A new behind the scene interview has been posted on the website for the new PBS series, This American Land, being cut at Biscardi Creative Media. This time with Co-Host Caroline Raville. An 8th grade teacher for Gwinnett County Georgia Schools, she's making her national television
Interview with Caroline Raville
A new behind the scene interview has been posted on the website for the new PBS series, This American Land
, being cut at Biscardi Creative Media. This time with Executive Producer, Gary Strieker, a longtime CNN correspondent / bureau chief. Gary and Walter Biscardi, Jr. have been working together for many years now on environmental and global health projects.
Interview with Gary Strieker
If you have followed my career at all and especially my business articles and postings on the Creative Cow Business and Marketing Forum you know that I preach that you always have to do what's right for the client. In today's economy, this is more important than ever, even if it hurts the bottom line for a job or two.
A few days ago I posted how I had to scramble to order a new DVD Burner for a quick turnaround of 400 DVDs to be delivered in just 7 days across the country in Arizona. This all happened because of a misunderstanding between me and my client. See we're working on one project that now has three deliverables. A Feature, Cut-Down and Short version of the same video with running times of about 65 minutes, 51 minutes and 19 minutes. The three versions are to be used in different settings from a company meeting to a public screening type of situation. When we started this project back in April, there was just one deliverable, the feature which had to be completed by a the start of a worldwide AIDS Conference in Vienna. We hit that deadline and the end client was very happy with the results. (in fact it was standing room only at the screening!) But as happens with many projects, the end client realized they could use a shorter version of the same presentation for meetings, conferences, etc...
So I know there's a screening in Washington DC on September 15 and in my head, I'm targeting that date for the delivery of the 400 copies. Got the timetable set, just going to call a nationally known DVD replication house, going to deliver on a certain date and the 400 DVDs will get to DC in plenty of time. There's just one problem with this plan. The DVDs actually need to be in Arizona on Sept. 8 for a different event.
That's 7 days earlier than Sept. 15 for those of you keeping score at home. My timetable doesn't work for that. In fact, the DVD Master wasn't even finished until yesterday morning, September 1st.
So the first thing I did was make a cup of espresso. I think better with a cup of espresso. Two cups sometimes even better, but never three cups. Three cups in a row definitely sends me over the jittery edge and that pretty much makes me useless. Then I washed the cup, always clean up after yourself my mamma always said. No, I don't call her mamma, she'll probably hit me when she reads this.....
At that point there was nothing else we could do except do what needed to be done to meet the client's deadline. The misunderstanding was mine. The client had clearly told me on several occasions actually that Sept. 8 was the deadline for the 400, not Sept. 15. I just got the dates mixed up.
As I wrote on this blog a few days ago, I put in a big order with TapeOnline.com to get everything we needed to make this happen and had it all shipped overnight. 450 blank DVDs, 450 full sleeve DVD cases and a brand new Microboards 7 DVD Burner. Why 450? Well bad copies, damage, etc.... Always order more than you need to be safe. We only had a dual DVD burner here in the shop that was in no way going to be able to burn 400 DVDs in time. Everything arrived yesterday and we already got 300 DVDs burned by the end of the day, only another 100 to go today.
We got to the DVD Cover and DVD Disc artwork approved by the end client, ran out to Staples to pick up another 2 reams of Legal paper for the laser printer and cranked out 200 DVD covers in the afternoon and we'll run the last 200 today. Everything was cooking right along yesterday until....... our DVD Printer went belly up
It's an Amtren FlexWriter IV that is supposed to be a Quad DVD burner (four burners) and DVD Printer. I have had a love / hate relationship with it since we got it. The DVD burner side of things really never worked properly and the company was a pain to deal with. The Printer we love when it works properly. When it doesn't work, it just doesn't work and then a few days later it magically starts working again. Yesterday it decided to just stop working correctly at all. It takes two ink cartridges and it seems it has stopped sending any information to one of the cartridges. We've replaced everything and it just doesn't want to print correctly. Now it's 5:30 in the afternoon on Sept. 1.
First thing I did, another cup of espresso. Then I picked up the phone and called my friend Lauren at TapeOnline again. We missed the overnight cutoff but tomorrow we will have a brand new DVD Printer that will easily crank out the 400 DVDs this weekend and the client will get their 400 DVDs on time, in Arizona, complete with full color printed sleeves, in cases, with beautifully printed DVDs.
I'm going to lose money on the DVD duplications. Quite a bit of money since I was not prepared to purchase either the DVD Burner or the DVD Printer. Actually if all we needed was the DVD Burner I would have just about broken even, but the printer is significantly more money. Who's going to pay for this? I am of course. I am not going to ask my client for any more money to cover the costs of the additional equipment. That's not his problem. It was my mis-understanding that led to the scramble here at the end to get the job done so it's my responsibility to do what's necessary to meet his deadline.
This is what I mean when I keep saying you have to do what's right by the client. I will not earn any money for this DVD job and in fact we will lose a significant amount of money on this one job. But we are meeting the needs of this client and ultimately his client. We are making sure that we keep our client looking good to ensure that they have confidence in us to get the job done and if my client looks good, we all win. After all if the DVDs were not delivered we should not expect any further work from the client. In today's economy we can't afford to lose any of our clients. I know it's hard when you have to come out of your own pocket to cover costs, but sometimes you just have to do it to meet the client's needs. Particularly if it's something that happened as a result of a misunderstanding or a situation created on your end. But I sometimes eat costs even if it's a client created situation, anything to keep the client happy and coming back for more work.
It's called "doing the right thing." My grandfather taught me this valuable lesson. Kind of wish more companies (my current bank especially) operated this way. Another way you can look at this is the old adage, "You need to spend money to make money."
And now we own the equipment and for all jobs moving forward, we have it in the shop. It will pay for itself in short order and in fact, we significantly increased our capacity to burn and print DVDs and BluRay discs. 400 or 500 DVDs in a single day will be no problem when we need that capacity. Sure the world is going digital downloads, but for the short term, DVDs and BluRay discs are still requested in large numbers at our facility.
Thanks to our friends from the Gwinnett Chamber for this press release.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Lisa Sherman, Marketing & Public Relations Director
Economic Development Department
Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce
Digital Media Firm Expands in Metro Atlanta
Biscardi Creative to open new 6,000 sq-ft office in Gwinnett
Gwinnett County, Metro Atlanta, Georgia (July 1, 2010) – In partnership with Gwinnett Chamber economic development, Biscardi Creative Media (BCM) recently announced it will break ground on its new state-of-the-art-media-ready facility. After almost 20 years in the business, the company is expanding to a brand new 6,000 square foot facility in Buford.
Located in Buford, Georgia, this new building will feature eight edit suites, color enhancement suite, 5.1 surround mix suite, client theater, game room, kitchen, conference room, a 1,400 square foot multi-use room and over an acre of open wooded area for employees and their pets to roam.
“Our new facility will provide more convenience and the space needed as our business continues to grow,” said Walter Biscardi, Jr. Creative Genius of Biscardi Creative Media. “The property is in an ideal location, providing our team with access to a great quality of life environment near big-city amenities. Not to mention a relaxing alternative for our clients just a short drive north. You usually don’t find a facility situated on nearly 2 acres backing up to nature. We think we’ve found the perfect creative location and we’re thrilled to be staying in Buford and Gwinnett County.”
Recognized as a top professional in the world of media creation, Walter Biscardi, Jr., leads Biscardi Creative to not only meet, but exceed consumer expectations. Emmy-award winning programming, episodic television, commercials, feature films and corporate presentations are some of the projects Biscardi Media brings to the screen every day. Leading the way in High Definition, BCM supports all formats from DV to HD to RED 4k in-house. Since 1993, BCM has consistently achieved regional and national award-winning recognition, including five TELLY awards in 2008 for editing and production work in animation and over a dozen Emmy Awards in the company’s history.
Digital media is one of five targeted industries in Partnership Gwinnett, the community and economic development initiative led by the Gwinnett Chamber, to bring jobs and investment to the Greater Atlanta region. In April of this year, the Gwinnett Chamber released its first –ever digital entertainment white paper, touting the emerging mega-industry in metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia.
Nicole Wright, technology business development manager for the Gwinnett Chamber, said, “Biscardi’s expansion in Gwinnett adds tremendous value to an already stellar industry of digital media and application in Gwinnett and Georgia. It is both a testament and tribute to the claims of growth and sustainability that the white paper shares about this industry.”“Biscardi’s expansion is a classic example of the type of growth digital entertainment businesses can experience in Gwinnett,” commented Gwinnett County District Four Commissioner Kevin Kenerly. “And with technology being one of Partnership Gwinnett’s target industries, we consider this growth to more than just positive economic news; it’s a strategic win for our community’s long-term vision.”
“The City of Buford embraces this ‘creative class’ company, which fits in with the quality of life we strive to provide,” said Buford City Commission Chairman Philip Beard. “The momentum we’ve created in our historic downtown is spreading to other areas of the city. We’re happy they chose to locate here.”
The new Buford facility is projected to open by the end of November 2010. At present, the company is releasing its latest work, “Foul Water Fiery Serpent”, a feature documentary that chronicles Jimmy Carter and the Carter Center’s fight to eradicate Guinea worm disease. The film, produced by Biscardi Jr and Gary Strieker and narrated by Sigourney Weaver, is the first of three documentaries being edited at BCM.
So here in this section of the Atlanta area, our cable provider is Charter Communications. About 4 months ago we dropped their TV service that we’ve had since about 1998 because their HD picture left a lot to be desired. Specifically, we had about 12 HD channels and of those, only 2 were sharp on any given day. The others were a mess of very obvious compression artifacts. And at one point we had Charter install what was supposedly an HD DVR but it was obviously some really REALLY bad analog DVR that did some horrible upscaling of SD material to make it look like quasi HD. The standard HD receiver was far superior to the “HD DVR” and we had that DVR removed almost immediately.
So we switched to DirecTV after discussing the lack of HD programming and poor picture with a fellow colleague in television production. He told me that not only did DirecTV have about 100 HD channels, but they were all clean HD signals. He’s been with DirecTV about 10 years now so I knew he was pretty happy with the service. He was right. The HD signals are clean across all the channels, including the “On Demand” channels. And the dual recording DVR is absolutely fantastic. My favorite features so far? The customer service has been outstanding when I’ve had to make a call. The ability to program the DVR with my iPhone when we’re out and remember something we want to record. I LOVE that feature!
But this is a lesson in poor customer service Walt. So far it just sounds like you got tired of your service from Charter and made the switch to DirecTV. End of story. Well, here’s where it gets interesting and what follows is without a doubt the absolute worst customer service I have ever experienced.
