New Year Resolutions 2017: Improving Your Business & Color Grading

December 20, 2016

In this Insight, Robbie shares a number of new year resolutions for potentially improving your business & color grading.


Resolutions To Make 2017 A Great Year

I don’t know what it is about this time of year, but I tend to wax a bit nostalgic – thinking about friends & family, clients and jobs over the past year.

For me, 2016 was an interesting but sometimes difficult year with my color correction business. I gained new clients, worked on some amazing jobs, but I also had to weather some difficult projects with tight budgets & slow payments. I’m not complaining; these days maintaining a small facility and meeting the status quo or having a small amount a growth is an achievement.

While I’ve been thinking about 2016, I’ve at the same time been looking forward to 2017.  This isn’t a new theme for me – last year I wrote about my 2016 resolutions – most of which I achieved this year…woot!

It might sound cliche, but I’m determined to make 2017 the best business & creative year of my life!

So, to that end, in this Insight, I’d like to share several of my 2017 New Year Resolutions that you’re free to steal and adapt to your business & creative life.

#1 Building A Team & Delegation

You know that old phrase ‘there are two ways to make money – raise your rates or increase your sales volume’?

 

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Over the years I’ve pushed my hourly rate about as far as it can go, and over the past few years, I’ve pressed on increasing my overall volume.

The only downside – increased volume has been killing me!

Ask Pat & Dan – I work WAY WAY WAY too much.

In 2017 I plan to work less, but how can I do that while maintaining and or growing my overall revenue?

Help – that’s how!

I’ve employed a few ‘helpful’ ideas this year, but here is my list for 2017:

  • 20 Hours – What would 20 hours a week saved do for you?  I’ve battled over the years trying to hire young people and train them up.  This year, I’m going to avoid that and simply hire a young person for some additional help with no promises or desire to take them further.  I guess you could call this person a paid intern, but my hope is they get some experience in our field.  I’m planning on tasking this person with renders, archival needs, client services and maybe even a helping out with an Insight or two.
  • Investing in talent – my problem with trying to hire young people is always the time investment, and my problem with hiring people with similar experience to my own has been cost.  This year I’m bucking the cost concerns to increase my volume.  Take for example a $5000 job. Even if I only make $500-$1000 on one of these types of jobs (a finders fee if you will) and pay the talent $4000, I’m still adding to my overall revenue (good for my companies overall financial health) and as a bonus – making money for a limited amount of work. I’ll choose these jobs wisely, but I’m done trying to do it all myself.  I need competent help.
  • Delegating to an assistant –  in a similar vein to the 20 hours approach for creative work, in 2017, I’m also looking to bring on an assistant to help with overall business life.  My hope is this person can prioritize emails (I get about 100 actionable ones per day), build to-do lists, etc.

Bringing on three people even in part-time capacities will obviously put pressure on the bottom line and availability of cash on hand. However I’m convinced that building this team is the right thing to do – not only for my sanity, but to free me up to cycle jobs and meet the demands on my time faster.

I’ll have to be fastidious about my budget & will probably have to cut back on many areas (gear), but in 2017 I’m committed to building a team.

#2 Stop Undervaluing, Discount Less

I’m sure you’ve heard that January is a great time to raise your rates.  If your market (and clients) can support a rate increase, by all means, do it!

I think the vast majority of owner/operators and freelance colorists probably don’t charge enough.

However, I’ve pushed my hourly rate about has high as I can get it in my market, and the starting point for my flat bids tends to be at a premium rate too.

The issue I want to address in 2017 is discounting and undervaluing my (and the facilities’) services.

 

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While the race to the bottom doesn’t seem to have an end in sight, I want to make 2017 the year I draw a line in the sand when it comes to discounting.

