The Science Of NOT Selling Yourself Short Part 2: Sales For An Owner/Operator

The Science Of NOT Selling Yourself Short Part 2: Sales For An Owner/Operator

June 17, 2014

Part 2 in the series The Science Of Not Selling Yourself short explores sales for owner/operators and strategies to get more sales.


Selling Or Grading? Do Both Well!

In the first article in this series, I talked about how you as the colorist have a role in helping the sales team in a larger facility (if you work in one), and in turn the sales team should utilize your natural communication and technical skills to help make sales.

But what about if you’re like a huge number of colorists – you’re an owner/operator?

What do I mean by owner/operator?

Well, you’re the facility, you’re the staff, and every aspect of running the business falls on your shoulders. Sure, you might hire folks to help out on specific tasks every once and a while, but when it comes to pushing the buttons, handling operations and of course making sales to bring in new work – that’s all you!

In this Insight, I want to share with you some of my thoughts about how to balance the creative side of running your business (grading) and potentially the more mundane, but equally, if not more important part of making sales as an owner/operator.

Like any of the Insights here in the Library if you have any additional thoughts or want to share some strategies of your own please use the comments at the end of the article.  

The Science Of Not Selling Yourself Short?

In case you’re wondering about the title of this Insight, or if you missed the first Insight in this series, I can’t take credit for it!

I’m huge punk and ska punk fan and one of my favorite bands is Less Than Jake. They have a great song Called The Science Of Selling Yourself Short (Spotify or iTunes).

I’ve always loved the song and the title of the song, and NOT selling yourself short is a perfect analogy for making sales in any business but especially in a creative one like postproduction & color grading.

I also think there is a process or science to the sales pipeline and I’ll share that with you in this series.

Who Are You?

Before diving into some specific strategies on sales as an owner/operator, just like I defined the traditional sales person in the pervious article in this series, let’s start out by defining your many roles in your business.

I think this is an important step in figuring out where your sales role fits into your overall business.

In other words, it’s through this analysis of the tasks that you perform (and are often required to do) and the roles you fill, that you can find the time and techniques to weave sales into nearly everything you do.

The Owner

As the owner (or partial owner) of your company the proverbial buck stops with you.

Ultimate responsibility for every creative and business decision lies with you. Oh the pressure!

If you’re like a lot of business owners you started your own company because you crave the responsibility (good and bad) that comes with owning a business.  You love the control ownership offers, and you love both the risks and the business victories.

As the owner of your company, you realize that sales is an implicit part of that ownership but like many owner/operators, it’s not something that comes easily. You might have to work really hard to keep your business in business and that of course takes time away from the creative work you do.

I think it’s important not to lose site of the fact that your sales role as an owner operates at a slightly different level than the other sales roles you have within your company.  Here’s what I mean:

  • Sales as an owner is all about the big picture – setting sales goals, which market segments to attack, etc.
  • Analyzing sales data – are you on track with goals? Are you hitting the right market segments?
  • Working with internal or external sales professionals – how do you manage sales staff (if necessary)?

As the owner, you are at the highest level management position when it comes to sales. What you do in this role sets the tone and needs for other sales roles within the company.

The Operator

Being the colorist sitting in the chair and working with clients is probably the principle reason you started your own company.

You love grading, you love the collaborative process of getting footage to look its best with clients, deadlines, and budgets all staring you down.

As discussed in part one of this series, your role as the operator IS A SALES JOB.  Everything you do with client communication when you boil it down is… sales.

However, as the operator your sales role is a little different than that of you, the owner:

  • In the suite, your sales role is all about trust – Trust = A returning client and more work but also word of mouth referrals
  • Networking – Through talking with a client in the suite, you can often be put in touch with a new potential client thru your existing one
  • It’s all about communication – not being a pushy sales person, but a confident, professional and friend

This role in your company is your bread and butter – never forget that, but also don’t overthink it. I’ve seen many operators get too “sales -y” and it’s awkward to watch. Be yourself and this part of your sales role will come naturally.



