Today, we’re going to reflect on all the wild and wonderful things our prospects and clients do that just drive us bonkers - and how to respond and more importantly, when to have a healthy dose of self-awareness (i.e. know when you’re the rotten banana in the bunch). So, if you’re new to video production, I recommend starting here. Then read this post so you can see the warning signs on the road and learn how to react. I don’t want your video production business to go flying off the rails like Alan Parrish’s parents. You can’t always control how other people will treat you, but you sure can control how you treat others. Remember the golden rule here, Bubs, and go serve your video production prospects/clients right now with a big ole smile and a hearty handshake.
Bonus: Stick around after the show for a free performance by Limozeeeen! Actually, I’ve got a guide for you that will walk you through, A-Z, everything you need to start your own video business from scratch. Because clients (or your own lack of responsibility) that drive you bananas are just the tip of the iceberg; you’ll deal with non-profits who want to undercut your services, payment processors who want their cut, and the interminable question: what do I charge my clients? All this and more are in the bonus section.
Thing # 1: drag their feet on deciding what they want
This can happen in oh so many ways (i.e. dragging their feet, in general). I spell out the obvious ones below, but this is generally your fault if a prospect doesn’t feel some sense of urgency in the process. You need to take ownership in the video production process and if they’re dragging their feet, I’d take a hard look in the mirror first.
But when it comes to deciding what they want, this can be a big pain, and if you can’t help them find an idea/solution to what they want/their problem, you won’t be able to close them, get paid, or produce a video for them and thus serve them.
For example, I once had a client who paid the customary half upfront for work to begin. But in chasing perfection, we never launched. The work never started and the money… just sat in escrow. Months went by with phone calls and emails but nothing ever got off the ground.
So, my fellow microbudget filmmaker, indecision can occur before they render their John Hancock on the dotted line and it can occur after they sign. A signature and a deposit are not safeguards against one’s inability to make a decision and press forward. Headsup!
Try this instead: in your contract, outline deadlines and progress checks. If the client fails to stay with you in the project timeline by some excessive amount, let them know their project will move to the back of the queue (and possibly add a “reactivation fee” - I haven’t implemented the latter but I have the former; if you have a “reactivation fee,” comment below: how did it turn out?)
Thing # 2: kick the tires
I once had a prospect always ask for the latest and greatest price on their next idea but never commit to doing any business with me, even when I set the service at a super-entry level price-point of doing business, just to get them in the habit of pulling out their cc: one hour of consulting. Nope - nada. Every call/email was about the next idea and how much would it cost rather than “let’s roll!”
I finally wizened up and automated the trash can on their emails and stopped answering their calls.
My fault for failing to deliver value? Absolutely. My fault for getting strung along with a tire kicker? You bet.
Another client strung me along for months about a project that always had a setback. And then another setback. And another. I finally wizened up there too and stopped following up. Yes, Grant Cardone believes you should follow up ‘til one of you dies, but his Vice of Sales also takes a more level-headed approach: there are 7 billion people in the world. Move along; they’re not the droids you’re looking for.
This is a biggie you’ll have to sift through the hard way when you’re brand new and starting out, but with training and time, you can sniff out the tirekickers very quickly. I wrote a much more detailed post here and I suggest you learn how to qualify the real prospects from the tirekickers here.
Thing # 3: disappear for stretches at a time
This one is frustrating in its own unique way. They can sign and pay but then disappear. They can sign but not pay. They can disappear altogether during negotiations and then reappear ready to rock ‘n 'roll later. It might be some combination of all of the above, and if they pull this Band-of-Brothers-Lieutenant-Dike move on you once, that’s no biggie. Twice? It’s likely a weather pattern you can bank on again… and again.
How to mitigate it? Practice your sales training daily. It starts with you creating a sense of urgency for the sale and your leadership to guide and funnel the process from cradle to grave with milestones and expectations, which you should be over-communicating regularly.
After all, you can’t have a client show up and expect you to drop everything at once for them when they’ve been AWOL for a month. Stay in the communication loop, tell them they must as well or the project goes to the bottom of the priority list (as hinted at in the first thing above), and put it in writing as well what those timelines are - then regularly reinforce them.
Thing # 4: stall on signing the contract
You might have a tirekicker (referenced above), you might have someone who is legitimately swamped. It might be budget season and they are scrambling to tie up loose ends before the next fiscal year begins. Maybe they’re trying to buy time for George to plant a big one on Lorraine so Marty and his siblings don’t disappear. The possibilities are virtually limitless.
If they’re stalling on signing, it’s possible they’re shopping other vendors. Follow up regularly, creatively, and offer outstanding service. Sometimes just being local is the dealbreaker that works for or against you as well. If you’re in a tie with another vendor for a company’s contract, then chances are, the guy who’s closest wins. That happened to me once, and thankfully, I was the guy who was closest. But I wouldn’t have landed the contract if I hadn’t remained enthusiastic, consistent, creative, etc. If at any point I threw in the towel, I would have fallen off the radar.
I once hired a moving company simply because they picked up the phone, their competitors didn’t, and they called back 20 minutes later to let me know some additional info they forgot to share, but wanted to make sure I knew. The guy didn’t even ask for the close; it was a service-oriented move, and he had my business. Visa promptly joined the party.
