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Your Own Business Part 1 by Walter Biscardi

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seminewbie
Your Own Business Part 1 by Walter Biscardi
on Sep 22, 2007 at 10:46:41 am

Dear Walter;

Yesterday I read part 1 of the series Your Own Business Part 1. I am answering here instead of on the blog because the larger audience I will reach this way might generate some extra conversation which would be useful to us all.

Before I start let me offer you a look at my background. Out of college (a long time I ago) I went into television technical and eventually ended up as a commercial producer for local and regional commercial spots.

However this was the go-go 80's and the real money was elsewhere so I got out and started a successful career in sales which unfortunately crashed in 2002 and took everything with it. (No tears I had tons of fun)

Like many people I was approaching the age of 50 and at a crossroads. I began to look back for clues as to what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I realized that nothing I had done since had beem as fulfilling as when I worked in the media.

Now just try to get a job in the media as someone whose recent technical expertise is with 2-inch tape and you'll understand why I had to adjust my course somewhat.

I had been playing with video editing on my home computer and decided that this might be part of what my future would hold.
So I went back to school and got as much as I could out of a course loosely described as a digital editing course.

It didn't take me long to realize that my story-telling skills didn't translate well into long-form work but my experience made me someone who could get things done on time and on budget.

So what I ended up doing is forming a company with the idea of providing sales support items to industry such as short films, promos and web items.

It has taken almost 3 years for my confidence and balance sheet to get up to speed but I am finally making headway.
At least I no longer get the cold sweats around the end of every month. (Well, at least not this month)Plus the fear of getting stuck in a dead-end no respect job from now til retirement only wakes me up 4 out of 7 nights every week.

Like you I have the support of an amazing spouse which everyone should be blessed with.

Now that you know where I am coming from let me look at some of the items in your article which have caused me to start writing this at 4 A.M.

The first assertion you make that bothers me is "the customer is always right". Now when I say that I have a problem with that don't just dismiss me out of hand as a burnt-out, cynical former salesperson.

When I started in sales "The Customer Is Always Right" was part of the bargain which included customer loyalty to a business. Unfortunately this compact has long since dissolved and a customer will drop you to save a nickel no matter how impeccably you treat them. This saying has also created a climate of customer entitlement which is quite out of line
with the economic climate of today.

Why else would stores like Target actually be dropping customers whom they have found to be serial product return artists and therefore extremely unprofitable.

There are also a group of people running well-attended seminars on how to get rid of unprofitable customers without causing lawsuits and ruining your reputation.

I think that instead of blindly assuming that the customer is right it is important to assess whether you will be able to attain a working relationship with each customer based on at least some mutual respect.

I can't say I always follow this advice myself ($$$) but I always regret it when I don't.

There are 2 examples that you use to emphasize the lengths you must go to in order to satisfy customers but I see both of these not in the way you see them at all.

The first is where the producer changed his mind 36 hours before a show was to air after you had been working 9 days on the project. We've all had that happen to us but I have a problem with your assertion that it's "just a video" and not a real product. If they plan to air this and sell commercial time or even just use it to enhance their own reputation then this is just as much a product as the loaf of bread you bake in order to sell the next day.

What if instead of coming to you 36 hours in front of the airing he had waited until it was so close that your equipment couldn't possibly render a finished product on time. Would he still be right? Would you still find it impossible to tell him that it can't be done?

The other example is of the customer to whom you have pitched an idea "complete with sketches and pantomime to an enthusiastic response". Then spend 5 days executing the project only to find their eyes glazing over and them wanting something else.

When this happens it is not a question of the customer being right or wrong it is a question of you not doing your job.
Not qualifying the client properly and spending too much time creating a deal based on your enthusiasm and not what they really want.

In retail this is called a return. Let's face it. You can sell anything you really love yourself but enthusiasm cannot keep it sold for long.

Walter I feel like a jerk critisizing someone who obviously has done much better than I (nothing like poverty to make you dismount from your high horse) but these are my 2 cents worth and I hope you can take them in the constructive way in which they are intended.

Dan







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walter biscardi
Re: Your Own Business Part 1 by Walter Biscardi
on Sep 22, 2007 at 11:46:07 am

[seminewbie] "What if instead of coming to you 36 hours in front of the airing he had waited until it was so close that your equipment couldn't possibly render a finished product on time. Would he still be right? Would you still find it impossible to tell him that it can't be done?"

