At the end of 2014, the company I was working for as a Senior Producer / Editor closed it's doors. Bittersweet moment as we'd been doing great work creatively, but they weren't able to sell the ad space necessary on the network to keep it viable. It left a lot of talented people looking for work.
For the first time in my 15 year career (I started young haha), it left me looking for a job. Prior to that moment I'd never actually had to look for a job. I was always open to new opportunities and they'd come up without my having to go find them. So what to do now?
Even with a full time job, I'd always freelanced. Using a lot of my vacation time for shoots and projects and staying up until the wee hours of the morning editing, after getting home from work. So, with the support of my family, I decided to take AV Collective, the Chicago based photography and video production company I started a few years ago, full time.
Next thing I knew, it was July and I'd been doing it for 6 months. They've been a great six months and I've learned a TON about the business and myself. I figured before the next couple months flew by as well, it'd probably be a good idea to outline a couple things I never realized when I decided to take the plunge...
1. It's lonely.
I'm not one to share a lot of personal things out in the open, but the first thing I didn't really think about was just how lonely it can be to be in an office when you're an entrepreneur. What do I mean by that? Well two things. There isn't that person at your office that you immediately go see Monday morning after watching the latest episode of True Detective. Those conversations become IMs or texts and it's not the same engagement. Secondly, with the nature of this business, clients want things done quickly and to fit their budgets. I didn't feel right asking someone else to take the same risk I was and just go start something on our own. I have a team of people I turn to for shoots or edits or graphics or whatever else. But they're not a sitting in my office team. So those moments where you and a co-worker run out to a store or go play wiffle ball home run derby aren't there. But six months in I'm looking to add a full time person to my team so the solitary nature of things should change.
2. Paperwork sucks.
I knew this going in. I'm a creative minded person, not a paperwork minded person. My pre-pros and shoots and projects are all buttoned up to a T, but the money/contract side has always left me a bit uncomfortable. I use FreshBooks for all my accounting/invoicing and expense/time tracking. It's amazing and easy to use, and I can just send an invoice and forget it. Time tracking used to be the bane of my existence. Account people hitting me up every month to make sure all the hours were in. But I see what they're saying now. I need to be able to track to the minute what I spend on a project so I know if it's worth doing the next project for a client. If I'm billing them at my CODB rate (more on that in a future post), but spending more hours as the project progresses, I'm actually losing money in the long run.
3. Contracts, contracts, contracts.
Along the paperwork lines, contracts were my next headache. Going into a project everyone has the best of intentions, but it's important things be buttoned up so everyone knows expectations. I had Loren Wells come up with some great contracts for me that I'm able to update for each project. It really helped more than I thought. If it does one thing for me, it helps clients know that I'm not some fly by night operation and it makes sure things are buttoned up on their end before we engage in a project. It also helps when projects get side lined. I just had a project with a great client get put on hold. I hadn't sent them a contract, my fault, so while they'll still pay for the time I'd spent so far there's nothing to protect me for the time I'd set aside for it in the coming weeks. Being a small business you have to balance cash flow much more carefully and contracts, with deposits and very specific terms help you do that.
4. It's important to work on projects you're passionate about.
I'm very dedicated to every project I work on. But there's a big difference between that and being passionate about something. If anything, that's what I feel I've slacked on a little bit the past 6 months. I love all my clients, and they become more than clients when you're a small company. But the more personal projects can't take a back seat to the paying stuff. I firmly believe if you love what you do, the money will follow. Stay tuned for what that means as I put a personal piece together.
5. It's liberating to say you work for yourself.
I was at a 4th of July BBQ and someone asked what I did for a living. I told them I run my own company doing video production. First, you get the "I'm so sorry for you" look. But then I get to explain that I get the flexibility of doing things my way. If I don't think a project will deliver what the client needs for their specific budget/timeline I can tell them that and say that I'd love to help out, but this is what it would take. Which is very liberating. It's also a headache and fantastic freedom to not know what you might be working on in 3 months. Anyone I meet could be my next client and I have the freedom to take a project that might have a lower budget than a big agency could take on, but I can do and put out an incredible end piece I'm proud of. Not to mention the feeling when you put together a creative concept and the client buys into it. I can see how every project benefits the plan I have for AV Collective.
So there you go. It's been an incredible journey so far. I've had some amazing clients and I feel more connected to them knowing that we're an extension of each other's companies. My goal for the next six months is to really focus on the storytelling passion I have, but more on that in another post. This one has rambled on long enough.