The early days of launching any successful concept are often fraught with stumbling starts, not only in franchising but, the music industry as well. The rock 'n' roll lifestyle is equally maligned and revered but, what exactly does it take to start a business in this space?
Big visions are often circumspect in the franchising world, as systems tend to be far more synonymous with growth plans. However, A Rock & Roll Writers Festival founder and director, Leanne De Souza is proof you can take an idea and morph it into something bigger. After spending 25 years in the music business, she saw a gap in the market and is now looking to take her model – in the long term – and license it to the big cities of the world.
With a unique brand and IP under one arm and strong relationships with communities under the other, this Queensland-based artistic director is hitting the road.
Lesson Learned: Get the right business partner As a Gen X-er, Leanne has travelled the route of mid-life, kids, 'and all the rest of it!' After taking some time out and sojourning to the iconic festivals of Splendour in the Grass and Byron Writers Festival, 'I'm a mad reader, I love events, I love music' she left with a feeling of wanting more. 'I really love hearing these ideas and stories from the authors but, I wanted it edgier, I wanted songwriters … so, I got thinking in the bar!'
Traditionally, festivals have come from 'not-for-profit, government, they are not entrepreneurial' and Leanne wanted 'to be able to come off the panel and talk to my friends about what I have learnt, have a glass of wine or beer or whatever. So, it sort of came out of that idea.'
After a long career in events, personally producing the festival did not appeal. However, conceiving, developing and implementing the artistic vision did. The title of artistic director was born and consequently a business partnership, 'I brought on a partner who was out of the music community in Brisbane – who I've known for a long, long time.'
A business plan was hatched out on a napkin, 'it wasn't very sophisticated!', they sat with it for six weeks and then the big reveal – sharing it with partners. 'My husband has a family business called Nightlife (Music) – Joe has always been very successful – he's always had businesses. Our partners thought it was a good idea and said, "okay give it a go." Instead of waiting for funding in the arts space, Leanne decided to take an entrepreneurial approach. 'We did it as a proof of concept – that was the first event in April 2016 … and we did it!' She laughs and adds, 'and now, we are doing it again!'
Lesson Learned: Confidence in your networks and expertise Knowing what they were doing played a big part Leanne explains, 'having worked in music, touring and events for a long time – it looks a lot more complicated than it is.' Delivering a quality event remained first and foremost; coupled with integrity in stakeholder relationships helping cement decision makers coming on board. 'I think if you weren't known to them – there is such a cynicism in the event space about new things – a lot of events come and go quickly so, there was that. And then the other thing is just backing ourselves.' Leanne stresses that investing in themselves, the idea and doing the work – rather than getting staff or outsourcing, enabled them to keep the production at a high-level.
Lesson Learned: Keep going and stay focused on the next priority The big thing I had to keep saying to my business partner is, 'What is the next most important thing?' I tried not to over plan it. I didn't do typical event Gantt charts and stuff. I would be the worst nightmare for an events lecturer at TAFE because, I know where I'm going and I was just going to do the next step really well.' Whether this was talking to a stakeholder, a sponsor, a hire company, or a speaker, clear communication ensured everyone jumped on board. 'I keep using the analogy of the bus, really making sure the communication was, that they got on the bus with us.' This, she confirms was the most valuable thing. 'Also, that way I didn't get overwhelmed or freak myself out every time I looked at the budget!'
Lesson Learned: Be very clear on your roles Currently in growth phase and already exceeding sales from last year and presales, Leanne advises, 'my business partner and I have had to be: "you're producing and I'm directing"', to prevent doubling up whilst maintaining efficiency. 'That's a big learning. He's really been getting on with booking chairs and PA's and I've been getting on with marketing, promo, interviews, stakeholders – making sure I've got the right people on the guest list.' Where last year they did everything, this time, 'there is a lot more trust in each other's roles.' Nailing the logistics has allowed them to take the leap to take it on the road to Melbourne.
'That way I am building a national market, so come 2019, we can do an east coast tour.' Much like a Big Day Out touring model, 'but an east coast Writers Festival – rather than it being locked into one place. The learning is for me to be not scared to grow; whereas last year I was just focused on proof of concept. Now I am a bit like, how do I make sure we keep momentum?'