Entertainment Lawyer Cassi Willard Shares 6 Key Tips for Optimizing Creativity and Business

In case you’re wondering if you’ve heard or read these tips before, you probably have. The crux here is who they’re coming from.

An entertainment lawyer.

Cassandra E.Willard, Esq., known by her students and colleagues as Cassi, shoulders years of experience in intellectual property (IP) law; cyber law; hospitality law; and entertainment, art and sports law (EASL).

In fact, she’s the current Chair-Elect (read: VP) of the EASL Section of the Florida Bar.

Translation: expert.

I had the honor of receiving Willard’s instruction in her Advanced Entertainment Law (AEL) course while completing my Entertainment Business, M.S. degree at Full Sail University, so I recently met with her to learn her success tips.

And she was happy to chat.

TEDx. Seriously.

Some entertainment professionals possess a wealth of information and hoard it to eliminate competition.

Not this lady, thankfully. 

In November 2011, Willard spoke at the TEDxOrlando event at the Winter Garden Theater; she explained that a key nomination factor is one’s efforts to give back to the community, and she’s wasted no time doing that for the entertainment industry.

She readily shares her expertise and maintains an open-door policy with her students, grads, clients, and peers.

  Willard's TEDxOrlando Talk:

Can’t see the video? Click here.

Willard speaks on industry panels with fellow attorneys and does guest lectures in other relevant courses (including one on Entertainment and IP Law for the Producing course in the Film Bachelors program, which is how we first met), and has taught at other institutions.

In fact, her first formal foray into teaching began at her undergrad alma mater, University of Central Florida, teaching finance and real estate law, which she later taught at what is now Seminole State University as an adjunct professor.

It was those first years of teaching coupled with her law experience that helped get her hired at what is now Full Sail University (previously Full Sail Real World Education).

She was instrumental in developing the curriculum for the Business degree programs at Full Sail, and developed the curriculum for the AEL course in the Entertainment Business Masters program. She’s been teaching law at the school for eight-and-a-half years now.

Her years of altruism paid off in a major way, and she continues to share.

Cassi’s 6 Secrets that Really Work
In her video, Willard exhorts us to obey our “muse”, the little creative voice within us that nudges us to pursue our passion.

While that advice is inspiring, she explains there’s more to it than just the broad suggestion.

  1)  Make sure it’s a passion. Test drive it.  This should go without saying, but valuable advice is sometimes followed absolutely.

Willard advises not to just throw everything to the wind to follow the muse, but try out the gut feeling first. If you like the taste, then keep going.

Don’t ditch a stable occupation and income for a dream that you find yourself waking up from several months later, broke and bitter.

Willard encountered Secret #1 herself while pursuing her childhood dream of becoming a tax attorney – you read that right – a tax attorney. She knew from age five what she wanted to be.

In the middle of her undergrad her interest in tax law was waning, and she tried hospitality law, which was a perfect choice in the Mickey Mouse capital of the world. According to her, it’s been a blast ever since.

2)  Learn your craft.  This one should also be intuitive, but let’s face it – some are so wowed by their dreams of creative splendor that they forget about the work.

And then they wake up.

The realization that being a successful creative requires more effort than the average job is sometimes more daunting than some can take, so they either don’t bother, give up before the destination, or their plan fizzles from lack of due diligence. 

If you plan to make money from a creative passion, it’ll be business.

And business requires much effort, funding, and research.

3)  Know your target market.  This one may not be a given for non-business majors, but the gist is simple.

If you don’t have a clear picture of who your potential customers will be, your efforts will be wasted.

Imagine if a niche brand like Skintimate (which is owned by Energizer, believe it or not) wasn’t sure of its target market. Can you picture leg shaving cream ads aimed at men or little kids?

Kinda tacky.

The same applies to your business. Know precisely what you want to do and who you want to sell it to. That will simplify your marketing plan, which in most cases will reduce its cost as well.

4) Research your financial needs.  Speaking of costs, tackle all the expenses first when constructing your business budget. They will provide the basis on which you price your goods or services.

We entrepreneurs are always hit upside the head with the stark warning that most businesses die within their first three years.

No pressure at all, right?

One major cause is poor financial planning. No one can foresee three years into the future, so sometimes businesses underestimate their needs, or overestimate the projected income (which could stem from not knowing their target market)

5)  Research businesses.  Do some competition recon. Research thriving businesses that are related to yours (industry-related sponsors, etc.) and businesses that do the very thing you’re aiming to do.

These will give you at least a basic snapshot of what pitfalls to expect and avoid, who their target markets are, what networks they’re in, etc.

The recon will help you know who to rub elbows with when you start marketing yourself and facilitate the budgeting process.

6)  Network. Find folks who inspire you and connect with them.  Basically, do what I did here. Willard is an industry veteran and an incredible resource willing to share her knowledge.

You’ll be surprised to find that many people enjoy sharing their knowledge if they see that you’re serious about using it in your own business.

Start reading relevant blogs and forums and leaving comments. Engage the people you want to get to know through social networks.

Go to networking events and industry conferences with your business cards (and portfolio or demo reel, if applicable) handy.

Shy?  If you’re hopelessly bashful like I am, follow Willard’s supplemental advice: bring an extroverted friend with you who has common goals. He’ll ease the ice-breaking process. (“Hey, have you met [insert your name here]”?) 

Spend Her Two Cents.
Willard’s advice is simple, but powerful when applied.

She test drove her passion with hospitality law and saw it was true indeed, so more doors opened for her – she was an intern with Planet Hollywood’s international headquarters in the Business Affairs & General Counsel office.

She’s shared her craft by teaching it, and gladly stated that her students’ hungry enthusiasm and the university’s focus on staying current in the industry help keep her abreast of additional topics.

She geeks out too, by the way. She shared a humorous moment:

One time my family was in town and they got in my car; I totally forgot I had my iPod plugged in, and as they got in, they heard people talking and wondered, ‘what’s that?’ And I said, ‘Oh, it’s a recording of a court proceeding.’ They were like, ‘How could you listen to that?’ and ‘Please, I’ll drive, just let me play some music!’

No better way to stay current than that.

She also follows the music industry by keeping eclectic presets on her radio to hear the latest music trends and hot artists.
While her target market encompasses pretty much all of the arts, her law practice caters mainly to that. The firm is prospering, which proves that she and her law partner did all the research necessary to launch it, including networking.  

Elbow-rubbing has been a part of Willard’s life since childhood. “Both my parents were educators and administrators, so they’d always have people over at the house [for socials], so I have no idea what it means to be afraid to talk to someone.”

Between her clients, students, and colleagues, she meets many people in the industry and never forgets a single one. Her value for people and generous expertise help keep her relevant and successful.

Becoming the EASL Chair (read: President) in five months will help a lot too.

Sound Off.

What effective success tips have you used from this list? Have any tips to add? Know anybody that can use these? Leave a comment and pass the knowledge on.

Thanks for reading!  

3D image by LuMaxArt. www.lumaxart.com
Penny shot courtesy of wn.com.   

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