Getting a business off the ground can be a real challenge for even the most zealous start-ups. But companies like The Embassy Visual Effects Inc. are proving that the right mix of business acumen and creative thinking can help you secure your foothold in your market.
"You can be artistic but you can't lose sight of the fact that you're running a company that will have to show profits. I think we've found a good balance there," says Winston Helgason, President of the company, which has made its mark with producing groundbreaking digital effects for big-name advertisers.
Capitalize on your experience
Vancouver-based The Embassy Visual Effects was the brainchild of 4 digital artists who had already gained invaluable industry experience in other companies. Helgason attributes much of his company's success to having a core of highly experienced people on board. "Right away, we were able to offer the industry's top conceptual designers. These are people who helped shape some of Hollywood's best known films such as Jurassic Park. When you're starting a business, it makes sense to ensure your talent builds client confidence," he believes.
A business plan is paramount
Since its inception in 2002, Helgason's studio has grown from 4 employees to a team of 14 and now exports 85% of its business to the lucrative digital effects market in the U.S. And like most successful companies, his studio started with a strong business plan. "I had some project management experience and had worked with larger firms, so I knew my business plan was a good entry into many doors," he says. Looking back, Helgason recommends that novice entrepreneurs ensure that they conform to the norms of financial institutions and provide all of the information required. "All companies have to undergo due diligence and that can be demanding, so it's important to have experts to help you put your plan together," he advises. BDC Consulting, for example, can provide excellent advice on preparing a business plan that will earn the confidence of financers.
Market yourself intensely
"We also made sure from the get-go that we were able to showcase our portfolio in a dynamic way. You have to be hip and trendy in our business, so we used the Internet to show off our creative to potential clients," says Helgason. His firm now boasts big brand clients and builds on these success stories to attract business. "Once people see the quality and creativity in our ad spots, they're more than ready to try us out," he emphasizes.
Avoid being under-financed
Helgason also stresses the importance of getting the financing you need to start up your company. "Operating capital is so important in the beginning because you may have to wait a little before you generate cash," he says. "You can avoid sleepless nights by being sure that you have the money that you need to operate." Initially, his company went to BDC for working capital, which was combined with some private investments. BDC can offer financing to start-ups, particularly in the manufacturing, service, distribution and tourism sectors; this financing can complement an operating line of credit.
Tread carefully with cash
From experience, Helgason also learned that start-ups should be highly vigilant with their spending. "Awards like big cars can come later. At the end of the line, you have to always be able to make those monthly payments. And you want to be able to reinvest in your company to drive its growth," he says. "Some debt is acceptable but you need to be able to maintain control of your company too," he feels.
Be creative with cost-savings
Although entrepreneurs should always be looking at their growth potential, Helgason believes careful planning is essential to a company's health. "In our own case, we wanted to keep our employee numbers down and maintain the quality in our work. That's vital in my business," he says.
Helgason also suggests entrepreneurs build strategic alliances to broaden their services. "We have a strong partnership with a variety of U.S., European and Asian-based production companies. That enables us to develop our business but without putting-up cash for salaries."
In the end, The Embassy Visual Effects Inc. truly meets the definition of today's global company. "We knew with hard work and the right type of exposure that we could become an international company", he concludes.
Content in this section is provided in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada. BDC provides entrepreneurs with financing, venture capital and consulting services. To find out more go to BDC.ca.
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