Overflow: Is There A Right Time To Bring On Help?

February 27, 2016

Being a busy colorist is a good thing! But when you get too busy, you have to think about how to handle overflow work or when to just say no.

An Assistant? A Freelancer? A Staff Colorist?  Or Maybe Just Saying No?

As Dan has mentioned in a couple of his Insights, he’s recently made the move from a large facility to being the head of a grading department at a smaller shop – how big is that grading department?  Well, it’s just Dan! At least for now.

Dan and I have been talking about his new job – how excited he is, how amazing his Resolve system is, and the reality that everything about a job is now on his shoulders.

Sound familiar?

Gone are the days where the only way to work as a colorist was in a big facility. Many of you are probably solo operators or freelance colorists.  Maybe you have a small (boutique) facility but the operation really is just you.

What do you do when you things are going swimmingly and you have a ton of work, but there aren’t enough hours in the day to actually get it all done?

Do you just tell clients sorry, I can’t take on your job because I’m too booked?

While saying no is one of my favorite business tactics, saying no too often can push clients away. Also, saying no means you’re missing out on the revenue that could be generated by taking on a job.

I’ve been running my own facility for over a decade and at one point or another I have encountered pretty much all the overflow situations that one will face.

So, in this Insight, I want to tackle some strategies for handling overflow work and help you figure out if there is a right time to bring on help when you’re very busy and saying no way to often.

No – A Powerful Word

If you’re lucky enough to have your schedule completely filled – first, give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done!  You’re obviously doing great work – and clients love working with you.

Next, think about what you’re going to do when another potential client asks you to take on a job with your already impossibly filled schedule – what do you do?

The temptation to always say yes to a job is powerful, but sometimes saying yes can actually be a bad thing.

If you say yes but don’t really have capacity to do the work – that’s going to make you look bad to that client, and what’s potentially worse, is that the work for your other clients might suffer as you attempt to accommodate a project you don’t really have capacity for.

Another strategy as the old anti-drug ads used to say is JUST SAY NO!  

While saying no is practical – you just can’t do a job sometimes and can’t accommodate a client’s project,  when used in the context of schedule and being extremely busy can be a marketing tool.

Businesses of all types have used the psychology of saying no – think about a popular restaurant that is hard to get a reservation for  – not being able to get a table gives the impression of exclusivity and that the food must be really good. The same impression can be had with a color correction business.

However, saying no too often can be damaging to your business.

Potential clients might just get sick of being told no and take their projects elsewhere and what’s worse, you’re leaving money, fun creative work, and contacts on the table and in the long run, that’s not a good formula for a successful business.

Details First, Gut Feelings Second

When you’re real busy, stress and exhaustion are powerful things.  So much so, they can actually cloud your analysis of what’s really going on with your schedule, and cause you to make misguided decisions about overflow.

Before I think about overflow solutions (in whatever form) I always ask myself a few different questions:

  • Schedule Fix? – Before involving an overflow solution, is schedule shifting possible? While clients often have schedules they need to adhere closely to, you’d be surprised how asking for small shifts in schedule can be accommodated and how much a small shift can impact your overall stress by spreading jobs out a bit.
  • Does The Project Budget Allow For Overflow? – Let’s say you quoted a long time client $2000 for a project, but now you need an overflow solution.  The bad news? Your overflow solution has an agreed to take on the project but only for $2k !  Are you willing to not make any money on the project to please the client?  Or if the overflow solution was more expensive than the project budget are you willing to come out of pocket to keep the client happy?
  • The ‘What Do I Gain & What Do I Lose’ Equation  – Everyone likes to keep clients happy and that’s the obvious thing you maintain or gain when saying yes to a client no matter what. But, you have to also weigh the potential for what you might lose. If your overflow solution does a poor job, how does that reflect on you? Is the management of your overflow solution going to be so time-consuming that it’s taking you away from the other projects that you need to focus on? Is there a chance that the client might ultimately prefer the overflow solution to you?


When considering overflow solutions I do some analysis to see if the schedule can change, or if the budget of a project even allows for an overflow solution. Grading awesome underwater footage like in this shot of a recent project helps that process too!


Don’t misunderstand me, even with detailed analysis sometimes you just NEED an overflow solution.

This need could be because you haven’t been spending enough time with your family. It could be that you’re so tired that even though you could do a project you’d like to farm it out so you can rest for a day or two to gear up for the next project you’re on.

These gut feelings about involving overflow solutions are perfectly valid, but don’t let them trump your overflow need analysis.

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