I have been fumbling wildly trying to arrive at a strategy for a video business startup. Can someone recommend an industry expert consultant for hire? I'm looking for no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is advice from a seasoned professional that can relate to small market business challenges.
Before spending any money on a consultant you should spend a serious amount of time researching this here and on other web resources. You should also try to get as much free, person to person advice as you can from people who have done something similar.
I would expect that "seasoned (video) professional(s) who can relate to small market business challenges" might be hard to come by. Frankly I think that the best ideas will come from within and it may be unrealistic to think that you can hire advice any better than you can get for free.
Thank you Nick - I will give it a shot here. I have read what there is available online and spoken with a couple small operators.
I want to create interactive media for small to medium size business. I wonder if this market segment can even support the cost of video to make it worth my time?
I read here that building a business around a client is one effective strategy, given there's repeat business there. Thoughts?
What about training? There's so much out there to choose from it's mind numbing. Most of it seems to teach functionaility, what this and that button does, not what you can do with the software. What gives?
Is it the nature of video work that it's going to be labor intensive for concentrated periods and there is a given degree of unpredictability to the process from beginning to end? Is this okay and does missed deadlines kill careers or can the unpredictability be mitigated?
Thanks enough for starters.
[Frank J. Lozano] "
I want to create interactive media for small to medium size business. I wonder if this market segment can even support the cost of video to make it worth my time?
Interactive media's initial expense needs to be justified by proportional results and a payoff. The size of the business is less of a factor than the kind of business. Small businesses like boutique sellers of some specific collector item who use the web as their main "storefront" could use some interactive work possibly...but they'd most likely need it on the web as this is they're main method of engaging the customer. A disc-based presentation wouldn't help them much unless they attended a tradeshow or something necessitating some live video presentation...
For a manufacturer, interactive discs can be a useful sales tool containing videos of products, PDF spec sheets, links to protected areas on the company's web site containing pricing information, etc. However, the company's attitude (and that of its sales and/or marketing leadership) is a key to whether they are of a mind to pay for, and effectively utilize "new media." Industries that have products that require explanation (custom machinery as opposed to nuts and bolts) are good places to start. Big ticket items make live sales person face time extremely valuable. If a "preliminary" inquiry can be handled with some sort of media based presentation sent out to "qualify" the prospect, this sort of tool can save a manufacturer a LOT of money.
Small/large market is less a factor these days as most of us can be as geographically far reaching as we want. I don't even have a telephone number in the phone book anymore, I just have my cel. All the local clients want to pull vendors from a larger market anyway. Most of my work comes from markets larger than that. It can be a funny business and the saying that "You're not an expert unless you're 100 miles from home." has no more applicable place than our industry on many days...
[Frank J. Lozano] "I read here that building a business around a client is one effective strategy, given there's repeat business there. Thoughts?
"Effective" and "necessary"...finding one client who can give you enough work to get some early momentum is certainly necessary. However there are several factors that make for a strange confluence when this happens to a small business in the early stages...
1. Most likely, the start up business will aggressively discount rates to get the work...you will NEVER recover your retail or "rate card" rate with this customer. The value you place on yourself when you establish the relationship will nest in the customer's mind and budgeting process forever.
2. Most likely the start up business will stumble at points. Missed delivery dates, lost data from backup systems not keeping up with growth, lost videotape, and numerous other business blunders are certainly possible and quite honestly, rather normal in the budding business. This will also have long term effects on how this relationship goes forward.
3. One customer is just that...one. Keeping in mind that customers can cease doing business with you for many reasons in your control like rising rates or a botched project, they can also turn in another direction for reasons beyond your control. Perhaps the person who is your internal contact and champion leaves the company and the next person in the position sees you as a remnant of the old regime and simply changes vendors to establish a relationship they feel they have more control over...perhaps the company is sold to a bigger company with internal media resources...perhaps they simply have a bad year and need to axe marketing and media production expenditures, or close the doors entirely...
The key then, is to plan ahead and understand that to move forward, this first "big" client, while a good "stepping stone" for a year or two, may not prove a viable "foundation" long-term. I say this from experience as one of our two "big" clients in the 90s became so demanding that I'd have been better off to write them a $10K check at the beginning of the year and tell them not to call me...at least I'd have had the huge amount of time that they consumed over the year back in the bank to sell at a reasonable rate...the other client simply sold itself off in pieces creating 23 different little clients all over the world as opposed to one global client based in our backyard. The little clients were no longer large enough to justify much media production and it pretty much faded away.
We didn't have a sunset plan for these large clients. Small business survival these days requires that you not only acquire large clients, but you can survive losing them...and make sure you're not dying by keeping them frankly...
[Frank J. Lozano] "What about training? There's so much out there to choose from it's mind numbing. Most of it seems to teach functionaility, what this and that button does, not what you can do with the software. What gives?
