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How to Start a Major Festival from SCRATCH

Have you ever wanted to start your own conference, festival, or event?

You know, like TomCon, or the Morkes Festival?

Me too.

Stephen Ananics on In the Trenches with Tom Morkes

That’s why I brought Stephen Ananicz onto In The Trenches today.

Stephen is the cofounder of the The Key West Film Festival, and has a background in acting and film production (if you check out his name on IMDB you’ll see him credited in movies like Pirates of the Caribean and Salt, among other blockbusters).

And while his background in film is interesting in and of itself, I really wanted Stephen on In The Trenches today to talk about how he created the Key West Film Festival from scratch.

Creating any sort of festival or conference is a massive undertaking and I really wanted to dig into the details on how exactly Stephen went from idea to finished product on a project with such scale.

As a quick background on the festival:  The Key West Film Festival was founded in 2012 as a nonprofit independent film festival supporting the South Florida art and film community. It’s now going into it’s 3rd year come this November and is continuing to grow in size and popularity.

So seriously, if you’ve ever been interested in creating your own major headline event, this is the interview for you.

What Stephen Ananicz and I talk about:

  • How Stephen’s background in film allowed him an inside look at the film industry and gave him a ton of experience with film festivals
  • How he first created the idea for a film festival in Key West, Florida in 2010
  • How Stephen conducted his initial market research (and why this was paramount to making the event work…pun intended?)
  • What it was like to see the idea snowball to the point of no return (launch or fail)
  • The precise steps for creating a successful festival from scratch (yes, I had Stephen number and organize them for me)
  • How to build the right team for whatever your project is (and why it was essential Stephen got the local community on board)
  • How Stephen tweaked and pivoted the event so it become more productive and successful
  • And much much more


Key West Film FestivalConnect with Stephen and the Key West Film Festival:


Key West Film Festival’s Facebook

Key West Film Festival’s Twitter

Stephen Ananicz on how to start, finish, and ship a massive project:

“STAY FOCUSED ON ONE THING.” [click to tweet]

* * *

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And let us know what you think in the comments below!


I got an email last week from a Resistance Member asking about Pay What You Want consulting. 

She wanted to know two things:

  • Does it work? and…
  • How well?

Both fair questions.

As you probably know, I’m currently doing a test run using Pay What You Want pricing for my consulting services.  But before I dig into my results – and more importantly: how I engineered them – I wanted to start by asking a question…

Question: what are the highest paid professions (on average) in the United States?

If you DuckDuckGo this, you’ll find lots of top 10 / top 50 lists.  While the particular order (and averages) vary slightly from one list to the other, they generally fall into three categories:

1. Medical (doctors, surgeons, etc.)

2. CEO’s

3. Lawyers

Curious, I wanted to know more:

  • If these professions have the highest annual incomes, what is their hourly rate?

Here’s what it looks like for lawyers:

.pay what you want

“According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage [for lawyers] in 2012 was $62.93. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned $26.11 per hour. At the 75th percentile level, the hourly rate was $80.77. The top-paid 10 percent earned at least $90 per hour. The BLS noted that self-employed lawyers typically earned less than law firm partners.” (source, highlighted for emphasis)

And for doctors:

“in 2010 the average doctor earned $80 per hour…”

So to be paid like the top 10% of professionals in the United States, you need to make about $80 / hour or better…

And chances are you need to become a doctor or lawyer…

Is This the Only Way?

Is this the only way to get paid a premium?

To willfully enter a profession that requires mountains of debt and years of grinding it out and ladder-climbing to finally get paid a premium?

To be honest, I thought so.

The stats don’t lie, do they?

Which is why I didn’t think much would come from Pay What You Want consulting.  After all, if people get to choose the price they contribute, no way I could make a living from it…

Except that’s not exactly how things panned out.

Results from 2 Months of PWYW Consulting

In the past two months, I’ve consulted with about a dozen clients.

My client list has ranged from self-employed entrepreneurs, to established tourism companies, to startup telecom companies.

