The Client Journey

This is Part 5 of an ongoing series of an indeterminate length about starting a new production company. I don’t really have a pre-planned structure for this (although that might not be a bad idea). Catch up by reading Part 1, 2, 3, & 4.

Last time we talked about the purpose of a website: clarify what you do for your potential clients and get them to act. Now let’s talk about what to do once they do act. We’ll call this the “Client Journey,” and our’s goes something like this:

  • We have a short survey to get an idea of what our client wants to accomplish.

  • We schedule a 20 minute call to make a connection and have an initial conversation about the project.

  • We put together a proposal for how we would approach the project, and send it along with a contract and an invoice for deposit.

  • After we receive a deposit, we schedule our shoot dates.

  • Ten days out from the shoot date, we send an email to touch base to make sure everything is arranged.

  • Three days out we send an email with specific information about what the shoot day(s) will look like.

  • The day before the shoot we send one last email reminder/confirmation.

  • We head into production.

  • We wrap up production and send our second invoice.

  • Once that invoice is paid, we head into post-production.

  • We send weekly project status emails every Monday.

  • Once we have final approvals, we send our final invoice.

  • When we receive payment we deliver final files.

  • One week later, we check in to see if there are any issues they need help with.

  • One week later, we send a post-project survey.

  • Ten days later, we ask permission to use quotes from their survey and ask for two referrals.

  • Every three months, we send an email to see if they need help with another project.

That’s the overview of our Client Journey. Our goal with this process is to give our clients a consistent experience, and perhaps more importantly, give us a consistent system for running projects. We don’t have to think about what we need to do next because we’ve already made that decision. It saves us from ourselves. It allows us to free up our time and attention on the hard stuff: story, creative direction personal connection.

I hope this helps you create your own process for your clients.

Building a Website

This is Part 4 of an ongoing series of an indeterminate length about starting a new production company. I don’t really have a pre-planned structure for this (although that might not be a bad idea). Catch up by reading Part 1, 2, & 3.

As I mentioned in my last update, great production companies have a clear process for their projects from the very first contact to beyond the deliverables. For most of us, our clients get their first impression from our websites, and quite frankly I’ve put up terrible websites in the past. It’s not that the website was ugly or didn’t render in a browser properly or something like that. They have all been competently built and looked great. But they didn’t actually work. And this time around I wanted to do this right – for our website to actually pull it’s weight and get potential clients to become actual clients.

So I went looking for some help, and Storybrand was the place I turned to. They have a fantastic three part series on building a website that works well. And it’s free. Because they are awesome. You can watch it yourself at 5MinuteMarketingMakeover.com.

The short version is this: the single most important thing for your website to do is to clarify what you do for your potential clients and get them to act.

So simple, but so very unusual for us in the production world. We want to show our best work, talk about our artistic vision, etc. etc. It’s all about us. Here’s the thing:

Our. Clients. Don’t. Care.

What they do care about is answering the questions “Can they make a video for us?”, “What will they be like to work with?”, and “How do I get the process started?”

The rest – colors palette, font choice, etc. – is secondary. Important, yes, but secondary, and all in support of the message.

This is just like video production. In motion pictures, story is king. Everything else – cinematography, casting, art design, score – is secondary and serves the story. If you loose the story all the rest is pointless.

So we started with our website, honed it in, and built it to be a clear message of what we do (we make videos) and serve as a call to action for our clients. And that call to action kicks off the next part of our client journey which we will touch in our next update.

Update on the New Production Company

Back in early April I began talking about the launch of my new production company. In between existing clients and our own personal projects, we’ve been working hard on getting things set up. Back then I figured it would take us close to 72 days to get things going, and we’re right at the 72 day mark.

So how’s it going?

Well, it’s coming right along. We aren’t ready to start publicizing things too much (aside from saying “Hey, we’re up to something!”), but we do have a lot of the pieces in place.

