The service level you provide and the care you show during production is your ticket to earning repeat business. In this age of the “Blame Game”, these five tips will help you overcome pitfalls that might sink your competition.
1. Insist on a Client of One. Larger corporations (or cash and staff-laden startups) will often want you to work with a committee. Unless you’ve added 40 hours to your quote to referee their bouts of indecision, what you want is a good one-on-one relationship with the representative of that group, usually the person who hired you. You should happily attend one or two committee meetings for input (usually before the script is written), but script reviews, edit reviews, update meetings, change of direction discussions, etc. should be handled by you and your direct client. He /she can and should synthesise input from the stakeholders, which means your contact will come to understand the contradictions and turf-grabbing that often comes from these meetings, and can present to you a unified front, something you aren’t being paid to do. (As always, there are exceptions).
2. Put it on Paper. Paper’s obsolete? Put it in an email. Let’s start with the proposal. This is the critical document, where you describe what you will do, for what amount of money, delivered on what schedule. It is the place where you describe how you work, how projects are reviewed, what your pay schedule is, what happens in the case of cancellations or change orders, and most importantly, what expectations should be met. In many cases you may deliver within an outline of the project or projects, or at least a couple of paragraphs of creative description. The easier it is for the client to understand and visualize the deliverable, the more likely it is you will be the producer selected. Throughout the life of the project you should write up “Progress Reports”, short descriptions of your activities, your needs (access to locations, as an example), and any calendar or budget updates.
3. Show Up. I had a client many, many years ago that I grew to hate. He / she was a real screamer, who motivated by fear. This was a big, prized account and we had a lot of deliverables for a big trade show- interactive kiosks, a major multimedia meeting show, and more. We delivered all of these on time and they were pretty nifty. The show traveled well, the trade show was a success, and that was that. But the client had worn me out and totally de-motivated me through bad attitude and poor interpersonal skills. There was one show left, at company HQ, where the client would take a victory lap. The big multimedia show would be shown to the assembled masses- the internal people who had worked laboriously (under under the threat of verbal abuse) to make the project a success. It was expected that I would be there to show the show. But I was a writer / director, not the show’s programmer. If something went wrong I couldn’t fix it. Besides, it was Christmas week, I had a four year old at home, and I was running a company. At least those were my excuses. So I sent someone else. The show crashed (this was a 25 projector show). The end. Of the Relationship.
4. Report Problems. There will be problems. In a project where you are expecting the client to provide critical materials (logos, photos, interviews with execs, etc.), there will be hangups. Sometimes additional requests mean changes to the budget. CLIENTS DON’T LIKE SURPRISES. This is a case where the one-on-one rule will help you. Reporting a problem to a committee often results in finger-pointing and inaction. But by having a single person whose career path is on the line depending on the success or failure of this project, you will get results when you need them.
5. Celebrate Success and do a Post-Mortem. Once the project meets its audience, it’s time for a post-mortem. A post-mortem is a newspaper term that means to review what went right and what went wrong. In video production terms, it may mean a party, a celebratory drink and talk, or formal review of what went right and wrong. These can be happy events, or a bit more trying, but their necessary to your long term relationship. If you screwed up in some way, admit it. If you start pointing fingers at others, the relationship is over. And there is nothing more valuable in business than solid long term relationships.
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