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Business Advice for Tough Times

CreativeCOW presents Business Advice for Tough Times -- Business & Marketing Editorial

Paso Robles California USA All rights reserved.

[Cowdog note: some of these posts have been gently edited to make sense on their own. Please follow the links to see the full posts in their original context.]

Re: Waiver for technology shortcomings?
by Bob Zelin

"Let's say that you had really bad luck one day at an event and technology failed you."

Bob Zelin, Business & MarketingREPLY - Is this a joke, or WHAT? I was hired in May 2008 by Nickelodeon Television to build a shared storage system. Problems developed with the system, and it stopped working. It was not my fault. At this moment, it didn't matter if my wife got sick, my dog got hit by a car, my family was kidnapped by terrorists, and my roof caved in at my home.

All that mattered is that THE JOB HAD TO WORK - no matter what, no matter who died, no matter who gets hurt, insulted, or inconvenienced - THE JOB HAD TO WORK.

Believe me, I was SICK TO MY STOMACH, and I was scared, but I GOT IT TO WORK (thanks to great tech support from several companies). There is NO EXCUSE for YOU screwing up a job (or me, or Walter Biscardi, or any other PROFESSIONAL on this forum). You CANNOT make a mistake. Everything you do MUST be done the right way. EVERYTHING is your fault, and you must plan for it, you must prepare for it. All that matters is that the job comes out perfectly. And you charge for this professionalism.

There is no question that I will screw up in the future (and you will have equipment failures in the future) - it's going to happen. Let me assure you, one day soon - YOU will have a disk drive fail with all of your valuable media on it. YOU WILL LOSE YOUR WEDDING FOOTAGE, and when this happens, it's YOUR FAULT. You must have backup. Does this cost money - you bet it does. Can you afford it - I don't know - you have to have the budget to be able to do this. You cannot say "Hey, the drive might fail, and you have to sign a waver that you won't sue me if the disk drive fails after the wedding." It's YOUR FAULT (and it's my fault, and everyone on this lists fault who is a professional).

You might say, "But if I have to budget in for a backup disk drive (or camera or battery), my budget will be too high, and I will lose out to my competition." Welcome to business.

Harassing Your Client 101
by Tim Wilson

Tim Wilson, Business & MarketingI was thinking about the problem of a client trying to stiff you. I agree that there comes a time to stop trying to give yourself a heart attack. There's a reason why they invented the phrase "cut your losses." Sometimes walking away is the only smart thing to do.

The REALLY smart thing to do is to never try to skip out on a bill on my wife's watch. When we ran our production business together, she found a variety of ways to make the deadbeat's life such a living hell that they coughed up the money FAST.

**If they have an office, bring a book, food and drink. Make it known that you're not leaving until you get paid. Make it known to all who enter as well.

**No office, no problem. Start calling others in the business community asking for their advice on how to collect from deadbeat clients. As soon as they start talking, interrupt and say, "Because I delivered to Dude McDude 3 months ago and he's still holding out on me. He said that the work is fine, he'll get back to me soon...blah blah blah. What do you think I should do?"

The second worst deadbeat my wife ever had to chase showed up with the money the next day. Word spreads fast.

Obviously works best in the smaller the town, and the closest to the circle you can get.

In fact, with this guy in particular, he was very well liked. Volunteered with a bunch of charities, served on boards...but then folks started to realize, wait a minute -- he's tried to weasel me too! Wasn't long before the noose closed and this guy left town.

**The nuclear option: call his wife. Call when you KNOW he's not there.

"I'm so sorry to bother at you home, Mrs. McDude, but I really need your help. Your husband Dude has been saying he'll get me a signature, but we keep missing each other. Can you help me track him down? I wouldn't even think about calling at home, but it's been 3 months and he still hasn't paid me. He's where? Wow, thanks so much! And again, I'm so sorry to call you at home." She'll take up your cause right quick.

That was what my wife did to the WORST deadbeat we ever had. He showed up the next day too.

Admittedly works very VERY best when the caller is a woman too: "MEN! What are you going to do, right? Hahahaha."

In any case, guess what? No deadbeats after that.

Not that she scared away business, either. Quite the contrary. People saw us as hard-core keepers of our word...and wanted our tenacity working for them....and not against them. Let their competitors make that mistake. :-)

Going hard against our couple of worst deadbeats was the second best thing we ever did to grow our business.

The BEST thing we ever did? Double our rates. But that's another post. :-)

All that said, if it's keeping you up at night, kick the client to the curb. Consider the money you leave behind as a down-payment on a longer, happier life.

