Last month I was invited to speak at the Student Opportunities Festival, a virtual conference for students and recent graduates across the UK. I was invited on behalf of NaSTA, the National Student Television Association, who’s annual conference was sadly postponed due to COVID-19. You can watch my presentation here.
After the presentation I took several questions from the audience. One of these was “How long did it take for your business to become your full time job?”
You can hear my answer in the video above, or you can continue reading for my expanded thoughts on this topic.
Going Full Time 6 Months After Finishing My Degree
When I started my video production company, I was able to make it my full time occupation relatively quickly.
To give you an idea of how quickly this happened, I finished my Television and Video Production course at Solent University in May 2013. My graduation ceremony was in November. (Don’t ask me why. It’s just how the university did it.) By the time I formally graduated, I was running my business full-time. That’s only six months.
How did it happen so quickly? It could be because I went into business with someone else, and through working with them I was able to leverage opportunities that I wouldn’t have had on my own. It could also have been because I was doing freelance work for over a year while I was a student.
Or it could just have been – and not to toot my own horn too much – I was good at what I did, I was charging the right amount for it, and word spread quickly enough for me to gain the initial traction needed to replace my other sources of income.
Of course, it could be a combination of all the above. Being the right person in the right place at the right time… A very lucky combination.
How Long Will It Take Me?
When you’re starting a new venture, whether that’s a business or a new career, there’s this aching feeling that you’re not moving fast enough. Like the person who asked me this question, some people look at how long it took others. The hope is that this will be a prediction of how long it will take themselves to become successful.
Their thinking is like that of a sea captain who wants a map to help them cross a treacherous ocean. Unfortunately, what they don’t realise is that this ocean is actually a desert. The sand dunes that helped me find my way won’t be there tomorrow; the desert storms will have blown them into new shapes. My map is irrelevant.
So how long does it take to become successful? Surely it must be possible to distill it down to a science?
There Is No Science
The truth is, there’s no hard and fast rule for finding success. It’s down to everyone’s individual circumstances. In the context of starting a video production company, it depends on so many different factors. For example, geography played a large part in the early success of my business.
In my case, I started my business in Southampton. Located on the M3 corridor, with good links to London, finding my first clients was almost certainly easier than it might have been in other parts of the country. If I’d started my business in Lincoln, where I grew up, it could have taken me a lot longer. Lincoln isn’t a particularly industrial place. I probably wouldn’t have been able to find the same number of corporate clients as I did down here.
It’s down to everyone’s individual circumstances.
As another example, I started my business while working part time in retail. I was working two or three days a week, which was just enough to pay most of my bills. Because I was mainly working weekends, I had most of my weekdays clear. This allowed me to tend to the needs of my clients, who typically worked 9-to-5 throughout the week, without compromising my main source of income. However, if I’d been a wedding videographer, who primarily needs to work on weekends, this approach wouldn’t have worked for me.
Also, regarding my part time job, if my cost of living at the time had been higher, I might have had no choice but to work more hours there. That could have stopped me from taking many of those early client projects.
And finally, there’s also the timing aspect. The market was very different seven or so years ago. Technology has changed. Social media has matured. The demand for video has increased. And there also weren’t as many established corporate video production companies like mine around when I was starting out. There are so many factors that are different between now and then.
So while it took me about six to twelve months to start my business properly, I don’t think it’s sensible to hold yourself to a timescale. For some people it takes longer, and for others it takes less. It’s circumstantial. The most important thing is that, regardless of how long it takes, you enjoy the ride. You only get to go on it once.
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