Looking for business tips? Learn how entrepreneur Ali Rasoul made it big
Ali Rasoul is taking the world by storm, and he wants you to know that you can too. The 22-year-old entrepreneur earned a scholarship to study business at the revered National Film and Television School, and has gone on to work some of the most notable figures in the entertainment industry, including Spike Lee and Jordan Peele.
In addition to his tremendous networking, Rasoul founded the content company Ali Rasoul LTD, whose biggest clients include Nike, Adidas, HBO, and Columbia Records. The company is based out of London, which doubles as the location for Rasoul’s new recording studio.
Film Daily was fortunate enough to talk with Ali Rasoul about his tireless work ethic, his tips for success, and his business plans for the future.
Tell us about your history as an entrepreneur. How did you start your journey?
As a creative working in the industry, I found it hard to comprehend what being an entrepreneur means or whether that role could apply to me, I noticed the word “entrepreneur” was being used and thrown around by many people. I felt that title has been devalued and isn’t exclusive enough for me to claim.
It was only in late 2018, where I fully recognized my true-value and potential that led me to brand myself as a creative entrepreneur. In that year, I decided to start my fitness journey which unknowingly became the spark I needed to make the change from creative to the corporate industry. I noticed that going to the gym and physically taking care of myself would essentially improve my mental health too, that’s when I decided to invest time in reading books, to ideally feed my mind positive and valuable knowledge.
Reading books like Side Hustle and The $100 Start-up by Chris Guillebeau, completely changed my perspective on how I could financially benefit from my skills and values at a larger scale. Another book that stood out to me is A Company of One by Paul Jarvis, an incredible injection of knowledge that supports and encourages businesses like mine to remain small for greater financial purpose.
Later that year, in my second year of studying a Bachelor of Arts degree in Film Production at the University of Portsmouth. One day, I was up all night attempting to sleep and found it notably challenging not to think about strategies I could generate from these books. Later it struck me that night at 3 in the morning, where I formulated an idea that involved both my business and my fitness to work side by side, essentially gaining higher-paying clients.
I started researching high-end 5-star luxury hospitalities in central London and became aware of the influential and entrepreneurial figures that visit these places and, that’s when I decided to spend 90-days in luxurious high-end hotels, private members clubs and spa facilities. Implementing this strategy as a creative enabled me to increase my network in ways I never imagined and empowered me to share my value with a new corporate market.
It was at that point I began targeting the hospitality industry to essentially create and deliver more-impactful marketing materials and modern campaigns that are social-media focused. When working with these types of clients, I became more confident in raising the rates massively, as it reflected in their company as a marketing investment.
You started your own business at 18. What was the most difficult part of getting the business off the ground?
I believe one of the biggest hurdles about starting a business at a young age, is the stereotypes that appear with it, like being devalued and not receiving the full respect of an adult somewhat being seen as an amateur and not taken seriously. Those are factors that contribute to some of the obstacles I encountered when starting.
I remember one of the most important elements I had to consider is my mental health, as it’s easy to get discouraged after a few rejections and violations. Furthermore, when I realized this, I began taking more risks and boldly breaking the generic rules that have been installed at Universities on “how to make it in the industry”. I acknowledged that I never needed to work as a runner or make someone coffee in-order for my skills to be displayed…
Having a lesson-learning and high-achieving mentality proved to me many times that anything is possible. I made myself as my strongest support system, to heavily reinforce positive thoughts in my mind to keep me going. Moreover, once I discovered my value, it was easier to appreciate my worth long term.
Was there ever a point where you second-guessed your career path? If so, what inspired you to keep pushing forward?
Before I knew this was all going to be a genuine career-route for me, I continued delivering projects as they came as a passionate space to generate a more effective portfolio. However, there occurred an overwhelming success point in my life, where I recognized how far I’ve come and understood this is the path for me.
It was in my first year at the University of Portsmouth, where I received an email from the Royal Television Society regarding an invitation to meet members of the Royal Family; Prince Charles and Camilla at the ITV Studios in London, to be part of the RTS’s 90-year celebration. An overwhelming experience, considering how fast things have advanced for me at the time. Moreover, I knew at that point, the only way is up from there.
At what point did you decide you wanted to study Creative Business as a MA at the NFTS?
Interestingly enough, I never actually planned on applying to the Creative Business (MA) course at first. My initial application to the National Film and Television School was for a Master of Arts degree in the Cinematography course, which got rejected after a few months of applying, around mid-2020.
I was slightly discouraged by the results as I was so determined in advancing my education with the NFTS. I then decided to contact my good friend and the Director of the National Film and Television School, Jon Wardle, for any advice on what I should do next. Jon kindly encouraged and informed me about other possible courses more relevant to me like the ‘Creative Business for Executives and Entrepreneurs’ MA.
