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?