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LA Advice: A Different Path to Success In the City of Angels

Here’s The First Thing You Should Do When You Move to LA

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Whether you’re a college grad moving out to LA for the first time, or an acting veteran looking to break into a new corner of the industry, you’re going to receive a lot of conflicting advice on how to get your foot in the door.

Maybe you’ll do what your college recommends and get an unpaid internship. Maybe you’ll sign up for a highly-rated acting class with a world-renowned teacher. Maybe you’ll pull all of your friends together and max out your credit cards on an independent web series.

Those ideas have worked for some people, and maybe they’ll work for you. But if you really want to guarantee yourself an ongoing chance at success — not just a one-time gamble — here’s the first thing you should do: Start a business.

Why a business? Why not just a “project”?

When I moved out to LA in 2008, I was a naive film school grad with no idea how to make a living in the industry. My college had taught me how to load a camera and cut film on an old-fashioned editing machine, but they hadn’t shown me how to apply those skills to make a living. In fact, many of those skills were already obsolete.

I sunk a lot of time and money into projects that I thought would bring me success at film festivals or on Youtube, and after my first year in LA, I was flat broke.

If I wasn’t going to get my big break, I thought, I could do the next best thing and become a freelancer. I had a camera and a copy of Final Cut Pro — how hard could it be?

What I didn’t realize was that making a living wasn’t as simple as having the required skills and equipment. There was a whole business side of things — marketing, invoicing, even just getting a website together — that I hadn’t considered.

Five years later, I’ve turned my freelancing career into a business -- complete with an online mailing list and e-books for sale -- and every day I kick myself for not starting sooner.

Save yourself the trouble, and brush up on these skills before you get to LA. Bring a copy of The Personal MBA or The Lateral Freelancer on your cross-country road-trip or your flight to LAX.

But I’m a creative person, not a businessman!

Starting a business doesn’t mean that you’ll be putting aside your creative life — it means you’ll have more opportunities to invest in it. Instead of working a low-paying day job, or a full-time position on somebody else’s project, take control of your time and finances.

Many big-name actors and filmmakers are also businessmen, from Ashton Kutcher, who’s become a savvy tech investor, to Francis Ford Coppola, who owns a winery in Napa Valley. If you’re serious about building your acting or film career, you’ll want to be just as serious about developing an income stream to help fund it.

A few years ago, Darwin embarked on a feature-length project that took over a year to shoot. Without any investors or a side business to depend on, he had to rely on his day job — or rather, night job — to pay his actors and for other expenses.

He would spend weekday afternoons in pre-production, head off to his editing gig until midnight, and shoot two or three scenes every weekend. Imagine how much easier it would have been if he’d had a side-business to help cover those expenses!

With First Class Reels, he has exactly that: a business that allows him to hone his skills, connect with other creative folk, and even act as a launching pad for a new project.

Your small business doesn’t have to require a big up-front investment or time commitment. Check out The $100 Startup for some low-cost business ideas, or The Four-Hour Workweek for ways to cut down on the amount of time you spend running your business.

What kind of business? It doesn’t matter.

Whenever my one of my friends tell me that they want to make a documentary or shoot a short film, I always ask them how they’re going to fund it. Grants, they might say. Or Kickstarter.

Why not tie it into a business instead? If your goal is to write and direct horror films, for example, consider starting a horror podcast or subscription box service.

My friends at LootCrate started up a “geek and gamer” subscription box with very little up-front cost. They now have thousands of subscribers, and each month, they put out an original Youtube video related to that month’s theme.

A built-in fan base + steady revenue = creative freedom.

Capitalize on all of your skills

If your first business idea doesn’t take off, try something new. The more ideas you have on the table, the more chances you have of your business becoming a success.

Start a blog. Design T-shirts. Sell prints of your photos.  Run a Patreon campaign.

Over at AppSumo, Noah Kagan challenged himself to make $1,000 in 24-hours by starting a jerky delivery business. This Instagram photographer made over $15,000 in a single day selling prints to his followers. Dustin makes science videos for YouTube and earns $3,000 every time he puts up a new one. Your business can be as simple or complex as you want it to be.

Stop waiting for someone else to greenlight your project. Be proactive about building a revenue stream, and you'll never have to depend on industry insiders again.

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How about you? Have you tried starting a small business or side-hustle? For more ideas, check out Saul’s e-book, The Lateral Freelancer, which contains dozens of resources for freelancers and entrepreneurs.