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You are a Start-Up

I’m gonna let you in on a secret: you are not *just* a filmmaker. You are the CEO of your own creative start-up. Your films = your products. 

I’m guessing you’re having some feelings about that statement. Whether you’re grossed out, offended, or even scared at the thought of treating your creative career and projects like a start-up, I’m here to tell you that framing your business this way can actually be liberating and empowering. It can help you take some of the emotion out of your career decisions. (We are artists, after all. Our emotions are alllllll tied up in our careers.)

Here are some ideas I like to remind myself of to help me keep my creative career running like the start-up it is.

What is my MVP (minimum viable product)?

If you want to start building your empire, you’ve got to start getting your products out there. This does not, however, mean that you need to go all-in on a first feature to establish yourself. Look at the projects you’ve got in the works and determine what is the most micro way you can introduce yourself to the industry without sacrificing quality. 

This could be a short that’s pulled from your feature, it could be an audio drama version, or even a table read with 50 invited industry guests. The key here is that rather than do research and develop, start-ups iterate, learn, and recalibrate as necessary. 

What you’re looking for here is information that will tell you whether you should iterate out of this product/project version or move it forward long before you’ve invested time and money into creating The Big Product.

You have a BRAND.

Like it or not, people will talk about you in this industry. They may even be talking about you already. But! You have control over what they say. What is this magic power? 

Your BRAND. (See also: your creative voice.) Knowing how you’re perceived in the industry and reconciling it with how you want to be perceived is an incredibly powerful process. Once you’ve done the work to hone in on your brand (and it IS work; it takes some time) you’re able to look at all of your messaging -- everything you put out into the world -- through that lens. 

Then, when people talk about you, they’re saying what you want them to say. (The really cool part is, they’ll think it was their idea.)

What departments do I need?

When you are first organizing your start-up, you need to take stock of the departments that you actually need in order to function. There’s the product development department, certainly, but you’ll probably need some kind of admin or operations team(s) to make sure your start-up is running smoothly from a fiscal standpoint, and then you’ll also need a sales and marketing department as well. 

Take stock of these departments and see which of these needs align with your skill set (even if they don’t happen to live in your Zone of Genius) and which may need to be outsourced or involve bringing on a partner. 

Your career is only as big as the requests you make.

You are going to have to make a lot of requests throughout your career. In the entertainment industry, these are also known as pitches. (To be clear, a request is not always a pitch but a pitch is almost always a request.) 

A lot of people get stopped in their tracks at the thought of pitching. So they don’t make requests. But at the end of the day -- especially in this industry, especially if you’re a woman and/or BIPOC -- you won’t get what you want if you don’t ask for it. 

Start by practicing your pitch with someone who loves you. Have them say NO to you. A lot. Once you’ve overcome your fear of the NO, take yourself on a visualization exercise where the outcome of your pitch is a YES. Really allow yourself to feel what it would be like to get that YES and take that certainty with you into your meeting. That assuredness, that muscle memory of getting the YES will change how you approach your request. 

So, take the leap! Make the ask! Bold requests get bold results!

You may be a start-up, but you don’t have to go it alone.

Finding your community and potential collaborators is key. Having a support system not only helps get you through the inevitable slumps and dry spells, but it also serves as a way to pool resources and may even lead to taking some things off of your plate! 

Where people get tripped up here is that they try to network “up”, or collaborate with folks who are much further along in their careers. This certainly does happen from time-to-time, but your best results for building a community will come from meeting collaborators who are at the same place or maybe slightly further along than where you are. 

Remember that finding collaborators is like dating: you may not find a perfect match right away. And, if you’re feeling any nonsense about not having anything to offer someone else, you always have yourself to offer. Sometimes all someone needs is an extra pair of hands on set. There are different types of equity, and don’t discount the value of good ol’ sweat equity. Many hands make light work!

Treating my creative career like a start-up helped me develop relationships and add big credits to my resume when I was just starting out. It continues to support me as I level up in my filmmaking, expand my professional network, and work with content entrepreneurs like you! What step will you take first as you build *your* start-up?

Joanna Bowzer is a growth marketing and audience development strategist as well as a film and content producer. She is a founder of Film Launch, which supports content entrepreneurs in developing and launching their projects. Her Vision.Position.Expand. 12-week career + project accelerator helps actors, writers, and filmmakers bolster their mindset, develop their brand, and create their vision and plans for the next decade.