Andrea McDowell, is the founder and managing director of Shoot it Yourself (SIY). Andrea set up SIY in 2009, having worked in television for a variety of independent production companies as a director.

In an interview with inspiresme, Andrea talks about starting and growing the business, Dragon's Den and what the future holds for SIY.

Q: Shoot it Yourself is a unique concept within the wedding industry, what made you think of the idea?

A: I always knew that I wanted to work in television and was fortunate enough to spend 10 years working on programmes that I loved, but it wasn't until I had my daughter Mollie in March 2009 that I realised it wasn't a career that I could sustain and be mum at the same time. 

Since becoming a mother, it struck me how many women in television had no choice but give up their careers completely and retrain.  It is an industry that is predominantly made up of freelancers working on fixed short term contracts, which means that they are not entitled to any maternity allowance or the option of going back part time.  At Shoot It Yourself we have come to rely on these mums to film our Hire a Director packages and I hope that in the future we will be able to offer flexible part time contracts for those who want to edit. 

I set the business up because it is something that I love and feel so strongly about that I wake up in the night dreaming about the possibilities. 

Q: Following on from this, what made you decide to try and turn your idea into a business? Did you have any major concerns or were you confident that you could do well?

A: When I suggested the concept to established videographers and even my colleagues working in television, everyone told me that it wouldn't work. Against everyone's best advice, I decided to give it a go and invested £10,000 of my savings into setting up a stand at the National Wedding Show, buying a couple of video cameras and a Mac computer.

It was a huge gamble and with no experience of running my own business I did feel very out of my depth.  My daughter Mollie was only a year old and I could only afford nursery for one day a week, which meant having to learn how to edit, export, compress and encode video onto DVD often until the early hours of the morning. 

I had no idea that there were so many different sides to running the business.  I would limit myself to an hour for each one in order to get through it all, from chasing money and sending out contracts, to booking couriers and editing.  Fortunately I had a good friend who also wanted to leave television after the birth of her first baby Matilda and it didn't take any convincing for Rebecca Baldwin to join the juggernaut that was SIY.

Between us, in our first year, we managed to generate a turnover of £120,000 and take bookings for over 120 weddings.  It was an incredibly stressful first year but with the deposits for next year's weddings we were able to source our own offices and now have a full time editor and 2 apprentices to help with the work load. 

Q: What benefits does the service offer in comparison to other wedding videography? What is its USP?

A: The wedding videography market is very saturated with companies offering very similar products.  Generally speaking, most wedding videos offer a highlights montage which is a series of pretty shots with music underneath and talking for the whole ceremony and the speeches. We found that this not only made them quite boring because they were so long but they didn't capture the true essence of the day because the videographer was a total stranger and wasn't involved in the 'action.'

People are more at ease if they are being filmed by people they know and people are much more likely to want to be filmed in the first place.  This means that the footage we get is very 'up close and personal' because the cameras have access to places that most videographer wouldn't. 

Our clients also have total control over their finished video.  They get to choose their own music, add funky name titles to their videos and personalised graphics for their ceremony and reception venues. 

Q: Shoot it Yourself appeared on the BBC's Dragons’ Den in September 2011, why did you decide to take this step? Was it purely for the opportunity of investment or did you feel that you could also benefit from the expertise of one of the Dragons?

A: With the growth that we had been experiencing and the level of demand for our product soaring we needed not only an injection of cash to buy more cameras, employ more staff and implement better processes but some business advice too. Our account was in a bit of a state (not our strong point) and we had no clear business strategy for moving forward. We knew that we were onto a good thing we just needed a bit of extra guidance.

Q: Since appearing on Dragon’s Den, how have you gone about transforming your idea into a successful business?

A: We would argue that our business was successful before appearing on Dragons Den.  However, since we appeared on the show and Hilary Devey offered to invest, we have been approached by lots of companies and been given new opportunities of expanding into the corporate, events and travel markets.  We have regular chats with our accountant who not only looks after our books but helps plan our business strategy, resources and tells us how we’re doing for our P&L.  Business decisions which were before taken on a bit of a whim, now need to be carefully considered which makes the cash flow much easier to manage.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about being entrepreneurs in your chosen industry?

A: The best thing about being entrepreneurs is the freedom to be your own boss. It does mean that you have to work longer hours and you can never really switch off but it becomes a part of your lifestyle.  It’s a bit like having an obsessive hobby.

Q: What have some of your biggest challenges been so far?

A: Our biggest challenge so far is having to learn new skills.  We didn’t really know very much about media management, asset management and media workflow before starting SIY.  With over 300 weddings booked for this year it is something that we’re becoming pretty good at.

Q: Do you think certain skills and characteristics are needed to be successful entrepreneurs?

A: I think that Becs and I are the perfect combination for successful entrepreneurs. I’m the “firecracker” (so Hilary Devey calls me) and the one who likes to drive the business forward from a sales and marketing perspective.  Becs is the organised one, running the operational side of the business from prepping kits and sending contacts to managing staff and checking the accounts. 

Q: What are the advantages of being entrepreneurs? What are the disadvantages?

A: Advantages are that you don’t have to answer to anyone and you’re only accountable to yourself.  The disadvantages are that sometimes it’s nice to have someone to “refer up” to.  Sometimes you have to make decisions without knowing if it’s going to be the right thing to do or not but you have to take a risk.  Touch wood, all of our risks so far have paid off.

Q: Do you both find it hard to switch off/leave your work at the office?

A: You can never switch off.  Before we had the office I would get up and get onto the computer still in my PJ’s and I’d still be there at 10 o'clock that night surrounded by breakfast, lunch and dinner plates.  It's nice to be able to leave the bulk of the work at the office but I sleep with a notepad by my bed side table and often wake up at 3am with a 'light bulb' moment.

Q: What stops you from giving up on your business strategy when faced with challenges or events not going your way?

A: A challenge is just an opportunity to come up with a solution. The feedback from our clients is what keeps us going and the fact that we’re making something totally unique that will be treasured by them for years and years to come. 

We’re bound to come up against problems and hurdles along the way but its good that we have each other to rely on and bounce ideas around. 

Q: What are your plans for the business moving forward?

A: Moving forward we are going to be branching into school trips – ski, adventure and sports.  We are in talks with a major tour operator about offering our videos as part of their service and the feedback has been good so far.

Q: As it develops, could you see yourselves recruiting graduates into the business?

A: We need lots of graduates for this summer.  We’re actually recruiting for a business and marketing intern at the moment and of course will need lots of editors. 

Q: If you could give future entrepreneurs three pieces of advice, what would they be?

A: Make sure that you do your research.  Don’t just ask friends but ask friends of friends what they think of your idea.  You’re more likely to get the truth that way.

Make sure that you can afford it.  You’re going to need money to live on so make sure that you have enough saved or a back up plan if the money from your business doesn’t come rolling in straight away.
Don’t give up!