What gives is what "you can do" with the software is up to you. that's why we're called "creative". A company that makes charcoal pencils doesn't package them in a paper manual on "How to Draw" and a manufacturer that makes hammers can't train you to build a house for the price of a hammer...maybe you don't even build houses, maybe you build custom crating...or furniture... These companies that create these tools can't realistically visualize everything we're going to do with them...that's why they beta test software in actual user's hands.
I think it's safe to say that anyone who knows the functionality of their tools alone will not make it long term in a business where the real value they deliver is communication. Most of the time when I'm working with a corporate client, I'm problem-solving. How do we capture the attention of tradeshow attendees and make sure they understand our message? How do we make it easier for our clients to quickly view our entire line of bulldozers without hauling them all out to a site and doing a live demo? How do we keep our employees from sticking their hands in the press brake? Understanding who you're talking to and what their interest is in all of this is key as well. Tradeshow attendees might be looking for the cost-effective solution your client offers, construction companies may want to see very specific traits of bulldozers to make a decision on what manufacturer to pursue for a prospective purchase...employees enjoy having two hands.
Sometimes an electronic presentation can solve the issue, other times not. It will be critically important to know when "not" is the operative term and back out gracefully. If you can't realistically solve the customer's problem...don't take the customer's money.
[Frank J. Lozano] "Is it the nature of video work that it's going to be labor intensive for concentrated periods and there is a given degree of unpredictability to the process from beginning to end? Is this okay and does missed deadlines kill careers or can the unpredictability be mitigated?"
Welcome to project-based business. One project won't be bad. When you have five projects with overlapping time frames, things get sticky. Knowing what your capacity is and staying grounded is key. Things can get pretty heady when the proverbial "phone ringing off the hook" period starts. don't bite off more than you can chew.
Start your business with a stable of freelancers ready when you call. They don't drain resources when there's no work, and you can have a talent pool that's very competent, even when you startup. Don't make permanent hires until you can prove ON PAPER that it will SAVE you money...and when you make the calculation, consult a tax expert and figure in some benefits because all of those things cost you money.
...and yes, the Cow is a great place to look for info on this stuff. Good Luck
Creative Cow Host,
Tim - Thank you for a great response; full of nuggets! You provoked a major shift in thought regarding my direction so far. That is; What segement of the business am I best suited for? I see from your profile that you are a producer, among other things. Keying in on your statement, "Start your business with a stable of freelancers ready when you call," could you please speak to what makes a successful producer?
A producer is the least sexy and most vital part of any project. Lay out the schedule, organize the elements and disseminate the information to everyone involved...then be ready to punt when it all changes.
Producers are the only people I know who have discovered the physical storage limits of Palm Pilots and cel phones...
Now...that's a producer in the "crew" sense. A project producer...or the guy (or gal) who gets the project, accepts the payments and takes the blame...that's a little different.
If you are going to start in business and go out to a business and sit down and attempt to sell a project...you have to be a problem solver. The guy who wrote the check to get me started in business told me something that didn't really take hold until far too late in life..."People only do things for two reasons...to gain a benefit or avoid a loss." Seems simple enough, but most of the time I see corporate producers who sell the sizzle and really have no idea what the steak even is...
Too many producers get the meeting and when the client says "I need a corporate image piece...", they're off and running talking about how to handle the logo in After Effects and the proper lighting for the president's office. Guess what? That's like picking wallpaper before you've even looked at a blueprint. You pick out a horizontal stripe that you really like on the swatch until you realize that your front room is 20 feet of uninterrupted wall on one side and it feels like you're trapped in a carnival straw.
Training...what's the loss? Product quality? Injuries? Not taking advantage of efficiencies offered by new technology? What's the benefit? Financial savings or revenue gains? Are they enough to make the investment in an interactive training piece worth it? If you, as the corporate producer are unaware of this criteria, it will be difficult to sell the client on spending the money, because very few clients (though there are some) do this to see the company logo spin around on TV as a shiny chrome mass.
Next...audience. What's in it for them? Staying safe? Keeping the company healthy and therefore safeguarding their job? Are the blue collar? White collar? College educated? If the message isn't developed in a way that completely addresses how this benefits the audience, the audience will tune out...not a successful project.
Sales...benefits? How about not sending a salesman to every half-baked cold call prospect...send a DVD instead. Then when a customer shows real interest, send in the human. Two benefits there, 1. Eliminate the wasted sales calls a salesperson has to make, which makes them more effective with the real, qualified customers and;
2. send out DVDs to every possible prospect who fits a profile...suddenly you can prospect so inexpensively that you can expand you reach incredibly...possibly-all for less than the salary of a single salesperson for one year. THAT will sell something.