This course sparked my interest further as a Creative Entrepreneur, I instantly applied and gave the application my best shot. A few weeks later, I managed to successfully pass the interview stage and received a letter from the NFTS congratulating me on securing an unconditional offer to study the Creative Business for Executives and Entrepreneurs MA degree, starting 1st February 2021, in Beaconsfield, England.
You received an offer to study at the National Film and Television School. Did the offer feel like an affirmation of your hard work up to that point?
The concept of being awarded is always a great feeling in any profession. However, receiving an offer from one of the top film universities in the world is a privilege and an honor for me to have. I’ve been a fan of the National Film and Television School since 2017, with its major contribution and successes in the Hollywood and British film industry, it’s dream-come-true to become a student at the NFTS.
I remember going for an open day just a few years ago and seeing all the Oscar and BAFTA awards claimed over the years by the students, it was such an inspiring moment that contributed to my success over the years. Advancing to study a Master of Arts degree is a major personal achievement, especially how globally ranked the university is. I’m looking forward to my experience at the NFTS in February 2021.
You’ve said that letting go of fear of rejection is crucial to one’s success, was there a time when you experienced fear of rejection?
Fear of rejection is unavoidable in any field; it’s all designed to strengthen us as creatives and build a stronger shield to help us fight these types of battles. If anything, there’s been cases where I’ve welcomed the fear of rejection as a challenge to myself, to see if I can overcome certain barriers. I discovered this as a way to measure up my development and level up.
When I started working with music celebrities for the first time, I always felt like an outsider, it wasn’t a norm for me at the time. However, overtime of adjustment, recognition, and understanding myself, I was able to exclude all feelings of fear and move forward.
Many young artists work for free to gain exposure. When did you know that it was time to stop working for free and start charging commissions?
The most asked question I receive from most emerging creators is “When do I charge?” or “Why should I be working for free?”. To put it simply, I would say no matter how successful you are as a filmmaker, your most important priority is to build a genuine connection that serves as credibility and expands your network. Sometimes to obtain that, working for free is the single route to authentically build these relationships.
At times, a lower-paying client could add more value to a portfolio than a higher paying one. As a creative entrepreneur, I was able to use my music projects credibility as a way to leverage and skyrocket in other industries. To conclude these questions, I would say, there isn’t a time to stop working for free, it’s all about maneuvering between opportunities that will support your career.
It’s all down to taking calculated risks and making an investment of time. Only then, the results will show.
Creative portfolios are crucial to getting your foot in the door. What elements make up a strong portfolio in your opinion?
When it comes to creating a strong portfolio, it’s vital to consider a few elements that encourage potential clients to work with you. Showcasing a variety of styles and formats reveals one’s versatility and capacity to adapt to any future proposals. Whether that’d be trying a new role or working in a different field of filmmaking, it all adds to a creative’s arsenal of abilities.
I began producing horror films then progressed to fashion, music and corporate, that’s not to say I won’t be accepting other niches, essentially, it’s all about being open to explore new ideas and develop those new ones.
Your business requires you to alternate between a corporate mindset and a creative mindset. Does that switchover ever prove difficult?
One rule I follow when producing content for both corporate and creative clients is finding ways to merge the two into one. Ideally, I challenge myself to break the conventions of corporate material and essentially add a twist to it. I appreciate that one requires a deeper sense of professionalism in contrast to the other.
However, I always look at ways to modernize corporate content and ideally make it more engaging and memorable, whether that’s through the editing or cinematography.
You’ve said that cold emails are crucial to building connections. How quickly should aspiring entrepreneurs send follow up emails?
I can easily say that cold emails have contributed massively to the financial success of my business in the last couple of years. However, without a strategy, a cold email can be a big-time waste if not performed in the right manner. It’s vital to understand some guidelines to enable you to secure a response from a potential client.
I always emphasize that before sending an email to a prospect, make sure that you have a registered email domain as this adds more legitimacy to your business. The second bit of advice I would give is to make the email very personal and polite as it will increase the success rate of response. An element to consider is when you’re sending an email, be sure to compliment the person about something particular, and then introduce your service.
This approach will allow them to appreciate your acknowledgement in their business, and you’re not just spamming. Once the first email is sent with an appropriate subject and signature, it’s then time to focus on the most necessary step of cold emailing, the follow-up stage. It’s essential to understand when to send these follow-ups, and how often to do so. I suggest following up every two days after the first email in that order with a total of four follow-ups within two weeks.
In most cases, prospects respond only then, as they feel like you’re genuinely reaching out to them and it’s not spam. I advise not giving up on the first few follow-ups, as you never know when you might catch them available.
How big a role does schedule play in the success or failure of a business?
When it comes to scheduling, I like to divide several elements of the business into stages, meaning, projects that require more time will be in various monthly durations. It’s useful to consider micro-scheduling, such as weekly and daily agendas. Another component is seasonal scheduling, where one dedicates a considerable amount of time to produce intensive work across three months or more.
I ensure to set enough time for my marketing and branding campaigns to always be in development, in contrast to setting time for a PR campaign, where it requires more time to refine and execute. These elements contribute to the success of the business and essentially enables the company to thrive at a faster rate.
