Chapter Introduction – written by Ken McElroy
Serve first. That’s the mission of Cindy Smartt, but until you read her story, I don’t think you’ll understand the depth of meaning that mission has for Cindy, a woman who saw the shortcomings of an industry and set out on her own to do things differently. She speaks of passion, but I believe her passion is for people – respecting them and caring for them. Even though she works in a high-pressure, high-profile industry with lots of egos, I find it fascinating that she speaks of peace. Her inspiration may ground her, but you’ll find it’s from a higher power.
9 Smartt Entertainment
What’s the most important factor in the success of your business? Passion. You must have passion for success in your work, your life, and your dreams. When you love what you do, work is easy. Who wouldn’t want to spend the majority of their time doing things that bring they joy? That’s what happened to me. I found my dream job. I actually get paid to work with some of the world’s top musicians, actors, rock stars, and comedians.
As an entertainment producer for concerts at corporate and private events, I’ve produced over 300 headline concerts, including events for Bon Jovi, Journey, Carrie Underwood, Dancing with the Stars, Goo Goo Dolls, Alabama, Rod Stewart, Dana Carvey, Huey Lewis and the News, and Diana Ross. I’ve had the pleasure of producing shows internationally for artists such as Andrea Bocelli in Rome, Keith Urban in Sydney, Sarah Brightman in Barcelona, and Ben Vereen in Bermuda. I never aspired to do this job. In fact, until a concert company hired me, I didn’t even know a job like this existed. But once I started the work, I knew I’d found my destiny.
As I became more and more successful in my job, I started to learn more about the business practices in the entertainment industry and uncovered some activities that were out of line with my values and my belief system. On numerous occasions, I was expected to compromise my ethics and even lie for financial gain. I was asked not only to stretch the truth about pricing restraints to the talent, but also to the client to secure more profits for my company.
I felt as though my loyalty and commitment were considered directly tied to revenue and not to customer service. It was a miserable way to do business. Sometimes, when we’re meant to learn a lesson, signs come to us in the form of whispers that we don’t always hear. In time, these became louder until large red flags appear and our bodies force us to stop and listen. At one point, I took a leave of absence from work due to stress-related health issues. When I stopped eating and my hair started falling out, I knew I had a serious problem. Those were my flags. As it turned out, although I wouldn’t realize this until later, the less-than-ethical behaviors of others did me a tremendous favor. I decided to leave my employer and be true to myself.
My Personal Inspiration:
I can do all things though Him who strengthens me.
I had no idea what I would do or where I would go, but I knew God was leading me to move on.
My first instinct was to market myself to competitive companies or event companies that could use my entertainment expertise. But in the process, when I reviewed my strengths, I realized that I already had everything I needed to perform the job on my own. I had the clients, I knew the agents, I could produce a show. I had the top technical producers in the world at my fingertips, and I had relationships with the best production coordinators in the business. I knew I could do the job, but could I run a company? I didn’t know for sure, so I kept looking for a job. But every time I tried to become an employee again, I was lead back to the same truth: I could do this on my own.
Unlike many entrepreneurs, I never dreamed about owning my own business while I was growing up or during my academic studies. My parents had their own company for thirty years, and I saw the long hours, the many problems with their employees, and their concerns about money, insurance and retirement. That was not the life I had planned for myself.
But it was funny, As soon as I made the decision to go out on my own, I was at peace. I took a leap of faith because I knew this was where God wanted me to be. It should’ve been the scariest time of my life, but it was one of the easiest. It defied logic on paper, but it was right in my heart. After that, things started to fall into place. Accounts I’d been trying to get for years started buying shows from me. One company that I’d been calling for four years bought their first show with my new company. Another client tracked me down to produce a huge concert at the Dallas State Fair Grounds for 5,000 American Airlines employees and guests. It was working!
It didn’t take a lot of capital to start my company. Mostly I needed to build a strong foundation by being protected legally, with the government and especially with my taxes. My top three priorities were hiring a lawyer to create client contracts and firm offers, bringing in an accountant to oversee my books and do my taxes, and opening bank accounts for my business to make sure my personal finances were kept separate from the business accounts. Falling short in any of those areas would cost me my business.
These strategic business investments came in very handy when my first deal almost fell through! The clients wanted to pull their offer to book the Pointer Sisters, which lead to the agent for the talent to threaten legal action. I got down on my knees and gave this back to God. I knew He didn’t bring me this far to leave me. I got a call back from the client a few hours later saying their lawyers had reviewed my documents, and they found them to be legally binding. My strong legal foundation and faith prevailed!
I needed very few material things to set up my office: a laptop, a printer/copier/fax machine, and two phone lines. I worked from my condo, sat on the floor in an empty dining room, and used a kitchen chair as a desk for my computer. In those days, I had to sit close to the wall since I had to plug into a phone line for dial up Internet access. Spending money on advertising, slick marketing materials, and separate office space wasn’t an option. I had a small, inexpensive brochure, stationary, and business cards. I don’t believe in spending money that you don’t have. I made sure I had the money before I spent it.
