Creative industries, also known as CCI (Culture and Creativity Industries), represent a diverse and dynamic sector that encompasses 16 distinct domains. From art, architecture, and design to fashion, music, and film, these industries have a significant impact on the economy and society. In the European context, Eurostat figures highlight that in the pre-pandemic years, cultural and creative industries employed approximately 8.7 million people in the European Union, accounting for 3.8% of the total workforce and including over 1.2 million enterprises.
However, in Romania, the landscape of creative industries is evolving at its own pace, different from other European countries. Despite the rapid and promising growth of this sector, there are significant differences in how professionals in the creative field conduct their activities, particularly in terms of legal aspects.
While other EU member states have measures that encourage such activities, such as tax exemptions for incomes below 5,000 euros per month in Germany or special legal forms for businesses with turnovers ranging from 30,000 to 100,000 euros per year, in Romania, a creative professional who wants to make a living from their work must choose between establishing themselves as a Sole Proprietor (PFA) or a Limited Liability Company (SRL).
This situation raises relevant discussions about the opportunities and challenges faced by the creative industry in Romania. In this article, we will explore in more detail the implications of this choice for professionals in the fields of architecture and interior design, highlighting the specific aspects of the local market and possible directions for its further development. From available legal forms to governmental support and regulatory needs, we will analyze the current context and bring forth concrete examples to illustrate the diversity and potential of this industry in Romania.
In 2022, Armina Popeanu founded aBC – a Business of Creativity, an ecosystem designed for architects, designers, and creatives, providing opportunities to learn about entrepreneurship through meetings, podcasts, newsletters, content, one-on-one sessions, and courses. Armina Popeanu is a professionally trained architect and an entrepreneur with over 10 years of experience. She creates learning contexts for creative entrepreneurs and is pursuing a PhD in business architecture. She is also involved in causes related to education, teaches at Ion Mincu University and volunteers for the educational programme De-a Arhitectura.
The aBC idea came after realising just how many entrepreneurs start their business without a plan. She gathers monthly over 100 architects, interior designers and creative entrepreneurs to the aBC meetings where business owners & experts share their knowledge and experience. In just a little over a year she managed to get funded by the EU for her idea, and to gather more than 1.000 specialists in her creative community.
This year, she plans to extend her meetings to other cities, like Iași, Timișoara, Cluj-Napoca, Brașov or Sibiu, and to reach over 10.000 architects and designers through a Business of Creativity workshops, meetings and podcast. Business Review talked to Armina Popeanu to find out more about the plans she has for the future.
What inspired you to become an entrepreneur, and what led you to focus on creative businesses?
I’m built for entrepreneurship; it is in my venues since forever. Probably because my father was an early entrepreneur back in ’90s and I was raised like this. Architecture as a profession is very entrepreneurial. When I finished college and contemplated the next steps, it was a natural progression for me to transform my passion into an entrepreneurial endeavor, and I founded “Lyria: Your Painted Story.” Several years later, I realized that most creative entrepreneurs focus more on the act of creation rather than its monetization. As a result, I embarked on a doctoral study, through which I am building a business model for architects, designers, and creative industries. From there, it was just a small step to transform my doctoral research into something highly practical.
What are the biggest challenges that creative businesses face, and how do you help them to overcome those challenges?
The greatest challenge for creative entrepreneurs is the lack of business acumen. We provide entrepreneurial knowledge ranging from organizational skills to promotion, positioning, identifying, and addressing the needs of your ideal customers, and ultimately scaling your business. The reason behind this is that creative entrepreneurs often start a business impulsively, without a proper plan. After 2-3 years of operation, they begin to face the issue of developing their business into a financially sustainable one.
Can you share an example of a creative business that you helped to grow and succeed, and what strategies did you use to achieve that success?
In the work processes of 1:1 Consulting on the businesses I work with or in highly practical workshops, we develop a plan or a business model. I intervene with specific tactics depending on the stage of each business. In creative entrepreneurship, more than in other entrepreneurial fields, it is very much about the founder’s intention. In the working process, I allocate additional time to discover their personal reasons for doing business and then translate them into the needs of their potential clients. In business modelling workshops, I have created a system to build the business model. I have used my knowledge from over 10 years of entrepreneurial experience, including participating in dozens of trainings, courses, and short MBA programs, as well as academic research during my doctoral studies in Business Architecture.
How do you stay up-to-date with the latest trends and innovations in the creative industry, and how do you incorporate those into your consulting services?
I am connected to the creative academic environment worldwide (I am part of several organizations of academic researchers in creativity). Soon, I will be attending a conference in Dublin on creativity in the academic field where I will be presenting the business model I have researched. There are several European or global organizations that make efforts in the area of innovation and creativity, and we are in contact with them or part of them. I am thinking of Creative Business Network, for example. Additionally, I read a lot of materials in the field of entrepreneurship and creativity, keeping an eye on global trends. Unfortunately, I have noticed that although the creative industries are experiencing rapid progress, we are lagging by a few years in comparison to what is happening in Europe and worldwide.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs who are interested in starting a creative business, but may be hesitant or unsure of where to start?
To plan, definitely! I strongly believe that a plan provides you with direction and clear steps to follow, especially in the early stages of establishing a creative business when you may be tempted to implement every new idea that comes to mind. This is fantastic and a process that fuels creative entrepreneurs – the process of ideation. However, it can also be a fast track to failure in creative businesses. A plan gives you a path to follow, and the analysis process allows you to observe what you have implemented, postponed, or chosen not to pursue, which is incredibly valuable.
What are your future plans for your business, and how do you see it evolving in the coming years?
Now, after the first year of organized activity under the aBC – a business of creativity, we have plans to further develop the business. Our focus is on increasing awareness, reaching out to as many creative entrepreneurs as possible, and adding an extra building block to their business knowledge. Additionally, we aim to attract partners who can join our community. Moreover, we are paying even closer attention to the needs of creative entrepreneurs and intend to introduce incubation and acceleration programs over time.
How do you measure the success of your consulting services, and what metrics do you use to track progress and growth?
Our main Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for measuring success is the impact we can bring to the businesses of architects, designers, and creative entrepreneurs we work with. Typically, when their businesses become more organized, visible, or well-structured, depending on their specific goals when they came to us, we consider it a sign of progress and growth.
What are some common misconceptions that people have about creative business entrepreneurship, and how do you work to dispel those misconceptions in your consulting work?
The greatest difference in understanding within creative businesses arises when there is a disparity between the value that creatives bring to their customers’ lives through their products or services and the value that customers perceive and translate into a monetary sum. On one hand, the audience consuming Romanian design products or design and architecture services has become increasingly educated in recent years, but there is still room for growth. On the other hand, creative entrepreneurs need to understand the worth of their work and the cost of their time to avoid being underpaid and overworked, which often happens.
How do you see the Romanian market in this field and what are the trends for 2023-2024?
The creative industries segment is continuously growing, and this is happening due to allocated funds and dedicated programs. A major trend is that brands will design marketing campaigns that effectively communicate how their customers can transcend being mere purchasers and instead become drivers of positive transformation. Additionally, the agility with which creatives embrace technology can make a difference in their work processes, especially for the architecture and interior design segments. In the years 2023-2024, brands will construct campaigns that explicitly promote the idea of customers going beyond mere consumers and embracing their potential to become agents of change.