Monday, March 20, 2017

Going Pro: Back to Front

We've been talking a lot about your "identity"-- as defined by your niche and the qualities that make up your competitive edge-- and that's fine. In this definition, Identity is both who you are and what you mean to your customers, so it's logical to refine those before exploring the basics of starting a company.  This post (which I'll keep as brief as possible) deals with what most artists find to be painful drudgery. But you can't get around it.

"You want a flawless experience 

for your customers"

Twenty-five years of producing theatre taught me how manage the craziness of opening night.  Regardless of how well you plan, how much lead time you invest, or how competent your team, the final hours before curtain are controlled chaos.  You want the first experience for that first audience to be flawless-- not just the performances but the flow from doorstep to "lights up."  The mistakes that catch most new producers by surprise is the face that so many things are being done for the first time on Opening Night (or Preview, if you're lucky enough to have one):  the first time you put out the sign, the first box office, the first petty cash, first refreshments, seating, curtain speech.   Opening a business isn't so different.  You want a flawless business experience for your customers.

The technique I learned for managing those final hours before the first customer is to work from back to front.  The front is your doorstep... or the customer's first "awareness" of you.  In the theatre this was putting out the street sign that says OPEN.  But there's no point in having customers walk in the door unless you've cleaned the lobby, stocked the box office, etc.  So I would start with the back of the business and work forward.  In theater, the "back" is the seating area.  Then you've got the lobby.  Then the refreshment bar, the box office, the elevator, the street.

For a production company, the "front" might be your website (or maybe your contract).  Before worrying about those, you need to set up your back end. So what's back there?

  1. Business license
  2. Bank account
  3. Book keeping system
  4. "Office"
  5. Phone system
  6. Marketing Plan
  7. Video gear
  8. Contracts & paperwork
  9. Website

Have I forgotten anything?  Chime in?

Many of these items I'll discuss in depth later.  In the mean time, I'll dispatch the first two items quickly. You know what a business license and a bank account are, get them. The US Small Business Adminstration can link you to all the info we need to know about setting up a business in your county (most states require county-level registration).  Hopefully you can find your bank.  You'll need forms from your county to set up a business bank account.

Now, since I'm being completely truthful on this blog, I'll confess that I didn't get either of these in the first two years of working as a part-time photographer.  Or the first six months of working as a part-time videographer.  Even though I used the name Hurricane Images, I considered myself a private consultant (not a company) and used PayPal for processing credit cards and my own bank account for checks. (I'm not fond of PayPal's politics, so that may change in the future.)  Since I wasn't a "company" I skipped the business license.  My income started around $150 a month and grew over time to a whopping $500 a month as a part-timer, so I really didn't think it merited a license and an account.  I'm sure my county government sees it differently.  My strong recommendation to you is to knuckle down and get the tedious stuff out of the way immediately.  Two years ago when I started part-time, I wasn't committed to becoming a professional.  You are.
Just joining us?  You can read about the beginning of the "Going Pro" journey here

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