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From Stage to Screen to Entrepreneur: How One Actor Turned an Opportunity Into a Business

What does the Australian film industry, Christopher Nolan, and Thrive Themes have in common?

The focus of today’s story, Bradley Stevens aka Brad!

We all have a dream. And sometimes that dream leads us to a different dream which is exactly what led Brad from the stage to film to entrepreneur.

So follow along as I tell the tale of Brad as he moved from creating characters to creating a business to learn how you, too, can go from total newbie to an entrepreneurial star. 

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When Your Niche Finds You

Some people search high and low for their niche. But for the lucky few, their niche finds them. Brad is one of those lucky few.

As a budding entrepreneur, you’re advised to discover a gap in the market and then find a way to best fill it. But some people, just by virtue of working in their field of choice, continually come upon the same challenge over and over again.

This is what happened with Brad.

After several years of studying and working as an actor in Australia, he started to notice a trend. He worked with many talented, up-and-coming filmmakers only to watch their careers go nowhere.

Seeing filmmakers hit this dead end time and time again, Brad couldn’t help but wonder why this kept happening. After a little investigating, he found it all boiled down to one thing: aspiring filmmakers need a feature length film under their belt in order to get noticed in their field.

But “just make a feature film!” was not as simple as it sounds.

Feature length films often take quite a lot of cha-ching; most cost millions of dollars to make. But nobody wants to give a nobody, so to speak, that kind of cash.

Filmmakers need to prove themselves before someone invests in their films. But without a feature length film, how does a filmmaker prove himself?

What Brad found was a classic Catch-22 situation aka the double edged sword. It's like to get a job, you need experience. But to get experience, you need the job.

So how to solve this seemingly impossible problem?

A Business Is Born

Many of today’s successful filmmakers started their careers by making a micro-budget feature length film. And while this is a fairly well-known fact, there is very little information and few resources out there for anyone wanting to do the same.

Filmmakers lack the business skills to produce feature length films at an extremely low cost.

That’s when Brad realized he could help new filmmakers find a way to prove themselves in the same way directors like Kevin Smith, Christopher Nolan, Richard Linklater, and Robert Rodriguez did with their films Clerks ($28,000), Following ($6,000), Slacker ($23,000), and El Mariachi ($7,000) respectively.

So starting in 2014, Brad went on a mission to become “the guy who knew more about this topic than anyone else” even though at this point, he had done much more acting than filmmaking.

He drew upon a previous experience as an associate producer on a micro-budget film as well as reading as many books he could find on producing a film. He combed through college textbooks searching for any nugget of wisdom he could find. He interviewed filmmakers to glean all the information he could.

And so the Micro Budget Film School was born.

He chose his brand and business name based on a common term in the entertainment industry, micro budget film—which is defined as any film made for less than $250,000. And then by adding “School” to his brand, there’s no question as to what his business is about: a place to learn about micro budget filmmaking.

Takeaway

Stop waiting to be an “expert” in your niche.

You just need to know more than your potential clients. Yes, keep learning and become an expert, but you don’t need to be an one right away...

Website Growing Pains

While Brad had a little experience building a plug-and-play site, he soon realized it wasn’t versatile enough for what he wanted for Micro Budget Film School.

After reading that WordPress ran about 25% of the internet (that figure is 31.5% as of this writing), he decided to give it a try. He went with the popular Genesis theme but soon found himself frustrated and overwhelmed.

As many a newbie online solopreneur learns, Brad found trying to make a few things look the way he wanted next to impossible.

Instead he scrapped the site and signed up with Squarespace, but the idea of WordPress just wouldn’t let go. Not one to take the easy road, he decided the bigger learning curve was worth it for the potential versatility and power of a WordPress site.

So back to WordPress but this time with a free theme and a little self-taught HTML and CSS.

Takeaway

When you know what you want, find and use the best solution—even if it means putting in a little more effort.

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3…

Now, with a presentable site, it was time to launch!

Brad's homepage pre-Thrive Themes.

And what does any good product creator do? Validate their offer which is exactly what Brad instinctively did.

Sure it sounds like teaching aspiring filmmakers how to make a micro-budget film is a good idea, but are they willing to invest their time and money to do so?

Instead of jumping directly into creating a course, Brad invited six friends to attend a free six-hour workshop.

He stood at the front of the class scribbling on a whiteboard while filling their heads with all the information he’d been consuming for months!

And the result?

Words like “fascinating,” and “invaluable,” and “unlike anything I was ever taught in film school” were used to describe the workshop.

But… these were friends. Would strangers feel the same way?

Brad took the class feedback, made improvements, and held another free workshop but this time with people he didn’t know…  strangers.

