New One-man Production Biz needs Marketing Advice to Survive!
Congratulations for starting your own video business! I know the circumstances for you starting it weren't exactly ideal but congratulations none the less.
The first thing you need to do is figure out how to secure enough financing to keep your head above water for a while until your business builds some momentum. Do you have a house that you can take out a 2nd mortgage on? Or, is your credit in good enough shape that you could go to a bank and take out a non-secured loan for a period of time?
I'd suggest looking at what your expenses are for a 6 month period of time and get a loan that will cover those expenses. A year's worth of expenses would be even better but I'd focus on at least 6 months. Having this money in the bank will relieve a lot of the pressure you are feeling right now and will enable you to focus more on getting new business and taking care of the business you already have.
Oh yeah, and try to negotiate with your bank so that all you have to pay for the 6 month period is interest only. Then, after the 6th month, the larger payments will kick in.
As for your current customers, are you sure that there isn't any other work you can do for them? You said you are a post/motion GFX guy....which means you are probably well versed in static graphic design among other things. Whatever your talents are, make sure everyone you have as a client now knows you can help them with more than video. The customers you have that know you from the previous job will most likely want to help you succeed so give them the ammunition they need to send you additional work.
Finally, no matter how bad you hate marketing, you have to do it effectively and frequently. The problem though is that you most likely won't see any results for several months down stream....which doesn't help you cash flow crunch today.
You've sent info to agencies....keep doing that. You never know when your demo will be on the top of the stack when they need your help.
I'd also suggest sending your reel to all the other production companies in your area. Position yourself as someone that would like to help them with their overflow and that you are willing to work with their budgets. You don't have to accept a budget that's ridiculous but you want these producers to believe that they can call you to negotiate a rate.
Finally, pull up the Texas Film Commission or the Austin Film Commission website and call every production professional listed. Take them to coffee, give them a demo, get to know them and THEY WILL START REFERRING YOU BUSINESS ALMOST IMMEDIATELY!
Your economic power is directly influenced by how many people you have within your network. Start meeting other video pros today and your opportunities will grow substantially.
Good luck! I know this is a very exciting yet scary time for you. Stay focused on getting new business and doing an amazing job for your current customers. And, start working today to secure a loan that will give you a little breathing room.
Kristopher G. Simmons
Video Business Coach
This is definitely one of the issues that separates the studios who succeed from those who fail, and it's so difficult because there is no magic bullet for landing business. You may get 20 different, conflicting answers on what is the "best" way to proceed, because everyone has had success via different means. That said, here's a few suggestions:
1. Your web site can serve as a great landing spot for potential business. However, as with all marketing materials, most people will directly relate the quality of your web site with the quality of your work, so you need to have a very functional, very attractive site to use it effectively. If I had to be totally honest, I'd say your web site seems a little scattered about, difficult to find where I am supposed to be looking/going, information is not concentrated in areas that make it easy to read, and could use a more polished design overall. Unless you're an absolutely fantastic web designer, consider hiring a designer fresh out of school to do it. Fix that, and your web site can serve as a brochure for tens of thousands of potential customers, rather than having to manually reach out to every prospect. Don't underestimate the power of an effective and well designed web site, a LOT of businesses make this major mistake. In this day and age a lot of businesses use the web to source B2B services, and you need to be there front and center when someone in your area is looking.
2. Once your web site is in better shape, you should consider signing up for Google Adwords. It takes a LOT of work to get your web site to rank well for keywords in our industry (such as video production, corporate video etc.) but Adwords will get your web site to the top of the heap right away. Of course you will end up paying for every lead (and every looky-loo as well) that comes your way via Adwords, but it's worth it if you craft your ads properly and show up in the right keywords. My studio gets a large chunk of our sales via our web site, including Adwords, so it IS worth the effort if done right.
3. Per the web site comments above, make sure every marketing piece you produce - business cards, mailers, collateral - looks absolutely outstanding and professional. There is a lot of competition out there, and if your materials only look so-so, you will get passed over before they ever see your actual work. These materials are your gateway to getting the prospect's attention, and should be treated as the difference between success or failure.
4. I know how you feel about sales, I can't bring myself to do it either so my partner does sales while I manage the daily grind of the studio. The key in business is to know your strengths and ONLY do those things, acknowledge your weaknesses and find someone else to do those things. Another issue is that people who do their own sales often suffer from a "feast and famine" situation. When you have work, you are too busy to do sales every day, which means that when the job is done you have no prospects in line and have a month or two of downtime trying to find the next job. Not good. Consider finding someone to do your sales. If you can't afford it, consider posting some ads on Craigslist or similar looking for a commission-only salesperson. The downside is they will want a large chunk of the pie in return for their risk, maybe as high as 20-40%. Any salesperson, especially a commission-only salesperson, will expect you to have your act completely together, including having quality sales/marketing collateral to support their efforts.
