Spotlight On … Paul French

Paul French is an Executive Producer at Southpoint Films and a business mentor for local universities and the New Enterprise Allowance Scheme, as well as an IOEE Fellow. This month we shone the spotlight on him to find out how his mentoring career saw him transition into film production, and how forward-thinking is the key to success.   

Paul French, 64, began his career in accountancy and surveying, rising through the ranks of the corporate world; an experience that showed him that he wanted to change direction.

“By 2007 I was the CEO of a multinational security company that specialised in lock manufacturing, but after a few years I felt it lacked something, and I didn’t enjoy that corporate office environment. I’d always made films as a hobby, so it felt natural to transition into making corporate films.”

After an exit from his former company, Paul started making educational and training videos, predominantly for the security and beauty sectors on a freelance basis:

“The videos taught people how to do something specific for their company, such as product installation or how to carry out a cosmetic treatment; whatever was needed for the company to be in-line with corporate law.”

This gave Paul the film-making foundations that would eventually lead him to Southpoint Films, but the transition was as much personal as it was professional:

“It was the right move for me. For the first time I’d found that work-life balance.”

Years earlier, while working at the security company, Paul had become the Chairman of the local Federation of Small Businesses and Chairman of the New Forest Business Partnership, which gave him the initial spark of inspiration to become a business mentor. He says:

“I was seeing new business start-ups, where people were making the same mistakes again and again, and I wanted to help them succeed. I knew my skillset was valuable, so I volunteered to mentor business graduates through the local universities, and for the Job Centre’s New Enterprise Allowance Scheme.”

For Paul, although one-to-one sessions take place, he embraces group mentoring sessions to encourage a community of collaboration and support, rather than competition, between the mentees, and to help people to feel comfortable networking.

He says that the mentees are also united by their business’ needs, regardless of their field:

“I’ve worked with aspiring and existing entrepreneurs from a wide range of industries and professions; gardeners, carpenters, restauranteurs, web designers, architects – you name it. It doesn’t matter what your business is, you all need the same business tools and skills in order to succeed.”

“The stumbling blocks are almost always the same – a lack of preparation and making assumptions rather than working with facts. But if you don’t know something, you don’t know it – that’s why you need other people’s experience and knowledge, so you can ask questions. It’s richly rewarding for me to see my mentees succeed, and being an IOEE Fellow means that I can spread my knowledge and experience even further.”

In 2013 Paul was introduced to a notable mentee, Rowan Johnson, a Southampton Solent University graduate with a First Class degree in Television & Video Production – and the founder of Southpoint Films Ltd.

Paul mentored Rowan for a year, by which point Southpoint Films had grown to a stage where it needed to take on an additional member of staff to support the increasing workload. It had become clear that the company needed help from somebody with a broader depth of business experience. Paul says:

“Rowan needed somebody that had my expertise to help his company grow, and I needed someone with Rowan’s technical knowledge and creativity to help mine do the same. Two years ago we merged my freelance production company and Southpoint Films.”

Based just outside of Southampton, Southpoint Films has offices and a green screen studio, and they are still growing. They have a number of freelancers on their books for big projects, and took on one of their regulars, Danny Caldwell, as their full-time Video Editor last year:

“Putting our skillsets together made sense. Between the three of us, we know that we’re able to satisfy our client’s requirements. This really sets us apart, so we can offer a more comprehensive experience for our customers, rather than being just a binary filmmaker. Where Southpoint Films’ service begins and ends is completely up to the client. Some people come to us with detailed briefs and scripts, whereas others will want us to work with them from the very beginning. It’s completely tailored to their needs.”

Southpoint Films has also spent the last 12 months investing and developing Vimsy, a Video Management System that enables people to manage, distribute and make money from their videos, and Paul says that this constant evolution is what sets successful businesses apart:

“Technology is changing so fast, and it’s constantly altering the way you manage your business on a day-to-day basis. The speed young people go is phenomenal. They’ll pick up a new iPad and run with it, whereas it will take me forever, but you’ve still got to do it. There’s no place for saying ‘well, I’ve always done it like this’ in business – you have to be flexible and adapt and move forward, or you’ll just get left behind.”