An Entrepreneurial Story
On paper, my company was a dream. We premiered our first film at the White House, made it on Oprah’s SuperSoul100 list, and I was asked to travel the world with the American Film Showcase.
My Instagram feed looked fabulous but behind the scenes, I was in $20K worth of debt, had to let go of my first two employees, and was struggling month-to-month to survive.
Being an entrepreneur isn’t just hard, it’s insanity. You love something so much that you are willing to do anything to see that vision come to fruition, and I think at the beginning that’s a gift. It pushes you to chase goals and pursue opportunities that are out of your league, but after a while, it’s important to see what works and what doesn’t in order to set up emotional and financial boundaries.
To start my company, and produce Dream Girl, my first feature-length documentary, I raised $100K on Kickstarter and $100K worth of angel investment. This meant that for the first two years of my business I didn’t have to stress about money. Everything went into the production of the film, and I paid myself and my team a small monthly stipend.
However, after the film was complete, we started to run out of money. I rearranged my finances, borrowed from my parents and partner, and started to rack up credit card debt.
At first, I was in denial about my financial instability. I was the girl who had a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign and who only spoke to one angel investor before receiving our first check. I thought to myself, “I could do this. I could turn this around.” I pivoted our business model, tried to raise for other film projects, and whittled down my own finances to the bone. Unfortunately, nothing worked and I was starting to run out of steam.
In a final blow, I had raised $10K from a previous investor and spent $3K on travel equipment and vaccines to get my crew ready to travel to West Africa for a new documentary. But, when it came time to put the flights on my credit card a light bulb went off, “I can’t afford to do this. What am I doing?” I mailed the $10K check back to my investor and sat down to actually face my debt.
Crew fees, freelancer contracts, my team, what I owed my family and partner – it kept adding up. I looked at this heavy number and sobbed my eyes out. How could I do this? What the hell happened?
“How could I do this? What the hell happened?”
Post breakdown, I pulled out my post-it-notes and got to work. I had to face what happened and I desperately needed a plan.
Every post-it held the number of a different fee I owed. I put it all on paper. Then I prioritized this information – what had to get paid off first versus what could wait. I took care of the people in my life first and then my credit card bills. Each month I’d pay a couple hundred dollars to each of these pockets that I owed but not before I paid myself. The months of me skipping my salary were over. I needed to make sure I was getting compensated for the work I was doing while rebuilding my personal finances. I figured out how long it would take me to pay off each fee, and every week checked in on my progress. Slowly I started to chip away at the numbers.
During that time I was also inspired to write Creative Money, my financial manifesto and e-book. I stopped taking jobs for “exposure” and forced myself to steer clear of giving discounts or freebies of any kind. Writing this all out gave me the clarity I needed to treat my business like a business.
It took a lot of time, stress, and perseverance but one summer later, not only am I debt free, I am making the financial strides to embrace and celebrate this new stable chapter of my life.
Whether you are struggling to pay the rent or monetize your passion, these big problems can often be the catalyst we need to make big strides and changes. If we are willing to look at what doesn’t work and push ourselves to face the problem, we can usually find a new path and a new chapter forward. We are a lot more capable than we even know.
We are a lot more capable than we even know.
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