While we dropped the cable TV service, we did retain the high speed internet service from Charter. I’m paying for 20mbps, have been for years, but due to bandwidth issues that have always dogged Charter, we rarely get speed over 8mbps. So I finally got fed up with this and Charter sent a technician out here to look at the lines. This was at 5:00pm on a Friday evening.
He did a few things, then went outside to look at the cable connections. Our speeds jumped to 20mbps on the download. Well that was interesting, but of course I know that every time we re-set our modem, our speeds jump right up, only to settle back down to about 8mbps within the next 24 hours. But at least while he’s there, the speeds are good. We say goodnight to the technician and head out to a dinner engagement.
9:30pm we turn on the TV in our family room. No satellite signal. It’s a clear night, nothing to interfere with the signal. So I go up to the bedroom. No satellite signal. Grab a flashlight and walk outside to the cable connections. The digital splitter that was installed by DirecTV to connect the satellite dish to our TV’s has been removed and the four cables are just sitting there. The Charter Communications technician removed the DirecTV splitter and then stole it from our property.
This is incredible.
Call Charter Communications help line immediately. There is no supervisor available, no one to help us at this hour. The operator says she will file a “damage report” and a supervisor will call back in 24 to 48 hours. But call back in the morning to see if I can get in touch with someone at that time.
I call back on Saturday morning at 8am. The operator sees the damage report in my file, but we have to “follow protocol” and wait for a supervisor to call me back in 24 to 48 hours. I cannot be put through to a supervisor by this operator. There are no plans to send a technician to my property until the supervisor calls me back. She tells me it was an “honest mistake” by the technician. An honest technician would inform the customer that he/she removed a splitter from the outside of the house so you now have 4 TV cables just hanging loose out there, is that ok?
I call back on Saturday afternoon around 3pm. Once again I’m told we have to “follow protocol” and no one has called back.
Sunday afternoon at 1pm I go to Home Depot and pick up a digital splitter and reconnect the DirecTV signal myself.
It is now Tuesday morning at 8am and have not received any phone call from any supervisor at Charter Communications. We’re heading towards 96 hours waiting on that 48 hour phone call to discuss the theft of personal property from my house by a technician working for Charter Communications. Nevermind that the technician had no right to even be touching any of the TV gear.
I would call the police and report the theft, but it is really worth it over a $12 part. Charter certainly doesn’t seem to think so.
So if you really, REALLY want to lose a customer, simply follow the example outlined above. And if you want to check out DirecTV’s offerings, they’re still running killer deals like the one we have.
Ok, my dumb advertisement of the week. I'm seeing an ad for FinallyFast.com show up again and again on cable channels. They promise to get your computer running fast again by removing spyware and all those nasty little things that can slow down a computer on the internet.
A disclaimer on screen points out this only works on PC Computers. (this is funny too, but more on that in a moment). So why is this ad so dumb? They prominently feature an iMac an an iBook. Yes, an iBook. In fact, the computer shown more than any other is the iMac.
These Macs are not the newer Intel versions so you could make the argument, "Well you can run Windows on those machines." Nope, these are classic PowerPC computers that are relegated to the Mac OS only. Sorry, this is just a dumb, bonehead, lazy move by the production company and the client to show two computers that can't even be used by the product that is being advertised.
Now about that "only works on PC Computers" comment..... PC stands for Personal Computer. Personal Computers run Mac OS, Windows, Linux and even UNIX operating systems. What they should have said on the ad was "only works on Windows operating systems." But that would definitely be asking too much of a company that features Apple computers for a Windows based product.
Just my two cents.
SUGAR HILL, GA
Biscardi Creative Media is proud to announce the completion of "Jayne's Café" featuring Jayne Olderman, owner of Red Warrior Records. Looking for a unique way to present her songs to a wide audience, Jayne created the concept of an unplugged 'café.'
"Jayne and I have been working together for a long time and when she mentioned this project, I immediately jumped in and said we'd like to produce it at BCM," notes Walter Biscardi, Jr., Principal Biscardi Creative Media. "Our challenge was to be able to shoot it well in a very small studio space. There's very little room for lighting and the ceilings are only 9 feet tall and we had up to 6 people for each song and 2 camera operators, so it definitely made for some tight quarters."
DP Clay Walker setting up the lighting
Director of Photography Clay Walker created the overall lighting design and shot with an HVX-200 in standard DV mode while 2nd camera operator, Cheryl Collins, shot with a DVX-100B. "The decision to shoot in DV was predicated by both the budget and Jayne's decision that this was to be a YouTube only project so high definition was not needed. This also allowed for easy matching between the 100 and 200," said Biscardi.
A total of 8 performances were recorded in one day using two primary setups for guitar and piano based songs. A real challenge in Post Production were the live recordings and trying to match up the various takes. "When we first met on this I requested that the performances be recorded in advance and the singers lip sync to make for easier editing over multiple takes of the song. But Jayne insisted that they be recorded live during the taping. Of course with live piano, live guitar and live singers, each performance of a song came out slightly different so trying to match up the singers with various takes was definitely tough at times."
Rachel Farley and Jayne Olderman perform "He Made Woman." Pam Kennedy, Tiffany Milagro and Rachel Little back the duo up.
In the end, the live performances were the right call. "Jayne was absolutely correct to insist on the live recording as we did get some really great performances from the singers."
Jayne's Café is being rolled out over the next few months on YouTube, currently the live recordings of "Real Life" and "He Made Woman" are uploaded along with a previously produced commercial for "Love Big," which was also directed and produced by Walter Biscardi, Jr. The performances can be found here:
Equipment / Software used: Panasonic HVX-200, Panasonic DVX-100B, Apple Final Cut Pro, Apple Color, ProTools.
Jayne's Café Performers: Jayne Olderman, J. Donte Harris, Rachel Farley, Rachel Little, Pam Kennedy, Tiffany Milagro
For more information about Jayne Olderman and Red Warrior Records visit: http://redwarriorrecords.com/
For more information about Biscardi Creative Media visit: http://www.biscardicreative.com/
L to R: Rachel Little, Jayne Olderman, J. Donte Harris, Tiffany Milagro, Pam Kennedy
In Part 2 of this series, I gave you some thoughts on setting up your shop. If you missed that part or Part 1, links are at the bottom of this article. Now that the doors are open, the furniture and equipment is in, we need to get the word out so you can really get your company running and building. Just because you’re open, doesn’t mean people are just going to find you.Congratulations! Hopefully by now you’ve finished off that bottle of champagne, grape juice, coffee, or whatever it was you used to toast your new company. The doors are open, the business cards are lined up and you are officially In Business! Nothing to do now but just let the folks in and get to work.Yep, the coffee’s ready, the cups are out……Just a minute, they’ll be here in just a minute…..I’m sure they just missed that left turn, they probably turned right……Anytime now, they’ll just come strolling right into the office……Ok, so maybe they’re not going to come strolling right into your office. At least not the folks who don’t already know you and your work. Ok, at least not the folks who don’t already know you and actually want to hire your services. THOSE are the folks you want to get to know. The folks who don’t know you. You know?Just opening your doors is a major undertaking but being able to keep them open is even tougher. I think the last time I looked up the statistic, something like 65% of all new business failed in the first 12 months in the U.S. So more than half of the people just like you who were able to plan, finance and open a business didn’t make it to the one year anniversary. I’m not going to say that my pearls of wisdom that follow will guarantee you make it to your first anniversary, but they certainly did help me.
Hello…. Is This Thing On?Number one thing you have to do is let the world know you exist. Marketing yourself is actually a rather awkward thing to do and many folks just really don’t seem to get it right. Keep in mind that what works for someone else won’t necessarily work for you. Think about this, you never see two companies with the exact same advertisement on TV, do you? If Brand X has an incredible ad campaign they why don’t Brands Y and Z run the exact same ad? Because it would be very un-original and folks would associate Brands Y and Z with Brand X.. Besides, Brands Y and Z might have a completely different target audience so they need to structure their ads differently. So think about how you want to be perceived in the marketplace and structure your marketing based on that.Now I’m not talking about a full marketing campaign with advertisements, postcards, flyers and all sorts of stuff you have to pay for. Sure you might do some of that, but there are many other ways to start getting your name out there that won’t break the bank. How about online forums?Online forums such as the Creative COW are a fantastic way of getting your name out there. Troll around for a bit and just see what the landscape is like. If you have some knowledge to share with folks, jump in and give the advice. It doesn’t cost you anything and if your advice and wisdom are consistently useful to the community, folks start to trust and turn to you for advice. Especially for a very small company like my own, just being out there giving advice can lead to many great things down the road. True Story. I started participating in an online forum back around 2000 called the WWUG. I found some useful tips for After Effects and Photoshop and really thought it was cool that like minded artists could help each other out from around the globe. In early 2001 I started my present company with a brand new Final Cut Pro system with really no idea how to operate it properly and migrated over to the new Creative COW community with a ton of questions. 6 months later I was the one answering a lot of questions about the Pinnacle CinéWave card and being asked to start a new CinéWave forum. Because I took the time to learn how the product worked and was so willing to share my new found knowledge with others, I generated some very positive feedback about myself.A few local folks might call you for some advice from time to time and just like in the online forums, it’s not a bad idea to offer some helpful hints if you can. Don’t let this interrupt a paying session, but if you have a few moments, be polite and help folks if you can. Word of mouth will definitely circulate and before you know it, you’ll get friends of friends of friends calling to ask you how to get such and such to work correctly. Yes, some folks will abuse your generosity and that’s what Caller ID is for! But if you have the time, offering assistance to folks is a great way to spread your name around town as someone who is helpful.Emails and newsletters are wonderful tools if you don’t abuse them. How much do you enjoy getting unsolicited ads for stuff you don’t need? Keep that in mind when you send out an email blast or post card campaign. Don’t send emails every week to everyone you know reminding them that you’re now available to do work for them. Don’t send a newsletter every few days notifying the world that you’ve installed a new stapler and it’s ready to be used on their newest script. I think a good general rule is some sort of email every four months and maybe a newsletter every 6 months. That’s enough to let folks know you’re out there without becoming too obnoxious about it. Keep your communications short and simple with a quick update on what you’ve been doing, any major news about your company and a thanks for their time. It’s not the amount of words you use, just how you use them.