When the workshop was over, he had another round of rave reviews. And along with feedback forms, he had the foresight to collect testimonials as well.

Takeaway

Before you spend hours creating an online course, make sure people want it first. You can validate your offer by sending out feelers to your list.

Or do what Brad did and hold a live workshop for real live people!

Charging for His Product

With two successful workshops, feedback, and testimonials in hand, it was now time to launch to earn that cold, hard cash—or you know, whatever the PayPal version of cold, hard cash is.

With the help of the free plugin, CampTix, Brad sold tickets to a paid workshop through his website. With the plugin, he was also able to integrate the payments with his PayPal account.

I had plenty of time… but I had absolutely no money. So I would only ever spend money if I truly believed I’d exhausted the free options and it was smarter to invest in something.

Brad set the price for the workshop at $75 a pop and started running Facebook ads to his site. And the number of signups from the ads? 13! And that is after an initial ad spend of less than $200.

I cannot explain the surge of joy I felt when my phone buzzed with a PayPal notification saying that a stranger just paid me $75! What a feeling!

He ran the live workshop a few more times eventually expanding it to a two-day workshop complete with templates, slideshow presentations, guides, and more. He also raised the price to $120. At this point, it was time… time for Brad to take that next step.

Takeaway

Know when it’s time to start charging and/or to raise your prices.

If you’re testing with a beta group or have been giving away your services for free, when you have enough feedback, get that money!

Adding Email Marketing to the Mix

After several successful workshops, creating an online course was the next logical step.

And by being on Ramit Sethi’s list, Brad had an excellent role model to follow in terms of how to market a course.

But before he started on any type of content creation, Brad worked backwards asking himself a very important question:

How would he get visitors to buy his course?

The answer? That super sexy, why-aren’t-we-all-doing-it-already form of marketing that is known as email marketing.

So in keeping with the “not spending money if he didn’t have to” philosophy, Brad signed up with email marketing platform Mailchimp’s free plan and created his first basic opt-in form.

And now we come to the part of the story where Brad faced his first real obstacle. After launching his first newsletter, nobody signed up!

But rather than get discouraged, Brad decided to do more research and figure out why he couldn’t get people to join his mailing list.

Takeaway

Don’t give up when something doesn’t go as planned. Use obstacles as an opportunity to learn and grow (even if that means, you need to scrap the idea all together).

Signing Up With Thrive

So why didn’t anyone sign up for Brad’s list? Essentially, Brad learned it was because he didn’t give anyone a reason to join his list.

This is when he learned about free opt-in bait aka lead magnets. And thanks to a few marketing Facebook groups and a Udemy course, he also discovered the “magic” of automation.

But while this was all well and good, he knew setting up his email bait and sequences was only half the problem.

The other half? A familiar dilemma. How to get people on the list in the first place….

Enter stage left: Thrive Leads.

Brad learned from other marketers that he could sign up for Active Campaign’s least expensive package and override the branding and design using Thrive Leads—a tempting idea.

After a little more research, Brad could not resist the call of “conversion focused” and knew Thrive Leads was the way to go.

I’m a realist, and I knew that I wasn’t going to afford content marketers or writers to work for me, not for a long time. I was going to be a solopreneur. For this reason, it became important to me that I build my marketing around the concept of ‘high converting.’ If I was only able to post one blog a month, I wanted as many visitors as I could to join my list.

Another important realization Brad made at this point was that if email marketing was going to be the backbone of his strategy, he needed to start investing, financially, in his business. And at $67 with a 30 day money back guarantee, Thrive Leads was a no brainer.

Takeaway

When bootstrapping, it’s tempting to always opt for free products. But when free starts to hold you back in your business—or takes more time than it’s worth—it’s time to invest in your business.

Thrive Leads: The Gateway Drug

Once he got a taste of that sweet, sweet Thrive Themes content, he needed more!

Like many users, I came for the ‘Conversion Focused Opt-In Forms’ and stayed for the marketing training.

Having been exposed to a non-stop flow of marketing BS, Brad found someone else who was also fed up with all the hype and shiny objects: Shane.

Quickly Shane became a voice of reason, honesty, and much needed help when I was already up to my neck in marketing hype bullshit.

With Shane guiding him to focus on the things that really mattered, Brad started to trust the the Thrive Themes team. So as he became more immersed in all things conversion, he pulled the trigger and signed on for the full Thrive membership.

Takeaway

It's more than just having the right tools. You need a solid marketing foundation as well.

Progressing with Thrive Themes

Now here’s where the fun really starts.

Armed with a newly designed site, Brad used his Thrive Themes education and took off.

Brad's current homepage made with Thrive Themes products.

