Knowing how to convince someone that you have a great idea is a crucial skill for any job, whether it’s pitching an idea for a story, proposing a new revenue stream or even “selling” your teammates on where to order lunch. As a film producer, I have to “sell” people on my movie ideas—and convince them to invest.
About two years ago, I had an idea for a Wall Street movie starring all women. I realized that so many movies about Wall Street focus on men. And yet I have a few female friends who either currently work in the financial world, or used to, but have left to pursue other careers. I wanted to tell their stories.
With any indie film, even as someone who’s made multiple movies, it’s always really hard to fundraise. Movies are a high-risk investment, and people going in didn’t know if my movie would make money. So finding people to invest in my idea was really, really tough. But I persevered, and the film Equity (in which I also co-starred!) was made and is coming out this year.
The most important aspect of selling an idea is being passionate about it yourself. People invest in people. Be yourself, and bring your excitement for the project along with you. You have to be passionate about it or you cannot sell it. (Or, you can, it just won’t be as fun! Or fulfilling).
After your passion, here are some other things you should remember when you’re getting ready to sell someone on your big idea.
1. Be a little ballsy.
All of the connections I made happened through meeting one person, who introduced me to people who introduced me to more and more people. I read a New York Times article about a senior male executive working at a major bank, who had taken up rowing as a hobby. My previous movie had been about women rowers, so I sent him a copy of that with a personal, handwritten message about my new film. I had no way of knowing if he’d even get it, let alone read it. But he set up a meeting with me within two weeks. And while he wasn’t able to invest, the idea for my film really struck a chord with him. This Wall Street executive introduced me to a man named Jack Wadsworth, who was a mentor to women on Wall Street. Jack, in turn, introduced me to many women who he thought could help. The movie wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t put myself out there like that.
2. Do your homework, and be honest.
I like to think I’m a fun and nice person, which may get me in the door, but I’m always prepared. I always come in with a business plan and numbers to back up my work. I can always prove that I’ve done the research. When pitching Equity, I put together a business plan with movies on similar subjects that were also indies of this level to show an accurate, honest picture of how they performed in the box office. I wasn’t about to compare my Wall Street movie’s potential earnings to what The Blair Witch Project made, because they’re not comparable. And I always stressed to people, yes, you could lose all your money. I was always honest about the risks that the person could take by getting involved, as well as the rewards.
3. Know what’s in it for the other person.
It’s really important not only to know why your idea is great for you, but to understand what the other person could want or get out of it. What would help sweeten the deal for them? Before every meeting with any potential investor, I did a lot of research about who that person was—what they liked, what they had invested in before and what was important to them. Then I would go into the meeting and sell them based on what I had learned about them. Maybe they wouldn’t make their money back on this film (although luckily with Equity, they did!), but I could offer on-set visits, cameo appearances or help telling parts of their own personal story. It was always different for every person. Know who you’re talking to and tailor your pitch to that person’s wants and needs.
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4. Any meeting is an opportunity.
Make every person you meet with feel valued. Thank them for taking the time to talk, and ask if you can keep them in the loop about the project. People may really want to help you, but they might not be able to open their checkbook on a huge investment. You can instead build relationships that may pay off in some other way. When I was pitching Equity, I met a woman who was a senior partner at a bank who chose not to invest. But she really liked the idea and ended up helping fact check the script, which was invaluable to us Wall Street outsiders. She also helped me research my character—I got to watch her at her job and see first-hand what she did and what it was like.
5. Know that it may take time for someone to bite on your idea.
I had to meet with a lot of people before I found my first investor. After I was introduced to Jack Wadsworth, he introduced me to women he knew, who introduced me to other women and potential investors. None of these people invested! I took tons of meetings before I found my first investor. You can’t take it personally. Just because someone doesn’t go for your idea this time doesn’t mean that next time they won’t, or that there is something wrong with you or your business or brand. Go in it with confidence, and keep trying.
Sarah Megan Thomas is a producer and actor. Her film Equity will be available on platform release July 29, and nationwide release September 2.