This role is something that as an owner/operator you don’t really want to do, but sessions must be scheduled, invoices sent and checks deposited.

I think this is also a role in which a well thought out sales strategy can go a long way.

For example:

  • Work with a new client to be flexible in booking and scheduling projects – For many clients, this goes a long way as flexibility is a key characteristic they look for in a vendor.
  • Be fair with pricing but don’t nickel and dime clients – This also goes a long way. Clients hate when they come in thinking a project will cost X and walkout with a bunch extra charges.
  • Use operations communications to up sell – You know what a client needs but you can also try  “did you know we can do XYZ too?”

My over-arching point with sales and your operations role is to be careful not to overlook an opportunity to lock in an existing client or show new ones that you really want them!

The Sales Rep

Finally, I think the last way that most owner/operators function in terms of sales is as a dedicated sales rep. Now don’t get an image of a sleazy sales guy in your head, but if like most owner/operators you do a lot of the tasks of a traditional sales person.

For example:

  • Going to community events – User groups, networking events conferences and other industry gatherings
  • Go on site to a client’s location – Or maybe schedule lunch/dinner/drinks to discuss an upcoming project.
  • Constantly on the look for new opportunities – leads from community lists, word of mouth, making cold calls etc.

There are probably a dozen additional things that you as an owner/operator do that are just like a traditional sales person, but every single owner/operator I’ve ever met does 75% of the things that a traditional sales person does.

Sales & Brand Identity – YOU Are The Brand

As I was thinking about this Insight, I got into a discussion with a friend of mine about why some companies just seem to be able to sell better than others.

After a bit of back and forth my friend said in his opinion a huge part of sales comes down to brand identity; customer recognition of that brand in the market place, and then of course furthering that brand through supportive sales and marketing efforts.

As I thought about his point, it dawned on me that owner/operator type businesses are perhaps the perfect case study for how this works.

Let me explain.

As a company gets larger, the company starts to take on an identity of its own, talent will come and go, staff will roll over but the brand IS the company.

Think about it, if the best welder, or electronics guy, or even the best sales or operations person left Boing  – planes will still get made and people will still identify with Boing as a company that makes huge commercial airliners.

Is the same true for your business?

Probably not.

Most small owner/operator businesses will never truly achieve brand recognition in the way that a much larger company does. Your company name is almost a place holder for your actual name.

When clients use small shops, they often think in more personal terms like “let’s go work with Bob” and not let’s go work with “Awesome Color Grading Company”

While many owner/operators do their best to make their operations to seem larger then they are – for example calling your setup in your basement your “facility”. The truth is, until a company has achieved a somewhat undefined critical mass of people, capabilities, and even square footage of office space, clients identify more with the person doing the work than the name of the company on the business card.

While this sounds like a bad thing – its really not – it is just something to be aware of, and in my opinion if you are aware of this client association, you can leverage it for a sales advantage.

Here are some ways to do that:

  • Carry Two Business Cards – one with just your name and then one with the company card.  I do this and hand out the appropriate card depending on who I’m talking to. For potential clients that I get the feeling that they’re looking for more of a facility experience I had out the company card. For those that I think want the “dedicated artist” I tend to hand out the personal card. Additionally, there are times that I want to make business connections without having to explain what my company does – I want the person I meet to remember me! If carrying two cards sounds awkward, then feature your name and the title you give yourself more than your company logo.
  • Put Talent First – In outward facing places – websites, reels, etc., don’t refer to your company in the third person, refer to you as the talent who is the colorist at said company. Clients make personal connections and they’ll never make a connection or for that matter an inquiry if they don’t know who they might be working with.
  • Get Involved – I’ll admit I suck at this, but I think its worth mentioning (also it serves as a reminder to myself!). Get out there! As I mentioned in the Sales Rep section above, it’s important to be active and to network. Again, this all about personal connections and pushing your personal brand which as I’ve mentioned is potentially more important for the owner/operator than the company brand.

Word Of Mouth Is Your Best Sales Tool

There is only so much time in the day! You have to put your clients to work for you as a sales tool.