For most creative companies the difficulties come not in doing the creative work, but in actually running a company. It’s often haphazard, work is completed in fits and starts, and there’s very little predictability in client experience.

We’re trying to do things a little differently. Before we start shining too much of a spotlight on this thing we want to create a really consistent experience for our projects and how we communicate with our clients – from first contact through final deliverable.

We do need to wrap up one last really important thing before we launch. But it’s not completely in our control. So we have a little calm before the storm (so to speak). Rather than just staying silent about things, the next several updates on Wolf Mountain Creative are going to be about the processes that we’re developing to make sure that our clients have a really great experience.

We aren’t necessarily unique in this. The great production companies – all great companies, really – have a very clear process for their projects. It’s one of the things that make them great companies. We want to join their ranks. And I’d like to encourage you to join their ranks too.

Stay tuned.

Photo by Will Oey via Unsplash

Getting the Branding In Place

I’ve found the initial friction point for launching a creative company is branding. There are so very many sickeningly cool video production companies, directors, cinematographers, graphic designers, motion designers, and otherwise amazing creatives out there, and the temptation for me is the felt need to look as good as they do. After all, if what I’m doing isn’t perfect then I’ll never be taken seriously. I must have THE BRAND sorted out first.

This is a lie.

The lie of THE BRAND takes me down a very deep rabbit hole and keeps me from actually getting started. If I let it, I’ll spend days, weeks, or months trying to make it perfect. Meanwhile, I’ve stalled before I’ve even reached the runway.

I confronted myself with two truths:

1. I’m Not a Graphic Designer

It’s true. I’m not. I’m engaged in a visual industry, but I am not a graphic designer. Sure, I can tell good design from bad design. But I don’t create logos or branding guides. I connect with people and help them tell their stories. I think I’ve finally become OK with that. I highly recommend recognizing your strengths and being OK with your weaknesses.

2. My Clients Don’t Care

It’s not that my clients don’t care – it’s just that they don’t care nearly as much as I care about my company name or brand. A client is really asking the questions “Do I like their videos?” and “What will it be like to work with them?” Neither of those have much to do with my name or logo.

Here’s how you can push past the friction: recognize your name and brand just need to be non-embarrassing and moderately competent. Here are five examples that I’m literally making up right now:

  1. The Black Shirts
  2. Window Frame Films
  3. Light Pole Productions
  4. Tabby Cat Pictures
  5. Green Tree Story

Register the domain name and social media accounts. Put it in a sans-serif font in your image editor of choice. Black on White, White on Black, Black on Transparent. Add a version with a little color if you want. Save them as .png files. Done.

This is exactly what I did for our first logo shown below:

Wolfmtncreative square logo

Beat the friction, move on, and revisit it later once you have some projects done and money to spend.

This is not an original thought at all. I’ve wholesale stolen this from How to Make a Logo for Free in About 5 minutes and John Saddigton’s article How to Start a Company in 72 Hours. I will not be stuck in branding mud ever again, and you don’t ever need to get stuck there.

When you’re starting something new, the law of inertia does not work in your favor. You are battling friction, and for creatives like us that looks like getting distracted and stressing out over small things. It’s your reptile brain working against you. The challenge isn’t to be really really good, it’s to get something done. You can always go back and refine.

Building a New Production Company

For the past nine months I’ve been incubating a new production company with a couple of friends. We’ve produced a few things, and it went well, and now we want to give it a more focused effort.

Basically, we’re a startup company that happens to operate in the video production space. For me, the phrase “startup” conjures visions of the tech space and there’s a lot of overlap between the two: my team is remote, we’re technology dependent, we want to move fast, our clients (and potential clients) are all over the place, etc.

I find it interesting there’s a ton of writing about starting up a technology company – tools, strategies, project management, people management, software – but almost nothing about starting up a video production company. There’s an awful lot about how to make a video, create a special effect, finance a feature film, even organize a shoot, but precious little about the business and operations side of video production. What goes on behind the curtain.