Without these types of schedules, the company is lifeless, regardless of the projects, a scheduled improvement plan should always be in the works.
How has COVID-19 affected your workflow? Has your creative process changed due to quarantine limitations?
Although COVID-19 has caused major inconveniences to most upcoming projects at the start of the year, I was fortunate enough to have built a stronger mentality to adapt and think of new ways to consistently create. It was fairly upsetting to have my Los Angeles projects getting cancelled due to the restrictions.
However, the quarantine limitations did come at a great time in my business, where I heavily focused on developing my public relations and branding material. As a result, I was fortunate enough to get the attention of BBC Radio and other media outlets for exclusive interviews and features. This type of credibility was only possible when I dedicated time, due to COVID-19’s restrictions.
You’ve worked with iconic Hollywood figures like Spike Lee and Jordan Peele. What were those working experiences like?
Growing up as a passionate film lover, I always looked up at the biggest stars in Hollywood for inspiration, spending endless hours consuming their movies, and analyzing their techniques throughout my time in education. One could only imagine how much of a dream come true it would be, to be in the presence of Hollywood icons.
I remember I was in my second year at the University of Portsmouth, doing a case study on Spike Lee. Then out-of-nowhere, I received an email from Sandy Cheema in partnership with Universal Pictures and MovieGeeks, proposing an upcoming project on Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman‘s marketing campaign.
Meeting Spike Lee and Jordan Peele has to be one of the most overwhelming experiences that I will cherish for a long time, it is moments like this, that empowers me to keep going and aim higher.
Are there other notable filmmakers or industry figures you’d like to work with?
One filmmaker that I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from is Jakob Owens, founder of BuffNerds, Tropic Colour, Prism Lens FX, and many other ground-breaking businesses. Jakob is someone I consistently look up to for influence as a filmmaker and ways to develop innovative ideas.
I’ve consumed a fair amount of time following Jakob Owens on YouTube and Instagram and seeing how successful he is as an entrepreneurial film director is very inspiring and motivational. Jakob is someone that I would love to work with soon.
You recently opened a recording studio in London. How does working with musicians differ from working with actors or filmmakers?
One important lesson I learned from working with celebrities in entertainment, is being able to observe my behavior, and learning how to control it. Being able to work professionally at all times goes a long way. Particularly if you are working with a major superstar, it can be hard to not fan-out. Nonetheless, it is crucial to remember to keep whoever you are working with as a long-term contact.
I believe there isn’t a significant difference between working with musicians and actors respectively. In my case, it works in my favor, as having a recording studio involves interacting with musicians frequently, which turns the excitement into normality.
Does social media play a large role in making professional connections?
I can genuinely say that in-order for creatives to adjust in the highly developing world of technology; social media is without a doubt, the biggest route to building connections and progressing forward. I’ve stated in the past that social media, when utilized correctly, can be a highly beneficial platform. Particularly for creatives, it functions as the creative’s resume.
In most circumstances being able to see mutual friends on platforms like Instagram and Twitter, can serve as credibility, particularly, when you are followed by someone highly influential. More often, it encourages others to follow you and potentially trust your vision. Social media will linger and expand further, what’s important is building authentic relationships with people you are genuinely going to share value with.
Which aspect of your business do you enjoy most?
The aspect I appreciate massively in my business is the versatility it provides me. I can always operate and adjust to different hours, according to my schedule and have a laid-back approach. Another element I’m thankful for is, having built the business in a structure where I can work from all around the world and still manage to deliver projects, through the team of creatives I’ve connected with over the years.
Who are your entrepreneurial inspirations?
One of my long-time inspirations and good friends is founder of Passport Heavy and Live Richer Academy, Jubril Agoro. Jubril is a successful entrepreneur and a marketing guru, recognized for travelling around the world and sharing value. Jubril Agoro is an influential person in my life, who has given me a widespread life-changing inspiration. I fully appreciated what having a role model meant after meeting Jubril Agoro, and I will forever be grateful for all the support he’s shown me.
Do you have future business plans that you can share with us?
I’m excited to announce that I’ll be releasing a brand-new podcast called Creative Entrepreneurs. [It’s] a weekly show for anyone who works in creative industries and wants to expand their knowledge on ways to financially progress their business. Whether you’re balancing a regular job and want to start an income-earning project on the side or full time creative.
In each episode, listeners will hear different stories of successful creative entrepreneurs – along with an insightful breakdown and a step-by-step guide through what went well, how that person overcame challenges and what happened as a result. Coming soon!
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
My top three key pieces of advice I would give to all emerging entrepreneurs is 1) Invest in your mental health and knowledge by reading books that will add value to your life. 2) Always have an open mind and be ready to self-sacrifice to gain bigger opportunities, teach yourself self-discipline. 3) Let your character speak louder than your skills, always be positive, respectful and well mannered, it will go a long way!