Creative Boom is one of those websites that feels as if its been around for ages but in reality has only been present online within the last two years. To us this is a sign of a good website and above all a good idea. Creative Boom, mainly through word of mouth and a gift with social networking, has quickly become the creatives essential website for news, jobs and networking, at least in the UK… for now. Cat On The Wall’s Jo Whitby got in touch with Creative Boom creator Katy Cowan via email who kindly took some time out of her busy schedule to answer our questions…
Cat On The Wall: First up can you introduce yourself and your team? Do you all work within the creative industries?
Katy Cowan: Hello – I’m Katy Cowan and I founded and manage Creative Boom in my spare time. I’m a former broadcast journalist turned PR bod and I went freelance with my own PR business in 2007. I recently merged my company with husband Tom’s – which is all about web and software development. We realised that the Internet and rise in social media meant our skills were increasingly crossing over so we decided to launch our own digital agency together.
We’ve got a great team behind us now, including my brother Alex who helps out on the day-to-day running of Creative Boom while husband Tom designed and built the entire site from scratch. We’re all very creative and are pretty darn passionate about helping others in similar fields. It was why I decided to start Creative Boom in the first place – to offer a friendly, approachable service to support other creatives.
COTW: How did the idea for Creative Boom come about? What’s the purpose of the site?
KC: When the recession hit in late 2008, I really suffered and lost a lot of clients. Determined to attract new business and survive the economic downturn, I decided to do my own marketing and PR. However, I discovered that unless I had an unlimited advertising budget or was a much larger agency, newspapers or magazines simply weren’t interested in raising my profile.
I also tried to go to a few local networking events, organised by the public sector. But found them to be irrelevant and a complete waste of time. There were also a few local groups that had been set up by my local council to support the creative industries but they just weren’t right and didn’t really bring any benefits.
It was around the same time that I joined Twitter and started talking to other freelancers and small businesses. Talking amongst ourselves, it became apparent that we were all struggling and were fed up with this elitist attitude amongst certain media, i.e. if you’re not ‘big’ enough, they don’t want to know. Plus many agreed that traditional networking was a losing battle.
So I thought, do you know what! I’m going to start my own online magazine and network community to support the creative industries and it’s going to be free, it’s going to be friendly and it’s not in any way going to be snobby or unwelcoming. So I told husband Tom about my idea and he set up a free magazine WordPress theme. We purchased the domain for ‘Creativeboom.co.uk‘ and I started to collect news and features to add to the site. I called it ‘Creative Boom’ because that’s what I essentially wanted to achieve.
Eighteen months later and the ethos remains the same – we aim to support businesses no matter how large or small. We do all we can to help others.
COTW: You recently promoted a blog post asking for help with spreading the word about Creative Boom. What do you hope to achieve?
KC: By asking for people’s help to spread the word, we simply hope to reach as many people as possible to make Creative Boom the huge success I hope it to be. You see, we recently carried out a survey and over 700 people responded. One of the questions we asked was ‘how can we add more value to Creative Boom?’ and even though the 700 odd responses were fantastic they were also very frustrating – because we’ve only got our own skills and time to utilise. Creative Boom is something we run in our spare time and we simply haven’t got any budget to improve it… we just do the best we can.
Of course, we’re capable of making Creative Boom a hundred times better – it’s just that we have our own business Boomerang PR (http://www.boomerangpr.com) to run and we have to make our own money to obviously survive.
So we wanted to ask for people’s support to help spread the word and help keep us going. Because we could carry on doing this indefinitely without budget – but that’s not realistic. In order for things to grow and improve, you need to generate interest and income. There are a hell of a lot of running costs at present and all we’re saying is – if you love Creative Boom and the ethos behind it, then help us to keep it going by spreading the word!
COTW: What would you say has been the biggest highlights since Creative Boom went live? On the flip side, has there been any struggle?
KC: The biggest highlight has been meeting lots of interesting and nice people as well as being able to make a difference and help others to win new business by appearing on our site.
We’ve also had the unique opportunity to talk to big name brands like Carbonmade, Threadless, The Guardian, BBC, Etsy, Folksy, Hootsuite, Harvest and many more. Global firms that would never have spoken to us had it not been for Creative Boom.
Have there been any struggles? Well, I’ve been used to 12-15 hour working days and weekends didn’t really exist during 2010. I’m pretty sure my damaged nerve in my elbow was a result of working too hard. So yes – there have been struggles and it’s not as easy as it looks.
I worked out the other day that I’ve put nearly 4,000 hours into Creative Boom so far and that’s without making any money or even expecting to. It’s certainly a lot of work and there have been times when I want to give up. But my passion for the creative industries keeps me going and nothing makes me happier than receiving a kind ‘thank you’ email from someone I’ve managed to help.
COTW: There isn’t any community exchange features such as forums on the site and yet it has a big community feel, especially with the regional pages and directories. Are there any plans to develop a community area and if not, why?
KC: I think because Creative Boom has always been a spare time project, we’ve just been very organic in how we’ve grown the site. We’ve tried to respond to what our followers want and developed the site accordingly. You see, we have tried forums and message boards in the past but they weren’t very popular, so we got rid.
However, that was 12 months ago and it seems there is a bigger call for a forum of some sort on the Creative Boom site. It’s certainly not a priority at present. We’re taking things step-by-step at the moment and implementing new features as and when we have the time.
We might add a forum at some stage but only once we’ve introduced and launched an array of other features.. things that have a higher priority. Besides, we’ve found that Twitter and Facebook tend to work very well as our ‘community’ areas. Nothing really beats Facebook and until you’re getting the sort of visitor levels like we’re getting now, there’s really no point in adding a forum.
Besides, I think our community is testament to the amount of hours I’ve poured in to building up my community online. Even though I’ve now got over 13,800 followers on Twitter and I receive hundreds of emails every day, I still try to respond to each and every person. It’s hard and I’m not perfect (I often cringe at my own tweets and the things I write on Facebook) – but I guess I just try to be myself and treat others as I’d like to be treated. By giving it that personal touch, I think that’s where our community has grown.
COTW: Finally what does the future hold for Creative Boom?
KC: Now that Tom has helped us to move away from inflexible WordPress and we’re running on his custom-built site, we are planning to continue to add and roll out new features as and when we can. In February, we plan to automate a lot of Creative Boom so people can login and create their own directory profiles, amongst many other things that we’ll reveal shortly – mainly improvements to the Directory, Jobs Board and Events sections.
We’ve also taken note of all the suggestions recently put to us in our survey. And we’ll be rolling out more and more improvements over the next six months. I’m not trying to be secretive about the future – the fact is… we’re not sure what the future holds. All we can hope to do is listen to our audience and provide them with what they need. And that can change at any time, so we have to almost take the initiative and decide ourselves what’s best for the site overall.
If we continue to grow and people like what we’re doing, then we’ll keep working hard at it. But if it’s not something people want any more, then we’ll just be thankful for the experience and move on to a new challenge. Just as long as we’re making a difference and having fun and that’s all that matters.