Sunday, July 26, 2009

Developing Vendor Relationships

A lot has been said about the value of developing vendor relationships. Suggestions about how to do this range from hugs and smiles to lunches and dinners, or drinks and bribes. Whatever works, right?

Here's what I am doing. I've mentioned this before on E.C. Come, E.C. Go as a marketing tool, and had at one time done so myself with some success. But it's time to do it again because folks, it WORKS!

I have been visiting area vendors, meeting the owners or managers face-to-face, and making them an offer they cannot refuse - producing a 3-to-5-minute introduction DVD of their products or services for a "free, take one" counter display at their business.

I will shoot, edit and produce the DVDs, distribute them to the participating vendors, and keep in touch with them regarding need for more, changes to content and visitor reception. Together we will discuss needs over time and take action to make this a compelling marketing tool with an extended shelf-life. Interest and curiosity by both regular and potential visiting customers and clients, as well as window shoppers will compel them to take one home.

My original thought was to be selective and get one of each wedding industry vendor to participate. Due to the response so far I have two programs in progress. I have signed up two florists, two bakeries specializing in wedding cakes, two photographers with studios, one DJ, two venues, one tux rental location and two bridal gown locations. These are located in different "zones" of my service area and it will be simple to develop a DVD for their demographic communities.

My first shoot is in two weeks for one of the florist shops. The rest are planning their content, discussing their ideas, e-mailing me with questions and concerns, and actually participating in some serious communication that is already expanding our relationships.

I will post a final report after one, or both, projects has been brought to completion, productions are packaged and on the counters at these businesses.

Yes, the DVDs ONLY feature ONE independent professional wedding and event video services provider - MY COMPANY!

Yes, I am doing this at no charge and delivering the first round of 50 DVDs to each participating business with printed graphics and using paper sleeves.

Yes, this has already developed into some interesting possibilities for other business with the services involved, as well as people they know who are looking for video production services.

Yes, it is work, and will take work and an ongoing commitment to keep it rolling. The effort can, does and will pay off in GREAT vendor relationships and contacts, referrals and other business possibilities.

Remember: If you market, you will make it! © 2009, Earl Chessher

Sunday, July 19, 2009

At What Price Video Excellence?

Another title for this article could be: "Quality Content & Production VS Production Time/Cost & Pricing" or "Where Do You Draw the Line" between the prices your clients pay and the quality of product they receive?

It's all relevant folks, but to take a slightly different path from those who perceive themselves as ARTISTS I have to tell you it is important to get a rein on your creative impulses and goals of perfection if you want to make money in the video production business.

People in the business with whom I share the occasional all-night phone call, barrage of back-and-forth e-mails or marathon chat discussions talk about how difficult it is to draw the line between what they've charged for a video production, what their invested time is worth, and what value the quality of their product.

The combination of business and art is a difficult one to balance. People in the video business use such terms as perfectionist, critical, picky, artist, professional, and particular when attempting to describe what drives them to put excessive hours into the editing of a video product. Many, though frustrated that they cannot balance fees VS perfection, will ignore whatever business sense or need for income they have in the often unfulfilled interest of achieving artistic perfection.

One thing I have discovered is that there comes a time when editing a video production that the work put into fine-tuning my production enters the law of diminishing returns. The perceived need for further finessing my production often provides no real or imagined discernible improvements.

There's that cliche again about perfection being a goal, not a destination.

The reality of it all is that unless and until we as combo businesspeople/artists accept that at some point we need to consider the bottom line, the stupidity of ignoring what makes money, develops cash flow, satisfies our clients and possibly generates profit in our illogical drive for perfection is overwhelming.


No amount of self-satisfaction. No degree of artistic perfection or originality. No aspect of marathon spit-and-polish is going to result in the client's uneducated expectations and perceptions of quality, a visually (to the masses) better product or, if you are not getting reimbursed for all that artistic anguish, profit.

At some point you are literally throwing away your precious, finite time - a commodity you cannot recoup or replace - for the right-brained part of you that has no interest in putting food on the table, paying bills or establishing a successful business.

Those of you who will, take a moment to assess your business goals. Do you want to become known as a master of the trade, develop a reputation of long, late or even no delivery of your "perfect" productions? Or, do you want to achieve an acceptable level of artistic quality, backed by a reputation for reasonable delivery times at affordable prices.

Do you want to adapt a no wine (or cheese) before its time, or a fresh-brewed tasty glass of iced tea? Both can be satisfying, but some people with whom we do business are not interested in waiting beyond a certain period of time unless the product truly reflects the perfection time is supposed to provide. The vast majority of clients would prefer to spend less for something acceptable, than spend more or wait longer for something that is not appreciably superior.