5. In addition to targeting agencies and other studios, doing B2B sales can bring in a lot of work. There are an awful lot of companies out there who don't hire agencies and/or have projects that are too small to warrant such an expense. This type of work can be your bread and butter as you pursue the agencies which are much more difficult to win over and may have a 2-3 month sales cycle. Consider buying a list of local businesses from Dunn & Bradstreet for mailing sales materials to. They have a program called Selectory that is affordable and allows you to find local businesses, including the names and contact info of the owners, executives, marketing personnel etc. The downside with this approach is that marketing directly to businesses is completely different than marketing to studios, who already KNOW they need your services. You will need to create separate marketing collateral that tells these businesses WHY they need your service, and how you are better than your competitors. This can't be an appeal based on all the groovy gear you have, they don't know (or care) about that. It is more based on how your service will help them sell more goods, improve customer relations, train employees etc. Avoid platitudes and do some research to show them hard numbers and facts. Above all, tailor your materials to their needs. A two-man company has no need for employee training videos, and will probably reject the entirety of your offer if it seems generic or not in tune with their specific needs. You could create a mailer specifically addressing employee training and only send it to companies from your list with 20 or more employees, and will get a much better response. Of course you may not even DO training video, this is just an example of presenting the right marketing message to the right customer.
6. Don't just send out mailers at random here and there, build a marketing program for reaching studios and agencies. It is important that you execute this plan the same way every time, and only tweak when changes are needed. For example, consider setting up a marketing routine that you do at the beginning of every week:
- Call prospect agency, find out who decision maker for video needs would be
- Reach decision maker by phone, don't waste their time or try to do "sales," but briefly introduce self and business, ask to send a demo reel to them personally.
- Send demo reel THAT DAY
- exactly one week later, contact decision maker by phone, ask if they received reel, ask if they have a project they might use you on
- that day, send follow-up "thank you for your time" card or letter
- follow up one week later with general sales mailer
- follow up one month later with different sales mailer, and every month thereafter
If you stick to a routine like this, it makes your marketing efforts much easier because you compartmentalizing the various tasks. Spend a day calling prospects from your D&B list. Anyone that agrees to get a reel are added to the "send" list you make in Excel, with a note on the date you should call back (one week later). At the end of the day mail out all the reels and so on.
7. Make sure everyone you know is aware of your new business. You'd be amazed how often friends, family and colleagues meet someone who happens to need what you have to offer and can recommend you to them.
8. Don't bother going national just yet. You will just end up spreading your marketing/sales budget and efforts paper-thin. Besides, most companies tend to want to work with a local company and will be hesitant unless you are a very large company with strong brand or campaign recognition.
I'll keep it short as you have been given great advice already.
Firstly, congrats on getting out there. Once you find work and your customers find you, I bet you will vow to never work for any other empolyer again.
Based on what I've seen I think your work is definitely good enough to get clients, if you can find each other... so...
Ok... I won't pull any punches here. Your website needs work. Especially for someone in our creative realms, your website needs to reflect the best of what you can do, since it will be the first contact many potential customers have with you. Not to be harsh, but your present site is very scattered, hard to visually follow, cluttered, and frankly just isn't attractive design. It needs to look as slick and professional as possible.
I'm not trying to be overly critical there -- GOOD web design is tough, and is a narrow specialty in and of itself. I know many GREAT broadcast and print designers who couldn't design a good website if their lives depended on it. It's just something that not everyone is good at (me included). So... find someone who IS good at it. Pay them, bribe them, beg them... whatever it takes to get a site that is reflective of the quality of the work that you hope to do for people
Secondly, I think you should narrow your focus a bit. Not everyone is good at everything. You may indeed be one of those jack of all trades who has expertise in many different realms... but most people don't, and potential clients may have a hard time with the concept of a one-man company being able to do many disparate kinds of things well (even though you might be able to).
Therefore, I would focus your time and enegry on selling the services that you think you do especially WELL... and those same clients might end up coming to you for the rest as well. You may have a different opinion of your strengths (and if so, I defer, you've seen a lot more of your work than I have)... but I think your strength lies in the "finesse" work... things like rotoscoping, and such... followed fairly closely by editing in general. I'd say music comes next, (but that is such a disparate field that it might be difficult to bundle), and finally graphic design.
