VENTEUR spoke with Dr. Rebekah Louisa Smith, founder of The Film Festival Doctor, about her entrepreneurial journey. Smith’s mission is to help filmmakers see their films in festivals, sell them, win awards, and create more career opportunities. She is committed to nurturing filmmakers to help them secure film festival screenings and win awards and positive recognition within the film industry. Currently, her company has won over 1,500 awards for its clients. In addition, her team has supported nearly 850 creatives worldwide, enlightening and inspiring their journey toward achieving their goals and following their filmmaking dreams.
The entrepreneurial journey is one of self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself while building your business?
The biggest thing that I've learned is that delegating is essential.
I used to be controlling, to the point where I believed no one could run my business except for me. My family often used the phrase, 'if you want something done right, do it yourself,' and that's what I grew up believing.
However, I soon learned that inherited belief was a limiting one for my business, and I stopped believing it when one of my coaches said, “how can you grow your company if you think you can do everything by yourself?”
As soon as he said that, I knew I was blocking hundreds of opportunities from coming toward me.
I started trusting my team and delegating more work to them and soon saw the company grow and gave me more time to spend doing other productive and more inspiring things.
The entrepreneurial journey is often lonely. Have you experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur?
Yes, it was lonely initially as I was doing everything by myself.
Still, after I had built up my presence on social media and attended many networking events, people in my industry began to notice me, trust my brand, and wanted to help me grow it and work with me.
That moment was when a community was built, and it felt like I was supported—working with clients who feel more like friends is also great, as it feels like a much better experience and often doesn't feel like work.
Working with my team of business coaches also felt great as they became part of my family. So it moves from becoming corporate and stiff to personal and trustworthy.
The Psychological Warfare
Entrepreneurs generally sleep less, work more, and let their health slip. This combination, combined with loneliness, often results in insecurity, self-esteem issues, and low self-worth. Have you experienced any of these issues as an entrepreneur?
Oh, my goodness, yes!
If yes, what was that experience like for you, and how did you overcome it?
I certainly let my health slip, but I overcame it interestingly by bringing spiritual techniques into my business. Initially skeptical, I soon began to notice that this technique worked.
When I started running my company, during the first two years of trading, I began to work extremely long hours, consisting of 16-hour days, seven days a week and surviving on five hours of sleep each night.
Inevitably I was burnt out, but I still plowed through as I presumed there was no other option.
However, when I met Marie Diamond, Feng Shui master, and contributor to the trendy self-help book "The Secret," written by Rhonda Byrne, she pointed out that the colors I was wearing were contributing to my constant state of stress, fatigue, and exhaustion and was subsequently blocking me from attracting more clients, sales and success.
Marie told me that I needed to change the energy within myself and that this could be achieved using what she calls her 'Quantum Colors' technique.
I explained to Marie that I was feeling depressed and anxious regarding not being able to close deals with the type of clients I wanted to work with. Marie identified that because I was feeling so burnt out, I was thinking far too small and engaging with too many limiting beliefs revolving around lack of money and clients. Another significant thing that Marie said was contributing to feeling so exhausted was the dull, low-energy colors I wore.
She noticed that I wore a lot of black, grey, and dark purple; these weren't the right colors to attract clients to me and to feel abundant, energetic, and happy from within.
During my consultation with Marie, she used her 'Quantum Colors' technique to help change the energy of my mental health so I could think bigger, feel better about myself and attract the correct type of clientele.
Marie explained that everything in the Universe is alive with energy and can significantly improve one's mental health. She teaches how to use specific colors to more easily manifest tremendous success, health, relationships, and wisdom in your life. I wore a black dress and a white cardigan when we met. However, Marie said I needed to wear more saffron yellow, gold, rose, and pink. At first, I wasn't convinced as I didn't think those colors would suit me. However, then she told me why it made sense for me to trust her advice and invest in some new clothing.
Marie explained that wearing saffron yellow would help to activate compassion when I chose to show trust, patience, and kindness towards my clients. It would also allow me to listen to advice, create gentle ease of love and support, and feel more compassion for myself.
Gold, she told me, would help to activate abundance when I wanted to increase financial growth, achieve more significant results from work and investments, and manifest the results I wanted for myself and my clients.
