Last week I started a special series in honor of this month being my 10th year in business for myself. It started with my top ten secrets for success. The next installment was my top ten mistakes in the past ten years. Part 1 covered mistakes 1-5. Today we cover the last five of the top ten. What particularly sets these apart is that 1) I have no doubt many of you are making them right now, and 2) every now and then I still make them. 🙂 Let’s all work on NOT making these any more.
6. Long Turn Around Times
When I shot weddings my fees were towards the higher end of the pricing spectrum. As a “high-end” wedding filmmaker I had a turn around time (TAT) that was commensurate with the quality and standard for that kind of project. My quoted time from wedding to delivery was six months. Other videographers offering comparably priced services had similar turn around times. I’m sure many of you who cater to the high-end bride (for photos or video) also have a TAT that is 4, 6 and maybe even 8 months. If I had to do it all over again, I would not have such a long TAT.
There are two big problems with this long TAT. First and most important is loss opportunities for referrals. The excitement of a wedding and seeing the photos/videos from it diminish the further you get out from the date. If a client and their family has to wait six months before they see anything, quite frankly you’re losing potential business. I think that’s one reason why same-day edits and slideshows have grown in popularity. By giving the bride and her friends and family that instant gratification, you capitalize on all that emotion.
The second big problem with long TATs is Parkinson’s Law: a project will fill the time you give it. If you say it will be a 6-month TAT, you will deliver the project in six months. If you give that same project a 4-month TAT, you’ll get it done in four months. Etc. Here’s where it gets bad. What if you have 4 weeks of weddings in a row. That means now you have four big weddings to edit all due around the same time. These kinds of weddings take about a week or more to edit. So if you’ve waited til the last-minute to edit them because of Parkinson’s Law, one if not all of them will end up being late. That equals BACKLOG.
I’ve had my fair share of late wedding videos back in the day. It was a mistake to accept a 6-month TAT. If I were shooting weddings today, I would strive to have some kind of highlights reel done within a month (preferably a week or two) and the full thing absolutely no longer than three months out. For the commercial work I do, my stated TAT is usually 30 to 45 days, sometimes 60 depending on the season and the project.
7. Not keeping better follow-up with clients
I have been horrible at this and I want it to change. Again, back when I shot weddings, once I delivered it, I was horrible at following up. Seldom, if ever, did I send holiday or anniversary cards to my clients. (I know, I know. It’s shameful). I was great at following up during the process of courting the client. Even leading up to the wedding. But I had no system in place to continue that relationship beyond delivering the wedding. Who knows how many other bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings, birthdays and Quinceañeras I didn’t get to shoot, all because I never took time to check up on past clients.
I can’t help but think of that line from “Wrath of Khan” where Khan yells to Chekov “THIS IS CETI ALPHA FIVE!” and says how admiral Kirk never bothered to check up on their progress after delivering them there. In one way I was like Kirk in that I was the one not checking up on the progress of my clients. In another way, I was like Khan, for if it were not for my genetically enhanced business brain, I may not have survived despite not doing this basic business practice. (Okay. Is that too geeky?)
8. Feeding the Trolls
You all know what a troll is, right? No, I’m not getting geeky on you again. This is not a Tolkien reference. I’m talking about those dregs of the internet that just love to start trouble and drum up strife and conflict for no apparent reason other than it’s in their nature. I’ve written about this before. One of my biggest mistakes I’ve made (and I must admit that from time to time, I still make this mistake more often than I’d like) is when I “feed” the trolls. That is, when you’re on a forum or Twitter, and a troll rears its ugly head, and instead of ignoring them, you give in to their teasing, tempting, or antics. Next thing you know, you’re 35 pages into a stupid flame war on a forum that is as far off topic as Ceti Alpha V is from Starfleet Academy. I can’t tell you how many hours of productivity have been wasted in ten years of business feeding the trolls. If you took all that wasted time, you could start a whole other business.
Don’t feed the trolls. Be strong. Ignore them.
9. Focusing on the wrong things at the wrong time
I love to blog. I think that’s apparent. But, frankly, it’s a labor of love. I love to teach and share, and currently, the best way for me to do that is blogging. But, to be honest, there have been times where I’ve put more time into blogging and social media when I should have been doing something like (e.g. finishing an edit, networking, finances, more traditional marketing). Don’t get me wrong: there’s obviously a huge business and marketing benefit to the social media I do. But sometimes I tend to throw off the balance of where I put my energy. Quite simply, I like doing the stuff I like to do, and I hate doing the stuff I don’t like to do. Sometimes you just have to be a grown-up, bite the bullet, and cut back on all the “fun” parts of your business and focus on the “not so fun” stuff.
