Ed. note: The following is a first-person account from the owner of a small business.
Like many small business ventures, mine started with a simple premise: Everybody has a story. But it takes a pro to help tell it in a compelling manner. With this idea in mind, I launched a business producing video biographies and family history documentaries.
Before founding Timeless Legacy Video, I spent more than ten years as an on-air television reporter and a celebrity interview producer. I loved the work but found the unpredictable hours difficult to balance once I entered motherhood. Although running my own business entails more work hours, I can dictate my schedule.
Over the past two years, I’ve experienced successes and challenges. I’ve had to garner publicity on a shoestring advertising budget and learn to prioritize an infinite task list. Most recently, I radically adjusted my business model, adding a range of estate planning tools to meet swelling demand.
When you’re starting a small business, you can’t afford to hire a full staff so you pay for some help, barter for other services and call in favors when necessary. The first thing I needed was a brochure and a web site. As a professional journalist, I was able to write all the copy myself but I hired a graphic artist to design the brochure. Several family members provided copy editing, web site production, and legal work gratis.
Beyond word of mouth, it’s been tough figuring out how best to spend my small marketing budget. I spent about $500 on a targeted direct mail campaign, which did not turn up a single prospect. After posting on some "mommy" blogs, I got tons of calls and emails from enthusiastic mothers but many had unrealistic notions of the cost of such an undertaking.
Pricing has been a challenge from the get-go. At first, I offered a low-end package at an impossibly cheap rate. I didn’t want to turn anybody away because they couldn’t afford my service. The problem was I didn’t end up making a dime on the low-end package so, after several months, I eliminated it. It was a difficult decision but I refuse to compromise on quality. If somebody wants an amateur video, they can find someone to do it on the cheap. But the resulting product will reflect that. My videographers are top rate professionals with extensive network television experience and sophisticated video, audio, and lighting equipment. I’m a perfectionist and I’m a seasoned journalist.
What I offer now, instead of the low-end package, is an extended payment program. That way, I feel fairly compensated and I don’t have to shut someone out if they can’t pay the entire sum immediately. This is especially important in this slow economy.
The financial crisis prompted a drastic revision of my business model after I noticed a spike in demand for estate planning video supplements. For many families, writing out an estate plan does not suffice. They want to capture their wishes on video, pass down values and provide specific instructions regarding wealth distribution and maintenance of philanthropic endeavors. So Timeless Legacy Video launched a series of tools specifically geared towards families, small business owners, and philanthropists seeking to clarify donor intent and lay out succession plans. The new estate planning offerings allow people to define their value system, provide specific instructions, and share business acumen. Since I am not an attorney, I work under the guidance of the family’s legal team to create a video supplement that might be used as evidence in tandem with written legal documents.
Flexibility is key. Although I thought that most of my clients would be individuals seeking to document their family history, many of my customers are charities and businesses in need of tribute videos for award ceremonies, as well as video content for web sites and marketing material. I’ve updated my business model, web site,and marketing material to emphasize these services.
Although I hire outside vendors for specific tasks, such as videography and graphic art, the balance rests on my shoulders. It is very difficult to figure out how much time to allocate each day to growing the business and how much time to spend on the actual work of producing the videos.
I would like to hire a publicist someday. I truly believe the products sell themselves once people see samples of my work. But it’s very hard to get the word out, drive traffic to the web site, publicize my availability as a speaker and put out an overall media campaign.
Despite the challenges, I enjoy running a small business. Many of the people I interview are senior citizens and, when they share their life stories with me, I walk away inspired. That’s proving to be my job’s greatest reward. Sure, it would be nice to have an office assistant making post office runs and reviewing paperwork so that I can focus solely on creative tasks. Then again, not having a secretary has some benefits. When a client called last week to thank me for “a priceless” family video that he will “cherish forever,” I got to hear it from him directly.
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