After I’d discovered my passion, eliminated my anxiety through meditation and taken the first steps to start my production business it was time to get shit done.
Getting shit done means putting the graft in. Putting too much graft in leads to burn out.
Zero to Burnout – A Whistle Stop Tour
I was starting from zero, so I did the only thing I knew how to – I went door to door offering my services. I quickly got my first job and charged €400, that was €200 to the camera man/editor and €200 for me. In this business that’s nothing but I hadn’t worked that out yet – I had no idea how cheap I was or how much I should be charging. My next quote was €600. How much would you charge for a music video? Em… €1000? The clients were biting the hands off me because I was so cheap and I had no idea.
A few months in, I was up to my eyeballs – I had just run up the feature film school, I was producing tons of small jobs – €400, €600, €1000, €500 – I was basing my pricing on how much I thought the client was able to spend and how much I needed my rent. I’d just moved into an apartment and I had no other income. Soon the business was flying out the door but I was spending a huge amount of time on jobs that were bringing in little profit. In those days I hadn’t heard of the 80/20 rule (i.e. that 20% of your work will bring in 80% of your profits and that therefore you should concentrate on that 20% – I was putting equal focus on all jobs, regardless of the benefits to the business). All I knew was that I fucking loved producing, that I needed money and that if I wanted to keep it up I had to get shit done.
I said yes to everything. And it was going well – I was doing job after job and putting in soooo many hours. I didn’t go home to see my mum and dad for months, I didn’t take a holiday – I couldn’t afford it. I couldn’t even afford Christmas presents.
From the business’ perspective, things were going great. I was banging on doors and banging out music videos, corporate videos, mini-documentaries – I was taking on scripts, making movies, doing this, doing that. I was hard working, sound, hungry and passionate. I had a good sales technique, I knew what I was capable of and I knew what I wanted. The business was growing, I was working with good people. Everything was great.
I was flat out. To take a break from the stress I was drinking and partying. It was actually meditation that kept me alive – I’d do my daily meditation to bring myself down and create the space to go out and do loads of work all over again. I was working till 1am every night and then starting at 7am the next morning, day after day.
In the first six months, I was working at this pace because I was afraid of not having enough money. I was afraid to say no to a job and I was afraid to charge what I should have been charging in case I would lose a job or a client. But after that six months I was making more than enough money to pay my bills but I still kept working at the same pace. I had money in the bank and I didn’t have the time to fucking spend it!
What was going on? Well, I became distracted by opportunity and by people.
Bankhouse was flying out the door with work, I had Feature Film School up and running, I had movies in production, I had The Evolution of Success in development, I had an app in development and was in constant funding meetings, I took on an online fashion business (Love Farah), I was getting requests to partner here and there with all sorts of different businesses. It was too much. I got carried away with myself from all this achievement and I lost focus on what I was good at, where my passion lies and what I wanted to be doing with my life. There were so many exciting opportunities that were coming in and I could see the value in them and I felt like I could add more value so I was saying ‘Yeah I could do that, I could do that’ – I was in constant yes mode even though these opportunities didn’t necessarily line up with my plan and my passion.
Another thing that contributed to the exhaustion that developed was my own weird mothering (or maybe fathering?) nature. I like the people who work with me and they generally become friends. I like to help my friends – if someone needs something I give them a pull out. If they need advice – I give them some. So, what was happening at work was that I was hyper aware of what was going on in my team’s lives – all these guys had responsibilities, children, rent, all these things – and I was subconsciously making their responsibilities my problem. I was taking on work not because it was good for the business but because one of my team needed money for his rent.
Nipping A Burnout In The Bud
Looking back, I could have achieved the same success without putting in so many hours and I could have scaled back my hours much earlier than I did. It boils down to a few key realisations.
- Value yourself and your work – set boundaries with others
- Live within your means.