Thing # 5: stall on paying you
This one you can mitigate by dumping LARGE watermarks on your work ‘til they pay up, which I talk more about in the post on contracts.
As the Good Book says, in this world you’ll face hardships, or in my parlance, you’ll have tough video clients (Jake the film guy-ians 1:23).
And it might even be as simple as confusion on their part. Just because it’s a hyper-technological society, it doesn’t guarantee you’ll have clients who know how to use Paypal, Apple Pay, BItcoin or any of the other ways you prefer to be paid. If you’re old school and only want checks, you’ll probably gel with every client under the sun in this arena, but be flexible. Take what payments they can give, but at the same time, know they might be scared at the thought of checking out through Paypal. Zoinks, Scoob! Read more about the different ways to get paid here.
Sometimes, you’ll do work that can’t be watermarked. For example, you might be hired to only do the video shoot. In that case, I wouldn’t fork over the footage until you at least have some peace of mind. First of all, don’t go into battle without a John Hancock from the client. Second - and this is at your discretion because you know your client - consider getting some skin the game (e.g. half up front).
But what if it’s a day-rate gig to capture live footage at a conference, for example? Meaning, nothing upfront. Having been in Vegas, I can guarantee there are no shortage of such events, and chances are, you can find some corporate gig coming through your nearest Metropolis and they need you to be behind the lens at that event. In this case, I recommend holding off on delivering the footage until you can be paid.
Veteran video producers will twist my arm about this, I’m sure, and they’ll probably yell and stamp their feet, but hear me out. In the absence of a signature (say the drill is to simply invoice the client), then push for reviewing footage with the client, handing it over to them, and getting paid in one fell swoop. I mean it. If you lack the guts to do it, that’s on you. Can’t/don’t want to set up a meeting like this? At least get a real signature from a decision-maker that they owe you $ before you hand over your assets. Even then, do due diligence; do your homework. Check the BBB, Google, Yelp, even Facebook, and see if they’re shady. If applicable, see if your client is even a business registered with the state you’re in (go to #3 HERE to learn how to find this info) If you have the slightest inkling they might be shady, they probably are. This happened to me once, and I didn’t have a written agreement in place beforehand, but neither did I give them the footage until I at least had a John Hancock on my invoice I sent them.
Bottom-line: chasing accounts receivables (i.e. your paycheck) is no fun. Nobody likes net-30 or later, and nobody wants to chase $ in small-claims courts (thankfully, I’ve never had to, but at the same time, that also makes me a poor teacher on what to expect should your client relationship turn south in a hurry).
Thing # 6: change their mind at the last minute
Sometimes this happens with no explanation, which is okay in the short-run, but a long-term relationship should naturally build trust. In the absence of “why” in these moments, you’ll probably go bananas. If it becomes a habit, be forewarned, you’ve got a problem child on your hands. Your best bet after signing (and being paid!) is to simply go your separate ways.
For example, I had a client who waited ‘til the 9th hour on every decision in the project, and when the 9th hour approached, if they (in the off chance) had made a previous decision, they would change their mind. This indecision is a cousin to thing # 1, but in this particular instance, it was my fault for not having a stronger contract in place to mitigate this kind of last-minute decision-making. We scouted a location that was decided on 24 hours before the shoot, and in the interim of scouting location A and the next morning when we’d be shooting, the location changed to location B (which thankfully we had seen before, way back when).
Was it their fault? Nope. Again, I should have had a stronger contract in place to avoid these kinds of headaches. After all, if I can’t lead well on a smaller project like this, why should I ever be given 5 talents or 10 talents to manage?
Regardless of whether you cover your rear before pre-production, smile and don’t waver in your enthusiasm. Be like Tony Horton in your excitement for the project, and remember ole Winston Churchill:
Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.
Thing # 7: complain about past vendors/contractors
If it happens early on in negotiations, flee! You’ve got a problem child on your hands, and you’re not going to be their savior. Get out of Dodge as quick as possible! No money amount is worth the pain they will drag you through. A complainer is not a leader, not a reliable associate, and not a good client to keep around! Keeping them around will drive you bananas to no end, and they’ll likely cut into your margins with endless talking, complaining, and revisions - no work, no matter how much TLC is given to it will ever be enough. You could lasso the moon for them; it’s not enough. P.s. Michael Hyatt has some pearls on this very subject HERE.
You’ll go bananas passing up the money too, but it’s the best option. Either way, you’ll go bananas.
I had a prospect that I had to fire before he signed the dotted line. He complained too much about the past vendor, and I had rose-colored glasses over the price tag on a 3d animation job. Thankfully, my wife could see the forest for the trees and if you’re able to surround yourself with people who can do the same for you, listen to them! After all, in the multitude of counselors there is safety.
The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was his inability to follow simple details in the written agreement. He bucked at everything, no matter how clear the process was made to him. I knew at that point my wife picked out the danger long before I did, and I was naive to think I could swoop in like a Phoenix. I fired him, and he had to get the last word in. Yep, he was that kinda guy, and the proof was in the pudding.
