When I struck out on my own, one of the things I promised myself is that I would document the journey. Partly because I’m a big believer in pausing to reflect (it helps me process) and partly because I hope others can learn from my mistakes on their own journey. I think some of these lessons apply to everyone in the working world, not just entrepreneurs.
So, here we go. I’ve been in business full-time for myself for a whopping 90 days. I did freelance work for about three years leading up to this. My business is video. Video is my passion, my hobby, and my “thing” ever since I made that ridiculous horror film with my friends in high school.
We’ve been incredibly busy the past 90 days, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to our clients for believing in us. You can see some of our finished projects on Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/vergevideos
Lessons learned so far:
1. A home office is a lonely place. Dogs make it less lonely. If/when I decide to get a real office, the dogs will be going with me.
2. Find the bottlenecks and remove them quickly. I’ve learned this important lesson about getting things done: I am a bottleneck. We would miss a lot of deadlines if everything had to be approved by me. Confession: I don’t even watch most of my freelancer’s videos before they go to client. I forward them immediately and watch later if I have time. Scary? No. I trust my people and I know they do good work.
3. Don’t underestimate young talent. Some of my best crew members are still in college or graduated recently. They know their stuff, they’re reliable, and I’m constantly impressed and surprised by the solutions they come up with. They’re happy because I pay them multiple times what they could get at work study or hourly job, and I’m happy because I can keep costs low and pass that onto my clients. Everyone’s happy, happy, happy. This also helps me scale the business without hiring employees. Eventually I will hire full-time people, but that comes with a lot of overhead and structure that we don’t have right now. Right now we’re delivering a lot of work with very little overhead.
4. There’s no way to accurately forecast until you’re committed 100%. I thought I was busy doing freelance, and I predicted we would bring in about the same amount of business in the beginning. But as people learned that I was doing this for real, I became a serious contender in the marketplace. Open the floodgates.
5. Not all projects are created equal. As much as I hate to say it, sometimes good enough must suffice. Knowing when to ship a project is an important lesson to learn. I’d go out of business if I tried to make everything perfect.
6. Don’t make the leap before you can reach the other side. I think a lot of businesses fail not because they don’t have a good idea or because they do bad work, but because they jumped too soon. It’s so tempting to just strike out on your own and be your own boss and hope that the business will come. And sometimes the business does come, but it comes too late. Before I made the leap, I was truly at my breaking point and working almost every waking moment. I’m not recommending workaholism, but I waited until I could step out and reach the other side. I did this to build up enough of a reserve that we’d be okay for several months if nothing came in. I’m glad I did. We ended up using some of those reserves for new equipment, taking our work to a new level.
7. Rhythm and variety are key to productivity. I try to find my most productive daily rhythm and work within it. I spent years trying to push through the day because that’s what was expected of me. I was expected to be in the office doing “work” all day, squeezing every ounce of productivity from the 8am-5pm schedule. I’m learning a better way is to arrange work around my most productive times of the day. For instance, I get sluggish around 3:30 and don’t get much done. This is also the time of day my body responds best to exercise. So, I go work out for 45 minutes which gives me energy to finish out the day with clarity and purpose. Mid-morning I usually stop for 30 minutes and do nothing but think. Some days I just tinker on some of my creative stuff or work on our non-profit, Freedom Begins Here.
8. Know your place. It’s not helpful when I try to do the job of one of my crew. I’ve been reminded of this numerous times as I’m adjusting a mic when I should be framing a shot or prepping the talent: “Bryson, I’ll do that. It’s my job.” My nature is to be overly helpful (a.k.a controlling) which makes things harder on myself and my crew. Plus, people want to do their jobs. They want to feel like they’re contributing. I need to know my place and get out of their way.
Tools I can’t live without:
1. Dropbox – Freemium service that syncs all your files to every device. It is freaking magic. Drop a file in a folder and instantly I know it synced to three or four of my freelancers who will also be working on the project. I used the free service for a while, then upgraded to a bigger plan, and now I’m throwing $800 a year at them whilst whistling zippidy doo da for the team package . Worth every penny.
2. Skype – Keeps me in continuous contact with my team. Has taken the place of hundreds of emails jamming our inboxes. Chats before emails.
3. Google docs – Use it constantly to collaborate on documents, keep track of business finances, and as a place for clients to add feedback on projects.
4. Basecamp – The best online project management. Period.
5. Brikka Bialetti Espresso Maker – $50 on Amazon.
Here are a few “behind the scenes” pics from recent shoots: