Episode 221 — Michael Janda


Episode 221 — Michael Janda

This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 221! I’m speaking with Michael Janda, the author of top selling book Burn Your Portfolio. We’re going to get into everything from branding to the business of design — and everything in between.

I’m really excited for this Episode! Michael shares a lot of his valuable insight here. Check out his Instagram: @morejanda! I love the amount of content and value on his account. There is so much value that he brings!

Let’s dive in!


[00:46] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was you didn’t get the job? Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write The Ultimate Demo Reel Guide from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. You can get this book for free right now at www.allanmckay.com/myreel!

[02:44] I have a free VFX Training Course available right now at www.VFXCourse.com. It’s 10 hours of training, entirely for free!

[1:15:19] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be charging. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com!


Michael Janda is an executive level creative leader with more than 20 years of experience in both in-house creative departments and agencies working with some of the greatest brands in the world.

In 2002, he founded the creative agency Riser, a nationally recognized agency creating high-profile work for clients including Disney, Google, ABC, Fox, Warner Bros., NBC, TV Guide and numerous other notable companies. The company’s 3 year growth rate of 235% in 2013 resulted in a ranking on Inc. 5000 (#1657). Riser’s work quality and successful business practices yielded some of the most coveted awards in the industry including Webbys, FWA, Awwwards, AIGA and Addys.

After selling Riser in 2015 and becoming its Chief Creative Officer, Michael orchestrated a rebrand of the agency as EKR. In collaboration with the other partners, he successfully migrated Riser’s clients and acquired new notable clients including Google, National Geographic, ABC, Intel and Netflix.

In addition to his robust experience managing creative and marketing teams, Michael is the author of the book Burn Your Portfolio: Stuff They Don’t Teach You in Design School, but Should. Since its publication in 2013, Burn Your Portfolio has been one of the top selling books in the industry and has been published in English, Russian, Chinese Traditional and Chinese Simplified. Burn Your Portfolio’s success has resulted in opportunities for Michael to be a keynote speaker at AIGA, Advertising Federation and University events across the nation, as well as at other events.

His work and business has been featured by Print Magazine, HOW Magazine, Utah Business Magazine and BusinessQ Magazine, where he donned the cover of the December 2012 issue highlighting their article for Utah’s Coolest Entrepreneurs.

In this Podcast, Allan McKay interviews Michael Janda about marketing and powerful branding for artists, the how-to’s of social media and the importance of soft skills in building a successful business.

Michael Janda’s Website: http://michaeljanda.com/
Michael Janda’s YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMtMijHO1MVzw_Mjkh7_amw
Michael Janda on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Michael-Janda/e/B00BU8EV2E%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share
Burn Your Portfolio: Stuff They Don’t Teach You in Design School, but Should: https://www.amazon.com/Burn-Your-Portfolio-design-school/dp/0321918681
Psychology of Graphic Design Pricing: https://www.amazon.com/Psychology-Graphic-Design-Pricing-confidence/dp/1794390146
Michael Janda on Instagram: @morejanda


[03:20] Allan: Do you want to quickly introduce yourself?

Michael: Sure! My name is Michael Janda. I’m a design veteran, I’ve been at this since I graduated from college in 1996. I bounced around some starter jobs and ended landing a Creative Director position at Fox in LA. I worked there for a couple of years. I started my agency in 2002 and grew my agency over 13 years, to 20 employees, Inc. 5,000. I ended up selling my agency and stuck around it for a few years. And then I launched into what I’m doing now: public speaking, thought leadership, writing books, business coaching that are at the heart of what I’m passionate about. I wrote my book Burn Your Portfolio in 2013. I didn’t have any time to market it because I was still in the midst of running my agency. When I left, the floodgates opened to creating new content. I wrote another book The Psychology of Graphic Design Pricing. I have courses I’m working on. This is an exciting phase because I have a new mountain to climb, for the first time in 15 years of my agency. Now I have this renewed passion for my career, which I love!

[04:47] Allan: I love that! I think it’s so awesome too to find something you’re excited about. Here is my whole theory: My big frustration is that people put too much value into their hard skills. They want to be the best designer, or best illustrator. I think you say that on page 2 of your book: 15% of your career comes down to your hard skills. What are your thoughts on that and all the other skills that people are neglecting?

