How keeping your hands on a video camera can limit your business's profits. EP #170 - Den Lennie


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Today, Den delivers shockingly good advice on how to scale a video production business and explains how even the most creative freelancers can make juicy profits for their business without even lifting a camera. 

But first...

Here's a sneak peek at what you'll hear:

  • The quickest, easiest, and the most effective first step to scaling your video production business. - 1:00
  • How to take on multiple clients simultaneously without feeling like a one-legged duck in a crocodile-infested creek. - 2:10
  • Little-talked about reasons why some clients hire a video production company. (If you think all clients only care about your ability to come up with the creative, think again. Hear Den talk about this at 4:45)
  • A special type of database freelance videographers can start building that can help them scale up their business quickly. - 6:10 
  • A neat little negotiation “trick” when hiring other freelancers. - 8:10
  • More hard-nosed insider advice on how to hire freelancers and strike up good deals that are win-win. (Fact: many freelancers get hung up on their hourly rates so when hiring these type of freelancers it can get difficult... unless.... you know Den's negotiation tip that reveals at 9:25
  • Are you brilliant with the creative but hate the logistics of running a video production business? Then you might want to consider doing what Den mentions at 10:20
  • How the most successful video production company owners on the planet are like famous orchestra conductor Igor Stravinsky. - 14:50
  • How keeping your hands on a video camera can limit your business's profits. - 15:20

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Episode Transcription

Den Lennie (2s):
Good day, guys! Den Lennie here, host of the How to Scale a Video Business Podcast. This is episode number 170 cutely titled letting all of the tools. What I mean by that. Well, I Just came off a one-to-one call with one of my clients. Who's got a really interesting situation here. He's you got up at five jobs, landed on his plate at one time worth about $200,000? And it's presenting him with some challenges and so I wanted to share that with you today, because I think you can learn a lot from the conversation we just had, but it is growing your business and getting off the tools you see it when we started, this is a good, generally you producers directors, editors.

Den Lennie (51s):
And we start by doing the classic EMyth, which has, you know, we're the engineer's in our business. We are actually the operators. We win the work we do the work, we deliver the work, we take the bunny, but as you scale, you can't get beyond that point unless you start to use other people. And, and, and oftentimes the easiest way to start is by farming out your editing. And then once you find that the editing may be you farm out the show, but, but some days we get stuck trying to hold on to producing and directing. And really the w where you can grow in scale is by stepping back from the ratcheting of the creative and actually just, or producing.

Den Lennie (1m 34s):
And that might seem like a step too far for wherever your on the journey and just now, but let me explain why it's so good, important. So this client of mine has five pretty major projects. Now, if, if he were to do the creative or even two of them, we'd be so consumed that he wouldn't be able to complete all five projects, which means you'd have to say no to some pretty significant clients. And as you know, it sets me, you know, if you've seen know it, it can tend to, and I mean, it will ask you a game. And so what we discussed was how could you take that one five projects without burning out without dropping the ball? And without it feeling like, you know, you're, you're snowed under because we know that one project is a law and it can be all-consuming that a lot in two or three, certainly five, you know, you are likely to drop the ball.

Den Lennie (2m 27s):
And so what we talked about was what were some of the possible scenarios that would be ideal to make sure all these jobs happen? And I was, I was sharing with them how I typically run my sone projects. And that is, I always bring in really smart, talented DPS and directors to work with me as the producer. And so what that leads me to do is be the interface between the client who was so new and all of their stakeholders and the creative team. And I find that that way, because you know, when, when you're doing projects or a Sony, a lot of requirements in terms of style, not offending any cultures, there's a lot of, I won't call it politics.

Den Lennie (3m 8s):
There was a lot of, a lot of pre-requisites that must be a Deere to, and that can stay for a week straight directors Vision, because we can have a great directorial idea, but if the power's sone or whatever, the client might be, the site, it's just not appropriate for the brand, we have to change it. And that can sometimes mean diluting. What was a very strong, creative direction and into a much more vanilla style. And I learned this Allie on, But, but as a producer, I accept that, that as part of the deal of walking with that client, that then what I've always said, too, creative people that work with on these projects, there's like, look, we don't have to do this, but if you are going to take this project on this, this, this is how they like to work.