Take the High RoadIf you’re alive, then someone or some company has probably done you wrong in your life. Most likely in your career and it might even have been a driving decision to start your own business. It was definitely a motivation for me. No matter how much it hurts and how easy it would be to strike back, do not give in to this temptation. If you’re confused about what I might be talking about, consider a situation like this. An employee is disgruntled with his company. He’s been working there for a while and is the lead Producer for some of the biggest clients. He strikes out on his own and when communicating with those big clients, he degrades that company and the quality of their work. “Company B just doesn’t care about you guys, they’re just after your money, if you knew what they were saying about you when you’re not there you would never want to work with them. You should really consider me to do your work now since I was your Producer anyway.”He’s counting on the client being shocked that Company B would take advantage of them. Exactly the opposite will happen at least 90% of the time. What really happens is the Producer comes off as being a whiner and nobody wants to work with a whiner. The Client will most likely stick with Company B happy that the troublemaker is gone.True Story. I had a partnership for three years and it eventually went sour. I made the decision to leave the partnership as it was just not going to work any longer. My first step was to send a mass email to the company clients to inform them of my decision to move on and to notify them that my partner was going to continue the company and it would be available to service them. I even included the phone number and email addresses of the company again. I was informed later that his communication with the clients was drastically different and very negative against me. The result was that the biggest client from our partnership followed me. That client essentially supported my company for the entire first year as I built up my name and other clients. To this day, I still work with the same people and even helped some of them when it came time to start their own business. No good can come of being negative in any of your communications or marketing materials. Keep it positive and stay above the fray. Even be careful when talking to a client about a fellow Producer, Videographer, Editor, whomever in town. Everyone talks to everyone and eventually your words will get back to you. Oh and I’m not perfect by any means, but I really really try to stay positive at all costs. It seems like it takes longer to build a company “when you do things right” but ultimately you’ll feel better about yourself and what you’re building.
I Got an Offer You Can’t RefuseWhen you first open your doors you have no reputation. Sure you might have built a reputation as a great talent at what you do. But you have no reputation as a company, even if you’re just freelancing. It’s a lot of different to be that great talent and manage the business. Sometimes you have entice folks to get in the door or pick up the phone to use your services. How about a first time incentive like a discount? When I first opened up I would let folks know that they could have a discounted rate for their first job. Usually it was the first day free for a multi-day edit or a lower rate for a single day, things like that. How about an open house? Just open the doors for a day, have some snacks and finger foods on hands with soft drinks and let folks see what you’re all about. Be sure to have something going in each room or at least things for people to see and take. Have plenty of business cards, some one-sheets that describe the business and your services and hopefully a demo. If you have monitors in the shop, have some of your work running in a continuous loop. You might even offer some prizes to folks either for arriving at a certain time or putting their business cards into a jar. Free work, discounted work, a prize, whatever you want it to be, give an enticement for showing up. And make sure you have a sign-in sheet when folks arrive so you can get their phone numbers and email addresses. Whenever I’ve done this I’ve actually done two on the same day during the lunch hour and again after hours to allow more people time to come. Personally I never serve alcohol at these events and it’s never missed. I just really don’t want to deal with the expense and potential liability of alcohol at my offices.
Just Say No!The most powerful word you will learn to build you business is “No.” Sounds counter-productive, but trust me, “No” is the key to growing your business.When you first start open your doors you’re going to take on just about anything at just about any rate. You have to. Bills are already arriving for your office, your gear and your furniture. So if your regular rate is $500 and a client offers you $200, you’re probably going to take the gig because $200 is still better than $0. But once you establish a foothold and start booking yourself steadily, you’ll find yourself staring at some problems. Slow / No Pay clients. You know the ones who take 120 days to pay or keep promising they’ll take care of you “next week.” Rude and Obnoxious clients. You dealt with it when you needed the money but now they’re a drag to keep working with.Aren’t I your friend? The client you helped out with some steep discounts when you were starting out and now wants you to maintain those discounts because of the “relationship” you guys have going.The Next Big Thing. Just help me out with these projects and I promise you’ll get more than your worth as soon as we do the Next Big Thing.Ok, Slow / No Pay clients are just not worth ever booking again. They don’t have the decency to pay you on time, they’re not worth the headache. Rude and Obnoxious, who has time for that? Your Friends are those who stand behind and support you, not people who try to take advantage of a situation. I’ve heard about “The Next Big Thing” for almost 18 years now and I’m still waiting to see it. It doesn’t happen.When these people call and try to book time, just say No. Be polite about it (remember that thing about keep everything positive?) by telling them you’re fully booked up. You’re always booked up when they call. When I started saying “no” to folks, my income took a hit for a little while, but then suddenly those problem clients were replaced by solid people who are a pleasure to work with, brought challenging projects to my door and always pay on time. It may take some time, but if you just keep the negativity of problem clients out of your shop, eventually things should start an upswing.
It’s On the HouseOne great way to get your name out there in the community is by doing some donated or “pro-bono” work. A lot of times, these are done for church groups or fund-raiser type of events. These are great because generally the folks running these events are high ranking folks in local businesses. Your involvement can bring some goodwill and positive feedback for your company. The hope is that when these business folks need the services you provide, they’ll look you up.It can be extremely rewarding, especially in the video / film production world, because you’re the “hero” who made such a great video presentation. You’re the center of attention because everyone wants to meet the person who did “the video.” Now the danger of this kind of work is overdoing it. Remember, the point of these project is to generate actual paying clients, not MORE pro-bono work. And trust me, once someone finds out you did a great job with so and so’s presentation, you’ll get a whole host of phone calls and emails. If you’re not careful, the free work will take over your schedule and you’ll find yourself neglecting the paying work. That’s definitely not a good thing for someone trying make a living running their business.I strongly encourage you to come up with a limit on your Pro-Bono work and then stick to it. In my case it’s no more than two projects per year and I prefer working with a few folks that I know and trust. Setting this limit allows me to very respectfully decline the myriad of requests I get through the year by simply explaining that we only do two per year and only when the schedule permits. Foundations and groups completely respect that you’re trying to run a business and when you make it clear to them that your time is limited and their project simply doesn’t fit into the allotted time, they will understand. If they don’t understand and give you grief, then you didn’t want to work with them anyway!
BenchwarmersIf you’re running a company that requires the use of freelancers, remember one thing. These people represent YOU. Not themselves. YOU. What does this mean? If your client has a bad experience with a freelancer you assigned to their job, that client is going to remember that YOU gave them bad service. You absolutely cannot lay blame on the freelancer for screwing up the job. YOU hired them, YOU assigned them the job, YOU are responsible.As you grow your business you have to remember that anyone assigned to any job is representing you at all times. So you darn well better be sure that these people can do what is expected of them, in the time expected, and in a way that makes the client happy.Absolutely list your positions in the normal places like the Creative COW Job Forum as you want to get a nice cross section of resumes from local talent. But also ask all of your colleagues and friends in the business for referrals. These people have worked with the local talent or heard from others about the quality of their work. If you can, try them out on a small project, even if you have to pass through all your profit to them. This gives you a chance to see their work and work habits first hand. Nothing like seeing the real deal in action.Finally, if you get some good freelancers working with you, pay them fairly and pay them quickly. As much as these people are representing you to the client, you’re representing yourself to them. If you pay a fair rate and pay them on-time you’ll build up a reputation as a good business to work with. Then you’ll have quality folks calling on you to offer their services and then you’ll have a nice solid crop of local talent to take care of your clients.
Take Care of the ClientThe best way to build your business is to treat the clients right. You take care of them, they chat you up to fellow workers and they lead more business to your door.You’ve taken the time to open your office, now keep it clean and neat. Nothing is a turn-off more than paying someone to do a professional job and having to visit them in a messy office. It doesn’t need to be perfect, just straightened up and clean each time the client comes to visit. If you provide your service on location or at the client’s location, dress cleanly. Sure you can wear some cool T-shirts or clothing if that’s your style, but make sure it’s clean. Torn and dirty clothes just don’t make a good impression.Be polite. It’s that simple. Just be polite and positive during the time you spend with the client. It’s a small thing, but it amazes me how rude and negative some people can act around a client, especially when things don’t go quite right. There are always going to be problems with equipment, people, locations, software, etc… Just keep a positive attitude, figure out workarounds and move on. Clients not only want a great talent, they want someone who’s easy to work with. A very important way to treat the clients right is to address issues immediately, especially if it’s a technical or other problem that causes a delay in production. Say your camera is not working correctly, the software won’t run today, your VTR’s need to be cleaned, you’re late due to traffic, just something is not quite right and it causes a problem or delay in your work. Take care of the situation right then and there, don’t wait a few days, don’t wait a week, do it right on the spot. I will immediately tell the client what I’m going to do for them in the case of an issue. Usually it’s a discount worth more than the time lost, maybe some free services, whatever the situation calls for. I tell the client right away and then I will follow up with that by also putting the reason for the discount in the invoice. Taking responsibility for an issue on the spot makes a very positive and lasting impression on clients because you just don’t see a lot of people doing that anymore.True Story: I was working on a project that absolutely had to be in New York on a Monday. I finished on Saturday and couriered the tapes to another production house that had a DigiBeta deck ready and waiting to lay off the show. In my haste to get the show down to that production house, I forgot to move a few of the items around in the timeline. The editor on site tried to fix the timeline for the client, but it didn’t quite work out. I ended up fixing the master on Sunday and we ended up having to use same day air cargo service to ensure the master would be in New York first thing Monday morning. I told the client immediately that the air cargo charges and extra duplications would be covered by me. It was the right thing to do and my client very much appreciated the gesture.
Stop the Presses!You read press releases all the time. Companies announcing the latest product, latest service, latest project and so on. Well you’ve got some news to share too! Heck just opening your doors is worthy of a press release. As you build up your clientele and get involved with some projects, start telling the world. Obviously the Creative COW is a great place to release your news, but trade magazines, local newspapers, area trade groups and websites are also good choices.Read some of those press releases and see how they are put together. Always start with your city / state and the date. Write in third person at all times. Never “I am happy to announce…..” but “XYZ Company is proud to announce…” Sounds more professional and the “company” sounds larger than an individual. Building the company name is also important if you plan to eventually hire folks to work for you. If your company is getting a lot of good press, that will transfer to the team around you. Issue as many press releases as you see fit, after all the more your name it out there, the more likely people are to notice you.