So, if you charge say, $500 for a wedding production. Promise and give the client something that based on the value of time spent reflects $500, not something you'd prefer to make $1,200 or $2,000 or more for due to over-investing your production hours.

If you charge $2,000 then give your client what, in your best judgment based on hours of production time two-thousand-dollars is really worth.

I am convinced that the vast majority of people in business as independent professional video services providers are putting too much time into tweaking, finessing, creating or even FIXING their productions - time, the value of which they can never hope to recoup based on the prices they charge for their services.

FORCE yourself to be more realistic regarding the work you do and the results you or your clients expect for the amount of money that has been invested toward any specific video product you offer.

Develop a specific market plan that offers specific services and video products that, as a good friend of mine in the business said, "you make painfully aware to the client at the time an agreement is signed" cannot expand beyond what has been promised if they later change their minds and want more.

Also remember: If you market, you will make it © 2009, Earl Chessher

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

New Business at Under 70 Cents a Gig!

Tap a demographic that is virtually guaranteed to come to you, absolutely values your video services and products, and consistently invests in video or related services! For less than 70-cents per prospect you can triple, even quadruple your response levels and bring in more business!

Whether you sell and deliver only one wedding video, give away countless highlight thank you DVDs, sell extra copies, distribute copies to the ceremony and reception venues, wedding planner, activities director, the caterer, the officiant, band, DJ, string ensemble, singers, photographers or anybody else... are doing more than giving away "comp" copies in an effort to build connections with other wedding service providers. If you do not go the small additional expense to purchase double-disk capacity (thin line) cases and include one or more of your demo DVDs along with EACH AND EVERY production you deliver you are throwing away a golden opportunity!

This stands even more so for independent professional video services providers (IPVSP) who have diversified beyond the wedding market into the countless other events categories introduced over the years in E.C. Come, E.C. Go. As I have noted in previous articles here, upon starting out as an IPVSP focusing on wedding video production, I almost immediately recognized that I was limiting my income potential by holding such a narrow business focus. Now, after going full time and broadening the scope of services offered by my company, much of what I produce falls in the "work once, sell many" category. Each and every product delivered is a unique opportunity for marketing.

Keep an ongoing mailing list of all customers and clients, groups and organizations that purchase your services and video products. Keep the list current and fresh, adding notes that not only provide you with the name, address and phone numbers of previous buyers, but when they last purchased a product or service, and what it was. Also, how many years they've been coming to you, if they have recommended you to others, and it doesn't hurt to catalog special dates - anniversaries, birthdays, new arrivals, perhaps even career highlights as you become aware of them.

Keeping this level of information is important to your overall marketing strategy, but for now I will stick with getting your demo DVD into the hands of all these people.

As an independent it is difficult to be all things to your business, but if you want a guaranteed resource for re-sales, renewable business and referrals you need to keep and maintain your client base list with the understanding that every customer is MORE THAN JUST A NAME!

If you do nothing else, ALWAYS use double-disk capacity cases and ALWAYS include a copy of your most current general purpose, wedding or other special events demo DVD. Sure, it takes time, effort, money and might sound like a LOT of investment of each into what could prove wasted expense. No, not wasted!

If, however, you do not take advantage of this guaranteed HOT client list and market every time you deliver, you are throwing away a lot more than 70-cents per prospect. This is by far the cheapest renewable marketing approach you have at your disposal.

Provided your DVD graphics look professional, and are pleasing to the eye, you can almost be assured that sooner or later it will be pushed into the player and reviewed. Better yet, the shelf life will be virtually as long as that of the product you delivered because nine-out-of-ten recipients will put that demo BACK into the double-disk case. And, the client will remember where your demo DVD is, or be reminded every time the production keeping it company comes out to be seen again, and again.

Can you say that about the demos you hand out casually in paper sleeves, or direct mail to valid, but cold call, addresses? While I also believe in the direct mail approach for getting my demo DVDs into the hands of prospective clients, I realize it is never going to be as effective as putting my demos into the hands of people who already know me, my business, my services and my products. The reduced shelf life of direct mail demo DVDs means I have to repeat this often to achieve a similar level of success - at a greater, but still worthwhile, expense

I purchase and use double-disk capacity, clear thin line cases from Edgewise Media, DVD blanks from any number of direct e-mail sources including CDRDVDR Media, Ink Caddy II bulk ink refills from DenverDisc where I also originally purchased my Ink Caddy II bulk ink delivery system for about $125. I also purchased my DVD duplicator system from DenverDisc, formerly Reliant Digital.