So... when you get down to marketing, be careful how you bill yourself. For example, since your editing is stronger than your graphic design, promote yourself as an EDITOR (who can do some graphic desgin when needed), rather than an EDITOR AND GRAPHIC DESIGNER. People tend to think "specialists" are better anyway.
Good luck!... it will be a scary time, but exciting, too.
Thanks very much to all your responses. Some great ideas there, and I'll be pursuing them as best I can and as they seem to be the right thing for me and my circumstances. I appreciate the time you all have taken to respond.
It's kind of funny in that in my old job, I had to be a jack-of-all-skills due to their level of staffing budget, and I've become used to it and like it. It will be difficult to "reign myself in" and target more tightly which skills I promote to clients.
I'll check into the web design - I don't know as much there as I'd like (just enough Dreamweaver to get me in trouble :), but can't afford to have a site designed for me right now.
How could I alter my current site to be less scattered?
David P. Crews
Post Production - Motion Graphics - Original Music
iWeb 2.0 has some nice templates that will suffice.
Obviously it's not as nice as if you had some Flash pro rock you out a monster page, but it's fast and easy to make and as with lots of template type Mac programs, it looks pretty good.
Most of your clients won't realize that you're using darkroom or one of the other themes.
Keep in mind that most will use the website for reinforcement or a background check...some casual acquaintances who got a business card from you over a passing conversation in a social situation, etc...
As far as boots on the ground work right now...
If you are an editor, or at least focus on post production, you need a relationship with a shooter. Lots of shooters are even better as far as being that resource for them, but you need the capability to take on a complete project when it comes up, and a writer, possible a director, and a shooter (or whichever of these you don't do) will be critical components to your being able to pull in video projects as opposed to editing work. every idiot who can bounce a check can have a computer with an NLE on it now, and selling any skill specialties as points of separation to any but the most seasoned customer is tough. (shooting...cameras are cheap, lighting..."cameras all shoot low light now, right?", editing..."oh, yes I love the page curl effect in iMovie, it makes my productions look more professional")
Being able to come in and solve a problem is not a commodity however, and if you can develop yourself as the conduit to whatever staffing and capabilities your customer needs to get the job done, where your personal skill emphases lie will be less of a boundary for what sort of work you can take on.
I've been on my own since 1989...in 1998 I had 11 employees...by 2003, my partner retired and the 90s were definitely over...I'm a one man shop again myself. Sorry, but this is not a transition...this is how it will be. I don't mean to be snide, but this is work that can be difficult to accurately describe much less price and sell. When you're a one man shop there are two states of being; 1. Too many unpaid bills; 2. Too much work...there is just no in between.
When you're a one man shop, you worry how you'll pay the nut, which even starting out with taxes can run $3-10,000 a month depending on the size of your family and where you live...and you get 10 employees and you have benefit plans and vehicles and all the rest and still you worry about how to pay the nut...except now your company's monthly health insurance premium alone is $7-10,000.
Same stress...different scale.
I'm not saying "give up" so much as "prepare yourself".
Good luck to you.
Creative Cow Host,
very well put, Tim.
I owe uncle sam 80k now.
well, unless ya count this year's taxes. lol
thats kina stressful.
still beats a real job.
Thanks for the responses. I've taken the advice of several of you to redo my website. I used a clean template from iWeb and reconstructed everything in it. It still needs some tweaks, but if you have time, y'all take a look and see if it isn't much better now.
David P. Crews
Post Production - Motion Graphics - Original Music
Dude - 100 times better. I'd still drop font sizes down a bit so that everything will fit on one page on a monitor set to 800x600 resolution. It helps to plan your site for the least common denominator, in this case being grandma on a pc with 600x800 resolution.
Maybe copy edit some of your text, too. For example, this segment:
Have a video or digital film project?
Need some editing?
Or sophisticated motion graphics?
Perhaps an original music track or bed?
Need help with a script?
Maybe some animation?
Let us work with you to make your project sparkle!
Be sure to explore our video and music samples!
...could be reduced to one line like:
"Edit, Design, Animate, Compose, Write - That's how we roll."
That might not be the best copy for your actual brand, but it's succinct.
You have maybe 20 seconds to get your point across before a surfer leaves. When you add a line, remember that it's taking away from the legibility of another line that might be more important.
Less is AlWAYS more.