Money makes the world go aroundManaging the money is so incredibly important as you try to build your business. Yes you want to pay yourself as much as possible, but you also have bills to pay and there’s always another “thing” you need to purchase to keep running the business. This is especially true if you run a business like my Post Production house where technology and equipment is constantly changing.If you are not that good managing money, please, please get some help. Hire a CPA, ask a family member who is good managing money, just get someone to help you. I’m the first to admit, I’m need help in managing money and am so very fortunate that my wife is an amazing help in this area of the business. Especially when it comes to a major purchase, we discuss the needs of the company, what the prospective income is over the next few months and our current financial situation before taking the plunge. I could run the money side of things alone if I absolutely had to, but I know that together we are doing a much better job managing the company finances. So please, do not be ashamed to admit if you need some help with managing your money.If your business requires the use of contractors or freelancers it is very important that you take good care of these people, sometimes even at the detriment of your own short term income. My policy is always to pay my freelance / contract work first before we pay ourselves. This builds a good reputation for me among freelancers and people will put my jobs ahead of others if there is a choice. It’s also just the right thing to do. You know the budget, you know how much you’re going to make on the job, you also control how the payments are received. Whenever I have contractors involved, especially with field productions, I always demand 50% down payment before we start a job. This money is always earmarked to pay the freelancers and contractors knowing that I will make my income from the remaining 50%. When possible, especially when dealing with outside help, request a deposit of 50% or at least equal to what you will need to pay out to these independent contractors so you can take care of them immediately.I must make one thing incredibly clear at this point. At no point should you allow yourself to get behind on payments to independent contractors or anyone else owed money for a job. What happens at that point is you start “paying backwards” by using the next job to pay for the last job. This is a never-ending spiral. What I have seen happen time and time again is that the business owner gets so deep into the hole that there are simply not enough upcoming jobs to ever get caught up and they lose all their reliable freelancers. Eventually they lose their clients. If you get nothing else from my four part series, please remember this one point.Carefully pay yourself keeping an eye on your schedule at all times. Have a full schedule for the next 60 days? Go ahead and pay yourself more as you should be good to cover that and all your bills. Things kind of slow? Keep some money in the company bank account to cover the bills so you’re not completely stressing on trying to cover the company payments. It’s a careful balance of paying yourself to make income while making sure the company stays afloat. Again, please get some help managing the money if you need it.
The Walls are Closing InWhen you open the doors everything is set up just so. You’ve got some furniture, equipment and other odds and ends so you’re fully functional when you start up. As you start working day to day you will find some shortcomings and some additions that are necessary. The trick here is to manage your space wisely so it doesn’t become a completely cluttered mess that’s difficult to get around.I have to admit I’m having this very problem myself as we are growing faster than my space will allow. The biggest problem I have is lack of storage space as we have converted a room that used to be for entertainment and storage into a third edit suite. So we’re a bit cluttered at the moment and instead of rushing out to purchase bookshelves and cabinets just to get stuff onto shelves, I’m taking my time and ensuring that we can store everything correctly and it will all look good to the eye. But I have placed too much emphasis on just getting what’s convenient and not considering the overall workflow and client comfort in the shop.So as you need furniture, equipment, etc… carefully plan out what you are going to get and how it will fit into your overall space. Is there something you should consider removing from your office to make more room? Can you consolidate multiple pieces into one? The basic idea here is to manage your space as you move your business forward. Consider every piece of furniture and every piece of equipment and how it will affect your client comfort and overall workflow.Well, there you go folks. Only one more stop on this 4 part journey and I’ll have given you all my best thoughts on running your business!
In Part 4 of this series, “Expansion, Make the Right Decisions,” I’ll look at some ideas on expanding your business. What to consider when expanding, when to expand and my own personal experiences in the growing pains / expansion of Biscardi Creative Media.Walter Biscardi, Jr. is a 17 year veteran of broadcast and corporate video production who owns Biscardi Creative Media in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Walter counts multiple Emmys, Tellys and Aurora Awards among his many credits and awards. You can find Walter in the Apple Final Cut Pro, AJA Kona, Apple Motion, Apple Color and the Business & Marketing forums.
Part 2 - Setting Up Shop
Part 1 - Are You Ready?
This is Part 1 of a 4 Part series on Starting and Running your own business in the creative industry. We start out this week by asking, Are You Ready? Are you really ready to step out on your own and become your own boss? Before you say yes, consider these thoughts.
Recently I posted a blog entry detailing the wonderful experience we had upgrading our facility with fellow Creative COW leader Bob Zelin. An unexpected response to that entry was someone who found the setup of our facility somewhat overwhelming. He was questioning what would he need to start a company and compete after seeing something like our upgrade.That post gave me pause and the inspiration to write down my thoughts for anyone thinking about striking out on their own in this creative business. We all start at Square One and a facility like mine doesn’t just happen overnight. So over the course of the next few weeks, I'm going to give you my ideas about starting and building your own company. Take what you want from my advice and experience and when you find something that works for you, be sure to pass along some knowledge to others. I’m going to start at the beginning with this entry and end up with thoughts for expansion in my final installment. In between we’ll talk about setting up shop and running / building your current business. So let’s get started.
Are You Ready?It’s a simple question. Are you ready to run your own business? It sounds great, equipment and software is relatively cheap, your friends think you’ll have no problems building a successful business. So why not? Well, there’s a million reasons “why not?” but if you never take a chance, what’s the point of living, right? Ok, here’s some things to take into consideration if you’re seriously considering your own business.
Dude, Where’s My Project?So how much experience do you have in the industry? And be very honest with yourself here. It’s easy to watch a commercial, a movie, a music video, a TV show and say “I can do better work than that!” Maybe you can, but have you? I mean have you actually done work that looks better than what you’re watching and did it on a tight deadline while staying within the budget constraints? First and foremost this industry is driven by the deadline. Whether it’s a church video for the service on Sunday or the next episode of “The Office” for NBC. Your must make the deadline that is set for your project each and every time. Failure to do that even one time can ruin your entire business. Creative skills honestly mean nothing at all if you can’t get a project done on time. The deadline pressure is the one thing that I see which dooms many new people to the business. It’s something that you really can’t describe because it is a completely different pressure than any other industry I’ve ever seen. With most industries, everything is black and white. The product was delivered on time, the new contract was signed, building was completed and so on. Generally something that is very black and white where you can look at the product, hold it in your hand, see it in front of you, witness the signed contract. When a product is delivered under deadline, say a new tennis ball, there is it, you can hold it in your hand and see it.The Creative Industry just sells ideas. Sure there is usually an end product attached to those ideas, such as a DVD or TV show, but we’re just selling creative ideas. So we’re at the complete mercy of our client’s moods, ideas, changes of heart, even just a change of mind. I’ve been in a situation where we have been working on a project for 9 days only to have the producer completely change their mind on the look and script 36 hours before a show is about to air. The deadline hasn’t changed, the show is going to air in 36 hours. It doesn’t matter that I’ve spent 9 days following the script and editing in the agreed upon manner which has been reviewed at the end of each of the 9 days. They’re changing it now and they just want it to happen in 36 hours. So what do you do? You can’t tell them it’s too late because the products have already been produced and shipped to the stores. You can’t tell them it’s too late because you can’t get the necessary supplies to build the widget in time. I mean it’s just a video so it can’t be that hard to make the changes they’re asking for, right? Do you miss the deadline or drink a lot of coffee and work up a miracle in the wee hours of the night? Don’t forget you’re running this business so it’s your decision. There are some amazingly talented people coming out there who get drawn into the relative ease that exists today to open up your own shop. Software and hardware is very affordable so why not just take the plunge to go it alone? The software and hardware is just one very small part of starting up your own production company, creative suite, editing boutique, whatever you want to call it. The ability to handle the pressure of the deadline, no matter what is thrown your way is a very large part of running a creative company.So be very honest with yourself here and decide if you are ready to do whatever it takes to meet each and every deadline you take on. 9-5 is out the window. Each day has 24 hours and you better be prepared to use every last minute if you want to make it on your own. Your reputation is riding on it. Handling the deadline pressure can only come from experience.In case you’re wondering how the story ends, I had already been working 12 hours that day when I got the news to make the change so I ended up editing for 48 hours straight. The show aired on time and I was nominated for “Editing in a Television Series” at the New York Festivals. I haven’t been able to kick my coffee habit since.
You’re the Boss of Me.If you’re new to the industry, whether right out of college or looking for a 2nd career, working for someone else has some very distinct advantages.Soaking it all in is one thing. I mean what does it take to run the company? Whether you’re working for a small company with one other person or a huge group with 1,000, soak in what is going on all around you. Notice how your room / workstation is set up. What do you like and not like about it? Ask someone why the room was set up like it was. How are the clients treated? How does the billing work and what are the rates? How do they figure out the rates? What extras does the company provide, like food and games, and why? Now don’t be obnoxious about this and ask a question at every turn, but just observe, ask polite questions when appropriate and soak in everything going on around you, especially if it is a successful business. If it’s not successful, try to figure out what could be done better, maybe even make some suggestions to management if appropriate. Working for a company also generally means working around other folks more experienced than you. Learn from them. In my own experience, I started at CNN and had absolutely no clue what a Waveform or Vectorscope were until someone explained them to me. Funny how many posts I see about this very thing on the COW these days. I also discovered that while I could edit very well, I had no idea how to tell a story. I just slapped down what was on the script without a thought to how all the shots really cut together. Two amazing editors took me under their wing and taught me how to really craft a story in the edit suite, not just push buttons. Could not have learned it this well from books, the internet, or in the classroom. You can generally focus on your singular task when you’re working for someone else. If you’re a graphic designer, then all you have to do is work on making the best looking graphic to meet the specs of the project. Of course there are exceptions when working for a smaller firm, but for the most part, your only concern is what is immediately in front of you. You can spend your time practicing your craft, trying out techniques and so on. At CNN I played with every single piece of equipment I could get my hands on, including this new thing that arrived one day call an Avid. It was all sitting there and I would even come back to the office on my time to practice on the gear and my editing style. You get exposed to a variety of clients and styles, regardless of whether you work for an independent company or in the communications department of a company. Each client is different and what works for one client won’t work for them all. After CNN I went to work for Foxwoods Resort Casino in their media department and I worked with very real clients, even though they were all Foxwoods departments. Marketing, Dining, Entertainment, Transportation, Hotel, Maintenance, Museum and so on all had projects that needed to be done by our department, about 200+ projects per year. Each department and even different people within each department had varying styles and needs. I had never been exposed to anything like this at CNN where we pretty much did the same thing no matter who the Producer was. Now I had to please about 100 different people who all had their own idea of what their project had to look like. This was some of the most valuable experience I ever received and it wasn’t anything anyone could have taught me in a classroom.Working for someone else also means you will most likely be exposed to a bunch of different equipment. No better way to find out what the equipment looks like than to get your hands on it. If you’re really lucky, your shop will have an engineer. These guys are awesome to talk to. Any question you have, they’re usually happy to answer. I use every opportunity I get to speak with engineers as very often some nugget of information gleaned comes in very handy as we plan, troubleshoot or make changes to our facility. Finally, working for someone else gives you the opportunity to make a reputation for yourself. Your boss, clients, producers, other creative workers all get a chance to see both your work and your work habits. This business is all about word of mouth and the more you can build on your reputation before you start your new venture, the better chance your business has of succeeding.In my own experience, I spent 5 years at CNN, 2 years at Foxwoods, 1 year at another corporate job before I started my first company with a partner and finally 3 years later I started Biscardi Creative. I saw each step along the way as a learning experience. CNN taught me how to tell a story, Foxwoods gave me confidence in designing a facility, the partnership showed me I could run my own business. So ask yourself, are you truly ready to go out on your own, or would you be better served spending time at someone else’s facility? If you’re working for someone else right now, have you built enough of a positive reputation and learned enough at that location to step out on your own?