- Keep focussing on your passion – set boundaries with yourself
Setting Boundaries With Others
What I’ve realised is, when you’re running around that fast you’re not picking your clients wisely enough. You’re not pricing your jobs at the right level. You’re so focussed on getting work and paying bills that you forget about your own physical and financial well-being.
No client is worth neglecting yourself. The client-producer relationship is a two-way street in which the client is entitled to expect that you will deliver their work as agreed and you are entitled to expect that doing the work will be worth your time and effort – that is, doing the work will be worth it financially and won’t damage you physically or mentally.
So, put a proper value on your services and yourself. This means only working with people who are willing to pay what you are worth and who can afford to pay what you are worth.
Over time the value of your work will increase – I found that every job was better than the last – I was working with better people, I could afford better editors, better camera men, I could afford colour grading and sound mixing.
Aside from your pricing, you also need to manage the other aspects of the client relationship in order to prevent burnout. Specifically, you need to manage timelines and you need to manage expectations.
Any job takes time. How much time it takes will depend on the content of the job and what other responsibilities and jobs you have to complete at the same time. Failing to agree a fair and reasonable timescale with your client will expose you to unnecessary stress.
Finally, you can stave off burnout by setting clear expectations. This means setting express rules around what you will provide and how you will operate in order that the client knows what to expect.
For example, when I started out I was giving clients unlimited edits which meant we were back and forth all day making changes – this was an unsustainable way of working. Now, I give three edits – I give clients their original cut, one big batch of changes based on the client’s notes, and a final tighten-up. That’s a three-stage process in which it is normally possible to get a piece perfect. Putting in place this boundary has saved me so much time. Now my clients understand this rule and we rarely need to do more than three edits. Very occasionally some small edit will be required outside the tighten-up and I’m happy to do that with no charge, but there’s no way I’m ever going back to doing 20 edits per project again.
Living Within Your Means
If you’re already charging your full rate, then you’ll have to tweak your lifestyle to suit the money you are currently earning. This means: don’t overspend. Don’t buy a BMW if you have to work 90 hours a week to pay for it. If you haven’t the money don’t go to Ibiza and spend two or three grand in a week – go to Galway for a few days, get a B&B and have the absolute craic in the bar or the beach or whatever. Don’t live in D4 when you can quite happily and quite comfortably live in D24 for a fraction of the price. It might sound boring but the bottom line is: live within your means and be happy with what you have. This will take the pressure off your business and off yourself.
Keep Focussing On Your Passion – Beware Of Distraction
Setting the boundaries discussed above would have bought me some time every day and allowed me to achieve a better work-life balance, even at the time when the reality was that I had to get the jobs in to pay the rent.
The later problems – dealing with a lot of success very quickly and taking on other people’s responsibilities – took a different type of boundary setting – setting a boundary with myself.
Things were getting out of hand. I had to take a breather. I locked the door and got out the whiteboard and wrote down everything that I was working on… production company, film school, theatre business, clothing business, the app… this was mental! I realised that I was not focussed on what was really important to me – other people’s projects were stealing my time, energy and focus.
I had to ruthlessly re-focus – I weeded out everything other than those things that I am passionate about. That is: my core business, my friends and family, swimming and meditation. I became very aware of my time. I now know that I am only responsible for myself, my own time, my own energy and my own profits.
I am no longer burnt out and I’m very proud of that. I’m getting through more work than ever, working with clients I love, doing well financially and still having plenty of time left over to see friends and family and to look after myself.
My advice is, if you are burnt out, or are about to burn out, just stop for a sec. Take a minute and think: have I valued myself properly in work (financially, in terms of time and in terms of expectation)? Have I taken on projects that are outside of my passion and goals?
It’s normal to burn out – you’ve just found your passion, it feels amazing and you just want to work on it every minute of every day. That’s great, but if you keep working at that pace, without taking care of yourself, you’ll eventually forget that passion and start dreading your work because you just can’t manage mentally or physically – that’s what burnout is. Look after your passion by looking after yourself and you’ll be able to love what you do in the long run.