Clients don’t want to be your sales rep, but if you have gained their trust, they like your quality of work, they’ve had painless experience with their projects under your watchful eye, then you’ve already paved the way for them to be a sales rep for you.

As an owner/operator putting in the actual time needed for sales is just not possible. Instead, think of doing the following or some variation there of:

  • Tell Your Friends! – Ok, I know that’s a cliche sales phrase, but you know what?  It works! At the end of long session I always tell my clients thank you, and then use some variant of this phrase. The next time someone they run into asks about a place to color grade they’ll probably mention you.
  • Remind Clients Of Their Experience – While not a tactic for gaining new sales, most small companies survive on returning clients. Remind clients why they’re working with you again – no matter if that’s staying late to finish a grade, bending the rules on scheduling from time to time, or taking them out for lunch – every bit helps.
  • Give Your Clients Sales Tools – You have a client in your pocket, and they’re ready to tell friends – help them out!  Provide existing clients with links to your website, reel, IMDB listings or other items that will bolster both your personal and company brands.

The moral of the story is that if you treat your existing clients right, and get them to trust you, they in turn will become one of your best sales tools – and the best part?

They’re paying you and not the other way around!

It’s All About Face To Face

One mistake that I see a lot of owner/operators making when it comes to sales is they’re overusing technology and sales methods that work for some businesses but not for many creative businesses.

Don’t get me wrong – technology and sales products can work magic but use them wisely. Here are a few examples of using it wrong:

  • Bulk sales emails – Offering discounts for services or promotions you are running often fall on blind eyes for creative businesses. Besides, if you’re sending these types of emails to prospective clients did they opt in for the communication? If not, you know what you’re doing?  SPAMMING!  CEASE & DESIST 
  • Sales driven social media – While I think social media has a role for nearly every business these days, don’t use it as a primary sales tool (my opinion). By definition this type of communication is about being social, showing recent work, linking to things you think your clients will find interesting, and engaging in conversations is all good, but it’s hard to reach valuable prospective clients for a high-end service like color grading by posting discount codes like you’re an online retailer. If you do so your perceived value will be diminished.
  • Customer databases – Is it just me or do you get offers to buy customer/client databases from sleazy list companies? While the cold call/email has a place in sales, there has to be some connection, some valid reason why a call or email makes sense. Just think about how many people you’ve hung up on, or emails you’ve marked as junk that used this type of sales tactic.

So what am I getting at? NOTHING CAN REPLICATE FACE TIME with a client.

It’s easier to have a face to face meeting with an existing client, but what about a new one?

Face time with a potential client can be challenging but here are a few ideas to make it work:

  • Go to them – When you’re pitching a client you need to go to them. Just make it work – lunch, dinner, drinks, etc.
  • Meet at an event –  For example, an industry event or get together that a shared friend is having. Just 5 min of actual face time can go a long way.
  • Video conferencing – Ok! I know this not not truly face to face but when you can’t actually get together with a potential new client I like this approach simply because you’re making eye contact, seeing facial expressions and other body language. Services like Skype and Apple’s FaceTime are free and easy to use. This is a place were technology absolutely can be used to help you make a sale.

Never forget that sales is largely about personal connections, and face to face meetings are a huge component in building those relationships.

Dedicated Sales Time

I get it, your biggest problem with trying to execute sales or even thinking about how to execute sales is time!

This is a familiar story for any owner/operator of small creative business. Trust me, for years I struggled with never having the time to do the things I needed to do to make sales.

However, I found a fix that works for me – sequester yourself for some dedicated sales time.

Every morning before I start my day in earnest, I spend 30-40 min writing prospective clients, scheduling meetings and making notes about where I am with a potential sale.

I make these tasks part of my morning routine. Once you make the effort to make it routine – well, it becomes routine!

Around lunch time I take 20-30 min to take/make any phone calls relating to sales or make notes about calls I need to make at the end of the day or tomorrow.

What about meetings?