Focus, Focus, FocusThe number one biggest mistake I see in this industry is the inability to focus on what you do well. You can’t be all things to everyone. If you try to do everything, you’ll end up doing all things ok. If you simply focus on one or a few areas, then you have the potential to be very good at what you do.In my case, I’m an editor and over the years I’ve picked up a lot of skills in After Effects and Graphic designs so my focus since striking out on my own has been Post Production. Editing, graphic design, digital compositing and some special effects are what we concentrate on. So all of our marketing and our money for equipment is spent to better our Post Production. I can shoot with a camera but there are dozens of photographers here in Atlanta alone who are so much better than me, why would I waste both mine and my client’s time? The client deserves the best shooter I can give them and it’s definitely not me. So I have made my main focus Post Production. So what is your focus going to be? Whatever it is, that is what you need to really expend your energy and money on. This industry is literally changing by the month with new equipment, new software, new technology, new standards and so on. It can literally make your head spin and theirs is just no way to stay on top of everything. So stay on top of what you can control. Stay on top of what it is that you do best. To help you stay on top of everything else in the world, befriend some good folks locally if you can and of course use the tremendous resources of the Creative COW.In my case, I get a lot of questions about cameras because I work with so many formats. Honestly, all I know about them is what I see on the screen when I watch footage shot by them and what I glean from D.P.’s and the manufacturers. That’s about it. If I have a question about a camera or about something to do with cameras, I ask my D.P. friends or research on the COW. Really my biggest question about any camera is what format does it shoot and what frame rate am I working with? That affects me in Post. Lenses, filters, matte boxes, shutter speeds and the like are the domain of the shooters, I just want to know how to get it into my system and edit with it. As my business has matured, we do offer now offer full turnkey services from script to screen, but that’s only because I’ve built a great team of colleagues I can call upon to complete any project that walks in the door. But my focus is still the Post side, I hire other folks to write, produce and shoot the actual material.So what is truly going to be your focus? Who can you call upon to help you with areas outside of your focus? Two questions to ask yourself.
Man of 1,000 HatsIt’s a wonderful idea to open your own business. It’s truly a dream come true. But one thing even I overlooked is the fact that you’re now responsible for every single decision. I mean, the creative stuff, that’s easy, that’s what I do. But where is the office going to be? What chairs do I need? Where do I get the furniture? How many paperclips will I use?My point is quite simple here. Once you’re the boss, you are now responsible for every single decision for your company from what font to use for that corporate commercial to what long distance service are you going to use. It’s all those little mundane things that many of us never take into account when deciding to go out on our own.You will have to set up and manage your finances, the equipment, the software, the clients, the marketing, your skills, your demo, the office supplies, the tax returns, the research and the list goes on and on. Oh yeah, don’t forget you’re also going to have to be very creative and meet all your production deadlines to keep the clients happy. Not trying to scare you here, just being honest. Whether you want to or not, you will be wearing about 100 hats the moment you decide to open your office. If you’re not prepared for this, it becomes overwhelming very quickly. Fortunately I have a wonderful wife who is my partner in my venture and she oversees many of the financial areas of the company allowing me to concentrate on technology and creative. Make a list of all the things you need to take care of and think about whether there is anyone you can call upon to help you out with some of the details.
Swallowing your prideThose of you already working in the industry have experienced this. All of you entering this industry and ready to start your own place, here’s the rude awakening. The client is always right. Repeat. The client is always right. Keep repeating until it sinks in. If you don’t believe this, then don’t start your own business.I’ve had situations where I’ll describe an idea to a client, complete with sketches and pantomime with an enthusiastic response. I’ll go create the project, show them the rough cut and their eyes glaze over. “Oh, that’s not what I thought you were describing. I really don’t like this. Can’t you just do this other thing instead?”Now the artist in me wants to tell the client exactly what I think of this other thing they’re suggesting. After all I described to them what I was going to do, I spent 5 days executing that idea and NOW you tell me you don’t get it? But the business owner in me takes the suggestion and I tell the client, “Absolutely I can do that, let me go back to the office and get right on that.”Ideas and pride will not pay the bills. Checks from clients will. If you want to run your own business you have to be accepting of the fact that the Client always gets what the Client wants. Your primary responsibility is to give the client what they are asking for in the most creative and professional manner possible. One thing I always tell people is I don’t care if the client wants the sky green, the grass blue and the people red. As long as my levels are broadcast spec and the client is happy and they pay me, then that’s exactly what they are going to get. Sure I’ll offer my input, but ultimately, I will put on the screen exactly what the client wants to see. It’s the client’s money, not mine.Look at it this way, you’re not going to like every single thing that leaves your shop. If you don’t like it, don’t feature it on your website or your demo. So can you swallow your pride and produce exactly what the client wants and not just what you think the client needs? If you fail to grasp this basic concept, you will not be getting checks from clients for very long.
Show Me Some Money…. PleaseFinally, a very simple question to ask as you consider your own company. Are you prepared to not make any income for any amount of time, up to 12 months? Is your financial situation stable enough that you can afford to not make any money at all from your new venture as you start up?It’s the old adage, you need to spend money to make money. You are going to have to purchase some equipment to get started. You’ll need to some sort of marketing, maybe a website, definitely business cards, probably a Demo. Your personal bills are not going to stop coming in the meantime. So can you afford to all of the expenses incurred in starting a business and continue to pay all of your personal expenses if you do not earn any actual income for up to 12 months?Not much else to add here, just something for you to seriously think about. It takes time for the checks to catch up to the expenses and you can start paying yourself, just be sure you’re financially stable enough to not back yourself into a corner. In my own situation, my wife was extremely supportive of my new venture and she carried the financial burden for us until my business was able to earn us some income.
Well there you go folks, a lot of things to consider whether or not you’re truly ready to start your own business. And don’t get me wrong here. I’m not trying to scare you off and say don’t start a business. It’s a very exciting thing to start your own business and it’s easy to look at all the positive reasons for doing so. When done right and done well, it’s the most amazing thing you will ever do for your career. I’m just trying to give you a reality check before you jump feet first. And don’t just take what I say here as law. Be sure to do more research on the internet, talk to family, talk to other friends in the industry. Get as much information as you feel you need to make the best decision for you.In Part 2 of this series, “Setting Up Shop,” I’ll look at setting up your business. From location to type of company to client comforts, we’ll explore the next steps in taking your decision to start a company to actually opens the doors. Future blogs will cover Running your Business and Expansion Decisions.
Walter Biscardi, Jr. is a 17 year veteran of broadcast and corporate video production who owns Biscardi Creative Media in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Walter counts multiple Emmys, Tellys and Aurora Awards among his many credits and awards. You can find Walter in the Apple Final Cut Pro, AJA Kona, Apple Motion, Apple Color and the Business and Marketing forums.
Part 2 - Setting Up Shop: http://blogs.creativecow.net/node/277
Part 3 - Running and Building your Business: http://blogs.creativecow.net/node/300
This is Part 2 of a 4 Part series on Starting and Running your own business in the creative industry. In Part 1 of this series, I posed the question, "Are You Ready?" A link to Part 1 is at the end of this article in case you missed it. If you've thought long and hard on this and your answer is "Yes," then let's proceed with Part 2 of this 4-part trilogy. Here we'll explore a lot of questions on setting up your company and getting ready to open those doors!
(Only in Hollywood could we make a 4-part trilogy.)So now that you've decided that the time is right and the financial situation looks acceptable, the next stop on the magical mystery tour is Setting Up Shop. As critical as deciding to actually go into business, where you set up shop can literally make or break you. And I don't just mean location, location, location, though that's certainly a consideration. But how much is the overhead going to cost you to maintain and run your little creative masterpiece? How accessible is it to clients? Will clients ever see the place? How many parking spaces does it have? Do you actually like the space? I mean what's the point of renting some dump with cracked walls, lousy carpet in a lousy part of town if you're not happy going there? How creative can you be if you don't like your surroundings? Oh and I will be saying, "house" throughout this entry to mean your home. Substitute condo, apartment, houseboat, VW Van, or whatever it is that you live in and plan to use as your home office. Capice?Now please keep your hands inside the car at all times, as this ride is dark and bumpy.
Say Hello to My Little FriendHere is THE biggest decision you will make when starting your own business. Do you go it alone or do you get a partner? Think long and hard on this if you are considering a partnership or collaborative agreement.Going it alone offers the most obvious benefit of being in absolute control of your destiny. Nobody to tell you what to do, when to do it or how to do it. Every last decision from where to open up to what pens to order is yours and yours alone. On the flip side, you take on all the risks and financial obligations. Every last dime that it takes to start and maintain your business will come out of your pockets.A partnership or collaboration is very appealing, especially to someone starting their first business. From a financial standpoint, you don't have to put up all of your own money; you share the risks and the decision making with someone else. In some cases, you might not have the necessary collateral or credit rating to obtain financing on your own and a partner is the only way to get what you'll need. If you're a bit low on funds, but high on ideas, partnering up with a like-minded person can get your business off the ground sooner than later.If you are considering a partnership or any other sort of a collaborative effort to open your new business, I am going to ask you, how well do you know this person (or people)? I mean KNOW these people? You are placing your financial future, credit rating and reputation into their hands. Are you completely comfortable that you have known these people long enough to completely trust them no matter what happens to your business? When business is good, everybody is happy. When business slows down how will your partners handle it? What if the business fails, will your partners stand with you to make good on everything or will they try to stick the blame and payments on you? Nobody wants to consider a business failure, but honestly, you have to think about this if you are going into a partnership. If you fail on your own, you take it on the chin, satisfy your lenders, and move on. If you fail in a partnership lawyers can get involved, fingers get pointed and suddenly those great guys you started the company with are eating you alive and blaming you for the failure so they don't have to make any further financial payments. I speak from experience on this one, but more on that later.One thing I cannot stress enough no matter which route you go, meet with a licensed Certified Public Accountant BEFORE you formalize your business. Even if you are simply going in business for yourself as a freelancer, speak to a CPA. Explain to this person exactly what your business will be, how many people are involved and ask for their advice to get the best tax advantages for your situation. In my case, both in my original partnership and in Biscardi Creative Media, we've formed a Limited Liability Company (LLC) because this offers me the best tax advantages. In addition, I do spend the money to have my CPA prepare my taxes each year because the laws do change and if anything is wrong on my returns, I have the security of knowing that his office will stand behind what they've prepared.It may cost you $150 for one hour of the CPA's time, but that can come back to you tenfold if you set up the company correctly at the outset.