The color rose would help to activate love when I tried to be more open and outgoing, receive support, or establish or improve significant relationships with business associates.
Pink would also start tenderness when I chose to be gentle or when I wanted to receive tender and loving attention; it would stimulate my senses and express appreciation and sweetness.
This might sound a bit bonkers, and I'll admit it took me a while to get my head around her way of thinking.
However, throughout our meeting, I noticed that Marie looked incredible – she shone like a diamond. Her clothes all blended harmoniously, and she had a very striking presence, which was enhanced by the colors of her clothes, all energetically binding together. I also noticed that despite traveling around the world several times a week, she had incredible energy and radiant-looking skin. This woman was the opposite of looking burnt out.
At that point, I knew wearing brighter colors would help my prolonged stress, so I took her advice and began to change my wardrobe. And as soon as I did, my mental health and business changed instantly! I went from wearing dark colors to bright pastel shades. I also mixed them to create a very distinctive and unique look.
My mental state shifted from only wanting to wear black and grey to not allowing any of those colors into my wardrobe and only allowing in bright-colored clothing. As a result, I began to sleep for longer and felt more confident in myself and my work.
Marie taught me: that a positive mindset and wearing the right colors = an endless flow of abundance and energy. I felt a sense of authority and financial freedom when I wore gold necklaces and gold-colored clothing.
I felt like I was running the show and never felt tired. The amount of energy I had was incredible. I felt I did not need to rely on anyone else. I knew how to stand my ground. I always wore gold when I attended business meetings to show I was focused on the world of business.
I also noticed that as soon as I switched to wearing brighter colors, people around me began to look at me differently. I was radiating abundance, excitement, and joy. My energy was so positive on the inside and the outside, and I've never felt burnt out in the same way.
Newer entrepreneurs often equate their success with the success and value of their business. If their business fails, they are a failure. If their business succeeds, they are a success. Have you experienced this warped perception of reality?
This question is spot on and so genuine and especially so for me as I am my brand. My company is called The Film Festival Doctor, and this is what I am known as. My nickname is 'The Film Doctor.'
When people say that I'm the best person to work with to get the results that my clients want, this is the pressure I feel I am under. If I can't take on a film because it's not what festivals wish to do, I don't take it on for the money. Likewise, I won't take it on if I know I can't get the client's desired results.
I made a mistake that could have cost me my business and offered service outside my area of expertise. A year after I had launched my company, The Film Festival Doctor, I thought I had found a way to resolve a persistent and frequently occurring problem for my filmmaker clientele.
Almost all my clients, who had produced independent feature films, told me that they were anxious to find a sales agent as they wanted (a) their film seen on other platforms besides film festivals and (b) to make some kind of profit on the film, no matter how small.
I convinced myself that I would be able to do this despite not having any prior experience or solid relationships with film distribution contacts.
I agreed to sell a feature documentary film called TIBET MEDITATION, and I soon realized that I'd made a big mistake. I had no documentary film distribution contacts at all, but I was determined to find some!
I did manage to find a buyer for the film, but when it came to closing the deal, I realized I had no idea what to do, and that was the point when I had to accept that I was completely over my head. The more time I spent in this world, the more I learned that it was a very tricky part of the industry to navigate. There were no hard and fast rules; you just needed a lot of experience regarding how to negotiate and close deals to get a decent one. I had no idea what you needed to be careful of or what the process involved was from start to finish.
I didn't even know what 'film distribution deliverables' were.
That was when I had to accept that I couldn't do this by myself, and it wasn't even something I was capable of doing anymore.
I realized I was too deep and had to stop what I was doing immediately when I met with two prospective filmmakers in London. When discussing their sales strategy and how I would sell their film, I realized I didn't know what I was doing. I did not know which distribution companies I would approach or how I would pitch it to them.
They asked me: "Which distributors do you have solid connections with?" I realized I did not have the key ingredient that is the backbone of every film sales agent – a plethora of strong connections and solid relationships with film distribution companies and their buyers.
In all honesty, their question made me realize that although I had many, many film festival programmer contacts, I didn't have enough contacts to do this job.
I left that meeting feeling like a fraud.
It was the first time in my life that I cried myself to sleep through sheer embarrassment.
I had failed.
The following morning, I decided not to pursue this new business venture any further. Instead, I went back to focusing on nurturing my Film Festival Doctor business and doing what I was born to do and enjoy doing: helping filmmakers get their films into festivals.