I also tend to carve out dedicated time for meetings. Sure work sometimes gets in the way, but for those important face to face meetings with perspective clients I use Wednesday mornings. Meaning I block out Wednesday 8am-12pm every week as my ideal time to meet with clients I’m pursuing.

I’ve found that this day/time actually works great for a lot clients – it’s mid-week so they’re looking for something a little different in their weekly routine and since I’m usually suggesting meeting in the morning they can meet before their day spirals into other meetings and calls.

No matter how you do it, try to carve out dedicated time to start and complete sales related tasks, doing so will drastically increase your sales efficiency.

Borrowing Tools & Techniques From Larger Sales Teams

Dedicated sales teams understand that there are some tools and techniques that can make their sales work easier.

Of course as an owner/operator you probably don’t have unlimited resources to toss at making sales, and purchasing the accompanying tools that dedicated sales teams do, but I think there are a few things you can borrow from dedicated sales teams that can make your job easier, and yield more sales.

  • Sales Management Software – There are a ton of tools out there for managing leads and the overall status of sale. Probably the most popular one is I’ve been really happy with sales force. Once setup it makes managing the sales pipeline efficient. I have the Group plan for $25/month/user and its made keeping all of my sales data in one place simple.
  • Questionnaires/Satisfaction Surveys – Retaining existing clients is an important part of sales, but getting feedback from these existing clients can help you shape your message to potential clients you’re going after. Tools like Survey Monkey for online surveys and Aweber have been vital for me in communicating with existing clients and getting their feedback.
  • Advertising/Sponsorship – You’re probably not going to take out a full page ad in the New York Times or do a multimillion dollar ad buy for a TV commercial to advertise your business, but there are some ways to advertise that make sense. Think about ads in industry publications. Also (and I think more effective) is sponsoring events – user group meetings, film festivals, etc. Think about giving away or discounting some services, and have swag like T-Shirts, Pens etc., to give away. While you’ll need to spend some money, these “soft sales” methods can pay huge dividends.
  • Commissions – This is one of the things I like least about traditional sales, but money is a powerful motivator. While commissions are not something I would push strongly, if you have a contact that can really help you land a client, and you’ve not been able to secure the sale on your own, consider a commission for that contact if they can help you close the deal. It’s important that the terms of the commission be clearly defined and it’s your responsibility if asked by the client to be transparent about the process.

While you might never have a dedicated sales team I think there is lots to learn from sales professionals. Also, don’t be afraid to attend webinars, buy books, or go to conferences focused to more traditional sales pros. While not everything can be perfectly grafted on to an owner/operator creative business, you’ll be surprised how much can be.

Deciding To Bring In Help

Tired? Overwhelmed?

Running your own business is hard, and sales are hard too. At a certain point you need to ask yourself “is my time really best spent doing sales?”.

I think for many owner/operators this is something you’ll ask yourself at some point, especially when your efforts have been successful and the business is growing!

When you do ask yourself this question, you need to consider bringing in sales help as an option.

I think there are two ways of approaching this.

First, can you bring in someone who helps in other ways in your business?  Is it time to bring in another operator to free you up for more sales? Can you partner with someone who has similar skill sets to you to spread some of the creative and sales workload?

The latter is how I’ve gone about it – I’ve partnered with people that are operators, and add value to my business but also can share the load of sales and marketing.

The second way to approach the idea of bringing in help is to hire a dedicated sales professional. Granted, this person probably can’t help you grade a film but with someone dedicated to making sales it’ll free up a tremendous amount of your time. Just keep in mind to get to the point of hiring a dedicated sales pro you should have a enough volume and need to keep them busy.

Closing Thoughts

As an owner/operator, managing a sales pipeline let alone finding the time to even think about sales can be challenging.

However you approach sales, and even if you only take one thing away from this Insight, I want you to think “do something”.

No matter how sophisticated or methodical or lackluster and lazy your approach is to sales if you’re doing anything – well, that’s something.

For a small business it’s all about feeding the beast, and sales are the food the beast requires.

– Robbie

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