Den Lennie (3m 55s):
And it doesn't matter who the client is. There's always going to be a degree of How style or a house preference. And so you kind of have to, except that, you know, this is not a project that is about your show reel or your creative desires. Sometimes there are projects when you have to adhere to certain guidelines that you maybe don't necessarily agree with, but I always say you choose your battles carefully. And I've had plenty of, you know, creative challenges with those kinds of projects or what I was trying to reflect, reflect back to my client was, you know, it's more important than you are the interface between these five core clients and bring lots of talent. And, but one of the other benefits is that you can hire a creative team of a director.

Den Lennie (4m 39s):
And if for some reason, the client isn't happy with a direction that creative is going in, you can always say, well, no problem. We can try something else and bring somebody else in. And so the lesson here is that you don't have to be the person coming up with a creative idea. That is not actually why the clients necessarily hiring you. They might be hiring you because you understand a particular genre in the space. They may be hiring you because they're like the way you understand how the client works and how they are, how they're in town or clients work. So first of all, is if you're going to scale and you want to go beyond being a freelance, and then you have to be able to take on multiple projects simultaneously.

Den Lennie (5m 23s):
And that means you cannot be involved in a day to day role on those productions, you have to step back and become more of an executive producer, producer type person whereby you are setting a creative brief with the client on your director, and then you're getting the director's to go away and do a development, and then you'll come back and touch it. And then you had to present it to the client. And, and the other thing that we were talking about it is that sometimes in agency land your pitching an idea without having necessarily won the gig in. So in some cases you might have to speculate to get the work, but that's not something that I particularly endorsed, but this particular client who had had had that kind of a situation whereby they have got some great relationships with the agency's want to have a two or three different supplier.

Den Lennie (6m 12s):
So it's not like their pitching blind. That's just, it comes down to the stale, which means if you, if you, if you walk to a particular style or a certain way of doing things, you get no one for that, that could be your point of difference when it comes to delivering the work. So anyway, the, the conversation we had was, you know, you, you got to go out to the market and start building a list that you have for contractors who can help you with the creative. But that was only one part of the challenge. The second part of the challenge was in fact, the production management, the site of running five productions and scheduling and walking through production. And at this particular client who has had, had an issue where by one of his existing projects, the client who is in the us, and he was based here in Australia, he had struggles to make a bad line because of something had gone wrong with a power and that they had lost power for a few days.

Den Lennie (7m 5s):
And so the original deadline was moved because the feedback didn't come back at a time, but that had a knock on effect with other productions that were being to schedule them. And so what I said to my client was then the next hire you need to make as a production manager, because he is, he's got a team of editors has got a team of directors you can work with, but it's the production management. And that's often where we can get very, very saturated. And of course, when you're dealing with creative, that's the right-hand side of the brain. And when you're dealing with production manager and that's logistics as the Latin side of the brand. And so it's very difficult for one person to flip flop between creative one minute and logistics the next.

Den Lennie (7m 45s):
And so how they are hiring a production manager or a production coordinator is going to be a great hire. And what we suggested was, you know, putting out, putting a note out to some of the crew production and Facebook groups and seeing, Hey, I've got a potentially six to eight weeks' worth of production of work for someone. And when I would suggest, as you know, please to get in touch and let me know if you are available. But if I, if someone's like $400 a day for a freelance, and then I, I've got no issue with seeing Luke, I've got 1750 a week for six weeks, would you like it? And that I think is an important tool as a producer to negotiate with crew.

Den Lennie (8m 25s):
One of the mistakes I see people making is that because once upon a time we were all freelance and oftentimes, you know, freelance, you can get very hung up on their day rates and that's fine. That's, that's how they choose to price, but equally not, not every freelancer is working every day. So the idea of adding 400 a day, lets just say for argument's sake and seeing, well that's, that's 2000 a week, so it's a six week project. I want $12,000. You can say, well, that's all very well, but I mean you might work three days a week at 400 and not like there are two days, he might be actually be making 1200 a week. So I often go in the middle and say, well, I can give you a 16 or 1700 a week, four, six weeks guaranteed work.

