An entrepreneur at heart, Brigitte Sachse needed a push to start her own video production company. Her business was building momentum when COVID hit, and then she had to change course to survive. She seized the opportunity to pursue animation and leveraged the digital revolution to take her business global.
Entrepreneurship had always been a dream for Brigitte Sachse. But, with a comfortable job, good pay and solid benefits, it was tough to give that all up and take the leap. After experiencing a health scare that lasted several months, however, she realized it was time to take action. “When things like that happen, your mind shifts a little bit and you realize life is short,” she says in a recent conversation. “I realized that if I didn’t take the leap and do it then, the weight of regret was going to be heavier than any fear I felt with quitting my job. I knew I would always wonder.”
A bumpy start – and a new opportunity
When Brigitte looks back at the first year of her business in 2017, she cringes. “There were so many things I didn’t understand,” she says. “I knew the industry, I knew film and television production, but I didn’t understand accounting. I didn’t understand digital marketing. There were a lot of things about running a business that I just didn’t know about.”
Brigitte’s original business model involved producing live, short-form videos for corporations, which usually consisted of in-person shoots featuring her clients and their businesses. When COVID hit in March 2020, she had to quickly change course. “I had just leveled out the business and didn’t feel it was that easy to pivot. But once I stopped the pity party, I figured out it was actually pretty easy – I just had to find something that didn’t depend on in-person production.”
So that’s when she explored animation, a growing communications tool used in the marketing world to bring brands to life through visual storytelling. “With animation, creative is all done remotely. A client or marketer’s story is told through digital illustrations, motion graphics, rolling captions, and voiceovers.”
She earned a couple of small jobs with CBC to boost her animation portfolio and slowly built up that side of her business.
“Getting started with animation was definitely a learning curve – sometimes projects took a lot longer and were more expensive to complete than I thought, which meant my margins were lower. In the creative business, I’ve learned there is no more important asset that your creative partners and your staff.” At the beginning of her new path, Brigitte worked with one animator, Carlos, who helped her through difficult times. “There are certain people who will help you in meaningful ways when times are tough,” she says. “He did brilliant work, never complained and I’m sure didn’t charge me full price. At the time, I didn’t have the context of how much work it was to create what he was doing.” Kindness was one of the key contributors to her success.
The pandemic also forced Brigitte to transform her marketing strategy. Pre-COVID, her business development involved word of mouth through networking and personal contacts. But that all changed when lockdowns sent everyone into isolation. “I loved networking groups. But all of a sudden, I couldn’t network, I couldn’t go to conferences. So I had to rethink my acquisition strategy.
At the time, she didn’t really know what digital marketing was, and had to look up the definition of SEO. Since 2020, however, Brigitte calls SEO her ‘best friend.’ “It’s been an amazing journey, because when you search up ‘animation studio Toronto’ I often appear on the first page.”
Now, Brigitte gets calls from all over the world thanks to her digital presence. One of her best clients is based in South Africa. Even her team, which is made up of twelve freelance, part-time and full-time workers (including Carlos), is a virtual success story. “I’ll have crew calls when there are two people across the country in Halifax, one person in Brazil and one person down the street. It’s a really cool thing and a silver lining for sure.”
The Future Looks Bright
Reimagining her business and focusing on her online marketing strategies have paid off. Eighteen months after her pivot, her revenue has flipped from 80 percent in-person video shoots to 80 percent video animation – and her revenue has increased 50 percent year over year.
Brigitte’s goal is to build her company into a business with over $1 million in revenues – she recognizes that this is the threshold largely elusive to women entrepreneurs and intends on breaking through that barrier.
“I’d like to crack that figure. Having $1 million in revenues a year has been a stated goal of mine for a few years. I’m not there, but I could get there.”
While her business has been on a ‘low boil’ for some time – due to lockdowns and kids at home – she is hopeful for the future and feels she can turn the dial up or down on her digital marketing efforts as her availability shifts.
Brigitte describes how an animated video can tell a great story. “Because the sky’s the limit – if you want a story to start on the moon, it can,” she says. For Brigitte, who found a way to seize opportunity when it knocked – not once, but twice – the sky is surely the limit too.
Tips for business owners:
- Evaluate what your launch period will look like: Her boss let her work part-time for three months as she set up her business, but Brigitte realized that, for her, she couldn’t be an employee and an entrepreneur at the same time, so she quit altogether to start Bee Video Productions.
- Step out of your comfort zone: While Brigitte admits to many nerve-wracking moments when she looks back at the first year of her business, she also says she wouldn’t have done anything different. “Change comes from discomfort,” she says. “I was often uncomfortable and I’m proud of myself in that I took something on that I didn’t really understand and built my business even though I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. It was a painful learning process, but I don’t regret it.”
- Set your business up for SEO success: Leverage the power of SEO from the beginning to open up acquisition channels. Not an expert? Find someone who is, or develop the skills needed to boost your digital footprint. Today, Brigitte gets calls from all over the world thanks to SEO and her strong digital presence.