How do you start a successful production company from scratch? We spoke to Cynthia Baloula from CB Media to gain some leadership insights from the world of video.
Paris native Cynthia Baloula is the founder and managing director of CB Media, a production company focused on video, animation and graphic design.
Baloula came to Dublin in 2001 to study English for one year, but she fell in love with Ireland and decided to stay. Armed with a business degree, she worked in the IT industry for 10 years in a variety of managerial roles for companies such as IBM, HP and Dell.
She pursued her love of fashion before returning to the corporate world and using the experience she gained to establish CB Media.
Describe your role and what you do.
I am head of business development, service delivery and strategy. I am responsible for ensuring that CB Media delivers as much value as possible to its clients, through the production of high-quality and impactful media that grabs attention. This involves: commercials, promotional videos, training videos, video animations, time-lapse videos, drone footage, event videos, video testimonials and branding videos.
A typical day involves meeting clients or prospects, directing a shoot or progressing our quarterly action plan.
My favourite part of the job is to get clients’ feedback and hear how impressed they are with the service we have delivered to them, or how much leads or revenue they secured thanks to the videos that we have produced for them.
How do you prioritise and organise your working life?
I always ask myself, ‘What outcome do I want to achieve today, this week, this month?’, and I write my to-do list based on the answers to these questions. This ensures that I focus on the results and build an action plan accordingly, instead of building a plan that is short-sighted. This also ensures that I will reach that outcome.
It is so easy to get distracted and to try to do so much that at the end of the day, nothing gets done. I allocate a four-hour block of time in my calendar every week to work on the strategic part of the business and progress the actions that I believe will have the biggest impact. This forces me to work on the business and prevents me from being lost in the details and losing focus on what we want to achieve.
On top of this four-hour block, I also dedicate the first hour of my day to completing a set of high-impact actions from my to-do list that can be completed quickly. This gives me the feeling of starting my day on a very productive note and I feel great about it. Everything else that gets completed on that day, then, is a bonus.
I think the real challenge of running a business is that we feel like we never have enough time. For me, the key to moving forward is to focus on large chunks of time, uninterrupted (no phone, no email, no social media), to complete important tasks.
What are the biggest challenges facing your business and how are you tackling them?
I have realised that I am the biggest challenge slowing down my business.
CB Media has grown by 180pc from 2015 to 2016. We are forecasting a 50pc growth this year. It is a big deal for us. We work with all sizes of companies in all sectors and we have successfully secured blue-chip clients such as Accenture, Twitter, Cambridge University Press, the Wellington Eye Clinic and Calor Gas, to name but a few.
I know that I have the right team in place to deliver on the requirements of the business, but I have realised the hard way that I have built an owner-dependent business. This means that I haven’t been empowering my people enough to be responsible for their own part of the business, to take the decisions they think will enable us to move forward and implement them. I do listen to my team’s input and we do work very well as a team, but, in order for CB Media to grow further and the right way, it is essential for the business to be independent from me.
I am now working on empowering the team and ensuring that we have the right systems, controls and accountability in place to make this happen. After that, I will probably go on a six month-holiday without checking into the business.
What are the key industry opportunities you’re capitalising on?
We are capitalising on the construction industry as well as healthcare.
Time-lapse video is a very popular trend in the construction world. It enables those companies to showcase their skills and expertise by having a video covering the entire duration of a build. This means that we would set up one or several cameras on a building site for up to 24 months, capture the build and produce a two- to three-minute video of the building coming to life. Those companies use those videos for their internal communication, but also to get more business.
Training videos and 3D animations are also very popular in the healthcare industry, and we are working on capitalising on this opportunity.
What set you on the road to where you are in the technology industry?
Prior to creating CB Media, I worked for about 10 years in the IT industry in Ireland. I started as a telemarketer in IBM and I worked my way up to senior manager there and then got the opportunity to manage operation, sales and marketing teams for HP and Dell as well. At the time, I was working in very high-paced environments, very stressful, but I used to love the challenge, and always pushed myself to get to the next promotion and go higher up on the career ladder.
However, I felt contained somehow. I never stopped to ask myself if this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. That is, until 1 December 2010, when my mum died suddenly from an aneurysm.
This is when I stopped and reassessed my life. I was going through so much pain, I had to find a meaning in all of this. I decided that meaning to be, ‘Follow your dreams, because you do not know what might happen tomorrow, you might not be there tomorrow’.
I decided that life was too short to give so much of myself away to big corporations and instead, I should invest my energy into doing something I was passionate about. Also, considering that I could manage the business of blue-chip companies such as IBM, HP and Dell, I figured that I should use those skills and experience to create my own company and invest in myself.
I chose fashion. I qualified as a personal stylist and then got the opportunity to produce my own TV show on City Channel, in partnership with a friend, called You are What You Wear.
When City Channel went bankrupt in 2011 and our attempt to launch a web TV did not work out, I decided to go back to what I knew best: the corporate world. This is how CB Media was born, with a focus on serving the business world with our expertise in media production.
I am passionate about creating value for our clients and helping them strive to meet their goals. This is what CB Media is all about.
What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
My biggest mistake, when I started CB Media, was our pricing strategy. I learned the hard way that it’s not all about revenue: a healthy gross profit margin is critical to build a business with a healthy bottom line.
How do you get the best out of your team?
I listen to their suggestions and make sure they know that their opinion matters. When they come up with a good idea, we implement it and I make sure that they get the credit for it.
Recognition is key to keeping your team engaged and getting the best out of them. I make a point in recognising my team members for their achievements and their contribution to the business.
STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity. What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to effect change?
I do agree that there is a lack of diversity in STEM sectors.
I think that diversity must start at the top. The culture of a company is defined and driven by its founders, so we need more female or minority founders in the STEM sectors.
The school system should expose the population at a very young age to science, technology, engineering or mathematics. The curriculum should also teach students the required skills to become an entrepreneur. Students should leave college with the skills and knowledge on how to create a business and employ people.
Who is your business hero and why?
My business hero is Oprah Winfrey.
She came from a childhood of poverty and abuse, took control of her life, and became the richest African-American and the greatest black philanthropist in American history.
I love to think that if she can do it, with the right thoughts and actions, we can all achieve our dreams.
What books have you read that you would recommend?
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Great book that explains why habits exist and how they can be changed. If you have habits that hold you back, this book is for you. It will help you get rid of your negative habits and replace them with habits that serve you. I was totally addicted to sugar and that book helped me to stop eating it over a year ago now.
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. This book teaches you the secrets to building wealth. The author interviewed 500 of the most influential men and women of his time, and teaches us how they got there, and how we can get there too. I am working on following the advice of the author.
Build a Business, Not a Job! by David Finkel and Stephanie Harkness. This book is full of tools and tips to build a business to sell, scale or own passively. I have been implementing tools from this book into my business. I highly recommend it.
What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?
My team, my iPhone, a good night’s sleep, drinking a lot of water throughout the day and the amazing support of my partner, Dermot.
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