Audience...sales prospects. Message? Could be many. Product quality and attractive price are fine but they're messages that are so often used they sound like static. Maybe on-time delivery is a big deal in your client's industry...maybe small quantities or custom specifications...or service... Maybe your client has disadvantages you need to work around...maybe they're smaller than their major competitor (Avis "We Try Harder") or maybe they've some bad press for a quality issue (Selling Tylenol after the contamination scare was probably not every ad guy's dream job). All these things play into how your audience will receive your message and you have to craft it to focus on the benefits to the customer of buying your client's product or service.
So...Solve a customer's problem by:
A. Analyzing what message they need to send.
B. Analyzing the people who need to receive the message.
C. (Important) Analyze what is happening or not happening now that the customer would like to change.
The only reason why you don't usually get to start with C. is that is rarely where the customer wants to start. When you get to C, and get the answer there is a good chance that A and B will no longer make sense so you will probably then double back. Once you have nailed this stuff down then:
D. Use your knowledge of the different media available to you (DVD, interactive, web, computer based training with employee tracking and scoring...whatever) and the strengths and weaknesses of each and create the best match.
--Keep in mind that old fashioned paper with words on it is still the best answer sometimes and you will only build your credibility by being able to steer the client in the most effective direction, even if that means it's away from you. Or, perhaps you have a print freelance capability in your pocket and you can coordinate the project anyway...
...this could go on forever, but Ron only has so much server space...
Creative Cow Host,
Great Tim. Can someone speak to working with freelancers from a producer's or combined producer/director perspective? This is in the context of budgets between $5-$15K.
What are the hassles, benefits and important factors in independant producer/director and freelancer process?
What makes a good freelancer to hire?
[Frank J. Lozano] "What are the hassles, benefits and important factors in independant producer/director and freelancer process?"
There was a time when my business card listed my job title as Producer/Director/Editor. That box of cards lasted for about two jobs, then I quickly threw them in the shredder and printed up new cards with the title of producer removed. Here's why...
The producer's number one job is to wrangle all the personnel, resources, finances and logitics to insure that jobs get finished on time and on budget. That ususally means the producer is the voice of reality where the money is concerned, and that means the producer is "chief negotiator." That job never wins popularity contests...
Meanwhile, a director's number one job is to huddle with the creative team to bring about an inspired collaboration that generates work product that is greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, the director is usually captian of the football team, king of the prom, Mr. congeniality.
My point is, just try huddling with your creative team of freelancers after negotiating and weedling with them to get them to give you their best possible rate, and you will quickly find the team is no longer willing to tightly bond with you any longer.
So, one of the secrets that works for me is to always hire a production manager or a line producer to assume the role as your chief negotiator, thus preserving the tight knit creative huddles and your role as "captian creative."
"No job is worth doing more than once..."
David Roth Weiss
David Weiss Productions, Inc.
Tim wrote: "Use your knowledge of the different media available to you..."
Perhaps some of the best advice I can offer Frank and anyone else in a similar position is to, as much as you can, diversify what you offer. The negative side of this is something along the lines of "...if all you have is a hammer, every problem starts looking like a nail." Broaden your skill set (and toolbox) and you can get more work from the same people.
My business started out (a hundred years ago) as production and ad placement service for a few local radio advertisers. Had a very nice audio studio and knew (what I thought at the time was) a lot about radio and audio production techniques. Growth eventually came from clients starting to ask for more than radio. A lot more.
This was the start of my realizing that I was in the CLIENT business, not the radio business, not the TV production business, nor the training video business or even advertising business. Rather than hanging out a shingle as a specialist we spent a lot of time learning how to take the needs of our clients and translate that into a variety of delivery vehicles. It required broadening my skill set in addition to bringing in people who knew things I didn't. Oh... and a fair amount of investing in various types of gear.
In the past 15 years this has matured into our company being a specialist in, and having most of our clients within, a couple of narrow technical / industrial industries. We get much of our work because we bring a lot of knowledge to the party -- we don't need to start at the beginning on projects because we already know the clients' technologies, their histories, their competitors and most importantly THEIR customers. Now instead of a few local radio advertisers we work for several global clients with a broad spectrum of communication needs.
Being the absolute best in a narrow specialty is admirable, and certainly an attribute shared by many of the COW's forum leaders. But it's not me. I'm a "jack of many trades, master of some." It's served me well and been good insulation from the ups and downs of any one type of business.
I help several video business owners develop/execute strategies for growth. Most of my time is spent managing/growing my video production company, Fire Eye Productions, Inc. but I found that there are many out there that need a little boost to get over the hump. I created a site that includes articles about different aspects of improving/growing a video business. The articles are free to registered users (also free) so have at it! (http://www.mindyourvideobusiness.com)
Regardless of whether or not you hire a consultant to help, you'll need to spend a lot of time studying on your own. Forums like this and the many successful video business owners that frequent it will give you a lot of great information.
Probably most important, learn how to be a better entrepreneur overall. What you learn in the pursuit of improving business skills will roll over into your video business. Guaranteed.
Kristopher G. Simmons
Video Business Coach