Here are some ways I’m planning on doing that:

  • Only discount when requested – what’s the point of having a standardized rate if all you do is discount it? Looking at my records I’ve discounted at some level, about 70% of the jobs completed in my shop this year – YIKES!  That 70% is mainly due to discounting for bulk work e.g. a TV series. But in 2017 I’m going to put a stop to automatically discounting that work. Instead, I will consider discounts when requested or mentioned by a client.  If I can cut the percentage of discounted jobs by half to 35% that’s a significant increase to my bottom line revenue.
  • Raise the threshold for ‘bulk’ – As I mentioned, I’ve been prone to discounting based on bulk commitments from clients. For example, a 10-part TV series gets a discount. However, looking back on 2016, I’ve applied the ‘bulk’ discount to as few as 3 shows. In 2017 I’m going to try to raise that threshold to 6 episodes for long-form. For short-form, I’m going to toss every short -form project into the only discount when requested category.
  • Knowledge has value – how many times have you helped a client with workflow advice or other technical challenges?  We all do it – to earn good favor with a client, or to make our coloring tasks easier. But here’s the thing – often these tasks fall outside of ‘grading’.  Your knowledge has value!  Charge for it!  In 2017, consulting that falls out of the normal ‘quick question I plan on charging for – of course making the client aware of the additional charges will be nessasary. I’m also going to explore with a few clients that are constantly asking workflow/technical questions to set up a small monthly retainer for that work.
  • Reduce ‘eating’ overages – no, not literal eating (that’s probably a good thing too)!  I’m talking about time that you work on a project that you’re not charging for, especially if that time is a direct result of client changes. Anyone who works in post has been guilty of this, and sometimes absorbing overages is warranted (if it’s your fault), but one of my 2017 goals is to be more strict on the scope of projects and not let clients take advantage of my time, simply because I’m known for going the extra mile to get a project done.

Everyone’s situation is going to be different, but in 2016 I saw myself doing something dangerous – starting my warm up jog in the race to the bottom and that’s something that I can’t continue, neither can you!

If you have a good strategy to stop/reduce undervaluing you and your services please use the comments below – I’m eager to hear what others are doing.

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Comments

7 thoughts on “New Year Resolutions 2017: Improving Your Business & Color Grading”

  1. Some truly awesome resolutions, especially the aspects involving more physical interaction with clients and other professionals. I’m hoping to work on similar networking goals, while re-considering what services I should provide to clients. Like many , I’ve found myself providing certain services simply because I could or was asked without considering if they benefited my long term goals. I’m also focusing on less software, as it seemed like I tried to pick up far too many applications the last few years.

  2. Well surmised Robbie. I go back to the days of Apple Color with you, pre Resolve 8 and all I can say is… the Struggle is Real. Your insights and sharing are truly appreciated and let the rest of us know we aren’t alone in our dark rooms. You and the rest of the Mixing Light boyz set a great tone for the rest of the independent industry (no disrespect to all those doing amazing work at big iron facilities).
    At a “Post Production Memento” seminar I heard how Company 3 deals with the same client issues (indecisions, trust, workflows, etc.) as the rest of us. It’s the same everywhere. Your resolutions (some I practice and others I am happy to be reminded of) are spot on. I wish you and all of us luck in 2017.

  3. Oh geez … the comment about practicing. When I advise others, I’m always telling them that ANY “new tip/technique” they learn, they must do at least three times (five times is better) … do it, delete … again … delete … and then write it out to do it for the next couple days so they’ll remember. Do I do that myself? Hey, I’m BUSY! And …. um …. and it bites my butt time after time. I know I’ve done something, but can’t remember how it completely worked … time spent re-figuring it out. TOTAL wasted time. Yea, practice time …

  4. Yeah, I agree with Jason above: a few times, a client has asked for something I don’t really do, but I caught myself from saying “no” and instead saying, “let me see what I can do.” And in every case, I was able to muddle through more than well enough to satisfy what the client needed. I think this bridges the gap between being merely a colorist vs. a “finishing artist.” It also forces me to exercise muscles I didn’t know I had, which is a good thing.

  5. Getting on set can also be a great source of business. It’s face to face time with a whole lot of filmmakers who you may never have a chance to meet otherise, who may use you for their own projects or at worst will have you on the top of their minds when anyone asks them if they know a good colourist. I think it’s telling that a lot of major post houses are pushing on set services: establish a relationship early in the production process and the work will flow to you.

  6. Fabulous game plan! I own and (try to) manage a complete concept to completion facility. We just upped our game in our hero suite with Resolve Panels, new client area, new 40 core machine loaded to the hilt, etc. Wanting more grading work….I’d do that exclusively if I could, I’m looking to score some grading jobs other than our own.

    That networking section is key. The “when we build it, they will come” philosophy doesn’t usually work very well. Your write-up on “Here are some ways I’m going to improve face to face time in 2017” is golden. Going to schedule an after-work social at our facility ASAP. Thanks.

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