That's what I told my wife on our wedding night anyways. :-)
John Davidson____ writer | producer | director____http://www.magicfeather.tv
With regards to fixing your current site, I see a few issues that could be fixed easily with your Dreamweaver skills:
1. Your site is useless if people can't find it. The main way that will happen is through search engines, which have a few requirements before they will even bother with your site. For example, the Title tag is one of the most important ways to optimize your web site for search engine indexing. Every page in your site currently has the title tag "CrewsCreative -- Video - Music." Every page of your site should have unique titles (google will penalize you for repeated titles by simply not listing those pages in search results), and each title should be specific about the focus of that page. For example, your graphics page title tag would be more effective if it read "Austin motion graphics, Austin animation, Austin graphic design - CrewsCreative." Google and other search engines will then see that you are in Austin (very important since generic searches like "graphic design" are impossible to appear in) and that you offer those specific services. CrewsCreative can come last because it's not a keyword per se. Until you correct your titles, you are probably not showing up in the search engines at all, which means you are working way harder to market yourself than needed. I would also add a keyword meta tag to every page on your site, again listing keywords specific to JUST that page. For some good info on meta tags and how to use them, search Google for Meta Tags and click the SearchEngineWatch link that comes up first.
2. While this may sound like a personal preference, having a black background is a bit of a mistake. Black is a negative color - it tends to look desolate, uninviting and tense. Psychology plays a big role here. In addition, reading light colored text against black is much harder than dark text against a light background. I would start by redesigning your site to be against a lighter colored background (not necessarily white).
3. The scattered graphics, awards etc. on your home page give your site a sense of chaos. I almost feel like I am looking at someone's desk, all covered in unrelated post-it notes ;). I would try to consolidate all of your awards into one graphic and use your thumbnails in a more straight-forward manner. I would also consolidate all (or most) of the text into one cohesive block that can be read in neat paragraphs.
4. The left-right-left-right dance that my eyeballs have to do when looking over your home page make it hard to focus and see where I should be looking. I would organize your home page to lead the eye straight downward, all the way down. It can all be on the left side, centered or whatever but it shouldn't zig-zag and should always be pulling me straight down the page.
5. Your "Services Offered" section of the home page would work better if each item linked to a page on your web site that relates to the link, such as graphics. I would also avoid spreading them out so wide, it feels unnecessarily spread out. Maybe that's just personal taste.
6. Your awards images on the home page are dwarfed by other items, even though they are one of your key selling points. In your re-structuring of information and graphics, I would make your awards banner much larger than it currently is and give it more prominent placement on the page.
7. May sound harsh, but I would get rid of the photo of yourself. It immediately says "this is a one-man operation" which isn't a good thing, even if true. You will likely end up hiring freelancers to assist on jobs etc. so why sell yourself as only capable of small, one man projects? In that same vein, May be a personal choice here, but I would changes all instances of "I" to "we" and give the whole message a going-over where you make the company appear to be more than just one man (for example your contact page which says "I would love to work with you"). While there may be plenty of appeal in hiring a one-man operation, that appeal is almost always financial. Implying that you have access to more than one person for jobs says that you can ALSO handle bigger jobs and are more stable as a company.
If you're going to tackle design your site yourself, I recommend the book "Don't Make Me Think". It focuses on improving the usability of your site for the visitor, rather than graphic design. Extremely helpful.
Here's a synopsis from Amazon:
"Usability design is one of the most important--yet often least attractive--tasks for a Web developer. In Don't Make Me Think, author Steve Krug lightens up the subject with good humor and excellent, to-the-point examples.
The title of the book is its chief personal design premise. All of the tips, techniques, and examples presented revolve around users being able to surf merrily through a well-designed site with minimal cognitive strain. Readers will quickly come to agree with many of the book's assumptions, such as "We don't read pages--we scan them" and "We don't figure out how things work--we muddle through." Coming to grips with such hard facts sets the stage for Web design that then produces topnotch sites.
Using an attractive mix of full-color screen shots, cute cartoons and diagrams, and informative sidebars, the book keeps your attention and drives home some crucial points. Much of the content is devoted to proper use of conventions and content layout, and the "before and after" examples are superb. Topics such as the wise use of rollovers and usability testing are covered using a consistently practical approach.
This is the type of book you can blow through in a couple of evenings. But despite its conciseness, it will give you an expert's ability to judge Web design. You'll never form a first impression of a site in the same way again."
The best thing that I have found for sales is offer the sales people I know a 10% referal fee. I work full time at a broadcast facility but do alot of freelance long form work on the side. Sales people are always asked if they know someone who does "Marketing" or "Training" materials and if they know there is something in it for them, i get the referal.
Its not a conflict of business as the station I work for does not do that work. That would be the only conflict.