Production company focuses on core creative approach while realizing growth isn’t only goal

May 17, 2018

This piece is presented by Cain Ellsworth & Company LLP.

For the first six years of his business, Joe Hubers was a one-man show.

The northwest Iowa native started Passenger Productions in 2005, following a stint at a Sioux Falls production company.

With a focus on helping clients tell their stories through video, he began growing the business as well as his own understanding of what it took to run one.

“Starting the business pretty young, I had a notion that wasn’t real healthy: That I could just do it all myself and it would happen,” Hubers said. “After about five years, I realized that’s not how business works, and I started reaching out to other colleagues in town for advice on people who could fill needs we had in our company.”

That led him to his first employee, producer Andrew Reinartz, and “that’s when it became less of a hobby of a single guy and more of a business,” Hubers said.

At one point, the business grew to five employees.

“I’d convinced myself that was what we needed to do,” Hubers said. “Take on more, staff, get a bigger office, just grow, grow, grow.”

Then comes the twist in this story: He realized that wasn’t what he wanted.

It took a conversation with Matt Heemstra, director of growth and profit solutions at Cain Ellsworth & Co. LLP, for the realization to hit.

Cain Ellsworth did bookkeeping for Passenger, but Hubers began meeting quarterly with Heemstra in 2015 to be more forward-looking with the business.

“In a small or midsized business, you’re so busy doing the actual work of producing your goods or providing your service that you don’t make the time to think about the future of your business,” Heemstra said.

“It’s hard to convince yourself not everybody is the right customer. You think you’ll take whoever walks in the door because you’ve got bills to pay. A few years down the road, you find yourself thinking of how you’d do things differently. We’re trying to keep you from being in that position.”

Hubers said that could have happened to him.

“In talking with Matt, I realized we’re not trying to grow a multimillion-dollar business. It’s more about my lifestyle and supporting my family and my creative endeavors, and we were able to develop a road map to make that a tangible reality.”

As he does with other clients, Heemstra had Hubers talk through his people, profits, products, competition and customers.

“One of the things we want people to understand is where you are today,” Heemstra said. “And then we look at what do you want to do next quarter, and what do you want to look like next year? We’ll never do 50 new things each quarter, but each quarter there are one or two things they hadn’t thought about before or prioritized, and they’ve addressed those.”

Passenger now has two part-time employees, marketing director Mike Billeter and producer Hannah Huff, but works with a broad group of freelancers nationwide. They produce videos from 3-minute micro-documentaries to 15-second social media clips.

“One area where we bring value to clients is our really strong creative and artistic vision without having to deal with stereotypically disorganized artists,” Hubers said. “We found the smaller we can keep our operation the more we can deliver on that, and we can bring in other people who really bring us a varied look and open up a lot of options for our clients.”

He also more clearly defined the type of client who is right for Passenger.

“We want to work with clients who understand they aren’t the hero in their own story but are guides for the people they serve,” he said. “When you embrace that, you open up creative and interesting ways of telling your story.”

Hubers plans to continue meeting regularly with Heemstra as the story of Passenger unfolds.

“At my previous CPA firm, I think I just had a stereotypical idea of what a relationship with the CPA was, and we did definitely feel like we were treated like kind of an afterthought,” Hubers said.

“It’s been validating to know as a smaller company there are high-level professionals willing to treat you as a colleague. It’s been really eye-opening and refreshing. It’s easy to get lost in the woods, and I think I could have convinced myself growth was the only goal. Get down the road 10 years, and I think it saved us a lot of time and heartache.”

To learn more about the services available for businesses of all sizes at Cain Ellsworth, call 605-610-4611 or visit

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Production company focuses on core creative approach while realizing growth isn’t only goal

“I’d convinced myself that was what we needed to do. Take on more, staff, get a bigger office, just grow, grow, grow.” Sound familiar? You’ll want to learn what Passenger Productions did after working with experts at Cain Ellsworth.

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