Michael: I’m all on board with that. That principle is from the book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I bought into that mentally in high school. I always wanted to be a people person. By nature, I’m shy and introverted and I had to learn how to become that person over time. When I heard that statistic, I bought into it: [06:15] There are designers out there who can design circles around me. But where I shine is in people skills and negotiation with clients, business acumen, leadership; in being able to break down projects into a scope of deliverables. All these things are known as soft skills and that’s what’s been at the core of my success. It’s not because my agency could produce better design than anybody else. I’m a believer that 80% quality is good enough to satisfy most marketing objectives. The 100% quality that we strive for is unnecessary, that’s 20%! Among the designers out there, I consider myself above average, no question about that. But I’m an 80% guy compared to the 100% people, the people who every time they sit down, they make amazing composition and innovative design. I’m not that guy. My agency excelled at customer service and we had repeat clients that came back because their experience was so good and we were so honest in our dealings. Our quality was always high end.

[07:45] Allan: My theory on that is similar to boiling water. It only takes a certain amount of energy to boil water. Beyond that, you’re just wasting energy.

Michael: I love that!

[08:07] Allan: Thank you! It is what you talk about a lot. There’s been plenty of times that I got off the box and worked as a producer. The knowledge I had managing myself and others all came from that experience. My outlook on art has always been about delivering exceptional work but also not burning unnecessary energy.

Michael: I love the boiling water metaphor! It’s spot on! [09:04] I use the terminology that 80% quality is sufficient to satisfy the objective. I’m not discounting the value that great designers bring to the table. I’ve worked with some, I’ve employed some! In fact, I’m jealous of those people. But it’s not required for you to be successful. The soft skills contribute every bit as much or more to your career, as do great design skills. You can see the people who have this autistic ability to create amazing design but you’re never going to stick them into a client meeting! So who’s going to succeed more: a person with great personality and decent design vs the person who’s awkward but has great design? You kind of need both in the world! But my message on this that there is hope for you if you’re in the middle road of your class. There are many more qualities that contribute to your success as does that level of design polish.

[10:48] Allan: I love that! There is a book called The Element [by Ken Robinson] that talks about finding people’s hidden talents, including about the choreographer of Cats. She was fidgety in school and a slow learner. Until a therapist said, “Let’s leave her alone and see what she does.” She danced around. They realized that it wasn’t that she was a slow learner. She was a dancer and that was her talent. It’s about finding people’s hidden talents, but also weaknesses, I suppose.

Michael: And I like that! If you go down the art thought process, you see artists like Jackson Pollock whose splatters paint vs a Rembrandt who uses layers and layers of oil paint. You look at that and say, “Who’s the better artist?” Both of their work will sell for millions of dollars because of the uniqueness they’ve brought to the table. There is a way to look at it as: You don’t have to be Rembrandt just to be successful as an artist. You can do it through your own style.

[12:29] Allan: That’s brilliant! That’s one thing you’ve talked about: trading dollars for time. If you put value on your time, someone can say, “Why are you charging more money than the person who spent 30 hours on this?” Was it Picasso who drew on a napkin and someone said, “Why are you charging so much money for something that took you a minute?” I’m butchering this whole thing…

Michael: Yeah, Picasso answered, “It took me a lifetime to learn how to do that in 30 seconds.”

[13:00] Allan: I like to think of VFX artists and how they have to picture themselves as a studio. So many artists say, “I’ll let my art speak for itself. I don’t need to worry about marketing or branding.” If you were a studio, you would be alone in the building. How important do you think for people to learn into communication skills and branding?

