Hi all! Wondering how to start a small business - or at least how we did? Well, here’s some advice from two film majors who knew nothing about business, but had a blast learning on the job. :)
Before Memo came about, Abe and I were freelancing on our own – Abe worked weddings and had all sorts of random video gigs over the years, while I was off in Boston making tons of silly videos in college haha!
But after one long summer of second shooting for each other’s gigs, we decided to join forces. This merge happened so smoothly that I can’t even remember when we made that decision… it just sort of happened and it made complete sense! We were already working closely and were basically doing the same work under two names - Abraham Park Video and Rkim Videography (fortunately, our creativity and company naming skills have improved greatly since then).
And the rest is history! Abe and Rachel became a video duo. Which leads me to step number one:
1. Find a Cool Partner.
They say the most important thing in starting a business is to have a good partner. Now, I’m not sure who “they” are, but “they” were totally right. Abe and I made great partners because we have such different strengths. He is our visionary and has the incredible gift of being able to learn anything from Google, while I seriously get a kick out of making Excel spreadsheets and to-do lists. He likes to shoot, I like to edit. He organizes footage, I organize paperwork. He finds new gear, I say, “Ooo, let’s buy it.” Etc. etc.
Bam. Dream team.
But no partnership is perfect. When it came to business, we actually disagreed more often than not. The beginning of this whole process felt like a huge give-and-take because we were constantly debating about price points, packages, and what we wanted this company to become. But to this day, one thing I’m grateful for is that every debate ends in some sort of compromise that leaves the both of us satisfied. Business partners are bound to disagree, so having a partner that’s open minded and willing to compromise is so important!
After we partnered up, the real thinking and planning began. So second things second, we needed a name.
2. Think of a Cool Name.
I was interning at a small production company in the fall of 2014, and when there wasn’t a production going on, there was a lot of down time at work. So that’s where a lot of our brainstorming happened. Abe was working in marketing at a start-up company when he messaged me, “Can you think of some names? I like four-lettered words.” So that day, I brainstormed. HOPE? LOVE? NOTE? KEEP? Dun dun dun…. MEMO? Here’s the actual conversation of Memo’s conception haha:
Memo stuck! The “Collective” was added later.
Why “Collective” you may ask? Simple - domain names! Memo.com, memoco.com, memovideo.com, memofilms.com, and memothis.com were all taken! So Memo Collective it was. Which actually made perfect sense on two levels: we came together and our two business became one (hence, “collective”), and because we’re both huge on “memory collecting” – souvenirs, mugs, photos, everything!
Name – check. Next up: product.
3. Have Cool Products.
Starting off, we realized that our wedding films were a bit too cookie-cutter like. Thus began our quest to look for stories and the fun, silly things that make each couple unique! We didn’t only want to highlight the same old shots of the dress, the shoes, the venue, but instead share something special about each couple we got to work with. This was hard. And it’s still hard! We’re still in the process of “rebranding,” and I’ve got to say, this isn’t something you can change overnight. First off, you need couples that are on board and willing to work with you to make an awesome wedding film (on top of all the crazy wedding planning they have)! And second, it’s a lot more preproduction on our end – but we get so giddy when these opportunities come! :)
There are so many wedding videographers out there so we had to find ways to stand out. We wanted to offer something different. Taking baby steps was the key.
Baby step number one: get rid of old tech! We used to deliver our finished products on DVDs, but after too many complications, we made the jump to USBs. And not just any USBs… we found a website that manufactures custom USBs in the most adorable mini-glass cork jars and people loved them! Score!
Baby step number two: be legit (even if it is more expensive). A big switch we made once Memo became more real as a business and less of a hobby was music licensing. Finding good music is such a huge part of what we do – often the most frustrating, but really rewarding! We search high and low for good music (usually on themusicbed.com) because a good song makes beautiful footage even more stunning. Being legit also means investing in legit gear. So we said bon voyage to our rinky-dink sliders and beat-up tripods, and got ourselves some new toys. Invest, invest, invest.
Coming up with cool products takes a lot of research, money, work, and time. Time and time again, one ginormous lesson we continue to learn is patience!! Which takes us to step #4!
