Many business owners in our industry experience the same growing pain: there’s a struggle between doing the work you love and the demands of a business growing larger than you can manage. There’s a learning curve to business, and if you’re not prepared, it’ll cost you work, relationships, and most importantly, money.
My first years in the field I watched multiple businesses crumble up close. One studio went into bankruptcy because the owner made some poor choices. Another studio I worked for laid off most of their staff in one day. As I saw this, I was also faced with the reality that I would probably have to run my own business someday. I decided to take a couple of business classes at a local community college and found them so helpful that I completed a business certificate and went freelance shortly after.
Since standard business courses aren’t typically part of arts/audio school curriculum, here’s a rundown of some useful classes and their application in the field.
Introduction to Business – this trains you how to think in terms of business and business opportunities. Before this, my boss and co-workers seemed more like friends than business colleagues. In actuality, decisions have to be made sometimes based on what’s best for the business.
An intro to business class will likely teach how to write a business plan. This is important if you have any interest in growing a company beyond a “lifestyle business” or plan to find investors or funding for your business. (A lifestyle business is where you have a comfortable income and lifestyle but not trying to expand the business to the max it could be. Most freelancers in the audio industry fall under lifestyle businesses.)
Entrepreneurship – An entrepreneur is someone open to taking more risks than the average business owner. This course was terrific for learning how to look for problems that need solutions, and how to turn those solutions into a business.
Accounting – An accounting course will teach skills like how to track spending, make and manage invoices, and business budgeting. The vital skill from a standard accounting course is learning how to make and read financial statements. A “profit and loss” statement and a “balance sheet” will give you an overview of how healthy your business is financially.
In retrospect, I would have looked for an accounting class specifically geared towards small business, not for accountants in training.
Sales – This class was learning how to sell but not in a “door-to-door salesman pressuring you into something you don’t want” kind of way. Sales is about recognizing your strengths and what you have to offer and learning how to present that to people who may need it. It’s been a helpful skill to have when meeting potential clients or pitching/bidding on a project.
In our field, the odds are that you will be a freelancer/contractor at some point in your career. Business knowledge and skills are necessary for survival. If you have taken a freelance or contract gig, you are already a business owner.
Before taking business classes, I assumed if my business grew I could hire someone to run it (or teach me how). That mindset is harmful to a business. A lot of business decisions revolve around money, so it’s crucial to understand your financials. A good accountant can help you get so far, but he/she probably won’t help you set rates or know the going rate of an assistant. A lot of this can be learned on the job – but ultimately the learning curve (and any mistakes made) cost you money. When you’re first getting started freelance every dollar counts!
April Tucker: April is a Los Angeles-based re-recording mixer and sound editor who works in television, film and new media. She holds both a Master’s Degree and a Bachelor’s Degree in Music/Sound Recording. April enjoys doing educational outreach such as writing for industry blogs, giving lectures and presentations. April can be contacted through her website, www.proaudiogirl.com.