What are your three biggest fears as an entrepreneur, and how do you manage those fears?
1. Not Enough Reliable Staff
What I do is very specific, and the people who work for me need to know this film industry area as it's very complicated. I overcame this by training people for a month before officially hiring them to see if this was something that they wanted to do and if they could look after my clients in the way that my company culture offers.
2. Fictitious Rumors from My Competition
I'm sure you're aware the film industry often comes with a lot of drama, and sometimes vicious rumors born out of jealousy that is not true can circulate. When my competitors and their supporters said things that were not true about my brand, I got highly irritated, angry, and upset as I thought it would destroy my business.
However, I soon learned that it wouldn't and not to take things personally. It's just noise and soon goes away if you don't engage with it.
It helped me to reflect on myself as I knew I was doing nothing wrong. My company's client base was growing on referrals. Their words were just words that couldn't harm me. Referrals are the best form of flattery.
3. Burning Out Again
I was diagnosed with PTSD from a traumatic incident at LAX airport.
My mind processed everything that occurred quite well, but my body did not, and as I write this, it's still healing and is having difficulty processing the trauma.
My job involves a lot of travel. Driving to and being in an airport is extraordinarily stressful and puts my body in more distress, which results in severe burnout.
I've recently accepted this and am now healing my body from fatigue and burnout.
I am no longer taking too much on at one time and now factor time into my day to heal by understanding what my body needs.
What are three mistakes you made early on as an entrepreneur, what did you learn from them, and how can others avoid these mistakes?
As I've previously mentioned, not being willing to delegate was my biggest issue, as it led to burning out, and I also developed food allergies.
2. Hiring a Publicist Too Early
When I first launched my company, I chose to hire a publicist. I was eager to inform the world that my niche business had just launched.
I was a young woman filling a massive gap in the market, and I was open for business.
I had no clients at this point, no testimonials, or any newsworthy results. I just wanted to get my start-up noticed.
The publicist secured no media coverage, and I learned the complex and costly way that the best time to hire a publicist is when an entrepreneur has a powerful story to tell, or a business has a viable product and some happy customers.
3. Trusting Business Coaches Who Are Not Who They Say They Are
When I was new to the world of business, I met several female business coaches whom I thought were helpful but instead were charging me a good amount of money for telling me general essential advice from a book. Not all coaches are like this, and all of the business coaches I work with now I research and get to know before I hire them.
I met my business mentor Gerlanda Milioto at what started to be a horrendously dull networking event, a London Business Owners mixer event for entrepreneurs. It was the type of event you are unsure about attending as it could be hit or miss in terms of whom you meet and the overall event quality.
During the event, Gerland gave a fantastic presentation that clearly defined exactly what she does and how she can help a business grow and become more successful.
I spoke with her for a long time afterward and followed up with her the next day. Later, we spoke on the phone, and she told me what was missing from my company: infrastructure. I had spent the first couple of years running my business with what I thought was an organized system. However, Gerland soon made me realize that my main problem was the 'back end of my accounting system: it was nowhere near as organized as it should be! I then quickly hired her to work with me as I needed to create a pipeline and monthly key performance indicators (KPIs), and I also needed to position myself as an expert for my clientele. I thought I was doing well by closing deals, but it turned out I really needed to refine my sales pitch so I could work with more clients.
And it's thanks to her expertise that I now have this knowledge.
What are three things you see that are often overlooked by entrepreneurs you encounter, and how can other entrepreneurs be aware of these things from the beginning?
1. Money Management
Having an accountant and a lawyer as part of your team is essential.
Delegating this type of work is crucial as anything to do with accounting and legal issues require knowledge and experience that can't be acquired by researching on Google. These people might charge a lot, but what they do is essential for your business and will remove a massive weight from your mind, decrease stress levels, and prevent money leaks.
2. A Sales Pitch
My business coach Gerlanda Milioto taught me that crafting a good sales pitch is not easy because it is no longer a 'pitch' in the sense that you throw information at your client, as a tennis player would pitch the ball to their opponent. An effective sales pitch is, in fact, a two-way street and something that needs to be learned the day you launch your business. Essentially it is a conversation where you listen to your potential client 80% of the time and speak 20% of the time by asking real and meaningful open-ended questions to acquire information.
