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The cost of jumping ship

29 Jun 2011
We can lose more than our income if we neglect the basics of building a business and jump ship too soon, says Ande Schurr.

We can lose more than our income if we neglect the basics of building a business and jump ship too soon.

Ande Schurr’s latest post for freelancers deals with the importance of specialising in one area before 'chasing the fancy ideas that pop into our heads'.

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A film technician friend, who was out of the freelance loop due to a long film project, had a quiet few months because his clients didn’t realise he was back looking for day-to-day work. This month, things have slowly picked up much to his joy. However, he’s considering travelling to another country for a month or two to check out the market over there; lured by the prospect of new contacts and more money.

It begs the question, why, when he is just beginning to regain the traction he lost, is he thinking yet again to jump ship. By the time he comes back he will have put himself a year back in lost business, lost momentum, lost everything.

The temptation never ceases for us to treat our business like it will always be there. It’s arrogance really. Like anything, if it’s neglected, it will crumble.

For those of us who wish for financial independence, we need to name our price and get to work making our business strong. We can’t entertain holidays, lazy days at home, or headaches; we need to just stick at our freelance business until we get the prize.

Then there are the people who dabble in several technical or creative areas prematurely, before they have mastered one. The people I’ve met who say, “I do whatever I can on set”, never seem to progress post the trainee mentality, always hovering on the poverty line because no one trusts them, through lack of experience and commitment, enough to do a job worth paying a lot for.

Yet, despite my criticism towards it, this ‘doing whatever needs to be done’ is actually an admirable attitude. It’s just that it has to come at the right time – I think it has to come after you have made yourself a specialist at one thing. When you’ve done that, and built a solid business around your specialised area, then you can expand. You might then feel safe to expand in the same industry and ideally in the same sub-industry. For example, a sound recordist might expand into sound design, or a camera operator might expand into colour grading. A director of corporate business videos might expand into smaller television commercials while a producer of larger TVC’s may expand into feature films.

A true entrepreneur is a rare kind of businessperson because they are not fixed on offering one service or selling one product in one industry. If they see a market for an iPhone App then they’ll find a developer and build it.  If they hear of a lucrative idea for a film then they will invest in it. If they see an opportunity to build the world’s first everlasting battery then they’ll gather a team around them and get to work.

While I think being this kind of entrepreneur is admirable and aspirational, the reality is as soon as we meddle in other industries or even other services within the same industry we loose our focus and with that comes loss of income and confidence.

As much as I aspire to be an entrepreneur, I do not kid myself that I am one. Because then I might start acting foolishly and leave sound recording for some whim that catches my attention only to find that the whim never had a feasible business model, and my months spent pursuing that idea would set me back years.

Let’s keep our dreams alive by being patient enough to earn the right to follow them. Instead of jumping ship too early, stay a while, gather momentum, set some goals and commit to building your business.