In a recent episode of the Connected Comedy podcast, I said I felt comics could be helped by approaching their career as you would a startup company.
Chicago comedian Odinaka Ezeokoli asked in our Facebook group if I could elaborate on what I meant and what a startup business plan for a comedian would look like, so that’s what I’m going to do in this article.
Obviously, every comic has their own unique goals and a comedy career is different than launching a business, so the point isn’t to follow this word for word. But rather, it’s designed to give you a mindset that can help you sort through how grow your career.
Here’s a few basic elements of a startup business plan that I think can point you in the right direction with your career…
1. Figure Out Your Initial Investment
No business starts without some form of initial investment. That investment may not be financial (though some of it usually is), but in order to start anything you need to commit time, effort, resources, or money to the endeavor.
That seems obvious, but many comedians seem to think they should be able to build a comedy career without investing anything other than their time into it – and often times, not even much of that.
Almost every career or business requires a financial investment of some sort – whether it’s college, or hours as an unpaid intern, or attending a trade school, or even simply buying a computer or some type of equipment.
These are all “startup costs” you have to be willing to cover in order to succeed.
When you are building a comedy career you should think through what kind of initial investment you can commit to it – how much time and what kind of resources are you willing to invest in your success?
If the answer is “not much,” can you really expect to succeed?
2. Who’s On Your Board Of Directors?
A typical startup company will have a Board of Directors who help oversee the company. Even small companies that are founder-driven often have at least a couple people on the company’s “Board” – even if those people are just friends of the founder.
But in a startup environment, the members of the Board tend to be people that have something they can bring to the table to help the company succeed. That may include a financial investment in the company, but often times it’s just experience, advice, connections, or other resources that they can contribute to help the company.
I’m not suggesting you have a formal Board of Directors for your personal comedy career, but it is helpful to think about who you can get to be vested in your success. It might be a friend who produces a comedy show, another comedian who happens to own a camera and knows how to produce videos, a relative who understands social media marketing, or a more veteran comic who can mentor you.
Having a virtual “Board” for yourself can be a great asset in helping you move your career forward.
3. Do Market Research
If you opened a pizza restaurant, the first thing you would do (hopefully) is research all the other local pizza places around you. You’d want to know the ins and outs of what they do, why they succeed (or not), and who their customers are.
It’s cheesy (no pun intended), but that kind of knowledge really is power.
But most comedians do very little market research. You don’t have to do formal market research of course, but you should get out there and learn as much as you can about what other comics in your area (and nationally) are doing to build their career. What’s working, what’s not, and where are the opportunities.
You should also extend that to research the industry – if you don’t know every single show that exists in your local area and who the people are that run those shows, then you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage.
Do your homework – it will help.
4. Identify Your Customers
Another part of doing your research is to figure out who the audience is you’re hoping to reach. I’ve written a lot about finding your niche (and talked about it as well), but suffice it to say for now that it’s a huge help to have some idea who you are targeting with your comedy.
In addition to figuring out your niche and where those people can be found, you’ll also want to think about your overall goals and what you need in order to achieve them.
For example, if you’re interested in an acting or writing career, then your “customers” are more likely to be industry executives than general fans. But if you’re focused on a standup career, than growing a fanbase is more important than appealing to industry.
There’s no one way to build a career, but honing in on the customers you want will certainly help you get where you want to go faster.
5. Identify Your Competitive Advantage
If you launching a startup in a competitive field, you need to figure out what kind of advantage you have that will help you succeed. And comedy certainly is a business with plenty of competition.
As relates to your career, you want to think about what your competitive advantage could be – which typically means figuring out what is unique about you.
What makes you different, how do you stand out from the crowd, and what is it about your comedy voice that will grab and keep people’s attention. How will you get people to care?
In addition to that, consider what other competitive advantages you might have – what do you have access to that others may not? That could be resources, people, a location, expertise on a particular subject, or anything you have that most other comics may not.
Recognizing the advantages you have (as opposed to dwelling on your disadvantages) will help you figure out how to move things forward.
6. Reinvest In Your Business
You’ll notice most successful startup companies are quick to reinvest whatever profits they earn in order to grow their business. When they have initial success, they don’t celebrate and blow that revenue, they tend to reinvest it in things that help take their venture to the next level.
Essentially, they double down on their business and you’d be wise to do the same for your career.
As you start to have financial (or other) success, look for ways to reinvest in yourself.
Instead of blowing the money you earn from a big gig on something pointless, maybe use it to fund production of a web series, to build a better website, to pay for Facebook ads that will introduce you to new potential fans, or to cover costs of a tour that might lose money, but will get you in front of new audiences.
Think about how you can use success as a foundation for more success as opposed to trying to “cash out” as quickly as possible.
7. Know Your Exit Strategy
From the moment they launch, most startup companies have a plan of what type of business they’re trying to build and have an “exit strategy.”
For example, they might try to grow quickly and capture the attention of bigger investors who will acquire the company or they might dream of taking the company public. They might envision turning their business into a franchise and allowing other people to open versions of the business they’ve created, or they might set their sights on the business being a secondary revenue stream in addition to whatever else they’re doing with their life.
Put some thought into what your exit strategy will be. Are you hoping to build a “sustainable” business where you can support yourself through a direct relationship with a fanbase or are you more interested in getting “acquired” and hired as a writer or actor?
Knowing where you hope to end up from the beginning will help you get there. And so will a business plan…even if it’s just in your head.
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