Den Lennie (9m 11s):
And so don't be afraid to leverage project work at the lower price. Then the prescriber, their rate, because you are actually offering someone or, you know, consistent work and it's up to the person, whether or not they take it or not. And, and I've, I've always done this, but at the bottom by a caveat is I'll often say to someone look and I'm completely flexible and you don't need to be at an office. You know, if you want to work, you know, 10 hours, one day and four hours, the next day, that's fine with me. I'll just need to be in a while to be done. Now everyone is working from home just Now anyway. And, and then you could see that as another leverage point, look, you know, invoice me and I'll pay you within seven days. Whereas, you know, some that have been in situations where you might be charging a higher day rate, but your wedding 60 days to be paid if it was a big organization.

Den Lennie (9m 57s):
So I think just you using leverage tools to find ways to get people, to kind of feel comfortable. This is a win-win situation. I'm not suggesting ripping anyone off. And just seeing that, you know, as a producer, I think as your role to modify deals, do deals with people to get, you know, a good return investment for you, but also the some flexibility. But if you go to a production manager on board to support you, that takes all of the logistics of your plates. Then as far as they're going to a business owner, what you are in fact doing is simply coordinating the creatives. You're really spending time in your land, which is liaising with client's ensuring that client's are communicating effectively and you're communicating that you have a production team.

Den Lennie (10m 47s):
And what I found is that when you, when you were at a conduit in the middle, you become this, this is very powerful asset, too, the business, because if the clients not happy with something or the creative direction of something that they can simply come to you and say, look, we're not very happy about this. Can we change it? And then you can present that to the creative teams. So I think, you know, where, where our real value comes up is when you are a production company, it becomes the conduit. Again, I guess it's a bit like a mini agency. Where are you? Are the interface between the client and the production team. And so what we were able to do on this call was just establish that that was in fact, a really good point smart move.

Den Lennie (11m 28s):
And then that way, even if it meant, you know, making less money for our projects. So let's say it was a $30,000 project. And perhaps if you are going to be working on it in and being involved in it and doing some, some bits, you might walk out with 10 grand, then that leaves 20 for the production. And what I said to this chap was will look, you know, if you said, well, I want to take six, but I'm only going to do a day on it. And when you, if you did five projects that you can make six rant on the net profit, that's 30 grand profit from five projects without actually having to be involved physically in each project. And so it's a different way of thinking. It's a different way of thinking of the thinking as a business owner.

Den Lennie (12m 10s):
And again, it's actually not a bad thing to be stepping back from the tools. One of my other clients who has just done this recently and he is he's back or a production manager and a part time initially. And, and that's a good side note. These don't have to be full time staff hire as these can be contracted part time or, or short-term contracts. But this, this other client of mine, you know, said that he was actually getting a lot of creative buzz out of building his business. And so, you know, as you progress through your career in business, you find that different things give you different reward. And so simply I'm, you know, I'm thinking that if you are not shooting and lighting is going to be, you're not going to be creative.

Den Lennie (12m 54s):
It's not true. In fact, I remember distinctly when I kind of made that decision too, to stop being the DP. And that was a pretty, it was a pretty good DP. You know, I, I lived very well. I've had lots of great complements from some pretty significant ESE cinematographers. And so I knew, I knew my walk was good. Mmm. I'm a pretty shit hot editor. And again, I can tell a great story, but I realized that to scale my business, I have to stop editing and to scale my business, I had to stop shooting. And it was pretty weird at first because when you hire someone else in your role, of course, they're going to do it differently. But what I also discovered was I got more value because I was bringing someone in who I trusted, who saw things from a different set of eyes.