Michael: It’s critical if you have the intention of freelancing as a business or building a small agency. If you want to just get a job and push buttons, you can just go get a job. You don’t have to go all in on the idea of building your soft skills. Some people don’t want it. We had a guy at my agency whom we wanted to promote to an Art Director but he didn’t want it. He loved just pushing the pixels around. He didn’t want the extra burden of client meetings, etc. And that is okay! [14:44] But if you want to build a freelance business or build an agency, you’ve got to understand the soft skills: communication, navigating clients; you have to understand teamwork and how to structure projects so they can be executed by a team (not just in-house but internationally). And that’s what my platform is now. I’m not going to write a design book on how to use a grid. But I am going to give you a pricing book and how to communication scripts. (“When the client says this, here is how you respond.”) This is the content I try to produce to help people because they aren’t taught that in schools. I went to a design school; I walked out and I knew topography, composition, color theory, rudimentary coding. It was 1996. The rest I had to learn. But no one taught me how to write a proposal or navigate a client meeting, how to up-sell or price my work. I had to learn all that through trial and error. There weren’t even a lot of books! There is a lot of concept out there but not enough actionable content. I try to give you the concept — and here is the 5-step process to implement it. And here is your script.

[16:45] Allan: I love that! It’s the 30,000 foot view and then all the way into the trenches. Back in the day, did you always want to be a creative?

Michael: I was always the comic book nerd growing up. I’m surprised at how many designers aren’t that way. I was just on someone’s collaboration blog post and my answer was what I thought was a cliche for everybody, “I grew up drawing, reading comic books, and design was the only way I could make money at being an artist.” But a lot of people came at it from different angles: they loved something else, they fell into it. I was surprised! But for me, that’s what I always wanted to do. I was an art guy. I went into the business program at Indiana University, which was the number 4 business program nation-wide at the time. All of my friends were going to business schools. But the business pre-req’s weren’t really resonating with me and it kind of scared me straight. I went home that summer and my parents got me this book called Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow. I read the cover of the book, I didn’t read the whole book. The cover was enough. I went back to school to study design, rather than have a career that chased money. The irony of it all is that I’ve out-earned most of the business grads from my year. I’ve out-earned doctors. The money follows! You get passionate about something, you put your heart and soul into it — and success comes. You become so good at it and you shine, and the financial aspect becomes a by-product of it.

[19:34] Allan: I love that! I’ve got the book called The Power of No by James Altucher. I read the cover and thought, “I get the gist.” But that book changed my life! For a year, I said no to everything that didn’t align with what I did 100%. I doubled, if not tripled my revenue that year. The right jobs would come along and I’d be available for them. You studied a lot of marketing. Headlines are underrated. They’re everything! That’s how you reel people in. On that subject, do you want to comment on Steal Like an Artist?

Michael: That’s my post today. It blew up! It’s a great book and the concept is great: We are a mash-up of all the things we consume, and our uniqueness comes as a byproduct. The word “steal” is going to sell you a lot of books, but it will be misused by those who don’t understand the concept inside the book. They’ll think it’s okay to “borrow” the content and put into their own work. That’s an issue! It’s interesting to read the comments on my feed after this post. Coming from a guy who wrote 2 books, it’s pretty frustrating when someone takes my concept, passes it as his own and doesn’t give me credit. I work my butt off to give original ideas that I’m not pulling from someone else’s book. I’m pulling them from my experience and ideas that I implemented into my business, that fixed a problem that I had. It’s not from anyone else. So I’m not a fan of the word “steal”.

[23:07] Allan: I love that! I feel that especially with design, there is a lot more stealing. In my area, we have a lot of clones. More recently, I’ve had a few people steal my business model. The comforting thing is to know that I’m the inventor and those who are stealing don’t know the reasons behind why I’m doing what I’m doing. For you, what do you do in those situations? People can take it really personally.

Michael: I don’t squash it negatively. And I don’t go around and bash people. I’ll post a comment, “Hey, this is my content. Please give me credit.” I love when people ask me [if they can use my material]. I get a ton of DM’s. At least once a day, someone will ask for permission, “I’m in Pakistan. May I translate your content?” My answer is always yes! That’s my goal to be altruistic. People aren’t paying me to be on Instagram. I ask to be credited in the first line of the post and the image. It’s the ones who take my exact quote and they don’t mention me in the description. I don’t report people to Instagram. But ironically, someone always does. Someone used 4 of my posts but just took out my name with Photoshop. Other people report these accounts. It’s a tricky world. Plagiarism is easy to do in the digital world.

[25:50] Allan: It is! It is technically their work because they used Photoshop.