At the time of this project, I was still working in Linear Edit Suites. So the project could easily still be finished in the time alloted to make the deadline. There will be times when the people and equipment simply cannot finish the project in the time alloted.

If we cannot complete everything requested in the alloted time, then the Producer and I will have to determine what can and cannot be done in the time available. This happens on an almost weekly basis in our shop. Clients always want changes up to the last minute, but we have to compromise due to time constraints. But we make our very best effort to doing absolutely everything we can and when the time allows, we make every single change requested by the client.

My point in this example is that if you have committed to a project, then you are committing to finish it as the Producer has requested. You cannot simply say, "well I'm done for the day so don't bother me" when it comes to broadcast production work or a hard deadline project. The first thing I ask every single client is what is the deadline and how much time have you alloted to Post. Then I do my own calculations based on the information available. I also notify the client right up front if there are any time constraints on my time or the shop's time.

In the cast of a broadcast project, if I agree to take on that edit, then I am totally agreeing to work whatever hours are necessary to make air. If I'm not willing to make that commitment, then I will not take on the project. You simply cannot work on a broadcast project and tell the client 36 hours before air, I'm not going to do the work because it's not my problem.

Just last week I worked a 14 hour day to make a satellite feed for a nationally syndicated show and the Producer originally estimated a 6 hour edit. As he's a former network news Producer that I've worked with, I figured on 8 hours. But when it was obvious we were going to be late and I was going to miss a planned dinner with my wife, I called her to cancel our plans and kept working. We had a hard deadline of 10:30pm to make the feed and I committed to finishing the edit with the client because that's what I have to do to maintain my business.

So yes, if I agree to work with a client, "The Customer Is Always Right." Based on my experience with the client during that first job, I have total control over whether I choose to build a relationship with that client or walk away on the next job. But for the time that the client is in my shop and working with, they are absolutely correct.

The point of this section of my blog is that you MUST be willing to commit yourself to doing whatever it takes, within reason, to please the client and produce good quality work. This is not a retail business, this is service. Service requires you to work much more than a straight 8 hour day. A LOT of people starting out their own businesses simply don't realize that or simply don't believe it's true.


[seminewbie] "The other example is of the customer to whom you have pitched an idea "complete with sketches and pantomime to an enthusiastic response". Then spend 5 days executing the project only to find their eyes glazing over and them wanting something else.

When this happens it is not a question of the customer being right or wrong it is a question of you not doing your job.
Not qualifying the client properly and spending too much time creating a deal based on your enthusiasm and not what they really want."


I see this as a case of a corporate client not understanding "video speak" for lack of a better term. You can describe something all you want and some folks just don't really understand until they see it on the screen. So no, I don't see it as not doing my job. I see it as mis-interpretation between myself and the client.

This is an example that every single person who is going to start their own business is going to run in to. No it is NOT doing your job incorrectly. It is learning how to express yourself correctly to clients, who are not used to working in the video realm, so they truly understand what you are about to do. It is learning to show clients rough cuts early and often so they see can truly see what you are doing instead of spending the 5 days completing the work and then being told they don't get it and want to change it.

So I honestly think the comment of "not doing my job correctly" is way off base. Many clients, especially corporate clients, simply cannot visualize things until they see it on screen.


The point of my Business Series is to give the reader first-hand experiences that I have been through so maybe someone else can learn from that. As I note at the end of each entry, this is not THE way to run a business, it's my way. Take what you need from my entry and do a lot more research. These are all my beliefs and the code for which I run my business.

Obviously your experience differs, but this is not a "one size fits all" industry, nor is it retailing a product. I'm sure if all the other leaders of this forum created the same articles as mine, you would find they have all gone about it differently. Glad you got something out of the article and I'm looking forward to getting the rest of the series up there.

Walter Biscardi, Jr.
http://www.biscardicreative.com
HD Editorial & Animation for Broadcast and independent productions.

All Things Apple Podcast! http://cowcast.creativecow.net/all_things_apple/index.html

Read my blog! http://blogs.creativecow.net/WalterBiscardi


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seminewbie
Re: Your Own Business Part 1 by Walter Biscardi
on Sep 22, 2007 at 1:16:24 pm

Thank you for your feedback Walter and I can see your points. As a sideline the reason I started writing this at 4 A.M was that I had just come off a run of 4-18hr days to meet a critical deadline for a client. So in this way I am totally in synch with you.

