What do you do when you’re searching for a service that you could really benefit from, but simply can’t find anything like it? Well, if you’re anything like today’s featured Mogul in the Making, Ajarae Coleman, you simply start a business offering the service yourself!
As an actress, she couldn’t find a place where she could network and build the quality relationships needed to build a successful career, so Coleman started The Workshop Guru, an online community that allows actors to save time and money by giving them the inside scoop on casting director workshops.
Check out her story, as she shares a few golden nuggets about what it’s like to start a business with little capital, the importance of finding a mentor, and the best way to build a loyal client base. You’ll want to take notes on the wisdom she dropped!
Name: Ajarae Coleman
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Years in Business: 2
Are you a full or part time business owner?
I am an actress, so the amount of time I can dedicate to my business varies with my project and audition schedule. For the most part, I run my business part-time to fund and support my creative endeavors.
Why did you start your business?
I started my business because I needed a service like The Workshop Guru myself to help me with the networking and relationship-building side of my acting career, and it simply didn’t exist. Allow me to explain. There is a positive trend in the actor and artist community right now… actors recognize that it’s not enough to be an amazing actor and be good at your craft. In order to be successful in this competitive landscape, we have to treat our acting careers like businesses. We have to develop trust with industry decision-makers, and let people know that we exist. One of the tools many actors use is “casting director (CD) workshops.” These workshops are classes taught by professionals who hire actors for film, television and theater projects. Actors who purchase these workshops perform short scenes for the CD, and in return the CD gives them feedback, explains how the casting process works, and offers real-world advice. Casting director workshops are controversial, because some people see them as paid auditions, but actors can use them strategically as a tool to build relationships. I have personally found casting director workshops useful in building meaningful relationships with people who have later hired me for jobs. Actors who are most successful with workshops are strategic in their approach. They target specific projects based on their strengths and qualities as an actor, they figure out which CDs casts those projects, and then they develop relationships with those CDs via workshops and other methods. Before TheWorkshopGuru.com existed, however, it wasn’t easy to use workshops strategically. There are over 40 different workshops studios in Los Angeles, and over 20 in New York City. These studios offer classes with different CDs for vastly different prices, in different formats, and in a wide range of facilities. Workshop Guru helps actors find the workshops they will be most successful in, for the best prices, on a time and date that is convenient for the actor. A WG membership allows actors to target specific casting directors, and to share reviews of casting directors (as teachers of the workshops) and workshop studios (as service providers). I describe The Workshop Guru as “Yelp meets Kayak for casting director workshops” (and now also agent/manager workshops) in LA and NYC. No other service like ours exists, and I’m proud to be filling this void for actors who want to save time and money and use workshops to market themselves more effectively.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of having your own business?
I love that I am in control of my schedule. When I worked at a corporate job, I would get so grumpy on Sunday evenings, because I dreaded getting up and spending the entire next day at work. And I actually liked my corporate job, so I can’t even imagine how people feel when they are in traditional jobs that they hate! It is also extremely rewarding to step back and look at a business that you created from scratch…from just an idea. There is a huge sense of accomplishment that comes from that. But the best part of my day is when I get an email or social media message from a fellow actor telling me how much they love the site, and how much it helps them. That makes all the work totally worth it.
What are your biggest challenges?
I started my online business having very little start-up capital or knowledge about how websites work and are developed. It’s been a very interesting journey, to say the least! There was no out-of-the-box software solution for our application, so I’ve had to figure out how to develop the website in an affordable way. The site is still a work-in-progress, but I’m happy now with its usability for our members. Another major challenge was that I started the business on my own. I’ve helped run a much larger company, but I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve enjoyed making all the critical business decisions, and developing systems on my own, but having no partner has been a huge challenge. I’ve had to figure out when to ask for help, when it’s best to pay to delegate, when to take others’ advice, and when to go with my gut. Now I would say that my biggest challenge is that when I don’t know exactly how to do something, I tend to procrastinate. I’m sure a lot of Moguls in the Making can identify with this. I have to stay aware of that tendency, and consciously overcome that resistance every single day. It’s crucial that I buckle down and get started on projects, even when I don’t know the path to completion. My job is to identify the next step and do it. Otherwise, new initiatives drag on and on.
What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?
The best business advice I’ve ever received is that “education-based marketing” is the key to success. Rather than trying to sell potential customers something, it’s so much better to come from a place of service, and teach them something they really need to know. Then position the purchase of your product or service to help them take what you taught them to the next level. If you can add value and build trust with your prospective customers before they spend a dime, they will happily invest in what you have to offer, and will be loyal customers and ambassadors for your business.
Do you have a team or are you a one man/woman show?
I have a small team that consists of a web developer, a social media assistant, and a team of research assistants who keep all the data on the website accurate every day. Customer service is a passion of mine, and I love interacting with fellow actors, so I handle all customer service myself for now. I am currently looking for a great team member to start to delegate that responsibility to, so that nothing falls by the wayside when I am busy with acting projects and auditions, or when I travel.
Where do you see your biz in the next 5 years?
Over the next five years, we will steadily continue to grow our base of actor members, and cultivate the best online resource for information about casting director practices and preferences. The Workshop Guru will be a thriving online community of proactive actors who share information and support each other. We’ll also have a more extensive free knowledge base for developing actors in our blog.
What advice would you give to other Moguls in the Making?
I would advise other Moguls in the Making to find a coach or mentor who’s been an entrepreneur for 7 or more years to support them through the process of starting a business. I personally think it’s a great idea to invest financially in a coaching program, because that made all the difference to me. I would also tell them to take time to read at least one book per month by a successful business owner. When you are in year 1 or 2 after starting your business, and struggling to get your bearings, it can be difficult to keep perspective on why you decided to become an entrepreneur. The guidance these experienced business owners can offer is invaluable. A book I re-read often that is applicable to artists and entrepreneurs alike is Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. It’s all about overcoming resistance when we’re pursuing something worthwhile. Good luck!
For more information on Ajarae Coleman and The Workshop Guru, check them out online at:
If you would like to be featured in the MITM Entrepreneur Spotlight, please email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org
To Your Prosperity and Success,
Business Success Coach | Marketing Strategist | Motivational Speaker
P.S. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more valuable business tips, resources, and tools! If you found this post helpful in any way, don’t forget to share it with your network!