How to Start Your Own Production Company - Part IV: "Me, Inc."

don-lawler-feb93by Don Lawler

In the last three articles, I concentrated on how to start your own production company. I talked about the qualities of an entrepreneur, what it takes in skills, time and money, and finally, what it takes to successfully market and sell your services.

As an entrepreneur, you have the freedom to make your own decisions and choices, and to enjoy the benefits and rewards of those choices. As an entrepreneur, you're on the front line with the market place. But being an entrepreneur does have its disadvantages. There are no perks like reduced resources or support systems; plus, not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur.

Not everyone has the money to finance the startup of a studio or the temperament to run a production company; however, a few in our ranks could do well to start and operate profitable new divisions at their radio station. If you want more out of your career than you are currently experiencing, if you see new opportunities for your station to prosper by taking advantage of new products, services, or systems, and if you are a leader with good communications and people skills, then you could become a good intrapreneur.

Major corporations like 3M, DuPont, Xerox, IBM and AT&T are encouraging intrapreneurism. In fact, intrapreneuring may be the wave of the future. Norman Macrae, Deputy Editor of The London Economist says, "The corporation of the future will be a confederation of intrapreneurs."

The term "intrapreneur" was coined in recent years by Gifford Pinchot, III, to describe internal entrepreneurs who, while employed in corporate jobs, are given the freedom and incentives to create and market their own ideas for profit. By definition, the intrapreneur is the "dreamer" who always figures out a way to make an idea become a profitable reality within a company.

As an intrapreneur, you can enjoy many of the benefits of an entrepreneur without the negatives. While your risks would probably not be financial, they could nevertheless be real. Some people may see you as a threat, or be jealous of your idea. You will be navigating new waters, and the people whose help you need may not want to get in the boat. Worse yet, your boss may not want you in the boat. It's important that you get the support you need in order to succeed. And, as one person put it, "You've got to be willing to be fired every day you go to work."

Let's just say that you have noticed a need in your local market that you think your station can fill. You know that you don't have the finances or experience to create and deliver this service on your own, but your station does. It not only has the money, but you've got the experience and help of station management and a sales force available. How do you get started?

I suggest that you approach this business idea pretty much like you would if you were going to ask for the help of a bank or venture capitalist, except for one major difference: find a "sponsor." A sponsor is a boss who can run interference for you until the project is ready to be delivered. The bureaucracy at larger stations may keep your project from getting to first base, while those of you at smaller stations may have the ear of the GM or owner.

Start out with a written plan. If you can give an intelligent argument on paper for the service, identify the market who will buy your product or service, show the costs and profit potential, and how you will market your idea, then you may have a chance of making a living doing something that you really enjoy.

Some of the services that could add profit centers for your station are tape duplication, recording services for clients or ad agencies, jingles, promotions, talent, marketing plans, and consultation. Now, you're probably saying, "Those are services that we give away." I ask, "Why?" Why not charge for those services? (No, I haven't gone off the deep end.) Or how about repackaging those or other services? While most people will say, "It can't be done", it's the intrapreneurs that WILL find a way.

In order to thrive in any company and get the help you need, it is important to help others. I believe it's important to see yourself as a personal service corporation. The Japanese have a concept called "total quality." In this system, it is important that your boss, the AEs, the secretaries, everyone in your station is considered your clients. If you want them to be "good customers," then you need to give exemplary service. Your quality of service should be the best. Ask yourself, "How do I service them? What are their needs? What will keep them from wanting to take their business to another 'company'?" Building good relationships inside your station will allow you the platform to share your idea and assemble the team necessary to bring your idea to fruition.

Once you get the support you need, proceed quickly. Be innovative. Don't keep going back to management with problems. Stick to your plan, and be ready to take the heat for your people. In other words, run your division like you would run your own company. Delivering a nice profit is one of the best ways I know to continue getting the support you need and the salary you want.

Finally, if you like things pretty much like they are but want to increase your salary, consider free lancing. Many Production Directors have picked up a few dollars here and there, but very few have aggressively marketed themselves.

You can offer your services to ad agencies and local businesses. Many are willing to spend extra money if they can get something a little special. Let's face it, most stations just "crank it out," and there's room for high quality copy and production.

Besides the extra spending money, you can also enjoy tax write offs. For instance, you can use a portion of your home as an office and deduct that portion of your rent on your income tax the following year. The same goes for the phone bill and utilities. Anything like business cards, printing costs for direct mail, the cost of meals to entertain clients, and postage can also be deducted. Of course, the tax laws are constantly changing, and before doing any of these things, it might be wise to seek counsel from a CPA or read a copy of the tax code.

Here's another important point. Make sure that it's okay with management for you to use station equipment. If the station balks, you may even offer to pay for the time, then pass the cost on to your client.

Starting your freelance business should be rather simple to do. You can start by telling everyone you know what you plan to do, pass out business cards, send out post cards and flyers, attend local ad club meetings, and even ask your AEs (they probably owe you a few hundred favors) to tell their clients about your services.

Well, it's been a lot of fun writing this series of articles on starting your own production company. There have been a number of letters and calls with specific questions. I hope the information has been helpful, and if you have any questions, please give me a call. Happy producing!