Owning or managing an independent creative services company can be as challenging as running any other business on the planet. The smoother the operation runs, the more profitable it will be and the more financial resources will be available to grow the company. All business owners and managers must invest adequate energy in sales, marketing, administrative, operations, technical and financial areas. Although most of us begin an independent business endeavor with a specific expertise, we owe it to ourselves to expand that skill set in order for our companies to thrive over time.
Many sole proprietors and business partners have not had much experience selling. They may have grown up on the creative or technical side of the industry. Nevertheless, since sales are the key lifeblood of any business, it's imperative that owners invest themselves in the process.
A view from NYC design studio Atmosphere13's Flame suite. Its principals are working with Bob Koch to develop additional revenue streams via strategic alliances and relationships.
Evaluate the client roster on a regular basis. Provide attention to solid clients both in production as well as between projects. And consider parting ways with high maintenance, low-margin clients. They may be displacing more profitable clients from your landscape.
Create a prospect wish list. Determine if these sales prospects might benefit from your services. Create a strategy to develop business with such prospects. And most importantly, qualify your prospects, making sure they are worth your time and effort.
Pay careful attention to managing your contact data. No one can operate a sales effort effectively without using appropriate contact management resources. They will help remind a manager to check-in with sales prospects periodically and it will also help force a manager to make those sales calls.
Many companies can't afford all marketing vehicles simultaneously. Nevertheless, support for the sales effort is critical, so every manager needs to commit to at least one or two marketing vehicles.
Advertising in trade magazines is a great vehicle for creating an impression for your company and brand. Not only does it give you visibility, but it also adds credibility.
If you are doing great work and are in fact working on some unique projects or using some inventive techniques, chances are one of the trade magazines will be interested in telling your story. If you can afford it, hire a publicist to help you write press releases. You must also have a well-produced demo reel and a great Web site showcasing your work.
Other marketing vehicles that warrant equal consideration are premium items, direct marketing projects and participation at trade conferences and events.
OPERATIONS & ADMINISTRATION
How a company operates and manages projects is critical. If all other things are equal between competitors, the client will remain with the vendor who handles things smoothly. Make sure your scheduling process is straightforward and clear. And don't blow production deadlines! Use resources wisely, especially freelance personnel. Cross-utilize staff when possible.
Make sure client services support is adequate. Basics such as phone coverage and duplication order fulfillment need to be buttoned-up. The creative work can be fabulous at your shop, but if your clients consistently can't reach key personnel and/or the final dubs are fouled up, the stability of an account relationship can be in jeopardy.
You need the right gear to do the right work. And the gear needs to have an optimal version of software. Carefully analyze utilization of equipment and gear. Don't buy gear if you won't use it enough; go outside to a subcontractor. Let them carry the overhead costs. But consider purchasing gear that you are renting regularly; it will be more cost effective in the long run. Be aware of what tools your competition uses, as well as what version software, if possible.
Continually analyze your financial position. Carefully consider how much money you take out of the company. Every company needs to have funds reinvested in order to grow. Don't underestimate the value of establishing sales projections. Even though it's hard to know when some projects will materialize, by mapping out some projections you will be able to plan more effectively.
Watch the overhead. Many high-end television design and effects studios went under just a couple of years ago and one of the reasons was huge overhead - elaborate office space, overkill in equipment and expensive personnel. Be reasonable, create nice space, have a valuable team, buy appropriate gear.
Accounts Receivable is a problem for many small firms. By developing a rapport with a key financial person on the client side you find you can get paid sooner. This is a sensitive area, but with grace and persistence you may be able to shorten the wait and improve your cash flow.
This may seem like a luxury during the day-to-day heat of the battle. But find time at least twice a year to thoroughly plan and review your plan. Taking the time to think and brainstorm about your goals will do wonders. It may make sense to retain an external consultant to help manage this process, someone who can bring broad perspectives, strategic thinking and objectivity to the table. Such a resource can help you grow the business, develop solutions to new problems, increase profits and generally help you determine how to run the business smoother and more effectively.