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Taking Care of Business
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Old June 9th, 2008, 02:04 AM   #1
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Starting your own business or keepin' that 9-5 staff position?

For all of you entrepreneurs and freelancers out there:

What made you decide to go out and run your own business?

What was the tipping point that made your mind say "No more of this 9-6 stuff!"

Did you decide to run your own business after months or years of painstaking research- or was it more of an impulse decision?

By starting your own business, what sorts of lessons did you learn the hard way? What are some of the pitfalls you've encountered that made you go "Boy, I wish someone would've told me about this!"

Conversely, have you had experiences that were easier to deal with than you had expected?

Has anyone started a partnership with a fellow co-worker or colleague? If so, how do you like working with a partner as opposed to working solo?

Hopefully all these questions won't dissuade some of the more seasoned folks on here from contributing. I'm hoping that other members of this forum will get as much out of this thread as I would like to.

I'm tossing this 5-gallon bucket of questions out there to gain some insight and to see what other people's experiences have been like living in the wild/ nerve-wracking territory of freelancing and sole proprietorship. As for me, I'm currently working full time for a small production studio. I was initially extremely excited to be in this position, but as the months have passed by, that excitement has faded. It's been a great learning experience, being a different environment from the TV station I used to work at, but some of the lessons learned haven't left the greatest aftertaste. I've learned that I'm pretty good at what I do, but the boss-man is the one who reaps the vast majority of the reward. Yes, I'll get kudos and pats on the back, which is nice- but I can't get approved for a mortgage or fill up my gas tank with "Good job, Shawn!"

So, I'm hoping to shed a little light on this whole "going into business for myself" thing by learning about people's firsthand experiences in this industry. Thanks!
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Old June 9th, 2008, 05:31 PM   #2
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In the past, I worked for some bigger companies...like The History Channel, A&E and Screen Gems...and that wasn't for me...(sucked actually). The only way I'd recommend staying at your current position is if you're learning a lot and/or if you have REAL potential to move up the ladder. If not, than look for something else, weather it's working for someone else or not.

The last company I worked for was a smaller production company. I grew tired of making $$ for someone else...and doing all the work. I was there for maybe 6 years(?)...my old boss didn't know how to take care of his employees, didn't believe in benefits other than 2 weeks vacation a year, and even then, he'd complain about having to pay for time not spent working. He ended up getting a divorce and moving about an hour away from the office, so he'd show up less and less...I was basically running the show (without a raise).

So me and a co-worker offered to switch to freelance, set up an editing room in my house (with his Avid) so he could shut down the office and work from his home. We partnered up and started a production company so at least the risk was shared. After a while I didn't want to freelance for him anymore (wanted to go in my own direction), so I split up with my parter, bought my own Avid and an XL-1. When word got out, a long time client jumped ship with me and after 8 years since going on my own, he's still my client (so that made things easier).

Working for myself is made easier because my wife has a good job with a good health plan. Also, I have a couple freelance connections, so I do a lot of freelance work around my own productions to keep the work steady. This year has been REALLY quiet as far as getting my own clients, but I've had a ton of freelance work to keep my busy.

Being self employed is great when you have plenty of work, but tough if not. So the biggest question you have to ask yourself is...where is your work going to come from.

One thing I wish I could have done from the start (and would still be REALLY into doing...hint...hint, anyone reading)...is get hooked up with a really good cameraman or producer, director, DP, whatever...someone with existing clients that couldn handle ALL the production work, so I could just focus on the post-production end of things (I enjoy post more)...I think that would make things easier (assuming the work is there).

One of the things I do miss about working for someone else is JUST working 9-5 (usually)...when I'm busy I find myself working crazier hours and weekends when needed.


Free free to email me with any questions...good luck.

Last edited by Mike Meyerson; June 10th, 2008 at 08:17 AM.
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Old June 9th, 2008, 11:00 PM   #3
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I have been self employed since 1971 and frankly I wouldn't have it any other way. 12 years as a still photog and 25 in video. Good times, bad times but always up to me. I don't work or play well with "bosses" so for me it was a no brainer. Got out of the service, back from overseas and HAD to be my own boss. My gut would turn upside down thinking about working for someone else.
Of course in this industry there's always a 'boss' BUT I mean as a W-4 employee. I'm an independent contractor and I do mean independent (especially as I get older). I choose who I will do work for and who I will not. I choose the jobs I want to do and those I do not. It's my business and my choice and I wouldn't have it any other way.
But that's just me.

