Crystallizing (ie setting, documenting and protecting) your Intellectual Property is a worthwhile process with a very worthwhile result. It forces us creative types to take a moment and look at what makes our creative businesses unique and valuable (as distinct from ourselves as the creators within the business). Most of us are just getting used to protecting the IP in our OWS – our creations. A big and brilliant step. But what about the IP that’s sitting there in the creating, the creator, your business?

I was recently given the arduous task of gathering, mapping out and securing the intellectual property of our fledging agency, Engage Brandcraft. Yawn? Not so much. In fact, if you run a small creative agency or are building your profile as a freelancer, you may enjoy this.

The basic premise is simple: your creative business is not a sustainable entity unless you have created value outside of the people and infrastructure of which it currently consists.

The golden question: if your key staff members leave or your studio burns to the ground, will your business still be there? Generally, with small creative businesses, the answer is no unless you take ownership of the intangibles around your business too – and, ironically, this means making them tangible in many cases.

Let me offer you a concrete example of why this is a good idea. You’re a freelancer and you create great WordPress templates. Your business is called “Monkey Bits” and you make packets of money selling them through a super-cool service like Themeforest. You even hire an assistant to develop on your behalf. You tap into some freelance networks. You start a custom development wing. Your reputation grows.

People ask for Monkey Bits by name. You’re cooking. So you decide to sell up and move to Bali so you can surf every day and call everybody “dude” again. But, oops, you have nothing to sell… not in the traditional economic sense any way. You see, you don’t have a product (other than the templates you’ve produced in the past) nor do you have a ‘means of production’ – unless by that you mean a Mac – but that doesn’t make you unique it makes you just another guy with good taste.

Turns out your business = you. And since selling yourself would preclude your moving to Bali, you land up in a quandary.

This is why we need to spend some time creating structures that will stand up even without us inside. It’s one surefire way for creative people to create value that they can own outside of themselves, building capital for themselves instead of only for other people. It takes a long-term perspective.

A NOTE OF CAUTION: like everything in life, I’ve realized that this is about balance. Most creative’s are fairly right-brained and so this advice is a balancing nudge to the left… quantify, validate, secure…. But if your left-brain is a little worked up too you could end up becoming a Process Nazi. Nobody wants to be one of those. Using worksheet 7b to come up with a creative concept is nobody’s idea of fun. It’s not about telling your team that their response time to a client’s request for more colour options cannot exceed 8.5 minutes – unless they fill out the green form and fax a copy to you (in Bali). Who faxes anyway. So yes – balance.

In part 2 I’m going to take a look in how we’ve been going about crystallizing our business at Engage Brandcraft (it’s an ongoing process) and give you a glimpse of the kind of criteria you may want to apply to your own process.