10. Long sales pitch before client has an idea of your rates
The last mistake on my top ten mistakes list a one I’ve actually only made once (to my knowledge). But I know that many of you still make this mistake, so I feel it’s important to mention it. I’ll never forget that time early in the business when I met with a bride and groom for about 90 minutes to two hours. I showed them my work, charmed them, had a great conversation. The whole nine yards. They loved everything. I then told them my rates. I saw there faces drop as that told me that it was not in their budget. They were really sorry and really wished they could hire me, but there was no way they could pay. (I think at the time my rate was only $3,000 or $3,500).
Boy! Did I learn my lesson after that. I will not spend any significant time with a prospective client until they at least have an idea of my rates. That doesn’t mean I tell them the rates right off the bat (e.g. They send me an email asking what my rates are and then I reply, “My rates are X”). Nor do I post my rates online. It’s not the scope of this blog post to go into why I don’t do this. (I actually already blogged about that too). In essence, there is a way to engage in a prospective client just long enough via email or phone to build up a rapport, then share your rates. If at that point they don’t go running for the hills, move on to the next level of a longer sales meeting.
This List Also Goes to 11
Like my success list, I have an 11th top “ten” mistake for you. It’s another mistake I made early in the business that I’ll never make again.
#11. Making significant changes to any plans you have based on an unpaid contract
Early in the biz I met with a prospect who signed what was a pretty big contract for me at the time. I actually don’t recall if they actually signed a contract or just verbally agreed to a wedding date. In either case, based on their decision, I canceled tickets to a musical my wife and I were scheduled to attend on the same date as the wedding. However, I did this BEFORE I had any kind of payment. Well, you probably already guessed what’s coming. The client eventually changed their mind.
I was really pissed off. Not just at this couple, but at myself for changing big plans before getting any payment. The moral was clear: don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched. For the most part, I don’t make any changes to my personal or professional plans based on a contract until the first retainer is paid. I won’t even do any work on a project until that point. Until the client has “skin in the game,” there IS no game. Capiche?
Whew! There you have it. The top
ten eleven mistakes I’ve made in business over the past ten years. As I move forward into my next ten years, I’m sure I’ll make many more blunders. But I won’t necessarily wait for another ten years to share them with you. 🙂
Are there any mistakes you’ve made in your business you care to share? Come on. I told you mine.
Hi Ron, as with all your blogs my partner and I thoroughly “enjoyed” your top ten mistakes. They have been very instructive and we have certainly made our share, as a young and growing company here in FL, of these mistakes. Your illumination of them have allowed us to be more mindful.
Mistake #11 is crucial. We have learned not to move forward on a job unless a retainer has been paid when the contract is signed.
Too often we find that even if you were to give your services “away” they still want a discount and you end up spending too much time on the project based upon your own ethics to deliver the best product possible.
Thanks again, we are learning and tweeking as we grow the business. You have been a constant source of help and inspiration.
How about extending your mentorship remotely, out of ATL? I’d be the first in line. lol
Ron Dawson says
As always, thanks for your kind words Andrew. It’s funny you mention the mentorship program extending beyond ATL. I used to do that, but it isn’t that effective if the mentees can’t be right here in the city with me. Sorry. 🙂 That’s one reason why I set up the coaching.
Hope to keep you and others inspired and educated.
David McKnight says
What musical was it? If it was Phantom, then shame on you. But if it was Cats, well, I’d rather stay home if you didn’t have a wedding to shoot. 😉
Ron Dawson says
I actually don’t remember what the show was. I don’t think it was anything big like that. I think there was dancing in it though. 🙂
Great series Ron. I am new to your blog, but after reading this I am eager to go back and read some of your previous work. I particularly relate to the Feeding the Trolls. Guilty.
Ron Dawson says
Welcome to the club Dwain. We have some great regulars and I think you’ll dig the content. It’s right up your alley. 🙂
So funny you should comment today as I just finished editing a teaser to post soon I think you will find interesting. 😉
Kris Simmons says
The trolls used to really get my blood boiling but I’m getting better at ignoring them. A recent example…we launched a new product that focuses on teaching beginners to use the Glidecam. When posting the launch info in a popular forum, several people in there started to tear us a new one about how bad the product is and that we should be ashamed for creating something and trying to sell it to them. But, that’s when something funny happened. We noticed that several of the “trolls” who were blasting us started placing orders. (About 12 came from the same people who were verbally destroying us online.) Then, after a long day of forum warfare, the last couple of posts in that forum were from the same people who started coming on and saying “well, we actually learned quite a bit from that product so it’s a win.” Others were saying things like “If you read the first line of the sales page, you’ll notice that the product is designed for absolute beginners so of course it’s not going to be designed for advanced users.” Anyway, long story short, if we would have self destructed in the first few minutes of getting our butts handed to us on the forum, we would have certainly failed. Sure, it was frustrating to see all those terrible things written about us at first but the sales that came later was validation that we were on the right track. One final thought about trolls. Even though it can be frustrating and an absolute waste of time battling with them, a lot of times the reason they are aggravated with you can be great feedback (in disguise) regarding your product, service, approach, whatever. See if there is anything positive to extract from the negative experience and you’ll be better off for it!