Striking a Balance Between Being “Great” and Making a Profit

This is a guest blog post from friend, colleague, and fellow video business coach Kris Simmons of Mind Your Video Business. Excerpted from his latest newsletter.

In a recent Facebook post, I touched on the idea that “good enough may be the enemy of great, but that great can often be the enemy of profit.” For the most part, I’m a perfectionist. I want every shot, edit, deliverable, meeting, etc. to be absolutely perfect where everyone leaves ecstatic about their experience with my company…period. This is the standard I’ve used my entire professional life. It’s worked out pretty well up to this point.

Of course I’m not perfect, but quality control is something I learned as a kid from my father who spent 26 years in the U.S. Navy. He started at 17 years old at the bottom and was able to retire as a commanding officer. I love my dad and know he’s a huge reason why I have the drive and leadership skills that make me successful in the video production industry. He always set the expectation that “if you say you are going to do something, you do it. Period. No excuses. If you can’t deliver, don’t commit.”

When times were good, it was easy to “go the extra 10 miles” on our video projects because our profit margins were such that we could spend all this extra time making things perfect for a client. In the “new economy” where margins are razor thin and we are all having to work for much less per project than accustomed to, there just simply isn’t room for perfection any more. “Almost perfection” perhaps, but definitely not the same level of perfection we’ve had the luxury of providing in the past.

I know you’ve heard of the 80/20 rule and the same way it applies in other industries, I believe it applies here. We spend 80% of our time on the last 20% of the project.

For instance, you rough cut a project and get it looking pretty good in the first 10 hours. Then, you start the special effects, transitions and color grading that takes an additional 30 hours. My question is: “Do our clients even notice all the extra effort?”

I recently edited a project for a company and pulled out all the stops with 3D graphics, multi-layer composited backgrounds, etc. After spending all that time, their response was “can you make the graphics look 2D like our website and we want the background to just be plain white.” I thought “Wow! This video looks incredible and we spent so many hours making it perfect.” It didn’t matter. We stripped all the cool stuff out of the graphic elements and they loved their version much better than ours. Their version would have taken up about 6 hours to execute. Our version took almost 30.

Clients can recognize a good video against a poor one; but if the video is technically accurate, the footage looks great, the music and voiceover are mixed properly and you’ve been able to incorporate their branded graphics in a nice fashion so the video looks similar to other marketing materials they have, what else do you or they need for the video to be successful? Not much.

In this economy, clients seem to be more focused on budget and deadline. They’ll hire a production company because they believe the quality will be equal to or greater than what they expect but I’m finding as long as it’s a good video, delivered on time and within budget, they are more than happy. In fact, happy enough to come back over and over. I’ve also learned that the more you involve them in the creative process, the less you will have to make revisions down the road. Or, if you have to make revisions, they’ll understand that it’s outside the scope of your agreement and they’ll give you additional budget.

In many of my projects, making it “great” causes us to miss a deadline or go over budget. This impacts my profit and I’m never happy when that happens. I’m okay with spending a few extra hours with the special effects, transitions and color grading to make it look professional but I think we are getting upside down within our own production shops here.

Keep Track

If you aren’t doing so already, start logging every hour you spend on a project and compare it back to the original budget when you are done. I bet a lot of us are making half of the per hour rate we should be because of all this extra time. I know the artist in all of us wants to keep working until every project is perfect but the business owner in us needs to lock the artist in the closet every now and then until he/she agrees to play by the rules. Deadlines, budgets, etc. make it where we ultimately have to stop production at some point even if it’s not 100% polished just to keep business moving.

If we keep managing our projects inefficiently, we will go out of business. It’s basic economics. If you generate profit, you win. If you lose money for long enough, you’re done. Breaking even may keep the doors open another month but I bet you aren’t paying yourself a decent salary for all your efforts if the company is just breaking even.

Generating a healthy profit is what keeps you growing and excited about your work for the rest of your working life. Let’s be honest. We got into this industry because we love it and because it’s fun. The only thing that makes it even more fun is when we can also make a lot of money doing it.

Kris Simmons, owner of 6 STRONG MEDIA and founder of www.MindYourVideoBusiness.com, is an award-winning videographer and entrepreneur located in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He has helped more than 2,500 videographers worldwide grow their video businesses through his email newsletters, podcasts, guest interviews, information products and coaching services. If you haven’t already checked it out, be sure to listen to my podcast interview with Kris. It’s like a mini video business seminar.

3 thoughts on “Striking a Balance Between Being “Great” and Making a Profit

  1. Thanks Kris! Great insight. It can be a temptation to rush and cut corners to meet a tight deadline. I am still a noob and accurately quoting deadlines can be a challenge as I am still determining how long post production takes for me. I have done some tracking but I need to do some more. I actually had a good idea then I switched from FCP to Premiere so I am still trying to nail down my production time again.

    I do have a question… anyone could answer this. What kind of boom mic is in the 1st photo?

    Thanks Kris (and Ron!)
    Dan

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