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Long Term Planning

In the latest instalment of How Freelancers Can Succeed, Ande Schurr recommends three pr


In the latest instalment of How Freelancers Can Succeed, Ande Schurr recommends three prerequisites to making a long term plan that will lift you towards your goals.

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Creating a long term plan is a marvellous feeling. It means that you are ready to make a commitment to your career. As a technician, or creative, that means you no longer think of what you do in terms of 'filling in time' until something better comes along. For the foreseeable future, your career is your life's work.

There is a lot of talk of the need to have a business plan. If you type 'create a business plan' into Google you get 326 million results. This post will not discuss the usual organs of such a plan - operations, management, marketing, finances etc. It is too easy to get lost in such academic
considerations if you do not first start with the heart of your plan which is based on your experience of the industry, your desire to progress and an appreciation of your own capacity. Making a long term plan is an emotional consideration before it becomes an intellectual one.

This post is about the prerequisites to making a long time plan.

At the start of my career in sound, I was one of those people who thought 'what will be next'. However this contemporary wisdom - to keep thinking ahead - created problems which jeopardised my ability to commit to my career.

I like how people lived even 50 years ago. There was a simplicity to life. You had one career. You became a master at that career.

It reminds me of a fact that is passed around in martial arts circles, that fact being, if a child starts learning martial arts at four years of age, she will reach the height of her powers at 50. Indeed what a small hope we give ourselves to reach the top tier of our field if we chop and change our vocation every few years. Or even if we keep our job for longer, it is the mere thought we have of  being unsettled in our job that produces the same dissipated results; the lack of ambition.

I hear many technicians say they are working towards becoming a director. I do not want to be a director or be in any other type of technical or creative position. I want to record sound on feature films and large scale dramas. That is it. I am already doing that to some degree but I want it to become the dominating source of my work.

Napoleon Hill, in the unabridged version of Think and Grow Rich, said that one of the major points he is trying to emphasise in his entire philosophy is: We rise to high positions or remain at the bottom because of conditions
we can control if we desire to control them.

Interpreting his statement in my own way, I have come up with three conditions or prerequisites to making a plan that will lift you towards your lofty goals.

#1 You must become a serious contender to your competitors
Proof you have this: you get lots of work.

Are you still fighting to build a regular income? Then increase your desire for work. Make yourself more available. Remember not every job has to pay your top dollar. Do a few low budget jobs too.

You will know when you are a serious contender to your competitors because people will no longer associate you with a more experienced person in your field. On the contrary, you will be seen as an independent technician or creative who holds his own and has his own style that people enjoy.

You must be known as the master of one skill-set. Mike Westgate, in my January interview, said: I'm often slightly suspect of people who one minute they're this and one minute they're that and one minute the other. What are
they going to be? It's very difficult to develop a profile in the industry if you're a generalist. You've got to be known as something.

When you have settled on your position in the industry, and you are known as something, then you have met the first prerequisite.

#2 You must know what skills and equipment you are lacking
Proof you have this: you know precisely why your target client glosses over you when making his crew list. Either it is your lack of skills and equipment or because you have never introduced yourself to him appropriately.

At this level of your career there must not be any vagueness. You will have seen the success of others, their Oscar nominations for example, their efforts in building a quality reputation, their equipment and you now should
know exactly what you must do to rise to their level. In saying this, the only thing missing may be another 5-10 years of experience on your track record! But chances are you are lacking some vital piece of equipment, or
skill, or confidence.

The more I am around the long term freelancers, the more business-sense and clear reasoning I see in their planning. From gaffer and grip combo trucks to video split operators who have no qualms spending 20k on the latest multi-camera software, there are many smart, savvy freelancers who have assessed the reality of the industry, matched it with their skill set and gone on to dominate their field.

So again, know what you are lacking first. Start building the infrastructure of your business so that people see you have everything and more that is needed in your job. New technology is so fast in coming out that it will not take long to do one better than the competition.

One such example is with wireless microphones. The problem has always been the potential of radio interference or less-than-clean-sound as it travels sometimes up to 100-200 meters to the mixers recorder. In this case, a solution is with a cutting edge product designed by US company Zaxcom. They have built a wireless transmitter that not only wirelessly sends the audio back to the Sound Recordist, but it records the actors dialogue on the radio mic itself via a time-coded SD card before it is even transmitted back to
them. It is expensive but the benefits of being able to retrieve perfectly quality dialogue in the event of a wireless failure is hugely significant for post production.

#3 You must be ready to put into action your plan
Proof you have this: You have the finances and you have a thirst to do better than the present. You also will have enough stability in your life to devote the necessary time to follow this plan through

There is only one thing to say here and that is you will know when you are ready. Perhaps you will arrive at this realisation by feeling frustrated at your current position or perhaps you have just put in enough time and effort
that the only natural step is to expand and consider the future.

Either way, you must have enough money at the back of your plan.

Final words

I know the average person has several jobs in their life time. But what if you just chose one job now.

What a difference that would make in your mind, to know that for the next 10+ years you would specialise in one area. It reorganises your whole thinking, centralises your energy and prioritises your finances.

If you meet the three prerequisites described in this post, you will be ready to create a long term plan that fulfils your goals and lifts you high on the road to achievement.

Written by

Ande Schurr

11 Mar 2010

Corporate video producer and production sound recordist now based in Singapore after a 15-year career in New Zealand. Video clients incl. universities, tech startups, medical clinics and business consulting agencies. Sound clients incl. Netflix, Discovery, BBC, National Geo.