Wendy Eley Jackson possesses the creative credentials eagerly sought by film and television production companies. She developed her artistry while working at TriStar, Sony and TBS. After a while in the industry, though, 60-hour weeks and a desire for a balanced lifestyle led her to form her own company, Golden Street Entertainment, in 1999. She had a great run with a successful company, she admits, until the Great Recession hit and shook the world economy. “I didn’t do things in my company’s initial set-up that would have softened the blow.”
When she and her husband, Maynard Jackson III, decided to start a second venture in 2015, Wendy sought the advice of Judiffier Pearson, a business consultant with the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center (UGA SBDC) at Clayton State University. “I wanted to make sure in building this company that I was more business-savvy,” she says. “I understood the mechanics of business, but I had never seen a 360-degree view of all the work behind a company and what makes it successful.” They met, and Pearson suggested she attend the SBDC’s GrowSmart® program.
“Many creative business owners come to us because they’re stuck on a specific project. Their approach is transactional. Wendy’s position was very different,” says Pearson. “She knew building an overall strategy would be critical for her. She had to build a pipeline for her work.” SBDC GrowSmart® participants are taught to analyze, plan and manage their companies like a seasoned CEO. They walk away from the training having developed a strategic business plan with a long-term vision and strategies, a mastery of key business concepts and a network of entrepreneurial peers and professional resources.
“When you are a business owner, you have considerations from legal to personnel to accounting, business affairs and procurement,” says Jackson. “I learned that when you have a solid business plan, it becomes the bible for how you operate. When things come into question, you can go back to your core values and understand how to address them. Any person running a company needs to understand a profit and loss statement and best practices. These are not things that all small businesses know.”
Jackson developed “collaborative storytelling” as the core value for her company, Auburn Avenue Films. “We believe in content. Everyone has stories to tell. And that storytelling can come on multiple platforms. We create content that can go on all mediums, be it a platform where we create episodes good for YouTube or television, or long form for movies or theatrical releases.”
Following on GrowSmart®, Jackson and Pearson held periodic accountability sessions to monitor her progress, review cash flow records and discuss growth strategies. They worked on public relations, marketing and partnering opportunities to position Jackson as an industry expert, making her company more attractive to investors, distributors and for collaborative deals. Jackson has learned to develop business plans that help both her projects and her company qualify for various forms of financing.
“Auburn Avenue Films and every project must have financials. Wendy is doing a dance between corporate and project management every time she begins a new project,” says Pearson. “She does the work for her business and stays with it, beyond getting financing or distribution for just a product or a deal.”
Within a year, Jackson raised $500,000 in corporate donations and secured distribution through Georgia Public Broadcasting and PBS for “Maynard,” her company’s first feature documentary. Two TV projects are in development with the Oprah Winfrey Network and HBO.
Auburn Avenue Films doubled its full-time employees and operating revenues in the first quarter of 2016 by generating more outsourced work, following Pearson’s recommendation to develop other offerings under the company that will stabilize its revenues, cash flow and long-term profitability.
“I revere Judiffier as a great business mind, able to think more than on an x and y plain. She gave me pieces of advice, but instead of fishing for me, she put me in a situation where I learned to fish for myself,” says Jackson. “Our hope is that with this knowledge, Auburn Avenue Films will be around a hundred years from now.”