Michael: You’re right. And like you said, it took them 4 seconds to take out my name but it took them 3 years to learn Photoshop.

[26:09] Allan: I agree. You can get into a negative space if you get involved. Most people won’t have the success you have. They’re just copying your content.

Michael: I don’t get emotionally bent out of shape over it. I look at it as, “Good luck to you with your 200 followers, using my content as your own. It’s not going to get you anywhere.” It’s not even taking you to coming up with something original. Which is the magic staff that gets you followers and fans. I work really hard to create that type of content. I hardly even quote someone else. I don’t want to touch someone else’s ideas!

[28:01] Allan: Robin Williams has been accused of stealing people’s work. He would be speaking so quickly, he’d start to veer off into their material. So I hear what you’re saying.

Michael: It’s tough. I’ve read a lot of books and it’s hard to not have others’ ideas not leak in. I believe in the concept of the book Steal Like an Artist. We are a mash-up of all the things we ingest. I believe in that principal. But it doesn’t mean that what you’re creating isn’t original. It also doesn’t mean that what you’re creating is stolen from someone else. You bring things into your brain, they get re-processed through your own experience and the output is something unique and original. I don’t believe that there is nothing original. Of course, there are original things! It doesn’t mean you have to steal to get it. But we are definitely influence by the things we ingest.

[29:59] Allan: Absolutely! I always say, “You can be the most talented artist in the world, but if no one knows who you are — how are you going to get work?” These days, the market is so saturated, you need to rise above the noise. By having a specialty, it allows you to niche down which is so critical. No matter what platform, you’ll always get people to disagree with this. What’s your opinion?

Michael: Niching is super scary because you do go down the route of not wanting to alienate the clients you already have. But you have this great opportunity to chase something you’re really passionate about. It’s a scary thing. I’m a proponent of experimental niching using landing pages. Let’s whittle it down: We’re either going to do title slides or pamphlets. Let’s whittle them down even further: It’s title slides for movie trailers and pamphlets for hotels. Those are our two niches. But create a landing page for each of those things and then go approach people in each of those markets. Hopefully, one of these will rise up as the right idea for your future niche. When one rises up, you throw out the other one — and there is your business. And you didn’t have to alienate anyone to go down that marketing strategy.

[32:33] Allan: I just wrapped on a Marvel project. Yesterday, I had some time to kill. I ended up watching a video of you and Chris Do on pricing. I remember him falling on the floor very excitedly. I thought it was very humorous. I can see where you’re going with this. It’s like when people ask, “What content should I make?” Why don’t you ask them what they want and create that. I remember when Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Work Week came out, he Googled to see what cover to make for his book. What you’re saying is why don’t you split test and see when works?

Michael: No, it’s brilliant. AB testing is testing a niche. 4-Hour Work Week is a brilliant book that has 25% applicable content and 75% you have to say it will work eventually. It would be interesting to see how that book contributed to the typical millennial job perspective. Because it’s all about living in Brazil but getting paid in dollars. We’re in the world where it’s the millennial’s dream: to be an influencer and live anywhere and document your vacations.

[34:30] Allan: I don’t know Tim personally but we have a few mutual friends. I’m wondering what he might say about that.

Michael: There is a lot of synergy between that book and the millennial mindset. I’m a big fan of Tim. The other irony about Tim is that I doubt that he works 4 hours a week. That dude puts in some serious hours! I work a lot of hours so it doesn’t feel like working. I love the beach so I take some hardcore beach vacations; but I love working too. Every morning, I’m excited to start cracking on this. For me, it is like a 4-hour work week because the 60 hours that I work during the week don’t feel like work.

[35:38] Allan: That’s right! I want to get back to what we were talking about. It’s so critical when you go to work but then you come home and you end up working all night on 3D, or something. Whatever you end up doing in your spare time is what you end up doing. Once you get fulfilled in your calling, what do you do when you come home?

