Interview: Randy Peterson, Entrepreneur

Randy Peterson is the Director and CEO of The Distillery Media.

Scott Bolton: What role, if any, does a business plan play in building and launching an arts company (as a business pursuit)?

Randy Peterson: I believe the one mistake a large part of our industry makes is that they do NOT differentiate between the concept of building a company/business/brand and the concept of ‘they get paid to do work that they are good at doing.’ For example, there are some great DPs in the Dallas market that are amazing at the technical and creative demands of capturing images. They work several days a week and make a nice living. But if asked about future growth, forecasting income, sales and marketing for client acquisition, plans for retirement, etc., they simply don’t have answers. They have always been great at pointing a camera…great at answering the phone when a director calls, but not so great at understanding how to build more and more business. When they work, they make money and when they don’t, they don’t. They are not building a sustainable business model that thrives and grows whether they are actively working or not…They can structure their work as a ‘company’ by definition, but if they are their only employee and their ability to work day to day is the only ability for the ‘company’ to grow income, then again it’s more of a one man shop with limited growth [over the] long term. So a business plan can help foresee some of these issues from the beginning and help build an income model that works in the long term. For example, in the DP conversation, a business plan could help realize supplemental income in renting their gear to other DPs. He/she could work hard to train a strong crew that they can send out on smaller jobs without the principal being involved in every shoot/edit.

SB: What three pieces of advice would you give aspiring artist entrepreneurs about planning?

RP: On the frontend, you can never plan too much! Think about what can happen, what can affect your plans, etc. Think through every scenario possible. Next, quit worrying about the planning…just act and react. I know it’s contradictory to the above statement, BUT if you have spent the right amount of time planning, then when it’s time to execute, you just dive in and attack the project. The planning is an educational safety net, but you don’t want to find yourself in a state of “paralysis by analysis.” When you know everything that could go wrong, you can enter into something with reckless passion and ACT and REACT to create success. Rinse and Repeat…above.

SB: What do you believe are necessary qualities for artist entrepreneurs to possess or develop?

RP: The one skill I would say is important is creative and professional flexibility with a secondary ability to engage. When we were pitching TV shows, we used to joke that we would go in with a show about a 8 year old girl and a bicycle, but when the programming buyer would say he was looking for more male skewed programming we would smile and say clearly you misunderstood us, did we say 8 year old girl, we clearly meant a 16 year old boy with a sports car. Dumb example, but it’s really that simple. You and your client will rarely have the exact same idea and your ability to adapt or engage and sway your client is hugely important. It’s rare your first idea will be the one the client loves. You have to be able to hear their concerns and needs and then blend it into the ideas you want to bring to the table. Sometimes the client will simply say, “no” and you will be forced to execute an artistic endeavor you do not like….it does not mean it’s not a good idea, it’s just NOT your idea…accepting that some of the goals of the client are not always your goals as a creative is an important skill.

Interview by SMU student in Arts Entrepreneurship, Scott Bolton.

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