Den Lennie (13m 36s):
So not only was it cool to watch something else where I can pick up a few tips on a few things that I'm like, Oh, that's interesting, but you can step back and be the producer and orchestrate. And I remember doing a big project just before we left for Australia with a client who wanted to shoot, like to add twenty-five one minute videos and then printer toner cartridge for like a laser printers and photocopiers uhm, and we actually hired Susie Perry to come in and present this in a studio. And I think we probably had 20 people on the set. And I remember Chris saying to me, he said, hi, are you guys' fascinating watching you work a man. It just, it is like watching a conductor. Everything was a very calm, everything was a very smooth and that's because we plan everything out meticulously.

Den Lennie (14m 19s):
I just stood back and made sure that Suzy was happy, make sure that the client was happy and let everyone else had a fantastic team on set from here and make up to the camera work at a later thing. And I left everyone else to do their job set, which allowed me to be interfacing with a client and the presenter, a fantastic director on set. And so what we were able to do was produce this incredible amount of work and a short time. But Kris, the client who is paying, you know, a considerable amount of money for this one day, shoot, it just said, I was just away by the way you orchestrated and conducted. And that I think is, is a great compliment. And, and that is what you want to be aiming for as a producer in a video production company that's scaling.

Den Lennie (15m 4s):
So if you want to be making hundreds of thousands of dollars or pounds and, and setting up towards six high, six and seven figures, you have to step back the mistake. I see businesses making that. That means that they don't reach their goals as the fall back into bad habits, they jump on the tools and that is where things start to fall apart. You got to build that robustness in the fact that if you're not on a creative roll on set, he doesn't mean that you're not being creative. It's that shift between freelance and business owner or a business owner orchestrates make sure that all of the component parts or working, and as a freelancer has a particular role, they are shooting, they are editing, they are lighting, they're doing sun and I have enjoyed all those rules and the past, but I recognized that my responsibility as a business owner, I was to coordinate chutes, to coordinate a clients and make sure that the risk, plenty of revenue coming in and hiring good team looking after them.

Den Lennie (16m 12s):
So they would always take my call in and be happy to work for me. But ultimately you have to let go of the tools and that can be a hugely challenging journey. For many having said that I have a number of clients who have successfully done that and they find new ways to fulfill that creative flow, to fulfill that creative desire. And that is, you know, orchestrating, coordinating multiple shoots simultaneously. And when you get to a point where you can put a shoot together and clients don't really notice that you're not there yet, but we're really happy with the result. That is another whole level of, of, of, of glory. And it's funny on one of my other clients and there was a, I had been planning this big sheet that they got to establish that and he got sick.

Den Lennie (16m 58s):
You got really sick the week of the shoot and it was during COVID and saw he just kinda, I couldn't go to the sheet and ultimately the shoe had to be run by other people. And that sort of forced to, into a position where the client was delighted a bit grant doesn't have to be there. And he was like, my God, it was such an amazing example of like, just demonstrating that if you set things up correctly, you don't need to physically be in the room. And, and I appreciate that. That is going to take some time to overcome. And sometimes you're going to want to be in the room and there's some things are going to be very good reasons why you should be in the room, interfacing with a client. I'm not seeing you need to be playing golf. And it's a big Sean. I'm seeing that if you don't need to be there, try not being there and see what happens or if you are going to be there, just be the orchestrator to be the conductor, just turn up and, and be there saying, yeah, the team has got this under control interface with a client, have a chance to see what else is happening.

Den Lennie (17m 52s):
But I think that will really, really serve you too, to move forward in the future. And it guys another short episode this week, because I'm still unpacking my house and I will talk to you again very soon. And You've been listening to the how to scale a video business podcast with me, your host, Den Lennie. If you're a video business owner, it's hit the ceiling and we benefit from a mentorship support and coaching and checkout how you can work with me over at Don't forget to subscribe and rate the show over on iTunes. I mean, I really appreciate you taking a few minutes to leave review and don't forget to share. If you feel you've gotten value from this episode, you think it will be useful for other filmmakers, you know, and please do me a massive favor and share it on social media and in groups that you might be in.

Den Lennie (18m 39s):
So thanks for listening. See you in the next episode.



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