So, my fellow microbudget filmmaker, if you’re doing video production on the side or even FT, don’t get starry-eyed over a high price tag when it comes with a lot of baggage.
Thing # 8: fail to assume responsibility
Tangential to the last one is the subject of my 2nd book, Nobody Told Me There Was Mustard On This Sandwich: Take Responsibility At All Levels Of Filmmaking. Truthfully, it’s the backbone of all these items in this post.
In short, when it’s the weather’s fault, the landlord’s fault, YouTube’s, Facebook’s, or even the POTUS’ fault, the prospect’s/client’s lack of assuming responsibility will drive you bonkers. I know how awkward this feels when your client complains, out loud, in front of you, especially if it’s about their customers or their employees (egad). I’m embarrassed for them because the formula usually looks like this:
Complaint surfaces/defensiveness ensues
When it should really be more like this:
Apology issued/owns the problem
Or, if a ‘B’ effort is still passing in your book, the sequence might look like this:
Apology issued/owns the problem/proposes solution
There’s not much you can do for your client here other than some honest prayer. But… with your team, be direct about this with your subcontractors:
This is how we will act - we will assume personal responsibility and responsibility for those in our circle. Always.
Starts with you, director. Model the behavior you want duplicated.
Chances are, if you see your client blames everything under the sun for their mishaps, you’re going to be in the crosshairs soon enough. For example, I had a client who blamed everything: the venue, the audience (or lack thereof), the time of the day, you name it. I tried to reassure and focus on the highlights of the gig, but to no avail. When I sent the footage to the client, everything was wrong. They said I missed x, y, and z, and nothing played or worked as it should.
In those moments, put on your teacher’s hat and serve because chances are you have an excellent opportunity to model leadership (and thus responsibility). I had to walk the client through the strong possibility 4k wasn’t playing back on their Macbook the Apostle Paul was using (and of course, I softened the blow as much as possible). I knew the footage was there, it just wasn’t fun for the client to scrub through piles and piles of footage on a machine that wasn’t even built for 1080p.
Thing # 9: let you know they’re shopping your first draft around to multiple influencers and/or decision-makers
To echo the earlier Proverb, I’m all for the complementary Proverb that says “plans fail for a lack of counsel.” I absolutely believe in peer-review, and I firmly believe if we’re going to level-up as filmmakers, then we need to get away from the “one-man-band” dead-end (yes, it’s a dead-end - look at the credits of any of your favorite films… Orson Welles said it really well: it takes an ARMY to make a film). To do that, we have to grow as leaders and great leaders surround themselves with counselors and people who are truly smarter/better than them in many different areas. Suffice it to say, we should all be getting feedback/reviews/suggestions on our work, from the script to the sound mix to the coloring.
If your client does this though, and they let you know about Bob, John, and Rick taking a look at the video before they give you the notes you need for your next revision, it shakes your confidence in their ability to make the decisions that are needed to move forward.
Of course they need to surround themselves with their fellowship. They need their Samwise Gamgee and Gandalf as much as you do. But when they enumerate their counselors and how the video is making the rounds with each of them, it invariably SLOWS down the process and makes you question their decision-making.
Clients, your best approach is to simply be THE POINT-OF-CONTACT for your video vendor. Be the filter. Let them know, if you must, we are reviewing, and I WILL get back to with you notes. Be the leader in the dialogue between your team and the video company/vendor. Don’t be a hapless middleman who appears to be incapable of making decisions, even if you truly are - take a cue from the Air Force playbook: perception is everything.
Filmmakers and video producers, spell it out to your client: all communication needs to be routed through YOU, the client. You don’t want your Slack, e-mail, Trello, Asana, pigeon courier bogged down with too many chefs in the kitchen.
Thing # 10: never use your completed video
To the best of my knowledge, this has only happened once in my lifetime as a film/video guy. I had a client pay for a small business ad; the ad was completed, the ad was delivered, and then I even came back a month later to do some pickup shots of an informal shake-take-salute ceremony (to all my non-military folks, I think you should look it up). The client, despite my asks, despite my offers to upload and come up with copy for the ads, just sat on the videos. If there were physical VHS tapes, they would have collected dust… in the back of the attic next to the “Best Of Bread” on 8-track tape.
It made zero sense. We rolled out actors, scouted locations, brought in a small crew, etc.
I never got an explanation, only smiles and a “thank you.” Were they embarrassed by the product? Quite possibly, but then again, the shake-take-salute video footage was never shown the light of day either, and that was something near and dear to the client.
They gave me and my onscreen (and offscreen) talents permission to use the footage for our reels, etc. But they never shared one iota of the ad or any of the videos themselves whereas my earliest video with them, they did push out on the line.
Baffling? You betcha.
Your turn: What else would you add to this list? Comment below!
Ready to get started with your video production business? Of course you are! You can do it on the side or even as a full-time job. You don’t need massive amounts of debt (Mark Cuban: you can always bet on the bank coming to collect, regardless of how well your business is doing/isn’t doing) - just a little bit of sweat equity, grit, and maybe a vitamin, a prayer or two, and a niche.
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