As a small business owner, you have to work hard and know when to walk through the door of luck.
Editor’s Note: We’re putting the focus on entrepreneurs who are getting big results out of their upstart companies. This article is part of an ongoing series of interviews with women small business owners – you can read all the interviews here.
If there’s one thing you need in the entertainment industry, it’s confidence. Judith Hoffman, CEO and co-founder of Chorus Films, has learned that lesson during each stop of a life’s journey in the business.
“If there’s one thing you need in the entertainment industry, it’s confidence.”
And now – as she wears the small business owner hat – she’s reminded every day of the power of believing in herself and the team around her.
Today, her award-winning film and video production company’s work has been viewed by millions of people, fulfilling a passion for the arts that began with her “96 Box” of crayons as a kid.
But Judith is always confidently striving for more. Learn more about her story below, as well as her commitment to “storytellers who all come to the table ready to collaborate to make something beautiful.”
Longitudes: How did your upbringing affect your decision to start your business?
Judith: As a kid I was always interested in the arts. When I received the “96 Box” of crayons, I spent hours rearranging the colors into different patterns. I turned a box of computer paper into about 20 feet of drawings similar to Chinese scrolls.
When I was 13, I got a camera, and it was all over. I was obsessed with photography. Despite my love of the arts, I majored in math because I didn’t understand how to succeed in a creative field.
My math aptitude paid off, though, after several attempts to run a visual arts business taught me the connection between arts and business. To be a financially successful artist, you have to be a good businessperson.
This compelling short film, produced by Chorus Films, tells the story of a boxer and his trainer redefining what it means to be a fighter and a true champion.
Longitudes: When did you make the leap to Chorus?
Judith: I had worked on the marketing side of the film industry for years before hopping the fence to the creative and production side.
My business partners and I opened Chorus in 2015 after seeing a need for a film production company that was both agile and focused, artistic without being untethered and able to respond to the changing landscape for video content brought about by the ubiquity of social media. My experience in art and math came together with Chorus.
Longitudes: How did you come up with the name?
Judith: We wanted a name that communicated the message of different voices and expertise working together toward one goal.
Filmmaking is a team effort, and our team is filled with incredibly talented people: artists, musicians, writers and storytellers who all come to the table ready to collaborate to make something beautiful.
Longitudes: Can you talk about the challenge of investing in your own business?
Judith: Since we didn’t receive any outside investment dollars, it took us almost three years to purchase (not rent) some of the equipment we needed. That made staying competitive very challenging. Luckily, we are now where the investments we’ve made in time, education and equipment are paying off.
“By understanding the value of creativity, you can determine when to price lower and when to price higher.”
The analytical part of the business also creates growing pains. Pricing in the market is always a complicated problem as it’s always challenging to find the right balance between our customers’ shrinking budgets and increasing deliverables.
Since competitors don’t disclose what they’re charging, you have to take a strategic and analytical approach about pricing. Because I understand the value of creativity, I can better determine when to price lower and when to price higher.
Longitudes: Paint us a picture of being a small business owner every day. What would surprise us?
Judith: The number of hats I wear … which is also my favorite part of my job. The other businesses I ran were not my own, but this is my own business. I work harder than I ever imagined because of that.
I have literally gotten down on my knees and scrubbed the floors and then hopped on a call to discuss five-year strategy with advisers. Also, it’s surprising how hard it actually is to lead – that part of the job doesn’t come naturally to me. I like learning to be better.
Longitudes: How important is talent recruitment for your business?
Judith: Film and video production crews can scale from three to hundreds, and it’s been incredibly rewarding to build a trusted network from a handful to countless talented and hardworking people. Work always comes down to finding the best talent, and I take a lot of pride in knowing and assembling the right fit for each job.
I also enjoy talent recruitment. Film crews aren’t normally kept on staff – you have to custom fit each production with vendors and suppliers. I like meeting people, getting to understand what they’re good at and helping them grow. I have found some amazing talent in Atlanta for different jobs.
Longitudes: What are you most proud of at Chorus?
Judith: I’m most proud of an award-winning short film called We Will Prevail. It’s about a boxer and a coach. It’s a deeply touching story that resonates with hope while touching on many of the big “-isms” we face in America today.
It was a story we wanted to tell. We made it on our own time and with our own money, believing that stories like Jeremiah’s and Gary’s (our protagonists) might otherwise go untold.
Longitudes: What advice would you give other women who want to launch a business?
Judith: Relentless confidence is fundamental. Even when you don’t feel confident, remember your strengths and surround yourself with the smartest people you can find. My parents were loving and supportive. They always made me feel that my voice was important and valued.
The podcast, How I Built This, questions whether success comes from hard work or luck. For me, working hard brings all kinds of luck that otherwise I wouldn’t be able to receive. I would advise others that you have to know when to walk through the door of luck.
Three UPS customers discuss what it means to be a small business owner.
Logistics: Where does logistics come into play?
Judith: We do a lot of work internationally, and shipping expensive production equipment country to country can be a nightmare due to import taxes and insurance. We have learned how to navigate this challenge thanks to trusted partners like UPS.
I would advise other small business owners that if you have large inventory and merchandise distribution, logistics can be one of the more complicated aspects of what you’ll do – so don’t overlook the details, no matter how small.
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