10 Business Lessons from James Mullinger
That may sound like a strange gig ~ until I explain that James Mullinger is a well-known UK comedian, former GQ editor, and TV presenter from London, England who moved with his wife and young children to his wife’s hometown after falling in love with our region.
Saint John, New Brunswick has amazing waterfront and beaches, warm people, innovative businesses, the oldest city market in Canada, one of Canada’s largest municipal parks, award-winning restaurants, and more. But with about 120,000 people living in Greater Saint John, it has a fraction of London’s potential audience.
Great decision for a better quality of life for their young family. Not quite the move that most comedians would recommend to grow one’s career.
But James has succeeded in what many people said couldn’t be done. He’s thriving as a comedian while living in Saint John.
Since moving here in early 2014, the big budget movie The Comedian’s Guide to Survival (starring actors from Twilight, Downton Abbey and Notting Hill) has been made about his crazy journey to becoming a successful stand up comedian (UK summer 2016 and across North America shortly after that). He’s also…
- been nominated for Canadian Comedy and Just for Laughs Awards
- in his third season of his own TV show Blimey! An Englishman,
- offers Mullinger’s Moments
- started a TV show for new acts from across Atlantic Canada called Comedy Boot Camp
- headlined Yuk Yuk’s comedy clubs across the country.
But how does he do it?
Vennture Garage, an initiative that helps entrepreneurs bring their startup idea to life, and Enterprise Saint John recently launched a series of Garage Talks with Building your Personal Brand with UK Comedian James Mullinger at ConnexionWorks.
The lessons that James shared don’t simply apply to business owners. They apply to leaders, leaders of the future, and anyone working hard to make their vision a reality.
1 Be Your Best Promoter
James’s choice to do all of the promotional work for his own business has two very practical reasons. “It doesn’t stem from a humungous ego. It simply stems from economics.” It’s cheaper to do it yourself if you know what you’re doing. He also points to his motivation level when he’s promoting a show. No one wants that show to sell out more than he does. He’s constantly spreading the word. If he’s taking his children to the park, he’s bringing flyers for his next event to hand out or post along the way.
2 Use a Mix of Mediums
Find your potential clients in more than one spot. James fills seats for a show with a combination of approaches ~ Twitter, Facebook, flyers, press packages, newspaper or radio interviews. He’s constantly seeking new ways to get the word out. He also says a simple step that’s often missed by business is to invest your money in good photography. You’re much more likely to get picked up for press coverage with quality images.
3 Follow Through
A devoted list-maker himself, every day James makes a list of things he has to achieve by the end of the day. Once you write something down on your business to-do list, it has to be done.
4 Create Your Own Opportunities
James thought his style of comedy was more suited to a 70 to 80-minute story than a 20-minute night club set that most comedians do. In 2009 when he was in England, he organized his own comedy tour by booking solo shows in community theatres outside of major cities where there may not be as much of a comedy scene.
Then he’d approach the local media and ask them if they’d like to interview him, and he’d go around the community himself putting up posters to promote the shows. The momentum from word-of-mouth got him booked the next year in larger arts centres and theatres across the UK.
5 Stay in Touch
It’s easy for people to forget your name no matter how much they liked you or your business, and you never know how long the sales cycle will be, so stay in touch. Business cards often end up in the bin. Be creative.
James gives credit to Canadian-based comedian Russell Peters for this strategy. At every single show, Russell collected the email addresses of his fans. With this database of emails, Russell would fire off an email every time he did a show in their area.
What James did in England was give CDs of his show to fans with his website and contact information on them. Whether it was one month or one year or five years later, they’d have the CD when they needed to find him.
6 Ignore the Cynics
Work your plan, and ignore the doubters. Some people didn’t think James could sell out the Imperial Theatre in 2014. He did. Then they thought he couldn’t do it again in 2015 because everyone had already seen him. But he came up with new material and sold the Imperial out again. Keep building relationships. Keep going.
7 Treat Every Gig (or Meeting) as a Job Interview
New Brunswick is a very connected community. Be sincere. Be responsive. Poor customer service will spread through the network. But the advantage is that if you do great work, people will talk about it, and your business will thrive. James had two shows one night at the Hilton in Saint John during Buskers On The Boardwalk. The first went spectacularly well. The second was, as he puts it, “a total disaster.” He did everything he could to hunt down and find everyone that had attended that second show to give them free tickets to another show.
8 Continue to Evolve
It takes at least seven years of practice, failure, and learning from the best to get good at stand up. The same for any profession. No one wakes up one day as an expert. Always keep learning. And once you have reached your goal, build a plan to sustain and grow. Continue to do new things. Continue to reach new markets.
James has partnered with Saint John’s Greg Hemmings of Hemmings House and the CBC to produce a documentary film about the ways in which Saint John is thriving right now, why he moved here, his adventure adjusting to life in Canada, and his love for Saint John. This film will be shot in the build up to the biggest show of James’ life – his first ever arena show.
Titled Anything Is Possible, James is attempting to sell more tickets than the 4,800 tickets his hero Jerry Seinfeld did when he played the same venue. James guarantees lots of new material, some old greatest hits, and some very special surprise guests to be announced. He says it will be the biggest and best comedy event Saint John has ever seen. Any money James makes from this phenomenal undertaking, he will be donating to the Canadian Cancer Society for whom James is an ambassador. (Presented by Lexus and Saint John Toyota, tickets go on sale at Harbour Station on Jan 19) This is James’ only full length public stand up show in Saint John for 12 months, and the show itself will also be captured by Greg Hemmings for the film he is making.
Two things James didn’t say directly but what ~ to me ~ were the most important messages from his talk:
9 We All Struggle
If you are working toward your big goal, chances are you have woken up in the middle of night worrying about money, logistics, or thinking “what the hell am I doing?” It’s nerve-wracking. The risk is real. That doesn’t mean to stop. Keep going.
10 It’s Work
Success comes from vision combined with commitment and being focused. There are no shortcuts. But if you want to succeed bad enough, you will do the work.
Thanks for the great advice, James. I too love Saint John and believe that here anything is possible.
Catherine Doucette BPR, MEd, CTDP is a Training and Performance Consultant specializing in customized business communications and leadership training for future leaders, managers, and entrepreneurs. Training is offered in group settings and one-on-one. Change is swift. Growth is essential. We can help. Contact us at 506.652.9915 or by email.