Ellen is The Founder and President of White Knight Productions and is the Founder of The Boardroom, an online community for entrepreneurs to connect network, and grow their businesses. Her first book Ready, Set, Grit, Three Steps To Success In Life, Business, and The Pursuit of Happiness comes out this spring.
Why don't you tell me a little bit about how White Knight Productions has adapted to work with clients nationwide?
So when we started, we are a 12-year-old company, we've been around for a while. We make videos and animations and help people with marketing. That's not the only thing we do, but we do a lot of marketing work. The vast majority of what we do is visual. When we started the company 12 years ago, we were focusing on local clients, regional clients, the whole traditional way of doing video production. Over the years, that has really changed dramatically, where now we do work with clients all over the country. I as the principal in the agency, I've worked very hard to foster relationships with videographers around the country, and relationships with our clients throughout the country, and have found a kind of innovative ways to service them without necessarily being there on site. Sometimes especially pre COVID we would fly out and attend a shoot, or other meetings in different locations. But these days, we do so much via remote video capture. We do so many meetings via zoom and that but it's interesting how we've really been able to expand our reach. First by changing our mindset and then by looking for solutions to manifest what we were looking to make happen.
Let's talk about some misconceptions that people have when working with a video production company.
Well, a lot of people think it's got to be super expensive when they hire a video company. I feel like a lot of people feel concerned that their brand won't be well reflected, or that they're going to be giving up control over the messaging or the project. Also just that it's inconvenient and a little bit scary. But you put a camera in front of people, many people who just aren't used to it and it's super intimidating, and you throw up some lights and add a few people in the mix and it can be very scary to step up there and be in the spotlight. It can be scary even if you're used to speaking, even people that are used to public speaking, or we've had experiences with CEOs of large medical groups, for example, that have been super intimidated by the camera. So one of the things that we do as a video company, is we work very hard to make sure everybody's comfortable, and kind of forgets that the cameras there. Eventually, it takes a little work and a little soothing sometimes. But it's always our goal to make people enjoy the experience and also to realize that there are different ways to work with a video team. Sometimes traditional video can be pricey because there's a lot that goes into it. People forget all the planning that goes into it, all the scripting, and all that stuff. But for us, I can't speak for every video company, but I'm sure this is the same for others as well. We always try to work with our clients to make the whole process very collaborative, and also to find solutions that work within their budget, and that help them reach their goals.
So you're extremely driven in supporting other entrepreneurs and building community, why is that and what is your vision, ultimately?
That's a huge part of what I'm so passionate about. Me as a small business owner, I know firsthand how challenging it can be and how lonely it can be sometimes, especially when you're going through something challenging. In my company, 2015 was a really tough year for us, and as I said, we've been around for 12 years. We grew very quickly the first few years and 2015 was our come to Jesus moment. It was really hard and at that time I didn't really have the right people who I could talk to. I was a member of networking groups, but you typically don't go to networking groups and just spill all your problems. Of course, I have friends, but a lot of my friends didn't understand the nuances of running a business and my family was supportive, but they didn't really get it. After I survived that time and rebuilt the company, I really got driven on this community-building thing, because I started hearing similar stories from other people, and it's really important to me to try to support other small or medium-sized business owners who might not have that support network. Also just to try to help other people grow their businesses. Over the years, I have had great mentors, I've had great coaches, and learned a whole heck of a lot from making some big mistakes. I just think, when we have the opportunity to help others and give somebody a hand or build a community that's supportive, we should take that opportunity. It's something I love doing and it's my passion project. So you mentioned I had built The Boardroom, which is an online community for entrepreneurs and I've been doing these talks every Friday for years. This is our fourth year of hosting free webinars really for anyone, but they're targeted to entrepreneurs. I'm scheduled to talk and one soon, I'm so excited. Oh, all your listeners come and join us!
Can you help me do that by sharing with our listeners one of your favorite or most successful networking experiences that you've had?
I think maybe I would like to share some thoughts about networking, rather than a specific experience, although I also will share an experience with you in just a moment. I think that one of the big keys to successful networking is to shift your mindset away from your own personal goals like, "Oh, I really want to get one new client at this networking event," or, "I really want to close a new deal." That is the wrong way to go into networking, in my view, it much more so should be about service and connection, and relationship building that's so important. I think that is my biggest tip for going into networking events. Then also, if you have the opportunity to stand up and introduce yourself, to try to be memorable and I'm thinking back and this will segue into my experience that I'd like to share. So thinking back to a guy who was my mentor for a while, he's a sales coach. He used to work at a very large corporation, he was very high up at this corporation, and then he went up by himself. But he's just full of knowledge and he's just one of these people that you just want to listen to you all day long. He was a big proponent of being memorable, you know, just like break the mold, if you have to get up and introduce yourself. He always would only bring three business cards to a networking event, which is interesting. So you had to like earn the right to get one of his business cards and I think that learning from him, is probably part of my success story with networking is just to be very intentional about who you're connecting with. Of course, he would take other people's business cards, but like to give it was different. That's just his philosophy, I'm not saying it's the right way, but it's interesting to follow somebody like that and watch how they expertly make connections and build relationships in a very intentional way. There was another one where I was hosting one of my Friday talks that I had mentioned where I was talking to a new connection, someone had introduced me to this woman, because she actually is looking for a videographer, but not for a few months. So we just started the conversation and I invited her to this event and she had shared it with me, she's also looking for someone to help with web and SEO, but she was too busy to come to the event. She's like, "I think it's just not a good fit for me, I'm too busy," and it's funny because I met the person there who was perfect for her web SEO and I thought of her and I connected them. But I was like, "If you could have just come on here by yourself, you could have met this person firsthand." I think it's never a waste of time to go out and meet people and get a chance to talk about what you do and what you're looking for.
What advice would you offer to business professionals really looking to grow their network?
I think right now in a time where much of what we're doing is online. I think LinkedIn is a great place to grow your network and a good strategy for LinkedIn is going in and finding people you want to connect with. Please do not connect with them and start selling them things right away, that's super annoying, please don't do that. I even started saying to people, when they try to do that, I just write a message to them saying that it's my pet peeve and asking them not to do that. What I do recommend is finding people that you would like to connect to maybe like to do business with, and start following them, start commenting on their posts. Give thoughtful comments, thoughtful feedback, and start conversations that way because then you begin to build a relationship, and you begin to have something to talk about. Then perhaps you have a better opportunity, a better chance that they might accept your invitation to have a further conversation and that can be an exploratory conversation. I don't think anybody enjoys a sales pitch, it's a lot better to approach things with curiosity, and a place of service. I don't think you can go wrong with either of those.
If you could go back to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yourself to do more or less of or differently with regards to your professional career?
I would definitely tell myself to chill out. I was so worried about so many things that I had no control over and everything has a funny way of working out. So I think I would just have tried to worry less and enjoy the moment more just knowing it was all going to be perfect. I try to tell my kids that because now they're in their early 20s and it's a hard thing to hear. Maybe we just have to live it for ourselves. But I do feel like that's a truth, just believe that things are working out for you.
Do you have any final word or advice for our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?
I think I would just say do not underestimate the importance of doing this. It's probably your most valuable asset or one of your most valuable assets. I really didn't realize this fully myself until COVID shut everything down and we still had quite a bit of work and when I looked at it and analyze it, it was all from my network, it was all from people who we'd been introduced to or referred to or worked with or someone told somebody about us and suddenly we had work. I just never could have accomplished any of that with a straight-up advertising campaign. It would have been a lot more expensive and probably not as effective. So nurturing that network is something I now intentionally prioritize all the time, it's super important
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