by Neil Holmes
You want to leave the station and take care of clients on your own — great. But is this an opportunity, or an idea? An idea is a belief, impression, or opinion. An opportunity means the time is right. What’s the difference? Success or failure. It is not enough to have an idea for a new business, you need an opportunity to implement that idea and make it a success. If you decide to start your own business because you’re annoyed with your current job and you think, “I can do voice-overs,” that’s an idea. Having a client list that will stay with you, and can support you on your own may be an opportunity (it may not). When I started Voice Creative, I saw that many stations were downsizing their air staff, and consequently there were/are less voices for local production. That means the same voices doing car dealer A and car dealer D. Is this the best service for your money paying client? No. That is what turned Voice Creative from an idea into an opportunity.
Ready now? If you want to step out on your own, you’ll also need people, information, a location, and financing. Of course people includes clients, employees and vendors, but also family members. You will have tough times, harder than you imagine, and without the support of your family to help deal with the stress, you will fail. You’ll need help with contracts from a lawyer, and help with bookkeeping and taxes from a CPA. You’ll need research and information to sell your ideas (and yes, you will be your number one salesperson), convince people to work with you, and loan you money.
What are the trends, the structure of your industry? What is your competition (be real), and the economics of your opportunity? How will your new company benefit the industry? What are you selling? (Hint: it is not your voice.) Who are you selling to? How are you selling it? And why should your potential customer care? (If this all sounds familiar, these are the same questions you ask of the AE when you write copy for a station client. It comes back to separation, and what makes you different, and better, than your competition.)
Here’s a very important question: How will you support yourself until you gain enough clients.
Where are you going to work? Buy or rent space in an office building? Then you’ll need a realtor and lawyer for that. A home office/studio? Only if you have the proper sound equipment — you’ll need a professional set-up, from microphone and processing to computer, fax machine and letterhead. Financing, a tough sell when your prime expenses will be your living expenses and advertising your new business. You’ll need a knockout business plan, written in business language, and financial projections (that you may need to make up).
So where do you find the help to get started? Call your local Chamber of Commerce, and ask about an Entrepreneurship training course. Seek out others who have done what you’re attempting to do. People like to share experiences and help others, and you may then avoid some missteps. Ask trusted friends to refer you to a CPA and an attorney, and get their input. Start reading business magazines and newspapers (www.bizjournals.com, www.ebmagz.com). Talk to the Service Corp of Retired Executives (send an email to
Often overlooked problems: 1) not enough or too much money. Overcapitalization can be just as fatal as under capitalization because you still have to make your monthly payments on everything you borrow. The less you borrow, the lower your payment. 2) Death. If the principle dies, the company still has debts, so make sure you have the proper insurance to cover the unthinkable. 3) Marketing failure. You need enough clients to survive. 4) Marketing success. Too many clients, and you become an administrator. You’ll have to hire people to do the work you started your company for, if you can find them. 5) Planning. Where will your business be in 12 months? 3 years? 5 years? How will you get it there?
Remember, as a business owner, you are responsible for everything for you and your employees. That’s more than income. It’s health and life insurance, a safe working environment, taxes (the self employment tax burden is about 35%), equipment, even cutting the grass.
Becoming an Entrepreneur is not for everyone. If you’re comfortable with your company provided health insurance, time off and opportunities for socialization, you may want to work with your GM to improve your department. But for some cowpokes, the horse just won’t run without your hands on the reins. Being an entrepreneur might just be your last frontier. If I can help, give me a call.