Make Yourself at HomeThe next decision is Home Office vs. Commercial space. Some folks agonize over this question even more so that deciding whether or not to actually go into business. I've been in both situations and there are certainly pros and cons to both.Let's talk about the Home Office first where the advantages are numerous beginning with overhead. You're already paying your mortgage or rent on the place so you're not taking on an additional monthly rental payment. Obviously you'll use a little bit more electricity, but that's nominal. Your commute to work each day will be incredible and you'll most likely save on gas and car usage. Now and then if you don't feel like putting on some nice clothes to work, who's going to notice? Yes, yes, you can even work in your underwear, but please, at least put on some pants. Ok, let's consider this option further.Now thinking about your clientele and those clients you want to attract…. Is your house in a good location? No, I don't mean the tree-lined street with the white picket fences and perfectly cut grass in every yard. I mean are you in a central or easy to get to location for you to visit your clients and / or clients to come visit with you? If your house is inconvenient for clients to get to you or you to get to clients, that is some cause for concern. With Internet, live chat, overnight shipping and the like, we can literally work with clients anywhere in the world in real-time. However, when you're starting out, more than likely you will have clients in your immediate area to build your business with and face-to-face communications always helps in building good relationships. In my case, my house was 20 minutes away from my largest client and essentially one turn off a main highway. In addition, that client's Producers lived even closer and they loved being able to work closer to their own homes, so it made good business sense at the time to work out of my house.Is your house even conducive to a home business? Look around. Do you want clients and colleagues visiting this space? A home in disarray generally does not present a professional appearance for you. Remember, people are paying you to do a professional job no matter where you are doing it. Does your home reflect this, at least the area your clients and colleagues will see? You must have a presentable space inside and out for clients to come and visit you. Now I don't mean you need a housekeeper and all new landscaping outside, just keep it clean and neat. This is especially true if the client has to enter through your main living quarters to get to your office. The best situation is a separate entrance for your home office to truly keep your office separate from your living quarters. If that's not possible and your clients are going to walk through your house, how does that impact the rest of the people living in your home? When I started my company, I did convert a spare bedroom into an edit suite and my wife would get uncomfortable sometimes when I had clients in the house. She would literally hide in the upstairs master suite because client would use the kitchen for coffee and snacks and of course the guest bathroom. I felt bad about this at the time, but we were committed to starting the company so we dealt with it for the first year and a half of the business. So will your clients and colleagues cause any issues with your living arrangements? Better yet, will your living arrangements cause any issues for your clients and colleagues? Dogs, children, noisy neighbors, noisy traffic outside and so on are all considerations.Do you have the proper space in your house for your work? Think about the type of work you're going to be doing and how much noise you'll generate. Do you have a room or rooms suitable to hold whatever equipment and furniture you need to get your job done? A graphic designer might just need a nice desk with a single computer workstation whereas a video editor, animator and sound designer would have to think about audio / video and computer equipment along with the noise generated by their audio monitors. Don't want to be editing that latest music video or corporate meeting opener right next to your master bedroom or the bedroom of your next-door neighbor. One problem I had initially was editing late at night, as our master bedroom was right above my suite. So I either edited with the volume down low or with headphones. Is there enough room in your selected space for a client to comfortably sit in with you for an all-day session? Sure you may not be planning to ever have a client come by the office to work with you, but what if it happens? Better to be prepared in advance than grab a chair out of the dining room and have them peeking in from the hallway because the room is too small. Remember that thing about clients paying you for a professional job? Making them squeeze into the corner of a room or sitting out in the hallway is not the way to treat someone who is writing your checks. Make sure you have space for at least one other person to sit comfortably in the room with you. How much work does this space require for you to move in? A basement or bonus room are favorite locations for home offices because often they're just extra space that's not being fully utilized. Whatever the location in your house, consider how ready it is. Maybe you need something as simple as painting the walls in a single room, to adding some more electrical circuits, to completely finishing out a basement or bonus room. Whatever it is that you need, plan out your budget and make sure you have the money, and the time, you need to finish the job. Especially if you're doing something as major as finishing out a basement. What you think might cost less than $500 to complete could come much higher than you ever imagined. Price it all out first, including the time commitment before you start any project. Nothing worse than announcing your new business is going to open and then having it delayed for three months because the construction project is taking much longer than you ever imagined. You could have kept working at your current job paying the bills while that space is being finished.Consider the air conditioning capabilities of the room(s) you have in mind. Computer gear and especially audio / video gear generate heat, sometimes a lot of heat. Is there adequate cooling in the space you have in mind? If not, how easy is it to add more cooling, say with something as simple as a window A/C unit? Nothing kills computer equipment and hard drives faster than heat so if your room gets over 80 degrees, think about how hot your computer will be running.After considering all of this, can you work in your own home and not be distracted by the fact that you're working in your own home? It's incredibly easy to get distracted and go off to play with the kids for a bit, play with the dog, go grab some lunch, read the paper, check out some TV, play a few rounds on that video game, chat with friends on the phone, and do just about everything else BUT your work. Before you know it, 8 hours have come and gone and you've barely started what you were supposed to be doing. Once more, you're getting paid to produce professional work. Is your client going to get what they are paying for or will you be scrambling to complete your projects at the last minute because you don't have the discipline to work a full day in your home?Finally, if you do open up in your house, talk to your home insurance agent! Almost all home insurance policies will not cover a home-based business, especially if you require high-end computers and specialized equipment like video editing gear. You will either need to add additional insurance to cover your equipment or take out a completely separate business insurance policy.I've asked a lot of questions here for sure. Working at home can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also be a disaster if not completely thought through.
Mrs. Wiggins on Line TwoOk, so option number two is a commercial office space where the obvious first advantage is, it's not in your house. It's an actual office space where you can hang out a shingle, put your name on the door, tell the entire world "I am a legitimate business, I have a commercial office." A commercial space shows an investment in your company because you made the effort to get a "real office" for your company. If you're opening with staff on board, you might like the idea of commercial so you don't have folks working out of your house. Ok, let's explore this a bit further.Be VERY realistic about what you can afford. There are incredibly cool places to have an office no matter where you are in the world. Hey some brick walls, slick industrial lofts and retro renovated warehouses just scream 'cool creative offices.' The more 'chic,' 'in,' and 'cool' a place is, the more you're probably going to want it and of course, the higher the monthly payments will be. When you visit any property, ask yourself if YOU like it. Do you like the appearance of the outside, the inside, the parking lot, the surrounding areas and everything else about the space? You don't have to love it, but you should like it because you're going to be spending a lot of time here. If you don't like the look of it or the surrounding area, do you think your clients will like it? There's going to be compromises when getting a commercial space because unless you're independently wealthy, you can't just go out and get any space you want. You're going to have to compromise based on what you can afford. But you should never settle for a space just because it's the first place you found that you could afford. Keep looking around and eventually you should be able find an office that you like and in your price range.You are most likely going to be required to sign a 12 – 36 month lease that you are going to have to PERSONALLY guarantee. Got that? If you go out of business in 6 months of 36-month lease, you are still going to have to pay the rest of that lease personally. Remember what I said in Part 1 of this series? Be prepared to make no income for up to the first 12 months of your company. Be sure you are comfortable enough with your projected company income to afford that office lease before you sign on the dotted line. If possible, try to get a 12-month lease with an option for 24 more months at the same rate. These are very difficult to get, especially when you're a brand new business, but it doesn't hurt to ask. Your upfront costs for an office can be rather significant. First off, first and last month's payment are due when you sign the lease. You'll need to hook up and establish electricity, phone service and all other utilities that are going to be priced at the "commercial" rates. You might be shocked at how much higher these costs are over residential rates. Do not take advice from anyone else, even the property manager, on how much all of this will cost. Call all of the companies yourself and get the exact amount for hook-up, monthly fees, whether a long-term contract is required, etc…. Property Managers especially just want to rent the space to you and will promise you just about anything to get you sign on the dotted line. It's your responsibility to make the payments, so take the time to make some phone calls and run the monthly payment numbers BEFORE you sign a lease.Is there easy access to your space for clients, colleagues and deliveries? Some buildings have a central entrance and then the clients find your office inside. Others are set up more like condos with a separate exterior entrance for each office. Be sure there is plenty of room for the clients to get in, the space is well lit and that the exterior entrance is protected from the elements. Nothing worse than a client waiting for you to open the door in the pouring rain with no overhang. Be sure to ask the property management how many parking spaces you're allowed or guaranteed. Sometimes this doesn't matter because it's a huge parking lot, but in some smaller office parks, parking can be a premium. You want to have at least one spot guaranteed for your clients. One big question to ask any property manager is how much leeway will they allow you in painting and / or decorating? Remember, you're just renting the space, someone else owns it and they are usually a bit fussy about how you represent yourself because you're also representing the property owner. They're always renting units to new people and maintaining a sense of "decorum" is paramount so you will have to conform to their rules. Just about every commercial location has a specific "palette" all renters must follow. Sometimes it's certain shades of paint; sometimes it's how you can decorate your offices and lobby, etc… In our case, we were fortunate enough that the property allowed any color from one particular brand of paint. There were probably 250 colors to choose from so that gave us a lot of choices, more on this later.In my own experience I opened a company with a partner and I want to say the office we rented was 2,400 square feet. It was a pretty non-descript office park with a group of single story buildings with probably 8 suites per building and each suite had an outdoor entrance. Small lobby in the entrance, three offices along the right wall that we turned into edit suites, large office on the left that we used for a tape library and huge warehouse type of room in the back that we set up as a game room / kitchen. We had to sign a 36-month lease and one of the driving factors for us was the relatively low cost of the lease and the location was very convenient to several Atlanta highways. We were also just 1/2 mile from a very nice "historic downtown" area with nice shops and restaurants for client lunches. We originally considered being right in that downtown because it was just beautiful, but the lease would have been almost double for a smaller space.So just like the home office, a lot of questions to consider before you make the plunge to go into a commercial space.
So Home or Away?So after all those questions, what do I recommend? I recommend whatever you are most comfortable with both in terms of being able to create the best work for your clients and your financial ability to pay for your office. Ultimately you have to create the best possible work to please your clients and grow your business. You can do this working in either a home office or a commercial space. Consider all my questions and take your time coming to a decision. You'll be living with it for a while.Oh and you guys starting up a field based company, like videographers, sound recordists and cinematographers who will simply need a place to store your gear in between gigs. Consider whether you really want all of that equipment sitting in your house. Would you feel better with all of that in a commercial space than in your garage or back room?And last but not least, be careful what you advertise whether you're at home or in a commercial space. "Walter's Video Production Company" on the door says "Really Expensive Equipment Inside, Come and Get It!" Obviously whether you're at home or in an office, get a security system installed. But one of the real tricks to keeping your equipment and yourself safe is keeping your business "on a need to know basis." Don't hang a sign outside your house or on your commercial office door that says "Video Production / Audio Production / Film Production" etc… I use BCM for a lot of my signage because Post Production is not a "drop in" business. You need to call and make an appointment to come in the office so there's no reason to advertise "Media Productions" on my door.