My Personal Inspiration:
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
My biggest obstacle was confidence. I was sure I was exactly where I was supposed to be, but I was afraid that the big agents for the artists – William Morris, CAA, UTA, etc. – wouldn’t take me seriously. I also feared my corporate clients would feel the same way. As an employee, I used to have the backing and identity of one of the country’s biggest entertainment companies, and I thought that was the only reason all of the big names in the industry and all the corporate executives were taking me seriously. Why in the world would anyone work with me alone?
One of my first phone calls was to Jay Leno’s assistant. I called her to check on Jay’s availability for an upcoming event and took the opportunity to let her know I had started a new company. I feared the worst. Her response stunned me. She was excited for me and incredibly supportive. She explained that there were other companies that had been taking advantage of Jay, that that she trusted me. That one phone call gave me the courage I needed to carry on. I was so excited!
That was the first in what would be many more encouraging conversations I had in the months to come. Not only did the agents and managers seem extremely happy that I was on my own, the majority of my clients also stayed with me. My new company had a great start with American Airlines, Gartner, Lucent, and GTE as clients.
What sustained and grew my business was my underlying practice of providing exceptional service. Although other companies often let the artists and the clients handle the details of the shows, my company is meticulous in making sure everything is perfect.
Not only do we take care of the technical production, hotel rooms, transportation, and catering needs, we’ve also been known to work directly with the pilots of their private jets and run to the store to purchase socks and their favorite designer waters.
One of my biggest compliments came from the Four Tops’ manager. He said, “You are the most professional company I’ve ever worked with. I’ve been doing this for forty years, do over eighty shows a year, and have worked with all the top corporate production companies. You are the best!” I was so surprised at his statement because I thought I was just dong my job.
Another reason my business became successful was my level of expertise in negotiating artist contracts and riders – documents that specify everything a performer and performance requires by contract. A rider can define anything from the type and amount of lighting required for a show to the specific type of candy bars the celebrity wants in his or her hotel room upon arrival. These documents itemize every detail of the show and because it’s an extremely specialized field, they must be handled with precision.
For instance, I met a potential new client who had just given an offer to Bon Jovi and didn’t think they needed my services. They believed they were excellent business negotiators and that they could handle his contract along with his 54 page rider. They were wrong! In their desire to save money, they began to nitpick the requirements and made very amateur mistakes. Because it was apparent that they didn’t know what they were doing, their original offer was turned down, and an additional $250, 000 was added to the price. In essence, every dollar they tried to save cost them $100. After that happened, the client gladly hired me to produce their next six shows!
I always go the extra mile. I believe you should deliver more than is asked of you. When a client is interested in the act, I offer to take the client to one of the artist’s concerts or live performances and introduce them to the talent. At “The Tonight Show,” our clients would always sit in Jay Leno’s personal VIP seats and were invited on the set with him for photos. The practice of taking good care of both sides is a far cry from playing both ends against the middle. I believe that my loyalties are not only with the person signing the check. Everyone I come in contact with and every show I do is an audition for my services and an opportunity to establish my reputation.
My Personal Inspiration:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
I never thought I would manage and own a multi-million dollar company. I was almost forty years old when I went out on my own. My passion for the job gave me the desire to take a chance. I love what I do! Now I manage my own schedule, treat people the way they should me treated, and I’m in charge of my own destiny.
Starting my own company should have been the hardest decision of my life, but it was one of the easiest! I stood my ground and walked away from companies and an industry that has historically treated clients, talent, and employees poorly. I had no idea what would happen to me, but I had an inner peace that everything would work out and I knew that I was doing what God wanted. When you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, things fall into place.
You often hear it said, “Do what you love and the money will come.” For me, money was not the driving force. I didn’t go into business because it would make me rich; I did it because I love what I do. I have a real passion for my business, and it shows in the quality of my work. That’s why I’m successful.
I believe that if you start a company just to make money, you’ll never have the passion and the discipline it takes to be successful. It’s just too hard. When you love your work, it doesn’t feel like work, it’s actually fun. Though my journey, I found my confidence, my passion, and my true identity. Do what you love and your peace will come.
Cindy Smartt, founder of Smartt Entertainment, has become nationally and internationally recognized as a top producer of corporate events. She’s booked and produced corporate entertainment for leading corporations such as PGA of America, Allergan, Oracle, Lucent Technologies, Chevron, American Airlines and Verizon, and produced more than 300 shows including Andrea Bocelli in Rome, Keith Urban in Sydney, Bon Jovi, Carrie Underwood, Jay Leno, Bill Cosby, Diana Ross, and Journey. Cindy received international recognition for development of her exclusive corporate programs featuring the stars and cast of Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, and Top Chef.