At $60 the Ink Caddy refills provide me with approximately 11 full cartridge replacements at a significantly lower price; any duplicator will save you time - mine does; double-capacity thin line clear (or black, or white) cases run about 40-cents each; I use Taiyo Yuden blanks exclusively and occasionally get them for less than 30-cents each in bulk. DiscMakers also provides quality products though a bit more than other places, and a GREAT line of duplicators at incredibly competitive prices.

If you want to look into DVD duplicators with copy protection check out Randy McNally and American Recordable Media. Super Media Store has GREAT prices on regular DVD duplicators as well. McNally offers a 5-target dubber with copy protection and no additional fees for under $900.

This equipment and materials, along with the two-sided 98 brightness 24-lb. paper stock I purchase from Fry's Electronics or Staples, about $9 a ream (500 sheets, 8.5 x 11"), my graphics skills and continually updated demo DVDs (new demos due out soon) provide me with a fail-safe marketing approach to renewable business.

Remember: If you market, you will make it! © 2009, Earl Chessher

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Keeping Busy in a Down Economy

The California Governor is writing I.O.U.s and nobody wants to accept them, including Bank of America and Wells Fargo. AIG is planning more bonuses. Cap and trade threatens a new focus on economics. A national medical plan overhaul is going nowhere fast. Radically reduced home equity and values has people looking a life on the streets. People with lots of money "on paper" are finding themselves in a reality check.

A lot is being said about the very real economic threats to small businesses and independent professional service providers. All of us who once enjoyed a modicum of prosperity are now worried that our investment in tools of the trade and education will be for naught.

One group tells us the sky is falling! Another group says everything is going to be OK. Who to believe. And, whatever you believe, what can you do about it? How will you weather the economic slump and the myriad ways government, big money and competition, or worse, pose threat to your survival?

While the wedding business as a whole is cutting way back with a return to potluck rehearsal and reception dinners, home made cakes and punch, family and friends shooting photos on some of the hundreds of consumer-owned digital cameras, even shooting video with any one or more of the countless camcorders available for a few hundred dollars, the wedding video production community continues to fight over a 20 percent, or less, wedge of the business pie.

Is there no good news in sight, or even over the horizon? Well, it's actually up to us who have established, or are trying to build up, perhaps simply maintain, a independent professional video services provider business.

Survival, even growth, perhaps prosperity are as simple as marketing. Now, more than ever it is important to realize that customers simply are not going to be calling you like they used to. My mantra, "If you market, you will make it!" © 2009, Earl Chessher, is true more today than ever, and if we in our chosen business fail to work even harder to gain market share, the sky is going to fall on top of us.

We can no longer depend on the simple routine of people searching for our services and products, or happy and content clients with a modicum of discretionary spending money telling others with a happy modicum of discretionary spending money how wonderful we are, and that they should use us. Today, more than ever, we're going to have to prove the value of our services and products, convince even the willing that they need professional video in their lives, and that what we give them in return for their hard-fought dollars is something that will hold its value for years to come.

Just know that if you do NOT market, you will NOT make it! That simple. OK, Earl, you ask, what would you suggest I do? I'm glad you asked.

1.) Go back and review my article "Your Basic Marketing Strategy" and DO IT! Now!

2.) Research the video market. Google key words for video production possibilities other than just weddings. After reading a number of the money-making ideas on E.C. Come, E.C. Go, figure out what areas are being under served in your service area and focus on them, using the basic marketing strategies listed in No. 1.

3.) Slim down and simplify your approach to production services, editing and delivery. Find ways to cut your costs without cutting the quality, and see if you can set yourself apart by offering something better and still more affordable than the competition.

4.) While you still have a dollar or two you MUST invest that into generating eyeballs, direct mail marketing strategies, and utilizing all available social web sites for the purpose of letting people know who you are, why they should care, and how to find you.

5.) Sell yourself, your services and your products like you've never tried before. Do like Jack Bauer - "Whatever it takes!" Go the extra mile. Stay up all night and deliver a day, two days, even a week earlier than usual, or promised. Accept a smaller deposit, or even establish a payment or layaway plan that the more economic strapped can handle. There's nothing better than building up a substantial cash flow operation by bringing in clients who make consistent and timely weekly or monthly payments.

6.) Take some risks. If you don't, if you persist in playing it safe, some competitor somewhere is going to stretch his or her luck and actually get lucky. If you believe in yourself, your business, your talents and skills, then gamble a bit. This is not a time for the timid, so if you fall into that category, grow some hair people.