Angry clients can bite

Re: Undercutting as a business model by Bill Davis

If you guys all want to feel a LOT better - run out and buy yourself a copy of Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers".

He's the guy who wrote Tipping Point and Blink - and is a leading business writer and social commentator.

Outliers is, among other things, about research into what it takes to actually achieve MASTERY at any subject. The contention is that it takes roughly 10 years of work to achieve a level of true professionalism in any area - video creation would be included.

The "take away" for me was to stop even TRYING to compete on price. It's never going to be my strength. I'll instead compete on my experience and judgement. The trick is to CONTROL the discussion so that you relentlessly bring ALL discussions relating to your work around to this point.



We can win the business worth winning on that - and when we lose, we're losing work that won't ever actually help us grow.


Angry mob

Re: Just Setting Up by Bob Zelin

There is no "best" camera for under $2000. From your description, you have never done this before, and are completely new - yet you are trying to start your own video production company.

This is my advice to you. GET A JOB. Go to work for a local TV station, or production company - even if it's for free as an intern. Learn how to use some of this equipment. Learn what lighting means, learn what editing means. I don't give a crap if you just got out of XYZ Film school - all this means nothing. Your student film is not a replacment for real life experience. You don't want to learn and embarass yourself in front of potential new clients that may (or may not) give you a chance. Get a job, learn some of these skills. See what a real video camera does. See what a real editing system does. See what it takes to actually run a small business.

THEN, you can think about buying some equipment. It will make a lot more sense, when you have some potential clients. You may find that if you can't afford real equipment, but have the drive and ambition to get these clients right now, you will find plenty of people that are struggling that will let you hire them (and their equipment) to do your production and editing jobs. When you accomplish this (without equipment) - this means that you are a PRODUCER. You may find this more profitable in the long run anyway.

Cow Business & Marketing Forum

Re: Buying RC Squibs by Gav Bott

Just a word of warning - if you don't know a good supplier then you probably haven't used these effects before.

Squibs can be surprisingly destructive to your talent. Pros use all kinds of clever tricks to avoid killing the people that have these strapped to them. I'd strongly recommend you talk to an effects company about this unless you are an experienced FX guy who has just moved to a new country or something.

Kevlar, hard plate etc. are used with squibs for protection. Get one back to front/misfire and you run the risk of blowing a neat hole into your talent. This restricts their ability to make it through the scene, and inhibits their ability to carry on breathing.

Explosives aren't a good way to go for an inexperienced user. Digital effects are much safer if you can't afford to spend the time training how to use the hard effects or afford a pro.

You probably know all this already - but the initial post sounded a bit frightening taken on its own.

P.S. When choosing an FX company it's usually good to choose a guy with all his fingers.


Re: Do I have a beef? by Todd Terry

Todd Terry, Creative Cow Business & Marketing forumSounds to me that there is an extreme and fundamental difference of opinion as to what you expect out of an employer, and what an employer expects out of you the employee. I'm beginning to think that this divide might be too wide to be bridged, considering your present opinion of your boss.

As to: "Them asking me to do personal projects on company time is like a nurse's boss telling her "today you're assignment is to go take care of my mother at my house instead of your patients on the floor".

Well, hate to say it, but if you were a nurse and the boss told you to do that and the boss owned the hospital... then he or she has every right to require you to go take care of ol' mom rather than the floor patient if that's what they want. Their house, their rules. You might not like the rules, but they're not making you play there, either.

The fact that the company is up to its eyeballs in work and with big accounts means that you have more ammo for asking for a more fair salary. It doesn't however give you any more ammo for your "I don't want to do this kind of work I want to do that kind of work" arguments. Bottom line is that you are not the boss, you are an employee. Employees do as their bosses require. Well, at least the good ones do.

Then again, there are good bosses and bad bosses. Take a good look at your situation, as objectively as possible. Is your employer actually a good one?...just doing some things that you don't like? If so, then suck it up and do your job. It's called work, and doesn't necessarily have to be fun. If it was always fun it would be called "play" and you wouldn't get paid for it. Then again, maybe your boss/employer is actually a bad one. If so, get your reel and resume together, and be prepared to give him the two-weeks' notice when the talk with him goes badly.

Or... if you can't find any employers that you can work with to your satisfaction, pour more energy into your freelance career. Then the boss will be you.


Why so angry?


Stop it by Steve Wargo

Steve Wargo, Creative Cow Business & Marketing forumSTOP charging by the finished minute. This was a practice from many years ago and it makes no sense. Charge by the project using any formula but that one. At $800/finished minute, I guess this means that you charge $400 for a 30 second commercial, right? And $72,000 for a 90 minute seminar taping?