Thanks to the extensive research he’d done along with the real life feedback from his workshops, Brad knew he needed multiple lead magnets to segment his audience. He created three different categories of opt-in offers based on the most common problems:

  1. “How do I come up with a good idea for a film I can afford?” Film Screenwriting
  2. “How do I get enough money to make my film?” Film Financing
  3. “How do I sell my film once it’s complete?” Film Distribution

Each got its own Thrive Leads opt-in form and lead group.

He also created a catch-all, two-step multiple choice opt-in as a lightbox asking “What’s the biggest problem stopping you from making a feature film?” with three answers geared toward one of his three groups:

  1. Finding the right idea
  2. Getting money to make it
  3. How I can sell it

Current Micro Budget Film School catch-all opt-in.

Once the user clicks an answer, they are then funneled to the correct lead magnet.

Takeaway

What are your potential clients asking? What problems do they need fixed the most?

Answer those questions and then cater your offers around the solutions.

One Article to Rule Them All

While working on getting all of that set up, Brad wrote what is known as a Skyscraper article or cornerstone content, a 5,000 word post: How To Make a Feature Film in 12 Months… With No Money!

While he has more articles planned, he knew he needed “one kick-ass power article” to start bringing people in. Peppered within the ultimate guide, he has three content upgrades—the ebooks—and a “Share to Unlock” content upgrade to spread the word far and wide.

Anytime he needs new leads, Brad boosts traffic to this cornerstone post using paid Facebook ads or posting it in online forums.

It starts getting shared again and gives me a bunch of fresh leads.

Takeaway

Ship as soon a possible!

You don't need 20, 10, or even five articles to start attracting clients and customers. One really great piece of content can start pulling them in.

Brad Creates His Online Course

Through all of this, Brad continued to run live workshops. But with a high-converting site in his arsenal, it was time to start creating his online course.

Knowing he wanted to reach a broader audience, he learned more about the filmmaking industry in the US. Then using his new knowledge and feedback from past students, Brad got to work.

Eventually, I made an eight week online course called ‘The Feature Filmmaker Program.’ It’s a beast. 24 x 30 minute video lessons. It walks you through the entire production of making a feature film for less than $50k, from concept and financing, through to marketing and distribution.

Spurred on by an ActiveGrowth podcast episode in which Hanne talks about booking students in a class before she’d even created the class.

So even though he only had four weeks worth of content of an eight week course, Brad started enrolling students.

With that deadline hanging over his head, despite what felt to him like an endless amount of time editing, the course was completed in time for his students when they were ready.

Takeaway

Be bold like Brad and Hanne!

If you're launching a course (or creating any product for that matter), it doesn't need to be done before you start selling it.

To Be Continued…

Today Brad has a well-designed website, three ebook lead magnets, an eight-week course, and about 7% of his visitors sign up for his newsletter. He also had a two minute explainer video made for the course.

So what’s next?

Now all the pieces fit, I have much more time on my hands.

And oh what big plans he has for the future! Here they are in his own words:

Evergreen Funnel

I spent June 2018 looking at how I can use Thrive Ultimatum to build an evergreen funnel to help automatically promote my course to new mailing list subscribers. The reason I wanted to do this is because I know that going forward, I won’t have that much time on my hands. I can’t juggle too many things at once.

And with an automated funnel I can focus on creating content to attract people to my site. And I know that if they subscribe, they will learn about my online course and if it’s right for them without any extra effort from me.

This funnel is complete. I just have to check it over then turn it on!

Free Courses

I plan to create some free mini-courses to attract people to my site. I’ll be using Thrive Apprentice to manage these. I’ve already got one mini-course that I’ve been testing live and hope to film it in the near future.

A/B Testing

I haven’t really done any A/B testing. Not much, at least. But I’m very glad that I can with Thrive Themes products. My goal has been to just get everything working as a good “A.” Once the pieces are there, then I want to begin building out the “B” options and start testing.

Thrive Ovation

I also have plans to use Thrive Ovation to capture testimonials on autopilot and am figuring out how to automatically send my students a bonus if they fill out a testimonial questionnaire.  

Content Creation

There’s no doubt about it, I need to create more content.

Update Site

Some parts of my website are still old Thrive Content Builder features. I need to migrate these to Thrive Architect and clean them up. I also want to replace Pressive with the new Theme Builder when it comes out soon.

Polish Opt-In Forms

Most of my opt-in forms are pretty… bland. They do the job. I like the copy, but not the design. They were mostly made with older Thrive Leads templates, and it’s time to use fresh new designs.

Your Turn

As you can tell, Brad faces his obstacles head on and learns from them all.

Perhaps the moral of this story isn’t ABC—always be closing—but ABI, always be improving.