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Old June 10th, 2008, 07:05 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by Shawn McCalip View Post

I was initially extremely excited to be in this position, but as the months have passed by, that excitement has faded. It's been a great learning experience, being a different environment from the TV station I used to work at, but some of the lessons learned haven't left the greatest aftertaste. I've learned that I'm pretty good at what I do, but the boss-man is the one who reaps the vast majority of the reward. Yes, I'll get kudos and pats on the back, which is nice- but I can't get approved for a mortgage or fill up my gas tank with "Good job, Shawn!"

So, I'm hoping to shed a little light on this whole "going into business for myself" thing by learning about people's firsthand experiences in this industry. Thanks!

Word of advice... Going into business without a business plan and clients still equals no mortgage and an empty tank of gas!
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Old June 10th, 2008, 07:51 AM   #5
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Why not both?

I work both a 9-5 job and a small home production business. But then again, I'm crazy, and a college student.

I started working with 2 of my high school filmmaker friends, once we figured out we could start making money from all the "favors" we had been doing for people. We just did it on an impulse, with minimal investment (less than $5K between us), but since then have become more serious in the matter of owning a business, and grown in capabilities and clientele.

Lessons? Lots, I learn something every day. Couple things for you: back ups, back ups back ups. Always have lots of redundancy if things go wrong. Also, keep really good books right away so you don't have to go digging through everything come tax time.

Working as friends has been good for us I think, as we're not hesitant to speak up for our ideas and opinions. Make sure that you're comfortable spending long hours with them though - video work usually doesn't come at regular intervals.

I'd say take the plunge, the experience is well worth it- but don't quit your day job just yet.
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Old June 10th, 2008, 01:14 PM   #6
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Being freelance is like riding a roller coaster, and you have to take the bad alongside the good. It helps to have a partner/spouse with a regular income.

I started out wanting to be a stills photographer, but met a lady who was then probably the only full time (female) nature photographer in Britain. She said you'll never make a living from nature photography alone, you need a sideline, or some kind of value-addition to your work. I went back to school, got a degree in animal behaviour and ecology, and spent the next fifteen years either too busy earning money to do any photography or too poor to afford any film. At last I've now been able to afford up-to-date digital stills and video equipment, but I just don't have time to use it much.

The work I am doing most of the time started out as an interest, then someone started paying me for it, then legislation came in (here in Europe) that meant I have lots of work - I'm fully booked for the next three months and turning people away. I don't enjoy it much - not any more, not since it's taken over my life. That's a really difficult thing about being freelance - you start with dreams of doing things you want to do, when you want, etc etc, but if you're really good, or desperate to earn a living, it can take over and you end up in a similar situation to the one you are trying to escape from by being employed. Only escape is even more difficult.

I want to retire, I want to do photography and video at my leisure, but it's not likely to happen any time soon. Next best thing is for my husband to retire from his job, and take on half the stuff I've been doing, leaving me some free time for what I want to do. But the way work is escalating, we'll both end up working double time. Finding that work-life balance just gets more and more difficult if you can't just shut the work off at 5pm and know you won't have to see it again til 9am (or whatever hours you want/have to work)
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Old June 11th, 2008, 03:52 AM   #7
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It has been very difficult for me the past two years. Most of my life and frustration deals with either getting people to pay, or getting them to pay when the checks are bad. Then you have clients that promise you enough work for the next six months, and then fall through. Then you have clients who want to pay you less every time you work for them. Best of all, I've had a client that I did mockup AE work and a proposal and I later found out my idea was farmed out to a high school student who did an amazingly bad job with my idea.

I love the freedom, but nobody likes paying for it.
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Old June 12th, 2008, 06:45 PM   #8
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Excellent! Thanks for all of your replies so far!