And the list of topics I’ve consulted on is about as broad as the list itself (from lean startup application to PWYW pricing strategy, etc.).

I’ve had a great time doing it and have received some great feedback from clients.  I’m excited to continue consulting as time permits over the next couple months simply because I’ve had such a good time doing it.

But the question most people are wondering is: was it financially viable?

I’ll let you decide:

My Pay What You Want Consulting Results:

Average per Hour PWYW consulting rate in March $143.00
Average per Hour PWYW consulting rate overall (from Feb to April) $165.59
Lowest contribution per hour $28.53
Highest contribution per hour $250.00

Another way to look at it: on a bad day, I’m making four times minimum wage and on a good day I’m making 34 times the minimum wage (or about 4 times the average billing rate of a lawyer) per hour.

3 Lessons I Learned from Offering My Services as Pay What You Want

If you’ve read my most recent book The Complete Guide to Pay What You Want Pricing (and checked out the bonuses), then you know why PWYW works.  I won’t go into it here, except to say that the same rules that apply to products apply to services.

Check out the book + bonuses for more info on the psychology behind PWYW.

Instead, I want to focus on a few lessons learned from using PWYW pricing for my consulting work.

Rule #1. Be VERY Clear on What You’re Offering

In the beginning, I offered my consulting services ala carte.

Which is to say: I let the client decide what they want: one hour, two hours, a whole month?  Sure.

This isn’t smart.

The reality is: no one can commit to that much time especially when your return could be so extreme (from zero to whatever).

I tried to mitigate my risk by having clients tell me what they thought the value would be worth to them, then commit 50% up front…but, while this was effective, it didn’t feel appropriate having people predict what the results would be worth to them.

Further, because I offered such a great array of options, it seemed like some clients weren’t sure WHAT they wanted from me but thought, given enough time, they’d make progress.

This is my fault for not being precisely clear on what it is I do (and how I do it).

I quickly changed to 1 hour sessions only (while still leaving big project consulting services open), and clarified what I do:

1. Pricing strategies

2. Client acquisition

3. Product Development framework and timeline

4. Miscellaneous online business startup questions

5. Lean business tactics / techniques / procedures


I also tell my clients to have a precise issue or question they need resolved.  This means I can actually create positive change (whereas in the beginning I was mostly helping people figure out what questions to ask, which is generally a slow and painful process – and while invaluable, the client may not always realize just how valuable it is).

By getting very clear on what I was offering, I’ve improved the client experience tremendously and I enjoy the process more.  Win-win.

Rule #2. Keep it it Simple (Stupid)

When I first started using PWYW consulting, I had it set up so people had to schedule a free 15 minute consulting session with me to decide if they wanted to do a paid consulting.

Then, they had to decide how much time they wanted and what they wanted to focus on, etc.

This isn’t good.  There are too many variables and too many steps.

It also wasted my time (as each 15 minute session turned into a 30 minute free session with few results as there was no preparation done beforehand).

I quickly realized I need to create a standard 1 hour consulting service – you get my time for 1 hour and I’ll answer any and all questions, help you get unstuck, etc.

At the end, I’ll invoice you.  The invoice is blank – you decide what it’s worth.

This is simple, clear, and erases confusion.

My rates have gone up since doing this.

Rule #3.  Pay What You Want Pricing Does NOT Mean Paying is Optional

I received a couple requests from people who straight up told me they don’t have money to pay me for my services.

That’s called pro-bono consulting.

I don’t do that (with a handful of exceptions).

Pay What You Want pricing means you must pay something, although I’ve gone as far as to trade services in some cases with clients who are strapped for cash.

Again, I had to get very clear with my copywriting on my consulting page and make it explicitly clear that PWYW consulting is not free consulting.

Since then, I haven’t had a single issue with anyone paying.

That’s not to say some people contribute much more (or much less) than others.  As you’ll notice, the range of prices varies, which is fine – that’s exactly the point of PWYW – that people can choose the price that’s fair for them and that they value my service at.

