business. I have a weekly Friday afternoon Zoom call with another marketing consultant and we use it to share what we’ve been working on, what we’ve seen on social media and what we’re planning to work on next. Setting this up during Covid lockdowns, and continuing it since, has been one of the most valuable things I’ve ever done for my business and me personally.

Luan Wise, freelance marketing consultant
View Luan’s BCI profile here

Actively and regularly seek out your ideal clients

Sometimes money can overrule your decisions, whether on a practical basis of needing more of it, a big project that sounds too good to be true or it doesn’t quite feel like the right fit with your values and expertise. Working when you feel any kind of conflict (internally) can be really hard work for all involved. Don’t underestimate the strength of a long-term client that you align with and have trust and respect on both sides. Working with the career mentoring charity Ablaze for five years has been my biggest reward in terms of the value of the work they do and I support them with, and in being so consistent long-term.

Be alive to all opportunities

You never know what opportunities are behind someone’s ask for help on social media such as LinkedIn. I stepped in to some really interesting research work with Projects by IF through answering a last minute call for help when a team member got Covid. Plus chatting to a client via an introduction (thanks Constance Fleuriot!) at the Data Science Conference last year turned out they wanted help with a project researching the mental health ecosystem for their mental health app. Keep exploring and don’t miss opportunities on your own doorstep.

Helen Farmer, diversity, inclusion and social mobility consultant
Visit Helen’s BCI profile here

Climate/environment: Often an overlooked part of the business, it is important for you and your team to know where you stand. We are not talking about addressing global climate change, but rather what approach your business takes. Using something like the UN Global Sustainable Goals (SDGs) can be a useful tool to measure and monitor on-going improvement. Delegate this to one of your team who is passionate about climate and the environment.

Finance: Keep a close eye on financial health. Are you equipmed to do this yourself or should you delegate this and get someone to oversee this for you? Regularly analyse cash flow, manage expenses, and invest wisely to maintain stability and fuel growth.

IT/tech/web: Embrace technology to improve productivity and customer experience. An effective online presence and streamlined IT systems can enhance efficiency. Again, this can often be delegated to specialist that will advise, set up and keep your system safe. Don’t wait for the headache, scam, fraud, breach to hit you – anticipate and get an expert in to set you up.

Marketing: Develop a targeted marketing strategy to reach your ideal customers. Will you do this? Will one of your team? You know your business best, but are you best equipped to deliver this? Focus on cost-effective digital marketing channels that yield a high return on investment and consider whether you should do this internally or delegate it.

Mindset/culture/vision: This is so important and your team (and partners/freelancers) should be fully briefed on this. Keep an eye on it and cultivate a growth mindset and a clear vision for the business to share across your business, peers and clients.

Sales: Nurture a strong sales team and develop effective sales strategies. Consistent revenue generation is vital for business sustainability and expansion, and, a with ops and delivery, this is key to business growth. But should you be doing sales, or one of your team or outsource this? Only you can decide.

Franco de la Croix-Vaubois, Frog Events
View Franco’s BCI profile here

Be true to yourself, and be authentic. Take small steps if needed, celebrate all your successes, and try not to compare yourself to others. Set realistic goals, build a support network, and consider finding an accountability partner – someone who will listen impartially, remind you of your goals, and help you stay on track.

Rosia Curtis, writer, editor and fundraiser
View Rosia’s BCI profile here

The key to doing what I love and building great creative relationships is forging a true connection at a personal level – getting as close as possible is where I do my best work because then I’m fully invested in both head and heart.

Time and time again it’s over a coffee or a wine that the no holds barred honesty chats happen and reveal the truth of what is on the table and why you are the best person to help bring it to life. People love to talk so offering them the opportunity to be heard is where the magic happens. I’ve often thought I should list in my proposals: two, three, four hour coffee chats as a key stage in the creative process.

As human beings we love to find connections and then tell a story about how that relates to us – and as designers that’s how we create beautiful solutions by listening, understanding and simplifying the story to make it easier to understand.

Robin Worrall, Rednine
Visit Robin’s BCI profile here

Always deliver on time or slightly early.

Be clear and proactive with the client, especially about what they said they would do/by when. If their lateness impacts you, say so right away – in writing.

Always assume there will be some fallow months. Take out money that you need not what you want!

Build a nest egg – the bigger the better.

If buying in services, such as print, get payment from the client upfront. Always mark up such services.

Keep personal drawings and money separate from business revenue – they are not the same.

Always keep money in the business account for a rainy day – cash flow is king/queen and the tax authorities will need paying!

Consider a limited company but understand the differences versus self employed.

Andrew Clarke, Heads Up Hands On Consulting
View Andy’s BCI profile here


If you come up with a great name for your creative business, you must do due diligence to make sure it’s available. Check on Google, check domain names, check Companies House and, most importantly, check at the Intellectual Property Office as a trademarked name trumps a limited company name. If it is available, trademark it.

Mark Epton, Advocate design agency
View Mark’s profile here


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