Michael: I’ve had that happen. In my agency, I started by freelancing for 3 years. But then I started hiring people. Years 4, 5 and on became about agency’s growth. Once I started getting the vision that it was going to be an agency, I dug in deep. I had the drive and the passion; we were growing, setting goals, tracking financials. Disney was our biggest client. We did some work for ABC, NBC, Warner Brothers and all kinds of cool clients. We landed Google in 2012 and it didn’t feel like anything magical. It felt like just another new client and we were doing a lot of work for them. But when Google starts to feel like just another client, you have to ask, “Is this really scratching my entrepreneurial itch?” At some point in this passion process, you can get to the top of the mountain. Is there another mountain to climb? That’s where my mindset went and led me to a new path. I was excited to land Google, but it wasn’t like party time. When I landed NBC 5 years earlier, it felt like a killer! A pinch-me sort of a moment! You’ve done a lot of cool work too. If you’re doing work for Marvel and DC calls you today, is it going to do much for you? It may come off sounding arrogant, but at the end of the day, they’re just clients. It’s just projects and design. The flow of a project isn’t all that different.

[39:43] Allan: Can we go back to niching. I went off on my own rant and I know people will get angry with me!

Michael: The other idea — and I’m a great believer in this — is the hedgehog concept (from Good to Great by Jim Collins). It’s a Venn diagram of:

  • What can you be the best in the world at?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What drives your economic engine?

Those three things lead you down the path of niching. This overlapping of these circles. I call this “a niche funnel”: you have to harrow it down and get to the point where you find what you can be the best in the world in. For some people it may be: You’re the best logo designer on Main Street in a town in Tennessee. That’s who you are, with those clients and in that location. For other people, it may be that you’re the best web designer in the whole world. That may be possible for them but not for most people. [38:14] I look at niching as you want to funnel down to the point of being able to be the best at it, but not so tight that you alienate the audience that can sustain your business. You don’t niche down to the point in-sustainability of your business. That’s the risk! That’s where people get afraid. If you niche down to pamphlets for hotels, will you have enough clients? Or do you need to niche up one point in the funnel?

[42:26] Allan: What about multiple niches with different messages?

Michael: Yeah! We did this. Google loves their vendors who look like they do work only for Google. We made a custom landing page for Google. We made a custom brochure. It only had Google work on it. It had the name of my agency, “Riser Loves Google”. From their perspective, all we did was work for Google. But for the entertainment clients, we had a brochure that said, “Riser Loves Hollywood” and it was all the Hollywood type of work. We tried to paint a picture that we were specifically structured to work for them and that we understood their business, and we could meet their needs. We didn’t make them sort through our website and connect the dots. We gave it to them on a silver platter. That’s an important piece of niching. It goes beyond the landing pages. You have to understand your target customer and understanding their specific needs.

[44:10] Allan: So this is a good point! Somehow, I’m going to segue this into Instagram messages. I think it’s important to figure out the messaging for your client. Do you think it’s important to front load that kind of stuff? I think it’s a big mistake that people make. It happens when someone offers their service for free. What are you thoughts on that? When you reach out to a client, do you showcase what you can do for them (as part of their vision)?

Michael: Some people like to target a certain niche. They don’t have any work that shows that niche or have any contacts in that industry. So they start from a completely cold perspective. I’ve had 3-4 people who wanted to design for breweries. My response is, “Do you have any work that showcases your work for breweries?” Their answer is no. Then I tell them to create spec work, make something up. It’s concept work. You make up a brand and label, the messaging, the bottle mockups, the case mockup, the side of a truck mockups. You basically make a case study as real as a Miller or any of those brands. Make 3-4 of those — and then you go target those potential customers. Then you can say, “I’m an expert in designing for breweries and here is my work.” They go to those landing pages and they have those things.

[46:46] When you approach someone who’s trying to target a niche and you approach them with the work that targets it, it talks directly to their pain points. They’re thinking, “There is a lot of designers out there but I want someone who understands this industry!” You show up in their LinkedIn messages as that type of person, you have a much better chance of getting hired than if you were cold calling with your portfolio filled with hotel designs. My answer is that if you’re talking about designing for free, that’s a tough sell because it puts the work on the recipient. When I get those message, I don’t have time to manage that person who’s doing the free work. But if someone messages me and says, “Create your content and I will input into your YouTube, LinkedIn, etc. You just make the first one.” That resonates because they’re speaking to a pain point I have right now. I’m working with my 20-year old son and training him up to do that right now. That’s how you land work inside a niche.