Haulin' the MailRegardless of where you decide to open shop may I suggest you get a company mailbox away from your office. They're those independent mailbox / shipping companies who receive your mail and deliveries for you. Even if you get a commercial office, I can't recommend one of these enough.You're most likely going to be a small company, either just yourself or a few other people. Chances are that office (home or commercial) is going to empty at times. You have deliveries that are going to be left at your door. Yeah I know those expensive deliveries have a "Signature Required" sticker on them, but trust me, those will be left at your door if you're not there.True story. I ordered a $12,000 multi-format Sony Beta player from a very well known on-line broadcast supply company. I was still working out of my converted bedroom in my house at the time. I was on an all day shoot, arriving back home at 5pm. Sitting on my front porch for all the world to see was a huge box with "Sony J3" in big black letters. My porch is open to the very busy street in front of my house and I could see the box from several houses down the street as I was driving up. On top of that box was a very large "Signature Required" sticker. Nobody was home to sign, but the delivery company left it on my porch anyway. The very next day I went down to my local UPS Store and got a mailbox. I didn't want to trust any more deliveries to chance on my doorstep.Since that time I've moved out of my converted bedroom, but kept the mailbox. It allows me to maintain the exact same mailing address no matter where I decide to move my office. This is huge with corporate clients as getting through to Accounts Payable departments to change an address can sometimes be a challenge. Also I'm still a small company and I have the security of knowing someone is always in that mailbox location to sign for my packages and keep them in a secure location. They email me whenever a package shows up so I don't even have to keep track of anything. Just something I would strongly suggest for anyone with a smaller business.
Build It and They Will ComeNow it's time to outfit your office with the gear and furniture you need to be successful. The "build it and they will come" mentality can get you in a lot of trouble in a hurry. You read all the trade magazines; you see the posts on the Creative COW about all this gear and equipment everyone is using. You think to yourself, "I'll just put one of everything in my shop and that will attract clients because I can handle anything they bring to me." Have you priced "one of everything" lately? There's a whole bunch of zeroes on that price tag. People are still going to hire you more because of the artist operating the equipment and not just because you have all the latest gear. Sure you want to be up-to-date with your equipment, but gear alone does not draw in clients. So let's get realistic here.What equipment do you absolutely need to open your business? There's a balance here between going completely cheap and going overboard. Who are your clients going to be initially and whom are you going to target? That will give you some direction on what you need to be looking at. There's a real pattern I have seen on the Creative COW lately with people trying to do the maximum amount of work with the least amount of money. This works to a point but you still need to be able to perform your work efficiently. If you don't want to invest a reasonable amount of money into your company, why should clients invest money in you?I'm always looking at expandability. What can I purchase today that can be expanded upon tomorrow? Almost all of you will need a computer to run your business. Laptops, iMacs and the like are very tempting because they are relatively inexpensive. But 6 months from now, you can't really expand that computer any further; you'll require something completely different. A PC or Mac desktop computer is fully expandable with additional storage, RAM, monitors, graphics cards, video capture cards, and so on. So instead of purchasing a whole new computer, you simply add on to what you purchased to begin with. So if your business is going to run off a computer, my advice is to get the beefiest computer you can get in terms of processor speed, RAM and graphics card. Now what else do you need beyond a computer? I mean REALLY need? If you can start up your business comfortably with just a computer and a couple of monitors, then do it. If you need a DVCAM deck with a broadcast TV monitor, then do it. But stay away from decisions like "well if I purchase this $5,000 package of plug-ins then I'll be able to offer so much more to my clients." Plug-ins, additional equipment and computer hardware are all things that can be added, usually overnight or even via immediate download, as a project demands. If your business will require you to be in front of the computer all day, do not skimp on your monitors. Your eyes will be staring at these all day and while LCD screens have dropped in price, many of the low cost ones simply do not display a sharp image or do not display colors accurately. If you run a dual display set-up, purchase at least one high-end monitor that you will use as your primary monitor. Your eyes will thank you later.So I suggest you make up a list of everything you would absolutely love to have start your business. Then you start whittling it down to a bare minimum. If you open your doors tomorrow, what is the equipment you absolutely have to have to finish a project for a current client? That should drive your equipment purchase. Sure it's nice to put an HDCAM Deck into your shop, but do you really need the payments on a $100,000 piece of equipment?When I started my current company in 2001, my clients were all corporate, but high-end corporate with everything done to broadcast standards. We used a lot of motion graphics, animations, titles and special effects in their projects. So I started with top of the line Apple Mac computer with maximum RAM, External hard drive array to hold 3 hours of footage, Apple Final Cut Pro, Adobe After Effects and Photoshop, Boris Plug-ins for After Effects, Two computer monitors, Pinnacle CinéWave card to allow uncompressed capture / output of video, Mackie 1202 audio board, Roland studio audio monitors, Philips 26" TV with S-Video input and a Sony UVW-1800 BetaSP Player / Recorder. I decided to hold off on a broadcast monitor at the outset because I trusted my eyes and experience in broadcast production to be able to read the FCP Scopes and Philips TV for the projects I was doing. So for me, this was the bare minimum to meet my current clients' needs and I could pursue new clients with the uncompressed capabilities of my system. Once I started true broadcast production, I added a Sony PVM broadcast monitor. If I recall correctly, this all set me back about $26,000.Along with the gear comes the furniture. Once again, it's a very easy to over purchase here. You want your office to look cool and hip and you visit those furniture stores or go online and get lured into making some very expensive purchases. At the end of the day, your client is still paying for your services, not necessarily where you got your furniture. It should be comfortable, functional and clean. Most of all, it should fit within your budget.When I first opened up, we had a nice oversized chair in our living room that really didn't fit in the room, so I simply moved it into that converted bedroom for the clients to relax. They loved it and it didn't cost me a thing. For office chairs, I still shop at member warehouses as often as possible because the prices are great and the chairs are comfortable. Be sure they have plenty of padding if you're going to be sitting 8 hours a day and check that they are solid. Some of those really cheap office chairs sound and feel like they're about to fall apart at any second. If your business involves video editing, graphic design, animation or sound design, you probably need a fairly good-sized desk to hold all your equipment and still give you room for paperwork and such. A cheap, put-it-together-yourself desk probably won't give you enough room for everything and getting a larger desk can be a very expensive proposition. If you can swing it, go ahead and invest in a quality multimedia desk like those available from Anthro. They are worth every penny and will last a long time.If the money is a bit tight, but you need a solid oversized desk, grab some tools and some lumber and build yourself something. At my first company with the partner I built three desks that were about 12' across and 4' deep using plywood, 2x4's and 1x4's. Probably $350 total for all three desks. When I started my current company, I built a new 8' x 3' desk, again with plywood for about $75. I moved that to the new office and built a 2nd desk for about $100. The real trick is to be sure to use high quality plywood for the top of the desk so you get a smooth finish. This is usually about $45 for an 8-foot sheet and will probably be the most expensive part of the desk. Just measure out your needs, sketch something on paper and away you go. If you're not all that good with woodworking, well just ask a family member or friend who is.
One last must for furniture is something for the clients to put their stuff on. Scripts, tapes, paperwork, their drinks, you name it. It can be an end table, the end of your desk, a bench, just someplace where your client can have a place to spread their stuff around.Beyond these basic components, the rest is up to you, but again, purchase only what you need to get the business started. Furniture is easy to add as you grow your business. Open a bit light on furniture and after a few months you'll see what you need to add. Definitely don't clutter up your space with too much stuff!
Here's my original desk after it was moved to the new offices. Plywood top, plywood legs and some 2x4's to stabilize the front. Client sat right next to me on the left and notice all the room for them to lay out scripts and tapes.
Here's the second desk we built for the JungleLand suite. Those are wall cabinets on the floor that I used as front legs and a 'furniture grade' sheet of plywood for the tops. The "rack" unit is a display case from a company that was going out of business and we just dressed it up with wood sides.
Will That Be Cash or Charge? So now you've got all your purchases laid out, how are you going to pay for all of it? Just like with personal purchases, you've got some options out thereCash is always a good thing if you have some money available. You purchase something, you own it, you can sell it if you want to, there's no interest or payment worries. But remember that your income could be very limited for the first 6 to 12 months of your business. So spend any cash reserves carefully being sure to keep enough money set aside to pay your monthly bills until your income can catch up.A Business Loan is exactly like getting a car loan or a mortgage except that they are much more difficult to get when you are a start-up company. Unlike those personal loans, banks are generally very cautious about giving a loan to a start-up company because the failure rate for any new business is rather high. And even if they do offer you a loan, generally it's an 80% value loan, meaning that the loan will cover 80% of the value of the equipment you are purchasing. So if you are trying to purchase $10,000 worth of equipment, the bank will loan you $8,000 and you still have to come up with the other $2,000 out of pocket.A Lease is a very popular option because oftentimes there is little or no money up-front and you can lease 100% the value of your equipment, sometimes even more. A lease is very similar to a Loan in that you pay it monthly with interest, but Leasing companies are much more lenient in their criteria so just about anybody with a bank account can get a business lease. There are two primary types of leases. A One-Dollar Buyout Lease (the name varies based on the leasing company), as the name implies, means that after you have paid off the term of the lease, usually 3 – 5 years, you can purchase all of the equipment outright for just $1. This is a great option if you're purchasing something like a very expensive VTR that will still have a shelf life after your lease has run its course. When I did Leasing, this was my preferred way of working as even with a computer, a three year old machine was still handy for graphics or I could sell it and use those funds towards an outright purchase of another machine.A regular Term Lease (the name varies depending on the leasing company) is exactly the same, except if you want to keep the equipment at the end of the term; you must pay the current fair market value. A leasing company will try to sell you on this option as a way to maximize your tax benefits because "it's a true lease." Only go with this option if you do not intend to keep your equipment at the end of your lease. If you intend to keep anything, or even thing you might keep something, go with the $1 Buyout option. In my case, I fell for the "tax advantage" sales pitch when we opened this company and ended up having to pay almost half the price of a Sony UVW-1800 to keep it even though I had made three years of payments on it and everything else in my office which included a LOT of interest. My CPA cleared up the issue right away and told me the tax advantage was minimal. (Remember I said to meet with a CPA first? I met with him AFTER I signed the term lease.)Be wary of the "over-value" leases that the companies will pitch you. Some companies offer up to 125% of the value of your equipment meaning that they give you $10,000 + $2,500 extra to make that $10,000 purchase of equipment. "It's spending money to ensure you can pay yourself while you get started" they'll tell you. What you're really doing is just giving them some easy interest on money that was just lifted out of your wallet for no particular reason. Keep that extra 25% in your pocket instead of giving it to the leasing company + 12% interest.Finally good old-fashioned Credit Cards are an option if you can get enough of a credit line to purchase what you need with terms that are acceptable. If your credit rating is good, you can probably get a better interest rate and a higher line of credit that you could with a business loan or even a lease. Certainly worth investigating, but again, be careful with the monthly payments. Don't stretch yourself too thin when it comes to your finances.Personally, we use a combination of the above except for Leases. We started out the company with that three-year term lease and have never used one since. I honestly avoid all leasing companies now after that first experience. Keep good records of all of your purchases, as most of them will be tax-deductible to one extent or another.
