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Mentoring in production

The TV industry is still attractive for investors; it's exciting, creative and can display real growth. The flip side however is that pure production element at the core of the business continues to be very challenging, particularly now when many companies are feeling the economic pinch. Budgets go down and costs go up, making it ever more difficult to break even. 

For developing businesses the situation is harder than it was some time ago, making profitability and securing investment a challenge. This is why I'm participating in Nesta's Creative Business Mentor Network for a third year  ­ to help creative businesses address the challenges that they face.

As a mentor, you have to understand what keeps directors awake at night. In the TV industry I it's often all about managing the rights - increasingly, companies must really start to think laterally about how they can mine their intellectual property and exploit their resources. 

Key to maintaining margins is monetising that IP; deconstructing and editing content in order to make as many individual sales as possible is crucial.  As we know, the vast majority of television consumption is multi-platform which creates new challenges but also new opportunities to monetise your product.  

In many ways this new media arena is still a bit like the Wild West, people don't yet know exactly what's going to work and what isn't.  For some companies these new media opportunities are exciting, but of course the unknown can be scary too.

When growing a business, the 'shop front' doesn't change dramatically; maybe you get more people in doing the selling and the pitching but the processes remain broadly the same. 

The backroom however, can change beyond all recognition; new functions appear, old ones become redundant, and this is often the area where the real barriers to growth can occur. Seemingly overnight running a production company changes from one thing to something completely different and leaders - very often creative leaders - sometimes have very little preparation for it. 

One way to manage the difficulties of growing a production business is to listen to as many views as possible, particularly from people who have been through what you are about to face.  I've found that using a business mentor can be a very valuable asset.  It is extremely useful to have someone there who can say what is likely to happen in the next three, six or twelve months and how you might want to tackle growing your business.

Whether you are doing it on your own or with a few other colleagues, leading a business can be quite isolating and lonely.  Having someone who has already done what you are trying to do on board, to guide you when you are more or less getting it right, or nudge you where perhaps you're not, is incredibly strengthening and helpful. 

Through the Creative Business Mentor Network, I have mentored three growing businesses. Throughout my own career I have benefited enormously from the guidance of informal mentors who asked the right questions and pushed me in the right directions so I understand first-hand the difference that  one-to-one mentoring can make when you're trying to nurture creative companies with an appetite for growth.  

I am also a big fan of the formalisation of the mentoring process where companies are paired up with executives from the industry who offer advice and access to their experience. Mentors are also usually pretty well connected and can open up networking opportunities or access to investors that you might not have had otherwise. 

In difficult times, trying to think differently is incredibly important.  It is a lot easier when you have advice and support from someone who has already been through a similar process, helping you predict things that are likely to happen and giving you alternative ways of thinking about how to move forward.  When it comes down to it, I would recommend anyone in business to be open to mentoring, especially when there is no charge to take part - what is the worst that could happen?

Paul Sandler is Managing Director of Objective Productions and one of Nesta’s Creative Business Mentor Network mentors

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Paul Sandler