Selling your creative mind is like being a parent: your heart is walking around outside your body.
A good question came in and if you heard this talk where I crushed the dreams of a room of college kids, you know I engage in straight talk and zero beating around the bush.
Q. I’ve recently set up a small video production company. I was wondering if you could offer any advice or pointers to help me grow the business. I’d like to work with larger brands and potentially larger production companies. I’ve always been impressed by your content and your most recent post of being creative was great to read. Thanks for taking the time to read the email and I hope to hear from you.
Heeeey, Matt! First: Congratulations on starting your new venture. Video production is a grueling industry and the competition is fierce. It will absolutely keep you on your toes. The wins will be euphoric. The losses will be crushing. Selling your creative mind is like being a parent: your heart is walking around outside your body.
Second, calling yourself a “small” video production company sounds to me like you already fear you’ll fail and so you’re calling yourself small as a precaution. Nothing small and good stays small for long. You’re already fully invested. Starting small is a given. Staying small is foolish. You started a video production company. Not a small video production company.
Other things which might be helpful to know…
Your clients may fall into a few different categories:
- SMBs. Because usually, you’ll get to work directly with the decision-maker, your small & medium business clients can be the most rewarding creatively yet the most frustrating financially. Budgets will be more restricted, but creative freedom may abound.
- Corporates. Corporates are the Land of Milk and Honey. Secure a really good corporate or two and you’ll be sweet. Corporates are so huge that you may end up with many clients in one organization. Each of the departments you serve may act as separate clients with their own budgets and sometimes even different brand personalities. And when you have visibility of all these different departments which are often siloed (the left hand not aware of what the right hand is doing), you can bring added value in pulling them together. And when people leave and go to a new job at another corporate, they may take you with them. Because of procurement practices, getting on the books with your first corporate can be black magic. This is where who you know is greater than what you know and you need to put your creative mind to work finding an in. Note: even if you have a couple of huge corporates, don’t sit back on your laurels and think you’ll be sweet forever. Putting all your eggs in one client basket may be one of your greatest business regrets in the future.
- Other agency folks. You may choose to serve other video production companies, marketing agencies, PR folks, etc. The benefits are that they negotiate the budgets, come up with creative and deal with the clients. The drawbacks are that they negotiate the budgets, come up with creative and deal with the clients.
Getting your first clients
This is a real hard question for many. Cuz you can buy the cameras and rent the office space and print the business cards but if the work isn’t there, you may have just spent your life savings on a vanity project.
In short, getting new clients is about showing up. You can’t just sit in your cozy space celebrating what an adorable introvert you are and expect your business to flourish. Networking events, industry expos, and conferences, relationship building, grinding hard and hustling day and night…these are the things that sales are made of. You have to sow a lot of seeds to see one grow into a profitable relationship. If you’re such an introvert that you can’t get out there, you need to make your first member of staff a salesperson. Camera people can be contracted in as needed. Your own marketing team will keep those contracts coming in.
Be prepared to need to fire a client from time to time. The pruning process makes way for new bursts in growth.
Running a shop can be super lean, especially if you’re renting gear or sub-contracting crew who come with their own. Your biggest costs may be software, file storage, subscriptions.
You can secure your clients through a retainer-based relationship or project-based. Retainer-based is consistent and low risk. Project-based relationships are higher risk (the feast/famine thing is more extreme) but you can potentially end up with greater profits at the end of the year if you work project-to-project.
However you cut it, make sure your clients and service offerings are diversified so when one is lean, others are still producing. In times of feast, resist buying another camera. Store up for the famine or invest in talent who can grow the business.
You need to identify the types of projects you want to sell and produce some robust pieces to reflect those which you can use to sell. If you want to schlep customer testimonials, product feature videos, brand stories, timeline animations…you need to make some. People won’t generally come begging you to make something. You need to be the right person there at the right time to say, “have you thought of using video to solve that problem?” And then you’ll need to show them an example.
Matt, I want to refer to something you said in your email to me:“I’ve always been impressed by your content and your most recent post about being creative was great to read.” Matt, you just answered one of your own biggest questions! Helpful content relevant to your audience will bring you all good things. Because of the content I put out there, you thought I could help you. And if I had thought of it before just this very moment, I could have sold you a mentoring call to get all the answers (dammit, Elizabeth!) For more about creating helpful things to market yourself, I recommend the book Youtility: Why smart marketing is about help, not hype.
Tip: When creating content for your audience, abstain from making it about your cameras, your camera people, and general geekdom. Unless the clients you’re trying to draw are camera crew, no one will give a rat’s ass about your new camera. Think about the day-to-day life of your client: their challenges, the funny things about working in their industry, the human element of working in a corporate environment or strangely intuitive solutions to the problems they face. Like being given a job to come up with videos even though they don’t work in the creative arm of the business.
I once sat in a mentorship appointment with a marketer who had left her position as the head of brand of a global household name. She was going out on her own and hadn’t yet secured a marketing client. She didn’t know how to get her first clients. I asked her: “if you were a client, what would you tell you to do?” If you’re going to sell yourself as a marketer, you’d damn well better be able to market yourself so make yourself your first client.
If you want to be believable as a formidable producer of video solutions, you HAVE TO market yourself with video. If you can’t make creative solutions for yourself, you can’t do it for clients. When there’s a slow day/week/year in your business, spend that time making marketing content about you. Show up at the office. Have your team meetings. Sink creative energy into being ingenious. Make yourself the most important client, even if you’re the only client. Measure your results brutally, just like your clients will. Set targets. Define KPIs.
Once you’re smooth sailing, make sure someone on your team is managing you as a client to make sure you don’t fail to continue promoting, marketing, and growing your own brand. This is one of my favorite things to do – market creative outfits for them when they’re too busy to treat themselves like a client.
True story: there’s a video production company that made a video about how they can tell your brand story in 90 seconds. The video about it was 3 minutes long. I can’t make this shit up.
The smartest thing you can do to win new business, manage accounts you have, schmooze clients on-set and get the best out of on-screen talent is study human behavior. Get to know the personality types you will encounter and know how you can best connect with those hearts. This episode of the School of Greatness podcast is an excellent crash course in the types you will encounter.
For example: if you’re working with “a promoter” type, you’ll need to dazzle them with your woo. If you’re working with “a controller”, you need to show up as a powerful person (or send a powerful member of your team) because they disdain weakness and respect others who are direct and powerful. And what you wear in interactions with a controller matters, too.
Being a curious student of human behavior means you’ll get to know yourself better, too.
Can you believe it…I’ve run out of words! That’s everything I can think to share for now. All the best in your new venture, Matt, and keep me posted!
I sit at the intersection of ideas and doing and my job is to nurture the creative vision and the logistical process. To build strategies and drive results. Plain English: I get shit done. Meet me here.