Thinking of giving up your current job and starting up your own business? Here are a few big mistakes I made and lessons I learned. Maybe they’ll save you some anguish. Then again maybe you’re smarter than I was.
In 1980 I left my job at TVOntario, an educational broadcaster, and hung up my shingle as an independent documentary filmmaker. I had a passion for documentaries, a willingness to work hard, and a creative bent. What I didn’t have was two cents in my bank account. That was my first mistake.
The early years were tough. I had to borrow money from friends and get odd jobs to pay the rent and buy groceries. The effort expended on survival left little time or energy for filmmaking. Eventually I went on to be a successful documentary filmmaker but it was a lesson well learned.
Lesson 1: Don’t start without money in the bank. You’ll need enough cash in hand to cover at least a year of living and business expenses. The first couple of years will be lean.
My next big mistake.
Although I was enthusiastic, I had no documentary film experience and no body of work. Few were willing to take on an eager but inexperienced filmmaker.
Lesson 2: Gain experience and have something to show potential clients. Enthusiasm is important but clients also want to know that you can deliver. If you have little experience, highlight aspects from your previous work that indicate you can do the job.
For example, I drew on the fact that I had a Masters of Education degree. As part of that degree I had taken a course in the production and evaluation of educational media and had made a short animated film. I pointed to my work at TVOntario as a producer and as a writer of educational materials. It was a stretch but it illustrated that I was competent and had some “media” experience even if I hadn’t made a documentary.
Mistake number three.
I launched into my new business with no plan, no advice, and no clear idea of what was involved in being an independent documentary filmmaker. Not something I’d recommend to others. Had I known what to expect, it could have saved me from a good deal of heartache.
Lesson 3: Have a plan. Seek advice. Know what you’re getting into. You don’t need to turn this into a year long research and development project. But tempering your enthusiasm with a little dose of reality will serve you well. Trust me!