7.) I have said this before, but it bears repeating: Dust off those demos, or take the time to "get around to doing one" NOW, and put them in the hands of people. Another slogan of mine: “Somebody somewhere celebrates something...every day!" © 2009, Earl Chessher holds true, and people might not think they can afford to have their celebrations professionally captured and produced, but you could try to convince a few of them you're worth the price.

Memories, good or bad, now more than ever are important. People are in financial holding patterns, cutting back on out-of-state, or country trips and vacations. Many are recording their own memories, using those countless digital still cameras and camcorders to preserve their moments spent on simpler outings. But that often leaves some member of the family out of the picture and brings up a selling point you can use to your own advantage.

8.) Hold off on investing in new equipment if your current tools are workable. Stay with standard definition, use cheaper lighting sources, to heck with how they look if they get the job done, and take care of your microphones, back up systems, computer or other editing systems like you have never done before. Spend the dollars necessary to keep your production arsenal maintained and in good working condition. Stretch the use of your current equipment for another year, maybe two. Sweat it out for now, making do with what you have. A house can STILL be built using a handsaw and hammer folks, now isn't the time to spend money you don't have on technology you don't really need to get work.

9.) Offer yourself to others in the business who advertise for help wanted/needed, and work for the "other person" an hour or two here and there. Essentially you are selling your time and it could very well be cheaper in the long run than what it costs you to advertise, generate and produce your own gig. Do not stay at home doing nothing when you could be working on another business person's dime. You may not have the luxury of refusing work just because it's possible a higher-paying call for a gig "could" come in.

10.) Do not sit at home and give in to a state of perpetual depression. Once it gets a hold of you, incentive drops, you lose your drive, your creative impulses take leave and you wind up sleeping in later, covers over your head, waiting until it's too late in the day to do anything to overcome your mental funk. Find a way DAILY to be productive, force yourself to be aggressive and not give in or give up.

Don't fool yourself into thinking that turning on the computer and tripping through the headlines, doing Stumbleupon, posting on Twitter and Facebook, or reading all eight pages of your web site and reading forum posts from three years back is doing something.

Understand that while it is fine to commiserate, to seek others of empathetic ear, to share laments, complaints and anger at religion, foreign entity or government, don't let that become your crutch or excuse for not doing something about the business.

If you do nothing more than one, single, isolated thing daily to sell, promote, communicate or offer your services, you will have accomplished a positive move in a direction that can keep you in business, if not flourishing, through the hard times. You have two choices in life - quit, or keep going. For those who survive and take action, quitting is not an option.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Market Those Documentaries

Everyone has a story to tell, right? Probably just about everyone of you independent professional video services providers also have a story, read "documentary" you want to tell and produce. It doesn't HAVE to be a labor of love, or just something you produce simply to get it out of your system.

You might not make a killing, create a huge following or generate a name for yourself in the documentary industry, but you can certainly earn a few extra bucks, perhaps even cover the costs of what was originally to be that out-of-pocket labor of love simply by making it available to others.

With the bountiful resources available for self-promotion, distribution, producing and delivering your documentary, there is no serious reason for considering your work a closet shelf video. The viewing public is starving for stuff, and a significant number of people "out there" will invest in a copy of your production if they know it, and you, exists.

With such a diversity of interests, with the whole wide world at your disposal, with literally billions of eyeballs scouring the web, folks doing the Stumble Upon routine, checking out DealMac, Amazon and a myriad of other resources; with social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, and a host of others; with the availability of hundreds of video viewing sites on the web (see "Video on the Web" May 24, 2009 - E.C. Come, E.C. Go ) you have a marvelous opportunity to produce, market and make money off your documentary video production.

People such as Jay Michael, of In the Viewfinder, are not only performing standard commercial and event video production services, but also researching, developing and producing valid documentary video and selling their work to the consumer. Like special interest videos (see the blog article "Make Money in Special Interest Video" March 28, 2009 - E.C. Come, E.C. Go ) you are developing product while also pursuing something in which you are personally interested, and willing to invest your time into creating. How rewarding!

You have invested the time, energy and money into pursuing your documtary, planning it, obtaining the content to create it, editing it, perhaps even sharing it with a few interested friends and fellow video producers. So, instead of putting that production on the shelf and occasionally pulling it out to peruse, market it! Get some income out of it. Don't expect a million seller with each and every one of your productions, but you can, over time, develop a following that will result in a lucrative, perhaps even full time, video production and marketing business.

Always remember: If you market, you will make it! © 2009, Earl Chessher