About a year ago I was given a great piece of advice, “do you want to run your company or do you want your company to run you?”
At first, I didn’t know what my business mentor meant by this, but after taking a long hard look back over the last two years of running Brightside Films, I had to admit, my company was running me.
Before starting Brightside I spent many years working in television; gainfully employed as part of the production crew. I remember one project I was working on as an assistant producer in which I had a clear sense about how some of the programmes could develop.
Perhaps I caught my boss on a bad day, but she made it very clear that I’d crossed a boundary to ‘producer level’ and would be better off sticking to my role as an ‘assistant’. I felt deflated but not defeated because I knew I had it in me to make good programming decisions. Six short weeks later I was offered an amazing commissioner job and bizarrely one of my first assignments was to sign off a project that this woman had produced. I ended up being her boss for a few brief and rather amusing days! It was a valuable lesson and it’s led me to follow my gut instinct at every opportunity.
So after this rather interesting twist of fate, I became a full time commissioner for a UK broadcaster in London. The only spanner in the works was that I lived in Bristol. I spent the next year yo-yoing up and down the M4, living in cheap hotels and often working 16 hour days. To say my work-life balance was a tad out of kilter would be an understatement, but I loved my job, my inspiring bosses and the exciting, fast-paced environment – so I wasn’t sure what to do!
Then it dawned on me that perhaps I should start working ‘with’ broadcasters, instead of ‘for’ them. Sure, being your own boss would come with its own pressures and nerve wracking moments but the idea of setting my own schedule, working on projects that I chose (and with people I respected) was incredibly appealing. I knew this kind of opportunity wouldn’t come around again and so it was now or never.
But where to start? I decided to seek as much advice upfront as I could, and was pleasantly surprised that it only cost me about £200 to hire a business professional to set up Brightside Films as a limited company. Within weeks I was registered with Companies House, had said ‘hello’ to the VAT man and hired a hard working accountant. Money well spent!
Prior to setting up Brightside I’d always assumed I would work well on my own – I liked the feeling of not needing anyone else to get a job done and for a while it worked well. That assumption was challenged when one of my clients broke a contract we had previously agreed. I became unstuck as I didn’t have anyone to lean on for advice.
I didn’t have the cash flow to spend on expensive lawyers nor the inclination to cause a confrontation. It was a horrible situation to be in, but the silver lining was that it finally forced me to find support, in the shape of a fantastic business mentor. After a few discussions we soon discovered a solution and the dilemma was over. It was a sobering moment and I’ve made sure to always have proper business support ever since.
Since then I have established a strategy group of around five colleagues who meet every eight weeks. We catch-up, discuss our dilemmas and over two or three hours get the opportunity to help and be helped. It’s important to choose trustworthy advisors for this and be confident about where your information is coming from, but it’s a good way to remain supported without spending huge amounts of money.
It’s exciting times because I feel I’m now firmly in the driving seat of Brightside Films and running my business in the way that’s right for me. I’m not growing too quickly or too slowly, I’m working at my own pace and, although it’s sometimes stressful, I love it!
Brightside Films started in 2010 with the aim of helping creative, talented people win the film or TV commission that they deserve. Since then the team have produced series for the Discovery Channel and Channel 5.
Illustrated by Naomi Dodds
- One Thing I Know