Do you need to start a company to achieve what you want?
Or will a one-off project suffice? A fellow theatre maker and I were given opposite advice by two established theatre companies. I was advised to start a company as you get longevity for future shows and projects, you’ll have a better chance of achieving funding, and it is more ‘official’. However, my friend was told not to start a company at any cost as it would be too much additional unpaid admin work and responsibility. We both create touring shows, but my friend pays people himself and includes it on his self-employed tax return, meaning that he only completes one of those pesky things and not three like I did this year! Both ways work and we are equally glad we made the decisions we did, but it’s something worth considering.
Who are you starting your company with?
Will you all work well together? Do you have the same vision for the company? Will you have equal roles in the company? Does everyone understand the amount of work there will be in addition to your specialist skills? I know a very successful theatre company that is run equally by four people. They all have different strengths (be that marketing, finance, directing, writing), and over the past decade have used them to build the company up to what it is today.
What role is right for you?
I started off as the co-founder of a company. I thought, with this role, I would be applying for funding for a few months and then acting in the shows. I ended up spending two and a half years applying for funding, acting in the shows, producing the shows, financing shows, facilitating workshops, tour booking, meeting with venues up and down the UK, doing the accounts, marketing, legal stuff, contracting. I was stretched far too thin – even when I just co-produced, my acting career and my finances suffered. I then thought about what I was good at and what I had a passion for within a company setting, and it turned out not to be producing but artistic directing, instead. This job role involved having ideas for shows, bringing people together, running the company but engaging other members of staff to do the producing, pr etc. I’m much happier in my job since realising this.
What is your company’s USP?
What does your company do that is different from existing companies? Which companies are you similar to? What is your company’s ethos? How do you want your company to behave?
What will your company name be?
Check that no other company already has your desired name. Even if it is not listed when you apply at Companies House, that doesn’t necessarily mean the name isn’t already being used. There can be legal implications if you have the same name as another company, not to mention the confusion it can cause as you begin trading, so be careful. Other things to consider: Is the name catchy? Does it link to your USP? Can it be turned into a logo easily?
How will you protect yourself and your company?
Setting up as a limited company means that the company alone is responsible for its own finances. I am pretty uncompromising on this, so much so that if a production does not achieve funding, it doesn’t happen. If I were more of a gambler, and so put on shows without having funding first, hoping to make 100% of the budget from ticket sales, and they didn’t achieve this, I personally would not be liable to pay those involved as the financial responsibility stops with the company. Making sure your company is insured is another important step as, even if individual members of the company are be insured, that wouldn’t cover every eventuality.
Who can support your company?
You may have support from numerous individuals (friends, family, colleagues, etc.) which is great, but it is also useful to have an umbrella organisation to shelter under. Following a company’s house tax return (which can be a nightmare, especially when you aren’t sure if an Elizabethan ruff and a pair of unwashed yellow tights count as assets or not), I spent the last of the company money joining the ITC (Independent Theatre Council). It was one of the best decisions I have made so far as artistic director. The ITC helps on all sorts of levels – queries on tax, becoming a charity, contracting – and they also run training events, bringing other UK theatre companies together who are really supportive.