How saying “No” has helped us to grow our business

This is our 10th year of running Talented Ladies Club. And one of the things we love about being around so long is hearing from people we have interviewed over the years.

Sometimes their lives change and they move on from projects they share with us onto new pastures. Other times they get in touch to share how their business, career or freelance work has evolved.

Which is exactly what happened when Lisa Fairbank from Factory Films got in touch. We first interviewed Lisa and her co-founder Julie Heathcote in 2014, when they shared how they had launched their first TV production company in Brighton.

Today – even despite Covid – their business is going from strength to strength. Lisa shares with us why finally learning to say “No” has been the secret to their continued success.

We said “Yes” to everything when we started Factory Films

When we started Factory 10 years ago from a garage near Brighton, we were enthusiastic and frankly desperate for commissions of ANY kind and we said “YES” a lot. 

We said “Yes” to work that we knew was under-budgeted, we said “Yes” to work where we knew the rights’ position was terrible. And we said “Yes” to working with people and channels we knew would be a pain in the arse.

We were a new indie working in the crowded and fiercely competitive factual market. If we didn’t do the work, someone else would. We needed to pay the bills and we wanted to be busy. There is after all only so long you can call yourselves a production company if you’re not actually producing anything. For nine years this was how we operated.

We said “yes” to everything from educational content for BBC Bitesize to short-form comedy for Snapchat, travelogues for BBC4 and archive based history for BBC South East; we did it all. And don’t get me wrong, we made some great programmes and we are really proud of all that we achieved. We worked with brilliant people, we won some awards, but we’d be lying if we said it was easy. 

When Covid hit we thought about giving up

Then Covid happened, and frankly we thought about giving it all up – a tough gig just got a whole lot tougher. But during lockdown we were lucky enough to be selected for the Creative England Female Founders Course, and it was transformative.

Over the course of a few months we decided to specialise; to only work on programming about subjects we really loved: arts, music, culture, books.

We’d already made some really great and ambitious programmes in this territory: Giles Coren’s My Failed Novel and The Glyndebourne Opera Cup, but now we were going to say “NO” to everything else  and only focus on the genres that we were passionate about.

There’s something incredibly liberating about saying “ Sorry, we don’t do that” and it’s truly empowering to have a crystal clear mission, one that you, your team and your clients can really understand and see. 

Within weeks of saying “NO” we saw a change

Within weeks of starting to say “No”, of honing our brand, website and social media presence to reflect our new direction, we started to see and feel the change. 

We won a commission for BBC Scotland about author and poet Sir Walter Scott, we landed a series on Sky Arts about singing and an arts passion project we’d been working on for nearly four years was also greenlit.

By limiting what we were doing, we started hearing “yes” a lot more from funders, partners and broadcasters. Our expert offering, while niche and possibly not as lucrative as production in other genres – is rewarding in so many other ways. Saying “no” has had a really positive impact on our business.

Find out more about Factory Films.