4. Be Patient.
Once I graduated, we took our little idea and made it come to life. But we quickly realized that this whole business-starting process takes FOREVER. I’m going to be totally honest, during this period we were both so confused and had no idea what we were doing. We just knew we needed a bank account. So we went to a small Korean newspaper agency and signed up for a Fictitious Business Name, then took the documents to another shop to get it notarized. I believe it cost us around $113. Then the newspaper agency took our documents to the Board of Equalization (BOE) and printed 4 ‘ads’ or listings about our new business over the course of a month or two. All this had to take place in order to open a business bank account. After two long months of waiting, we took all our documents to Bank of America, sat down with a consultant, learned some business jargon, and walked out with an account. Woohoo! Lesson learned: be patient because this step is the most boring and takes the longest.
5. Learn from Others.
Be inspired! Abe and I always stay on the lookout for work by more experienced videographers. We watch tutorials, research gear, study shooting/editing techniques, and try to implement all that we learn. (We personally love and look up to Forestry Films and Outside In Studio)
We’re always trying to figure out where Memo fits in the spectrum of film styles and of course, pricing. We constantly compare our level of work to that of other small studios, production companies, and videographers and we set goals in every aspect of our work! We work towards upgrading equipment and towards becoming better storytellers and visual artists, so that we can slowly but surely become masters of our craft.
It’s slow progress, but we’ve come a long way :) To prove it, here’s an example of our work from four years ago!
Crazy huh? Everything from the composition of our shots to the final edited video has drastically improved since our first video gigs. We’ve learned so much since then and we’re still learning everyday!
6. Keep Creating.
Don’t let other people’s achievements discourage you. We struggled with this a lot. We’d see work done by other videographers and think to ourselves, “Man, they’re so much better than us.”
Don’t be discouraged! Be inspired and keep pumping out work. This is so crucial for creatives! You need to push through those debilitating thoughts and make everything and anything you can. Make a video about your trip to the mall, design a logo for your mom, doodle on every napkin you see – no matter what, JUST KEEP CREATING.
This is a video that motivated us again and again when we felt defeated, when we felt overwhelmed by how much more we had to learn, and when we wanted to give up. We hope this helps you too :)
Don’t give up. Keep creating.
7. Connections, Connections, Connections.
We owe our entire business upbringing to the people who’ve encouraged us from the start. For Abe, that person was Linda – a great church friend and mentor who was really more like his manager when it came to getting gigs haha! For me, it was Abe and my awesome church community in Boston! You never know where one small gig will take you and the amazing people you’ll get to meet!
A few years ago, Abe found a Craigslist posting for an ice cream shop that wanted a promotional video done. He took the job for $200, made the video, and went on his way thinking he’d never hear from them again. A couple years down the line, the shop owner’s brother contacted Abe to work together on a new restaurant idea and that new connection led us to a job opportunity with the Mental Health Association. Who knew that a short video for an ice cream shop would lead to work with restaurants and nonprofits?
I think that’s the greatest thing about this business. We get to meet so many cool people who then refer us to more amazing people! Connections are everything – so learn to treasure and thank those who’ve encouraged and supported you all this time!
Thank you friends, family, and even clients who’ve pushed us and rooted us on. We owe it all to you and the blessings God has poured out on us through you all! And speaking of the awesome One above…
8. Find Purpose in What You Do.
I once got so frustrated while editing a commercial for a small clinic and asked myself, “What glory does this video bring to God?!” I felt purposeless. Shooting can get tiring. Editing can be grueling work. But if you can find purpose in what you do, every minute of work becomes so, so worth it.
Not every video we make directly reflects our faith and our passion for doing ministry related work. But we’ve learned that we can do ministry work even through the smallest things. For example, in our blog posts, we openly acknowledge and give praise to God for how far we’ve come, for all the friends we’ve made, and for all the blessings we continue to receive. We pray before every gig, we delight in how other couples see more of Christ in each other, and we realize that Christ is at work with every new relationship we make!
The wedding industry is awesome not only because we get to meet a lot of friendly, interesting and fun people, but also because we get to experience and hear about how Christ works to bring two completely opposite individuals together. We get to see love at work! How awesome is that?
And although we love weddings, we’re so excited to do so much more with our skills. We’re hoping to expand Memo to be a platform for more than just human love stories, but to tell stories about Christ’s love for us. Video is an awesome and powerful medium. What else should two videographers who love Christ do but use their gifts to share that love? :)
Stay tuned, friends!
Well, I hope this crazy long post shed some light on how it all began! It was definitely a wild ride haha. There’s so much that I left out (website building, sole prop vs. corporations, gear upgrades, our workflow, etc), so if you have any questions, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Thanks for reading folks! Happy Tuesday and God bless! :)