It’s easy to fall for the marketing BS hype or to let little hiccups along the way curtail your progress. But as you can see from Brad’s tale, pushing through these challenges leads to great things like a high-converting, kick-ass website that will start making you money.

While tools like Thrive Leads and Thrive Architect can make the nuts and bolts of building a website less techy, there’s a lot to be said for having a good marketing base to grow from.

But what about you? Have you benefited from the marketing education the Thrive Themes blog and Thrive University provides? Which Thrive product has made the biggest impact for you?

Do you have your own hero’s journey to share?

Tell us in the comments below!

Author: Selene

When she's not spending her days writing, editing, and thinking about the editorial calendar for the blog, she's playing around with SEO for her own personal amusement.

  • Quentin P says:

    As well being an excellent overview on how to use Thrive to create a complete funnel, it also just happens to be an excellent case study on how to create a case study as pillar content. Brilliant Selene, and very inspirational.

    • Selene says:

      Thanks so much, Quentin! I’m glad you enjoyed it :)

  • Murray Warren says:

    Wow , this was a fabulous case study . Very inspirational

    • Selene says:

      Thanks so much! I’ll let Brad know you found his story inspirational

  • Randy Cavanaugh says:

    Thanks, Great job Selene! Looking fwd to Chapter 2!

    • Selene says:

      Thanks, Randy! I can’t wait to see how Brad’s next steps goes as well

  • info3 says:

    What a fantastic article! Thank you! I am going to go old-school and print it out so that I can go through it slowly and carefully, and make notes, in order to really take in all the amazingly useful information.

    • Selene says:

      Nice! I’m a paper and pen girl myself—especially for lists and scheduling

  • Daniel U says:

    Excellent article that is encouraging and inspiring. I’m a veteran software programmer and a fairly decent designer, but I’m using all of the Thrive tools to develop my new company’s brand to start offering some of our software apps. I love articles like this that actually walk the reader through the tiny steps that occurred which led to growth. I’ve never used mailing lists before and I am finding Thrive Leads to be the best tool for me, along with the great no-nonsense education here. We are launching our first campaign in less than one week and I look forward to seeing the A/B testing in action.

    • Selene says:

      That’s awesome, Daniel! Let us know how the testing goes :)

  • Tameka says:

    What is the membership software that he used to deliver the course content?

    • Selene says:

      Hi Tameka. He used LearnDash to deliver the course and Active Member 360 to manage memberships.

  • Erik A says:

    Great case study and well done Brad!

    • Selene says:

      Thanks, Erik! I’ll be sure to let Brad know

  • Cheefoo says:

    Wow…. This sums it all for every content creator. It is so true there are many marketing gimmicks that distracts along this journey. Could you also share how Brad survive without any income while doing his bootstrapping?Thanks for the awesome sharing.

    • Selene says:

      Hi Cheefoo, It started out for him as it does for many of us! A side hustle while he was working his J.O.B. It helped that he loves a good challenge and truly believed in the business.

  • Martin M says:

    This line intrigued me:
    “Brad learned from other marketers that he could sign up for Active Campaign’s least expensive package and override the branding and design using Thrive Leads—a tempting idea.”

    Can you say more about this? Is this the Lite Program? Also, how do you use Thrive Leads to override the branding?

    • Phillip B says:

      You simply connect the opt-in form to the Active Campaign API. So when someone opts-in it’s through thrive leads but added to the AC list.

      • Selene says:

        Thanks for jumping in with a great answer, Phillip!

  • Sonia says:

    Great article! I often forget about evergreen material and the rich potential of articles that can be improved for SEO purposes. It is inspiring to hear how we can reuse cornerstone material to gain new subscribers. This article was a good reminder of some useful marketing strategies.

    • Selene says:

      Awesome, Sonia! I’m so glad you found such a useful gem from the post

  • Rudy L says:

    Very impressive. Great content. Well written. Really encouraging. Love case studies.

    • Selene says:

      aww Thank you so much, Rudy! It was a fun one to write

  • Joan Bell says:

    You know an article is well written when you forget you’re actually reading a ‘marketing’ article. Such a great story with lots of takeaways. Thanks Selene.

    • Selene says:

      Oh wow, Joan! What a great compliment. Thank you so much!

  • Eric W says:

    Great article. When will Thrive Apprentice be ready? And does it replace the need to use something like Kajabi or Teachable?

    • Selene says:

      Hi Eric! Glad you enjoyed it. As for Thrive Apprentice, we don’t have a definitive ETA yet. But as a member you can already get access. And we’ll announce the “official” launch through email so make sure to subscribe to our newsletter!

  • Sapon says:

    Hi Selene . I like your post always because your writing inspires me.

    • Selene says:

      Thank you so much, Sapon! Glad you found some inspiration in the story

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