So I decided to turn to the tech startup world for ideas for our little startup. We will be launching in the next month or so, once we complete our first big client project and get a couple more things squared away. But there’s a bunch of stuff I’ve been working on for the past month to start building some systems, structure, and culture – and I’d like to share them with you.

I cribbed heavily from John Saddigton’s (@8bit) article How to Start a Company in 72 Hours. It’ll probably take me closer to 72 days, but the principles are the same. They may even be the same for any company – new or old, digital or analog, creative or seemingly boring. I’ll leave you to decide.

If you’d like to follow along as we start this company, go read that article first. It has a wealth of knowledge about beating friction by just getting things rolling. I’ll be writing several posts over the next month or so about how we applied those lessons to our situation. Hope you can apply those lessons as well.

First Shoot Day

The real challenge of starting a new project is actually starting the project. It’s getting the proverbial ship out of port and out into the ocean. In filmmaking, that’s the first shoot day. All the pre-production in the world doesn’t actually count as making something. But once you start the cameras rolling, everything changes. Suddenly there’s momentum, there’s movement, there’s proof that you are actually doing something beyond merely dreaming or researching.

Thursday was that day for me. The first interview of my first feature doc is in the can (or on the harddrive). It went extremely well. Alen Auguste is a fantastic communicator and has an amazing story to share.

I’m looking forward to sharing more of this journey with you.

To Sing or to be a Singer?

Cynthia Than interviewed Jon Westenberg about building a small business. He made an interesting comment:

When you read about the folks who go on X Factor or Idol, they’ll always say that their life long dream is to be a singer. They never say their dream is to sing. And this is because what they really want is the success and the lifestyle and the glamour of being a singer. That’s why they’re jumping in front of a camera. If what they really wanted was to sing – they’d be out there every night playing gigs and building an audience and doing what they love.

I think this is so very true for filmmakers. Lots of people want to be in video production because it looks glamorous or cool or fulfilling. None of which is especially true – the hours are long, insecurity rampant, and satisfaction fleeting.

If you want to become good at this craft you need to be ok with making stuff before there is an audience for it. And I say this more to myself than to you.

Don’t be a director – direct; don’t be a director of photography – shoot; don’t be an editor – edit.

Make something small, then rinse and repeat. A small audience that loves your work is always better than a large audience that is just filling their time. The 1,000 fan theory is true.

Website Relaunch

Photo by: Marius Fiskum via Unsplash.com

We’re just about at the mid-point of the year and it’s time to relaunch this website. The cliché thing would be to say “I’ve been really, really busy this year,” but that would be the easy way out. I was really busy the first part of the year, but the last month or so has been really slow, and it’s easy to slip into a funk when it’s slow.

The right and proper thing for a business owner to do is make themselves busy – there’s always something else to do. But when there’s six dozen projects on the list, the hardest question to answer is “What is the next thing?” I’ve been paralyzed by overchoice. My answer to the question of “What’s next?” was “Nothing.” I had a made a decision to not make a decision.

That just simply won’t do when there are so very many things to do.

Of course, the solution to overchoice is to just make a freaking decision and go with it. A harbor is fine for a storm, but ship can only be steered at sea and under power. Once you make one choice it’s much easier to make the next.

So I chose to build a new website.

Overchoice is true for filmmakers as well, especially when they’re all alone. In our personal projects many of us stall in pre-production because we don’t feel like we have all the answers. But pre-production has to end for production to begin. After a certain point the only thing to do is start moving forward – to start making, to schedule the first day, to shoot the first interview – and figure out the rest once you’re in motion.

My next choice is to start shooting my first feature length documentary. The first interview is scheduled for the end of this month, which gives me a couple of weeks to get some things prepped, like a batten light, a butterfly frame, and an Interrotron, which should be fun.

Onwards into the tempest where ships belong.

Contact

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