So, in this case, you've built a 12 minute spot and the client needs it cut down to 3 minutes. That means $2,400. And you wonder why you're having problems with them.

Try charging for your time with a range of dollars that makes sense. We have a piece on our website that is 20 seconds long and cost $ 68,000. They would have hired you for $275.

The thing that will keep you in business the longest with a long list of long term clients is "fairness." Yeah, you also have to offer a lot more things like great quality, on-time/on-budget delivery and an outstanding set of ethics. Blah blah blah. I don't mean to come down on you hard on this, but I run my business on the "100% referral" business model and charge what I call "The Happy Price". They're happy, I'm happy. Everybody's happy. As silly as it sounds, people love it when I say those words. Again, it's all about fairness.

An angry cat

Re: Basic Agreement by Mark Suszko

My 2 drachmas:

Define in your agreement who has the power to sign the bill and authorize payments, and make that person also the one that authorizes any changes once the project is under way. This will prevent a lot of drama when some back-office person or committe of persons suddenly gets the notion in mid-edit they are a producer and want to make changes in a script that was already approved and shot a particular way.

Signature authority should not be diluted; a secondary signature authority is only for emergencies when the head honcho is out of town or otherwise incapacitated. You do not make changes or spend extra time on things the honcho did not approve, and the honcho gets a memo detailing the additional expense to authorize before you commit to it.

You do not deliver the final product into their hands without a final payment by cash or check in hand. Deadlines be dammned, do not hand it to a fedex guy just because somebody sent him over, it doesn't matter if the station time buy is already set in stone, if the bill has not been paid. Put the outstanding bill in the fedex bag instead. Grinders use that for an excuse all the time. If you are contracted to deliver by a deadline, they can certainly be contracted to pay by said dealine too.

Tell the client up front that you do business like this, because you are not a bank. If they are legit, they should have little to no problem with any of this. Speeches about "well, we never pay on delivery, you must submit the bill to our billing department and wait umpteen weeks" should not move you. If a water pipe breaks above their main server room, you'd better believe they won't ask the emergency plumber to wait to get paid, they have funding lines assigned for this kind of thing. And they have enough advance notice of the project that your one-third progress payment is easy enough to schedule in advance and have printed up in a nice check format, ready to hand over. Like the doctors office sign says: "payment is due at the time services are delivered".

Define the criteria for payment. Have payment in approximately one-third size chunks: one to begin the project: pre-production, scouting, treatment/storyboard/script, shooting and editing up to the first "rough cut". Second payment covers all editing to get to a finished, approved master.

Detail in writing how many re-dos they get for the money, beyond which, you must charge extra as a "change order". My own tradition is 2 re-edits after the first rough cut is presented. Also, My personal rule is, if they spelled a name wrong or gave a wrong title, etc. they pay to fix it: if they printed it right and I got it wrong, I pay for that. All elements delivered from the client are assumed to be korwrekt and accuraett, and legally cleared for use. If that turns out to be otherwise, the responsibility belongs to the client to make it right.

The final payment is for the delivered, corrected master, any services like adding captioning, and any dubs ordered. Changes or additional tweaks to this master after final payment are considered a completely new and separate job, and require a deposit to begin. You will not take on such work until all outstanding invoices from that client are paid. I don't care if your project is still on the drives and the tweak is minor. It won't always be that way, and if you open the door to such nonsense now, you'll regret it far more later.

For the love of Toland, get it in writing NOW who owns the final master and who owns (and stores) the raw footage from the project. You also should have a clause granting you permission to exhibit small excerpts and stills from the work for your portfolio and web site to show other clients what you do. You in turn promise not to sell complete or partial copies of the work to anyone else or otherwise make money off them without a contract from the original client. The client agrees not to re-use any cleared music or licenced elements for other works without your consent.

Have an understanding about how or if you can enter the work or a portion of it in contests, if you like to do that sort of thing.

Those are some of the highlights I'v e seen pop up over and over again. There are sure to be others. Maybe someone else will chime in with more suggestions.


So chime in! Rather than make comments here, on such a wide range of topics, follow the links above to add your insight on these threads. Better still, start some threads of your own in the COW's Business & Marketing forum!

Hey, you wondering how Cowdog picked these particular posts? He didn't. YOU did! We encourage COW members to TAG their favorite posts, to point other folks to the advice that has worked for them. Here are the tagged posts from the COW's Business & Marketing forum. You'll see very quickly that we just barely scratched the surface of what's there.

Also, be sure to check out some of the COW's many other business resources.

And remember what Cowdog always says:

Get TWO legs up on the competition

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