[48:58] Allan: I think that’s really brilliant. It doesn’t need to be for free, that was just an example. People approach others with “give me, give me” attitude. They forget that the people they’re approaching are extremely busy and they aren’t going to stop and think about how to utilize that person. The more you can front load that thinking — the more you’re helping them. That’s the type of presentation you should give to a busy person.

Michael: This is segueing into what you were going to talk about. I get a ton of Instagram messages and some of these people on my Instagram are my core friends. I love their support and I give them support back. Those people started with a friendly connection. There was a girl who found a typo in my book. Then, she started commenting on my posts. Now she is in the core of my support group and I love getting messages from her. I’m so grateful for this relationship, but it hasn’t been one-sided. She’s been giving me support. With anyone, you have to sit back and think, “How do I make this mutually beneficial? How do I give something back to them?” If you have a question for someone, before you ask that question — start commenting on their stuff. Once you’ve done that 4-5 times, all of a sudden you will get the person’s attention. Then when the time comes and you have a question, you will get a specific answer because you have a relationship with them. That’s different from getting a simple one-liner, like “Hello” from someone. I know once I respond to that, I will get a long message back. I reply to every message. I have some default responses. Do you want to hear them?

[52:56] Allan: Yeah!

Michael: My mentality is: If I can give them value inside 2 minutes, I will reply right then and there. If it’s going to take longer, sometimes, I will say, “I love this question and I will add it to my content plan.” Which I do. Other times, I have the answer. I message some of my posts from the past. I’ve also said, “This is too much to do over a DM but can you jump on a Zoom call?” And I’ll give them a 30-minute call. But I don’t do that for people who are just trying to get from me. I had a girl a few years ago and she posted my book on her account (and I only had 300 followers). I appreciated her support. When she didn’t have a job, she asked if she could send me her portfolio for a critique. I spent 2 hours on a Zoom call with her. I’m happy to do that! My whole life is about giving back right now!

[55:16] Allan: I love that! I nodded so much! A lot of the stuff is, like, FUCK YEAH! One thing I’ve been pushing with my team lately is, “Serve the many, not the few!” If I get someone who is asking for response that would take 3 hours, but it has no life after that. I love that you’re qualifying content.

Michael: And that’s what you see. I got to the same point where I’d spend so much time replying to people’s messages on Instagram and it would be great content! And it was super valuable. 99% of the people are super supportive. The design community is filled with people like that. I’d reply on some big chain and it would be buried in one person’s post. How do I give that content to others? I started these QA Posts: Someone asks me a question and I break it down into a multi-slide answer. That serves the many. I ask people if they want to be tagged for giving me inspiration. I’m happy to give them exposure. Some people don’t want to be tagged for asking a question.

[57:58] Allan: That’s so cool! How do you get traction with Instagram? Your account is so clean and specific! It’s such brilliant stuff. Without blowing smoke up your butt, it’s been rare to discover such value. When did you discover you were getting traction?

Michael: It was tough! At the start, I started on April 1. My Instagram channel was all about my family life. I’ve started archiving those. April 1 was the line in the sand and you will see the change. [59:16] I am a big fan of the idea that marketing is experimentation. I experimented hard with formats, quote posts, image posts, etc. Until I found some growth. Between April 1 and May, [my account] few by 6K. That’s when I was on Chris Do’s show. That got me another 1-3 thousand followers. That was a bit of a catalyst. It wasn’t as monumental as I expected. Chris wasn’t focused on his Instagram channel at that time. Now, a shoutout from him would get more engagement. Once you hit a tipping point when you start getting exponential returns. I found myself on the type of content that was resonating. And my audience got to a certain size that my growth became exponential. I once got 10K followers in 16 days.

[1:01:19] Allan: That’s crazy!

Michael: I’m not doing any advertisement. I never boost posts. I tried it once but it didn’t help much. It really has to be organic. [1:01:47] The cliche is to give value. You have to speak to the target customer. You have to speak to their problem. You have to push past the initial fear time when you have 1,000 followers. You have to keep pushing and experimenting. Something happens when you reach the 3,000 mark because you hit the tipping point. You just have to keep pushing. That’s one option. (The other option is to start posting bikini shots. You’ll get a lot of followers fast!)