Dan


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walter biscardi
Re: Your Own Business Part 1 by Walter Biscardi
on Sep 22, 2007 at 3:44:26 pm

[seminewbie] "As a sideline the reason I started writing this at 4 A.M was that I had just come off a run of 4-18hr days to meet a critical deadline for a client."

that ain't fun. a necessity for sure, but obviously we all try to minimize those sessions!

Walter Biscardi, Jr.
http://www.biscardicreative.com
HD Editorial & Animation for Broadcast and independent productions.

All Things Apple Podcast! http://cowcast.creativecow.net/all_things_apple/index.html

Read my blog! http://blogs.creativecow.net/WalterBiscardi


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Arniepix
Re: Your Own Business Part 1 by Walter Biscardi
on Sep 22, 2007 at 3:18:46 pm

[walter biscardi] "I see it as mis-interpretation between myself and the client."

Client: "Show me the last one."

I bring up the clip we just watched.

Client: "No. Not that one, the last one. The one we just watched." (note: We've just previewed over a dozen clips)

I start going back over the clips, one by one in reverse order.

Me: "Can you describe it?"

Client: "No. I don't remember. But it was perfect."

Alternate ending:

Me: "Can you describe it?"

Client: "He was looking to the right."

I show him the clip that's already edited in the timeline, where he's looking to the right.

Me: "You mean this one, that's always been here?"

Client: "No not that one."

We keep going back, till we find one of the first clips.

Client: "That's it! But why's he looking to the left?"

Arnie

Now in post: Peristroika, a film by Slava Tsukerman

http://www.arniepix.com/blog


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walter biscardi
Re: Your Own Business Part 1 by Walter Biscardi
on Sep 22, 2007 at 3:45:16 pm

Oy vey Arnie! I could write a whole book on that kind of exchange! :-)

Walter Biscardi, Jr.
http://www.biscardicreative.com
HD Editorial & Animation for Broadcast and independent productions.

All Things Apple Podcast! http://cowcast.creativecow.net/all_things_apple/index.html

Read my blog! http://blogs.creativecow.net/WalterBiscardi


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Arniepix
Re: Your Own Business Part 1 by Walter Biscardi
on Sep 22, 2007 at 10:08:34 pm

Glad to know that someone feels my pain!

Mind you, this is not made up. It is, let say, a composite of many such events, typical of this client.

Arnie

Now in post: Peristroika, a film by Slava Tsukerman

http://www.arniepix.com/blog


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Craig Seeman
Re: Your Own Business Part 1 by Walter Biscardi
on Sep 22, 2007 at 8:38:16 pm

Walter, I think what's missing is the type of project and how you're billing the client. In my experience the Customer is NOT always right. I've spent the better part of 20 years working from boutique to very large production/post production houses as an editor/senior editor. Every single one of those houses went under . . . in many cases it was because they throught the Customer was always right.

If you're billing hourly or daily and provided the client an estimate then certainly if you can do the changes, no problem, they're paying for it. I've worked for some companies that made the mistake of bidding some jobs flat fee! One week jobs became six too often or the last day or two of a project meant 24/48 hour day burning out the personal needed for tomorrow's job.

Some examples:
Edit to the approved script with scratch voice over only to find on they changed the entire script and all the graphics had to be redone to a new "final" script with new scratch track. You do everything the client needs. The final VO comes it and it apparently is yet another script apparently changed while the VO was being done. The deadline is(was) today but it'll take until tomorrow if the entire teams kills themselves through the night. Oh and the entire post team is supposed to start work on another project tomorrow since you thought the project would be done today.

Client has a deadline as part of the project and contract and agrees to the number of shoot and edit days. Since the job isn't every day the contract calls for 48 hour notice of the days needed to edit. Suddenly the project MUST be done a week earlier and you've already booked part of the time with two other clients who have short jobs with tight deadlines because the first client did not contact you.

A HUGE client often books 1/3 to 1/2 the facility every day. Many of the post sessions often require more gear and personal as they make changes throughout each job. Each time it's taking away resources for other jobs. The Huge client is also falling behind months in their payments. They're paying and it's big bucks but they are slow and getting slower. Mean time the facility is taking on fewer jobs because of the equipment and personal that keeps getting tied to this client's jobs.

If the client is paying enough that they "own" the facility (or a piece of it) for the time of the job then yes your team stand ready because they're being paid to wait as well as work then sure that urgent change is part of the deal for a client like that.

