If there’s one thing we know from several thousand interviews and three and half years of connecting with entrepreneurial people (seasoned, aspiring or somewhere in between) is that life – and by extension, business – is never ever linear.
Plan As rarely go to plan at all, and Plan Bs (let’s be honest, often Plan F) have a funny habit of sneaking up on you, resulting in an entire overhaul of your expectations of, and metrics for success.
This has certainly been the case for 30 year-old professional actor-turned-photographer/photography teacher Gemma Pranita, who recently made the decision to take the reigns of her career for the first time after a decade of being at the mercy of a passionate, tumultuous and frequently disloyal lover: the TV and film industry.
After a dalliance with two ends of the creative spectrum (a 12 month stint with Bell Shakespeare as Ophelia, Juliet and Lady Macbeth, as well as a few years on iconic Australian TV show Neighbours alongside Margot Robbie), Gemma thought she ought to follow the bright lights to Hollywood. She did, but as is so often the way, the universe had other plans in the works.
Tell us about your move to Los Angeles.
I was a fish out of water. A very teeny tiny fish swimming amongst giants. The opportunities were mammoth but so was the competition. I suddenly found myself in a creative drought –It was here that I met my dear friend “rock bottom”. I can refer to hitting rock bottom like a mate these days because the best thing about hanging out in a pit of hell is you do a heck of a lot of soul searching. It dawned on me that pursuing a career in acting meant I wasn’t allowed to be in the driving seat of my life. I was at the mercy of everyone else’s decision-making – casting agents, directors and producers. I was treading water and waving my hand in an over populated pool of hopefuls hoping to get noticed. It was exhausting.
How did you take back control?
I wanted my life equation to be simple. The harder I work, the greater the reward. So I proceeded to work very hard on my other love, photography. And the second I decided to turn my photography hobby into a career, the results came instantly. Every job led to another job. Word of mouth is a crazy wonderful thing. It has been the perfect creative career to immerse myself in between acting gigs. And whilst photography may have been my life Plan B, it’s completely taken over as my life Plan A. Now any acting gigs that come along are merely icing on my homemade cake!
And that’s the beautiful thing about being a creative creature, you don’t have to restrict yourself to just one thing. In the current entrepreneur climate that advocates sharing ALL your unique talents, there’s no reason why you can’t do several.
Have you found many similarities between being an actor and an entrepreneur?
There are far more differences than similarities to be honest. For one, when you’re an actor you are one cog of a giant production machine. Whereas as an entrepreneur, you are responsible for the entire bloody machine. You have to understand how every cog works and make sure it’s running effectively. But… I would say both careers will force you into corners of feeling completely exposed and vulnerable. Putting yourself out there requires you to dig deep, channel bravery and fearlessness in the face of public opinion.
What have been your greatest business lessons so far?
When I wanted to start a business I knew absolutely jack-all about business. My whole acting career meant I had a manager to organise everything for me. He negotiated all my contracts, my work schedule, organised my appointments, everything! I didn’t have any of these basic skills.
As an entrepreneur, you’ve got be willing to up-skill. I forced myself to learn and understand the back end of my website even though every part of my body squirms and resists anything remotely tech-based. Learning is all part of the entrepreneurial gig.
So start before you’re ready and learn on the job. You will never have enough knowledge, time or money so just start before you’re ready and figure it out as you go. I’m a perfectionist by nature so I was guilty of stalling every project or idea by spending all my time thinking about it rather than just doing it! You’ve got to take inspired action or your idea will be shelved in your brain and never come to fruition. I have learnt to get out of my head and start moving and shaking to make things happen, even if I don’t know all the answers yet.
What do you think the key to successful self-employment is?
For me making friends with other self-employed peeps has been key. It’s great to create a network of accountability partners where you can check in with each other’s work progress and have a good old venting session about the challenges of being self employed.
And of course, it’s paramount to create a daily working routine. I work from home and, I’ll be honest, it’s a struggle. I can easily meander my way through the day getting distracted with ridiculous things like raiding the pantry for snacks. So giving yourself set working hours helps. I’m most productive in the mornings so I have to capitalise on my window of focus. I switch my phone to airplane mode between 8-11 and try to plough through as much work as I can. Then I reward myself with some sort of treat!
I also manage my time by creating a weekly schedule every Sunday. It’s a bit like a puzzle. I start with the corners and edges (ie. any appointment and deadlines) then I fill in the remaining pockets of time with everything else. It’s a messy calendar but I kinda like it that way. Every day is different.
Enrolment for Gemma’s Photography 101 course is open until Sunday 11th September, with classes kicking off on Monday 12th September.
Find out more at gemmapeanut.com.