[1:02:50] Allan: I attended a talk earlier this year by a marketing guy. He would tell us to scroll through our feed. He’d ask, “How many booty shots did you see? That’s who you’re competing with!” I can’t compete with them. But I can figure out what else is working.

Michael: [1:03:32] And then differentiate from what’s working. You’ve got to come up with your own originality. Don’t just copy what other people are doing. Take what you see is working and then figure out some kind of a unique way to deliver that content. Don’t take stuff that’s been done. Otherwise people can see when you’re copying people. Be yourself. Do it your way!

[1:04:47] Allan: I feel like I want to beg and plead for you to come back [for another Podcast]. I want to ask you a couple more design questions because I’m married to a designer. I’m half in and half out of her business. When did you realize you needed to hire additional people? It doesn’t make your life easier in the beginning, but it’s worth it in the long run.

Michael: That’s exactly what happened! I got to 80 hour weeks and I couldn’t do anymore hours. I was financially fearful and I was afraid to spend it. My wife forced me to hire another person. I hired a neighbor’s son, a super sharp kid and he was really good at it. Two months after that, I hired my first full-time employee. A year later, I had 5 employees and an office space. A year after that, I had 12 employees and I was purchasing an office space. There are certain layers that happen when you’re hiring. I’m at a level right now to do it all myself because I don’t have time to train the person. But with employee #3, I am going to get my time back because those 3-4 employees give me my time back. There is an even bigger profitability between employee 3 and 6. If you’re going to have 3 employees, you might as well do it all yourself. I saw these thresholds happen in my business. If you’re going to be 5 — you might as well be 3. If you’re going to be 8 — you might as well be 5. But with 12, it becomes a new level of dollars. But you don’t hit the next level until 18. You also have employees who don’t create monetary gain for the business. They’re just [running your errands]. That’s a long-winded response. You have to look at that employee #3 or #5. But if you’re only going to have 2 employees, you might as well just stay by yourself.

[1:08:59] Allan: Yeah, it’s so tricky! I was in Paris earlier this year and I had a meeting with a studio out there. They were taking about growing from 50 to a 100 people. I was telling them when they hit their 80 people mark, that’s when they’ll need a new level of infrastructure. You’re also going to be spending time fixing their stuff. At the same time, that’s the Achilles’s Heel. So my final question is: How do you manage a family and being obsessed with work?

Michael: Oh, man! The fortunate thing now is that I’m back working in my basement. I’ve got my office here. I’m around a lot and I see my kids. I’m distracted a lot. I’m always mentally going, “When am I going to share this one?” Other people blow off time other ways. Who knows how? My hobby is also my work. You’re balancing that. The problem with growing my agency, the stress level was so extreme and so many moving parts, I did miss a decade of quality time with my family. I was present physically but not emotionally. I did a lot of work for Haim and Cheryl Saban. Haim owned Power Rangers. I was talking to Cheryl and she mentioned how Haim is always working. “It fuels him and that’s what he needs in his life.” My mindset is that I want to do this! I’m not burnt out. [1:12:29] That’s the magic point in your career: When what you’re doing for your career income is what you would be doing for absolutely free! And that’s the sweet spot. That’s the 4-hour work week! As creatives, there are so many of us that get to do that for a living. When you’re on vacation, you’re still shooting your cool shots and editing them into the greatest vacation video. That’s the magic of being a creative! What we would do for a hobby, we get to do it for a living. We get to make cool things!

[1:13:56] Allan: Yeah, we’re so fortunate! I want to thank you for taking the time to chat! This has been amazing! I’ve been so excited for this one and you didn’t let me down.

Michael: Yeah, let’s do it again! You were really fun to talk to!

I hope you got a lot from this Episode. I want to thank Mike for coming on the Podcast and bringing so much value. I hope he comes back. I definitely recommend for you to read both of his books.

Next week, I will be talking about how to bid for VFX work.

Until next week —

Rock on!


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