Then, once you know their challenges and pain, that's where you can let your purpose shine and come in full force by explaining how you can offer them a solution.
3. A Profit Pipeline
This essential business element was missing from my business infrastructure. Still, as soon as I integrated it into my company, it transformed my advice to anyone reading this to ensure that this is the first thing that you incorporate into your business to help you make money quicker.
A sales pipeline is an organized, visual way of tracking multiple potential buyers as they progress through different stages in the purchasing process.
It is a way to record the amount of business a company expects to receive in the coming weeks, months, or years.
Typically, it's used when companies have multiple leads to show when these leads become either confirmed sales or lost opportunities. Essentially, it is a snapshot of where prospects are in the sales process.
What are three seemingly insurmountable obstacles you've faced as an entrepreneur, and how have you overcome them?
1. Not Believing in Myself
I was learning on the job and didn't know what I was doing. As a result, I often didn't believe that I was any good. That changed when I removed any expectations of myself, and then I began to enjoy what I was doing much more, knowing that I knew my field and was born to do my job.
2. Positioning Myself as an Expert
You have the knowledge and skills and are good at what you do.
One of the key things my business coach Gerlanda stressed to me when we met was the importance of a positive mental attitude.
This is where you can let your enthusiasm, self-belief, and passion shine through. Gerlanda explained that having the right mental state helps you figure out how to position yourself.
It is extremely important to position yourself as an expert, even when you are just starting.
By presenting yourself in this way when doing public speaking, Instagram lives, meetings with clients, etc., you will get more deals, make bigger deals and keep getting an abundant flow of jobs coming to them.
People buy from experts without the need to be sold to because experts add value to their services – and this is precisely how you need to present yourself. The expert loves facing challenges and is enthusiastic. Ensure that you stick to this mindset, and you will overcome any obstacles!
3. Not Asking for Help When I Need It
Admitting you need help does not mean that you've failed. Instead, it opens the door to new solutions, helps you to grow as a person, and to raise your vibration. As soon as I asked for help and showed my vulnerability, I didn't feel like I was stuck. I was moving away from carrying around full of limiting beliefs and instead being introduced to new possibilities.
What are three ways you have managed to boost your productivity without causing burnout?
Undoubtedly, everyone should meditate first thing in the morning and last thing at night for five minutes minimum. This will help to avoid burnout and get inspired, which results in being much more productive.
A meditation teacher I work with, Jessica Graham, encouraged me to write down three things I'm grateful for at the end of each day.
If you do this exercise, you will always find many more than three things to be thankful for because many unique and miraculous things happen daily. You'll notice this when you become more perceptive and begin to co-create with the Universe.
When I lie in bed before I go to sleep, I first thank the Universe for a beautiful day, no matter the challenges.
Then I single out three things that happened during the day that was super exciting and filled me with joy and happiness. It's also helpful to thank the Universe for protecting you from something unpleasant that might have occurred and to be grateful for the support and wisdom that the Universe provided you with.
2. Being Selective
When I first launched my company, I worked with anyone as I wanted to build a strong network. This inevitably can lead to burnout.
Having no infrastructure, team, or people to support me, I often worked until 2 AM. However, as the company and brand grew, I didn't need to take on everything presented to me.
I became much more selective and trusted that there would always be an abundance of opportunities for me to choose from, and I never stressed that there wouldn't be.
I completely removed the scarcity mentality.
A lot of people have a love-hate relationship with social media.
Still, suppose you don't look at harmful and toxic accounts like your ex-friends or ex-partners that provoke an adverse reaction within you and instead follow accounts that are positive and uplifting.
In that case, it can help inspire you to create new and effective ways to build your brand and promote your services or products, and in some cases, get free clothing!
How can newer entrepreneurs develop a healthy work-life balance even when it seems like an impossible task?
Walking is the gentlest form of exercise and a fantastic stress relief technique.
Getting outside in the open air is very relaxing. Being surrounded by nature can inspire you. Don't get tempted to look at your phone while you walk; you should stay present and in the moment.
2. Try Taking the ‘On-Call’ Approach
I must remind myself not to become emotionally attached to my clients or the results I want to secure for them. The way to do that is to make sure you have other activities in your life that you love.