Like any service industry, behind each client being served is another waiting in line (or already being served in another room). If the client you're surving is tying you in knots (and not paying for the extra work) and those behind them start walking away, your business is doomed.

Service is always at a price and you've got to set that price. If serving one client because they need everything changed last minute impacts your other clients, you MUST draw a line.

IMHO The client agrees to a schedule and a budget. That includes some time for changes. You can do your best to accomodate them if things change but you need to be able to service your other clients too.


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Jeff Bernstein
Re: Your Own Business Part 1 by Walter Biscardi
on Sep 25, 2007 at 3:14:03 am

One thing you can do to protect yourself, especially in an offline process, is specify how many changes they get and how much it will cost for additional changes. We have found that once a client is on notice that things can cost more, they suddenly get more diligent and organized.

As a result, this helps to prevent overages and clearly defines responsibility.


Jeff Bernstein

Digital Desktop Consulting
Apple Pro Video VAR
XSAN Certified
MetaSAN Master Reseller

323-653-7611


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Rennie
Re: Your Own Business Part 1 by Walter Biscardi
on Sep 26, 2007 at 8:09:25 pm

I remember one time when my landlord decided to renovate the entire building I was in. The attic would be removed and 20' ceilings would ensue with a mezzimain in the back. As I had a small studio there I spoke to the contractor about putting the mezzimain in the front where my reception and office was and where the clients entered off the street. This would leave me with a high ceiling in the studio space. The contractor thought for a moment and said " yes it is feasible and wouldn't be a biggie for him to do". He thought at most it may run into an extra couple hundred bucks but in reality it was just a reverse process given the layout of the building. After taking my request to the owner I found out the architect had a $1000.00 minimum fee for any changes to the blueprints. Architects have it figuered out.
That said, I will bend over backwards for regular cliens or clients who are reasonable regarding costs, who pay their way and who don't try to squeeze me for a cheap deal. Like Walter pointed out above, our work is not cookie cutter products that we merely stamp out and sell. Each one is one of a kind, like a Picasso. I think even Picasso would never really know when the piece was actually complete. As long as it was still on the easle (timeline) he could always add a touch of color here or there.

WHAT HAPPENED?
As I was expected to move into a completed unit around the corner (that had no lease hold improvements like carpet and paint) for 3 months and then move back into the completed unit next to mine afterwards because they already leased my original space. (I was to take the next unit beside my old one, so new address, stationery etc. etc.) I ended up moving a few blocks over with a new landlord where I stayed for 12 years.


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beenyweenies
Both right
on Sep 25, 2007 at 5:36:06 am

Personally I agree with both points of view presented here down the line.

I respect the hell out of Walter's commitment to pleasing customers. After all, anyone can land some business, but not everyone gets repeat business. That said, I also agree with Dan that, allowed to go too far, this has contributed to trends in this industry that are not so good. For example, the "no budget and needed it yesterday" mentality dominating the client mindset today is a direct result of too many shops saying "yes!" when they should have been saying "yeah right." So many people I know are just happy to be in this industry, feeling lucky to be doing what they love for a living, and as a result take a Laissez-fair attitude toward "holding the line" on customer expectations. This has caused prices to drop across the board, which affects us all.

I also agree with Walter that clients are not very well educated on the subject and generally lack the ability to visualize complex ideas until after roughly 4/5 of the budget has been spent. This IS a problem, and one that can be solved with simple tools like storyboards, creative briefs and client meetings. The only problem is that, thanks to the point above about having no money and no time, these tools that were once mandatory staples of good film making are practically luxuries now.

Ultimately, I think it is on all of us, not clients, to shape this industry. If shops start holding firm on reasonable prices and deadlines, clients will come to respect that again. Maybe then customer service will be less about swallowing costs and pride, and more about forging relationships.


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David Roth Weiss
Re: Both right
on Sep 25, 2007 at 2:46:04 pm

[beenyweenies] "clients ...generally lack the ability to visualize complex ideas until after roughly 4/5 of the budget has been spent."

Did Walter really write that??? Thats such a great line. I wish I had written that one.

David

David Roth Weiss
Director/Editor
David Weiss Productions, Inc.
Los Angeles

POST-PRODUCTION WITHOUT THE USUAL INSANITY


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Rick Dolishny
Re: Both right
on Sep 26, 2007 at 9:40:52 am

This forum is the single most useful thing on the COW.

And this thread I may have to read on my way to the office every single day. Maybe use a hundred little post-it notes on my walls too.


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