At the end of the day, though, if you want to make consistent money while still being generous, you have to be very clear that PWYW does not equal free.

Can PWYW Work for Your Service?

That’s a question I help people answer in my book: The Complete Guide to Pay What You Want Pricing.

Obviously, not everything can work using this pricing model, but some things can.  And some things can benefit GREATLY from it.

Could I have ever charged $250 / hour for my time just two months ago?

Maybe, but I’ll be honest with you: there’s no way I would have been confident enough to do so (regardless if I provided results that warranted the price).

But now I am.

Which is another bonus of offering your products or services as PWYW: it helps you rapidly validate your product or service’s worth.

Now, if anyone asks for a fixed-rate consulting price, I know exactly what I would charge (and can say so with confidence in my abilities and track record).

And yes…

That means I get paid more than the median hourly rate of both doctors and lawyers –some of the highest paid professions in the United States.

And I don’t say that to brag, but to prove a point: Pay What You Want pricing works, and can be extremely lucrative if you’re willing to put yourself and your work on the line for it.

Yes, it’s scary.

And that’s why so few will try it – and what makes it so worthwhile for those of us who take the plunge.


Hope this article was helpful for those of you interested in using PWYW for their consulting services.

If you have any questions or thoughts, leave a message in the comments below.

p.s. interested in learning more about Pay What You Want pricing?  I created a free 7 day email eCourse.

You can sign up right here.

Started, Finished, and Shipped in Cape Town, South Africa.

Writing Time: 2 hours and 5 minutes


In February, I had the pleasure of speaking at The Game Changers Live event in Sydney, Australia.


This is me on stage (sexy, right?)

I gave a presentation on how to start, finish, and ship any creative project (from business to blog to movement).

If you’ve read The Art of Instigating, you’re already familiar with my 3 step process for instigating anything:

1. Start

2. Finish

3. Ship

Simple right?  Almost annoyingly simple…

But how many people do it?

How many people actually start, actually finish, and actually ship?

While this question is rhetorical, it shouldn’t have to be…

The Problem with Version 9.0

The problem I see time and time again (and experienced in my own life, time and time again), is that we start with version 9.0 of our idea.

What’s version 9.0?

  • It’s the perfect manifestation of your vision.
  • It’s the ideal version that everyone likes.
  • It’s the fabulous, brilliant idea you can’t believe doesn’t exist already – people would be crazy not to embrace it!

So what’s the problem with starting with version 9.0?

If you paid attention to those last three sentences, something should have stood out to you…something that wasn’t quite right.

  • The word perfect…does such a thing exist in this world?
  • The ideal version everyone likes…is there a single product on Earth that everyone likes?
  • The fabulous and brilliant idea people would be crazy not to support

You get the point.

Here’s the problem with version 9.0: it doesn’t exist and never will.

Not, at least, in the way you currently envision it…

The Dirty Truth of Version 9.0

I know what you’re thinking – what about Facebook and Harry Potter and all those other famous companies and productscertainly these things are “version 9.o’s.” 

These ideas may not have started at version 9.0, but they got there over time, didn’t they?

Here’s the thing:

The current iterations of all of these ideas are not only different than when they started, but are entirely different than the perfect, idealized version the original creators envisioned at the start.

Zuckerberg: “I just really want to see everyone focus on college and make a really cool college directory product”

Rowling: “I began to write ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ that very evening, although those first few pages bear no resemblance to anything in the finished book.”

And this is the dirty truth of version 9.0 that few founders, artists, and authors will admit (at least not at the outset):

The final version will never be the same as the original idea.

The Alternative to Starting with Version 9.0

The alternative to starting with 9.0 is to start in beta: with version 1.0.

In software development, beta is the point at which some features have been added and are ready for testing…but there are still bugs and issues that need to be worked out, so it’s not “final” product code just yet.

