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STUDIOS: BE PRUDENT AND CREATIVE

Ken McGorry
February 8, 2007
STUDIOS: BE PRUDENT AND CREATIVE According to Rich Harrington, an Adobe/Apple/Avid expert and instructor who founded his own small shop in 1999, if you love this business you have to embrace all its details, big and small and non-creative.

Harrington, whose Vienna, VA-based shop, RHED Pixel (www.rhedpixel.com), specializes in commercials, corporate and government production and post work, as well as motion graphics, spoke at the recent Editors Retreat (www.editorsretreat.com) here. He touts an eat-your-spinach regimen of good business practices designed to make the most of one's creative abilities. He covered "best practices" on such topics as: services and pricing; marketing; bids and proposals (Don't lay out all your great creative for free!); project management; and even bill collection. A shop's services, of course, are based upon your capabilities and competitive advantages. However, you may also be able to barter lower-cost services (like duplication, for instance) by providing a third-party with services they need in return for a better price on their services (which you can then pass on to your client).

Pricing, Harrington says, should have some wiggle room and not be based upon open knowledge of your rate card. Do not put your rate card online and do not give it to your client. To obtain knowledge of competitive pricing in your field, try online price guides for graphic arts (which may be comparable to some post services) and pick up publicly available printed matter from your competition. Correct pricing is all important, Harrington says, since only 40 to 60 percent of your staff's time is actually "billable." Don't forget to figure in your overhead and to prepare for any market lapses by maintaining a savings account equal to three months of overhead (rent, leases and maintenance). Your rates should reflect your staff, your equipment and your physical plant, not just the service you provide. You should also charge for creative brainstorming meetings, shipping and archiving.

For marketing your shop, Harrington recommends appropriate advertising but stresses a holistic approach that makes the most of multiple media: Website, demo reels, press releases, podcasts and business blogs. But it all starts with really nice four-color business cards. Become an associate member in trade associations your clients belong to. Harrington recommends Women in Film. He also likes direct mail; asking a satisfied customer for his mailing list; and, very importantly, making high-value client presentations that show you off as an industry expert, not just someone looking for a gig.

Bidding: no "ballpark" or seat-of-the-pants bids, Harrington emphasizes. Rather, use an Excel spreadsheet and break your bid down to line-items. Your prospect may need to show your spreadsheet to her boss who might, in turn, want to delete a line item. Also present your bid "in an English-language translation" telling your prospect exactly what you propose to do for them in plain language.

A prospective client's RFP should get your prompt response that answers all the RFP's points. Carefully check the math in your proposal and make sure you budget any travel expenses separately.For billing, Harrington urges studio heads to get 25 percent upfront, then invoice the client in 25 percent increments while providing discounts and deadlines as incentives for timely payment. Also, he adds, get QuickBooks and learn to run accounts receivable reports. And never hassle your client's accounts payable people!

Harrington adds that even a freelancer is a "small company" and can benefit by following these steps.