Clean Up on Aisle FiveYou only get one chance to make a good first impression. That's as true today as it was the first time it was uttered. You've got your gear, you've got your furniture, and you've got your monthly payments, now it's time to put it all together to wow anyone who walks in the door.Number one rule for any office is to keep it neat. If nothing else, just having neat office creates a very good first impression. Nobody likes to walk into a cluttered office with stuff strewn about, dirty dishes in the sink, scripts and tapes lying about, dirty floor underfoot and such. I'm not saying you have to have a perfectly spic and span office to make Felix Unger proud. Just keep up with it so it's presentable at all times if possible. (If you don't know who Felix Unger is, ask your parents).The first part of keeping your office neat is figuring out the most efficient layout. All of your equipment needs to be laid out so you can use it efficiently while also allowing your client maximum comfort and ease of reviewing your work. Once you have your space, look around and start to visualize how everything will be laid out. Sketch the floor plan out on paper and lay everything out before you start moving everything in. The worst thing you can do is start moving all of your stuff in with no plan on where everything goes. That leads to frustration and a non-memorable moving in day.What's the first thing the clients should see when they enter the door? Where's the best place to put the desk and which way should it face? Where will you sit? Where will the client sit? Can they your work or hear the audio correctly from there? Where will you store your work, tapes, archive materials? Where can you and/or your client set down a drink? Where can I put my printer / fax / scanner? Where will the issues of Creative COW magazine go? Try to sketch out and visualize as many details as you can before you start moving equipment and furniture into a room or an office space. Remember to try and keep the clutter down as much as possible. If something like an end table is just too big for the room, return or sell it for something smaller.Once you've got a rough plan for your furniture, make a statement with your walls. I mean you're a creative person in a creative field, right? So the office should reflect something about you and your company, even if it's just a converted bedroom. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a big kid at heart and I just love a certain space ranger from Disney. So we created a space themed paint job in my converted bedroom and used the color palette from that character to paint my desk. It made for a very fun and lighthearted room, especially with the addition of stuffed characters and other toys both current and from my youth. I created a very comfortable and creative atmosphere in a single room that was instantly picked up by the clients. By the way, the theme was so popular; we recreated the look when I moved into my new offices.So get rid of the white walls if you have them, spackle the holes, have some fun with color or go completely sophisticated. Whatever you do, make it a reflection of you and your company, not just what you think the client will like. Remember earlier I said the management company at that commercial office allowed us a choice of 250 paint colors for our office. Well they never said we had to use just one color. We painted murals in all of the edit suites from an amazing Humphrey Bogart themed wall in the Game Room to an interpretation of Starry Starry Night. Needless to say the management was stunned, but also impressed because we stayed within the letter of the law, but were able to be creative at the same time. The murals and overall paint scheme did exactly what they were supposed to, made a hell of a first impression when clients walked in.I can't stress that enough. That first impression is just so valuable in creating a 'buzz' for your business. Word of mouth is so valuable in this field and if a client enjoyed their visit to your office, they will spread that around to everyone they know. I know this from first hand experience.My current offices have distinct themes for each room. You enter into a 50's movie theater that includes both an edit workstation and gaming; JungleLand is one of the edit suites with an Indiana Jones inspiration; Wally World is my toy box themed suite while Rebecca's Diner is the 50's kitchen and bathroom. We are definitely a bit short on storage space, but we're going to be incorporating some very nice looking storage cabinets in the suites in the near future. If the storage cabinets need to be seen by the clients, I at least want them to look really nice.So take some time to really think about what you want the office to look like and at the very least, go get a few gallons of paint and spruce up the place. And keep your office clean!
Extra! Extra! I Got Extras Here!Finally we near the end of our current journey with extras. This is especially true if your business, such as our Post house, involves clients spending a lot of time in your office. What extras can you provide that makes you more desirable for a client to not only continue to work with you, but also pass your name along? Your work gets them in the door, it's the little things that keep them coming back.Coffee, snacks, games, Internet access, whatever you have the space for and can comfortably afford. They're just small things, but they make the client experience that much better and again, more positive word of mouth advertising. Right from day one in my converted bedroom, I made sure I had fresh coffee, flavored creamers and sodas available at all times. I even sent a questionnaire to clients asking what they liked for me to keep in stock during sessions. Now with our new offices, we have a full wireless Internet access, full kitchen with coffee and espresso machine, snacks, sodas, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii and DVD player. I still keep track of what each client likes and try to make sure it's in the shop when they come in for sessions. With member warehouses like Costco it's pretty inexpensive to keep an office stocked with "extras." I have to say, the Nintendo Wii has been a huge hit since we installed that and if the clients are having fun, that's a good thing!One big extra I've always done from day one is to pay for all meals during sessions. Whether we order in or go out for a meal, the client never pays no matter how small or large the job. I know that immediately set me apart from other single room operations because my clients told me so. They appreciated the fact that I was willing to do something so simple as buy them lunch, but I just feel it's the right thing to do. They are spending money on me; the least I can do is buy them some lunch or dinner.So as you plan out your business, consider some extras that make your client experience a little bit better and hopefully set you apart from your competition. Along with keeping a place clean, it's the little things that can really make your business stand out.
Well I believe I've said about all I can say about Setting Up Shop. If you take nothing else from this lesson, just know that the more time you take planning, the better your shop will come out. Kind of like a production, no? The more Pre-Production time you take, the better the shoot will come out. Once again, don't take my thoughts as "absolute law." These are my thoughts so take what you need and certainly do more research on your own before fully setting up your shop.
In Part 3 of this series, "Run and Build Your Business," I'll look at some ideas on running your business more efficiently, marketing and treating your clients right to spread your good name around. Part 4 will cover Expansion Decisions.Walter Biscardi, Jr. is a 17 year veteran of broadcast and corporate video production who owns Biscardi Creative Media in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Walter counts multiple Emmys, Tellys and Aurora Awards among his many credits and awards. You can find Walter in the Apple Final Cut Pro, AJA Kona, Apple Motion, Apple Color and the Business & Marketing forums.
Part 1 - Are You Ready?:http://blogs.creativecow.net/node/273
Part 3 - Running and Building your Business: http://blogs.creativecow.net/node/300
In business you're all about your name. Keep a good name and business flows to your door. Get a bad name and you're looking for a new career. Get a really REALLY good name and from my own personal experience, some people will try and use your name for their own gain.
Now if you're reading this blog, then you're already aware of the Creative COW forums and the really REALLY good thing we have going here. During a recent thread in the Apple Color forum, a user pointed out that a production facility in Los Angeles changed their name to Blue Cow Creative.
Ok, so perhaps they didn't know about the Creative COW forums and it's an honest coincidence. I mean just because something like 10 million+ media people per month read these forums, that doesn't mean everyone in the industry will know about the COW. Well, except as a leader in the Creative COW Apple Color forum, I have seen at least one of the key personnel in Blue Cow Creative participate in the forum...before the name change. So at least by all appearances they must have been aware that a company called "Creative COW" that focuses on the production industry existed.
So the right thing to do would have been to NOT use the words Creative and Cow in your company name. Especially since it's obvious you've been using the Creative COW website and know about the site's forums and one can logically assume other resources, as well.
Cow? Sure. Creative? Sure. But not the two words together in the company name. How obvious is that? Now this is just me looking in from the outside, but Creative COW is clearly an industry leader, and in my opinion it seems the new blue variety figures it can gain some instant name recognition by putting Creative and Cow together in a new company name. I could be wrong here, but that's what it looks like to me.
Especially a company in Los Angeles. How many cows do you see in L.A.? Maybe if the company was in farm country somewhere, you might almost be able to make some sort of argument that they are playing off the Cows in the area. But even there, the Creative COW has used the trademark for over six years that I know of and has earned a tremendous name in the production industry. I also suspect that the COW will have to mount a legal battle to protect their name
At this point, you might be wondering why do I care? Why am I making a fuss about this? Because I have worked very VERY hard during my 17 year career to build a good name for myself and my company. I have had at least two instances of someone trying to ruin my name and trying to use my company name for their own personal gain. With so much hard work and time put into getting myself to get where I am, the worst feeling in the world is someone coming along and trying to step in and take it all away.
In the first instance the person tried to use very negative statements about me and my work to stop clients from working with me. That took some time to work through but eventually I regained the trust of all but a few clients. In the second instance, my name and abilities were used to sell a project and then the project was taken elsewhere. Not just a small project, a network series. You have to wonder how well the concept would have been received without multi Emmy, Telly, Aurora, Peabody award winning production team associated with it.
Those two instances could have been devasting for me and my entire company.
A name is not to be taken lightly. In fact, it should not be taken at all.
Well folks, NAB 2007 is upon us and I hope to be able to meet some of you. So if you're going to Las Vegas, here is where you'll definitely find me!
Sunday April 15 - Apple Event AM, Panasonic Event PM
Monday April 16 - AJA Booth all day, Booth SL6113 directly across from Apple.
Tuesday April 17 - AJA Booth AM, Booth SL6113.
Creative Cow booth PM, Booth SL2626. Between Adobe and Grass Valley
(on your right as you walk to the Apple booth.)
Wednesday, April 18 - Presenting "HD Finishing in Final Cut Pro" as part of the Post Production sessions.
3:30 - 4:45pm, Room N259. I'll be showing some of our production workflow for the Food Network program, Good Eats.
I'll also be at a few of the evening events, but not really sure where, so if you see me, be sure to say hi!
Professional Video Editor, Producer, Creative Director, Director since 1990.
Credits include multiple Emmys, Tellys, Aurora and CableAce Awards.
Creative Director for Georgia-Pacific and GP Studios, Atlanta. Former Owner / Operator of Biscardi Creative Media. The show you knew us best for was "Good Eats" on the Food Network. I developed the HD Post workflow and we also created all the animations for the series.
Favorite pastime is cooking with pizza on the grill one of my specialties. Each Christmas Eve we serve the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a traditional Italian seafood meal with approx. 30 items on the menu.
If I wasn't in video production I would either own a restaurant or a movie theater.