With the advances in technology and connectivity over the past 10 years (see: faster computers and faster internet), some pieces of software spend years in beta – intentionally.  Not because they wouldn’t be able to release a finished product sooner – they could – but because beta allows us to rapidly deploy and test code with users without worrying about things being perfect.

When we’re in beta, it’s a given that there will be bugs, problems, and rough edges.  And this is okay.

Start with Beta

There will be bugs, problems and rough edges no matter what you’re creating.

So what?

Start with beta.

For any idea – whether product, service, story, or art piece – there is a basic version, one without all the bells and whistles.

Start here.

If your idea only works if you have the perfect user interface connected to 10 million customers with 3d glasses…well, let’s be real: no one wants your idea anyway.

Start with beta.

How to Go From 9.0 to 1.0 (reduce / delete)

This process is simple like starting, finishing, and shipping…and it can be equally uncomfortable.

Nobody wants to take a great idea they have and rip it apart so there’s nothing left that resembles the original idea.

Yet that is EXACTLY the process every single author, artist, and entrepreneur goes through on their path to product manifestation.

So why beat around the bush?

Tear your idea apart at the start and you’ll be much better off later on.

This process is called thrashing.  It’s about reducing your idea down to its most basic, purest form.  It’s about deleting the unessential.  It’s about removing everything but the core.

It is not a comfortable process but it is essential.

A Free Guide to Help You Start with Beta

Attached below is a free PDF to help you through this process of starting in beta with version 1.0.

Just click this link and it will open in your browser.

You can additionally ‘right click’ and ‘save as’ to your desktop.

IMG_1223This is the same document I had printed and given out to everyone who attended The Game Changers Live series in Sydney.  The response was overwhelmingly positive.  A couple people told me it was exactly the resource they were looking for.

I hope by sharing it here for free, I can help more people start the right way – and not waste another hour (month, year…) of their life building something no one wants.

Need More than a Guide?

My friend Jason Spencer of Tribe.ly is launching a new business incubator, and if you’re interested, they’re still accepting applications.

It’s called The Flight Formula, and it’s the first of its kind in many ways:

1st – it’s the first EVER heart-centered business incubator.

This program is about building heart-centered businesses – the kind you deeply, passionately care about – not just another SaaS company that drains your creative and emotional energy for the hope of monthly reoccurring cashflow.

2nd – it’s the first EVER generosity-based business program. 

Jason brought me on board as  a teacher / coach for entrepreneurs on unconventional pricing techniques and gift economy business models…he also got me on board to help make The Flight Formula practice what it preached.

So I told him to get rid of price altogether and let people choose what they want to contribute back.

I’ve been told I’m crazy for doing this – that a model like this is stupid and it won’t work.  That I’m ridiculous for even offering something like this (“What about costs?! You have to eat don’t you?”).

I don’t begrudge this attitude.  I actually understand it more than most could appreciate…

But all I can say is I’m confident the right people will find this program and their generosity will allow us to create something remarkable.  Call me a dreamer if you’d like…

So if you’re interested in finding out more, check it out:

The Flight Formula Heart-Centered Business Incubator

* * *

So that’s it for this week.

I’m working on a number of big projects right now – The Flight Formula being one of them – and I apologize for the less than consistent posting schedule.

Insurgent Publishing is growing – the next issue of The Creative Entrepreneur is going to be bigger and badder than the first (with contributions from guys like Andrew Warner of Mixergy, among others) – so check it out if you’re interested…

I continue to offer PWYW consulting, and some people really like it:


(You can get your consulting on here…)

And I’m putting together a new, elite group of artists and entrepreneurs for a new project I’m working on (that might not work).  If you’re interested, sign up here.

Thanks for your time and attention – it seriously means the world to me.

Keep creating and stay on the path.

This is Tom Morkes,

If you’re reading this, you ARE The Resistance

Started, Finished, and Shipped in Big Bay, Cape Town, South Africa

Total Writing Time: 1 hr 56 minutes

Soundtrack: Repave by Volcano Choir