I completely understand the post about having a business plan. Ideally, I'd like to create my own material to sell on DVD and eventually Blu-Ray, and then produce some commercials in between to keep the rent check steady. Of course, in my mind, it sounds much easier than it actually is. Incidentally, I found a cool website called www.nolo.com that has a bunch of cool articles and FAQ sections about starting up various types of businesses. Nothing related to video production, but more of a nuts-and-bolts explanation of things like C-Corporations and LLCs, Break-Even Analysis sheets, and other important details like that.

Overall, it sounds very difficult, but the reward can be great if you're willing to give it all you've got. Let's see what other forum denizens have to say!
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Old June 12th, 2008, 10:19 PM   #9
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I've been my own boss for the past year. I graduated from college last year and still live at home so it makes the whole financial thing a little easier. However, I do wish I had someone to work with. Things can get pretty lonely at home with nobody around (especially when you don't have much work). I've done some freelance web design work with one of my friends and it is so much more fun to have someone else to work with.
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Old June 13th, 2008, 02:43 AM   #10
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Joe is right about having someone to work with, or even just to talk about video - or even just business problems - with. For those of us who live in the sticks, or in a small town, it's much more difficult to keep the enthusiasm going when you are isolated from the world. This forum is a great help, but humans are meant to be social animals and face to face contact with like-minded individuals is important. I've been on a couple of video courses and got more from being about to talk with people (other students as well as the tutors) than from the actual course content.
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Old June 13th, 2008, 11:11 AM   #11
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...having someone to work with, or even just to talk about video - or even just business problems -
or spellcheck! :)
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Old June 18th, 2008, 12:16 AM   #12
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Wow it's so great to hear from people that are running their own business. I too am currently in school and trying to figure out what I'm going to do when I'm done. I'd love to work from home but I know that's a big leap for just starting out. How did most of you get started and find your first clients? I'm at least one of the fortunate ones who has a wife that makes enough money so we're comfortable either way.
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Old June 18th, 2008, 08:30 AM   #13
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Wow it's so great to hear from people that are running their own business. I too am currently in school and trying to figure out what I'm going to do when I'm done. I'd love to work from home but I know that's a big leap for just starting out. How did most of you get started and find your first clients? I'm at least one of the fortunate ones who has a wife that makes enough money so we're comfortable either way.
It's not such a big leap to work at home when you're just starting out...that's the way to go...no office rent to pay. I'd say unless you have a lot of contacts or you're REALLY good at networking, try and find a job when your out of school...get your feet wet, make some connections first and go from there.
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Old June 18th, 2008, 07:21 PM   #14
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or spellcheck! :)
Yes! Having someone to spellcheck or even just to bounce ideas off of makes a huge difference. Ideally, I think I'd work best in some sort of partnership with someone who can be creative/imaginative, but doesn't do the exact same kind of work that I do. I would think an arrangement like that would be good for keeping creativity levels high and some of the giant egos somewhat deflated!

As far as working from home, on the one hand, I think it would be great. I could write off my office space, and not have to pay extra rent or lease space. On the downside though, I don't want to have to bring lots of clients to my home. Also, home is where I go to relax or to get away from work, so it could be challenging at times to stay focused or to not get completely burned out.

I've heard people scoff at the "home-based business" idea because they don't consider it a "serious business" for whatever reason. I don't see where some folks get that opinion, since I know of several people that run very successful businesses from their home. The only thing I can think of is that some people consider it a status symbol to have a fancy office someplace. While having a separate office sounds appealing, it's an extra expense!
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Old June 19th, 2008, 02:15 AM   #15
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One of the first things I did when we moved into this house was to designate and kit out a room as "my office". So far as possible, I try to keep all work stuff in that room and nowhere else in the house. If I find any of my husband's stuff here, it gets moved out - or it will just get buried under my piles of papers.

Working at home is much easier if you have an office that is obviously separate from the rest of the living areas of the house, rather than just a desk in the corner, etc.

It doesn't guarantee that I work "normal" office hours. Other people seem to think if I'm at home they can chat on the phone for half an hour at a time when I have deadlines to meet. And my husband seems to think I do nothing but twiddle my thumbs all day as he expects me to take on more and more work.

And I do tend to gravitate back to the office when he is watching something on the TV that bores me.

So you do need to be disciplined - keep work stuff in one place, and work only a set number of hours a day (or a week if you need flexibility).
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