Deciding that I loved filmmaking was the easiest decision I ever made. What I didn’t think about, and what my father was quick to remind me of, was how on earth was I going to make money at this? Yes, I could have followed my sister’s lead and gone to film school, not that that’s even a sure way to get a job, or I could have tried to get into news since that offer was there but I knew that wouldn’t satisfy my urge to create films that I was passionate about. I mean isn’t that what everyone wants? To 1: find what you love to do, 2: somehow make a living at it, and 3: remain true to yourself without making any sacrifices.
Rewind three years from now and what am I doing? Well, working at a job I did not love. Yes, I was doing video work but it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. It got to the point where my job of shooting an almost template based video and editing the same way was just not enough. I wanted to create something unique, something that I was really proud of. So there I was, frankly speaking, quite miserable and I was starting to question my decisions… Was leaving school a mistake? Should I have pursued a phd in psychology to practice my other passion? Were my parents right about having a day job that paid the bills and satisfying my creative urge during my time off?
My good friend and now business partner, Amy Reese, decided to help us out. She sent Jon and I to what would turn out to be THE turning point for us, Re:Frame Austin. Later Kristen Bliss, of Bliss Productions, described us as “wide eyed kids looking to learn and meet other filmmakers.” And that’s exactly how it was. We were surrounded by some of the best filmmakers in the world and what I was left wondering was how on earth did all these guys get here… They’re obviously successful but how and why? There’s tons of companies out there that produce mediocre work at best yet they’re name is out there and they’re getting paid for what they enjoy doing.
So there we were. I was ferociously taking note, talking to everyone I could, and, of course, planning my escape from my current job. Then, all of a sudden, there it was, my answer… Bruce Patterson is one of the Re:Frame creators, owner of Cloud Nine Creative, and owner of WedLux Magazine. This man is not only extremely talented and creative, but he’s running two separate companies that are extremely successful. I was absolutely intrigued by his presentation and I’ve kept what he’s said in mind as I try to find the happy medium between maintaining my creativity and keeping my businesses profitable.
I’m so excited that we had the chance to have Bruce on this site and find out just how he’s able to be maintain his creativity while running two profitable businesses.
Q. Can you give me a little bit more information on your background? When did you decide to pursue filmmaking as a career?
A. Our company started out as a graphic design firm targeting corporate clients in 1999. The business was started by my wife who is a trained Graphic Designer. As we got closer to our own wedding in 2003 friends of ours began to ask her to design their wedding stationery and I offered to film their weddings since I’ve always had a love for video. As more and more people began to ask for both our services we began to phase out our corporate clients to focus mainly on the wedding market. We’ve filmed 100’s of weddings all around the World since 2002 and we’ve now grown the print side of our multimedia business into a National luxury wedding magazine which debuted on newsstands across Canada in 2006. We’re entering the US market with the magazine in 2012.
Q. What were some of the challenges you faced as a new company?
A. There are so many challenges that we faced as a new company that they’re almost too long to list. There were also different challenges at different stages of our business. Early on, the main challenges we faced were pricing ourselves too low, getting too many clients, and then not having enough staff to service them. The business was also run by only myself and my wife so we were the business owners, the secretary, the janitor, the mail clerk, the filmmaker, the editor, the graphic designer, etc etc. As we continued to grow our business the next challenge was to make sure all our debt was continually paid off and that until we had more staff, that we were more clear in outlining exactly what both my wife and I were responsible for in the business. At one time we were both either paying bills twice or not paying them at all. Once we separated out who was responsible for accounting and who was responsible for checking the mail etc, things started to turn around. We also more clearly addressed our own personal strengths and weaknesses and identified who was better to tackle certain tasks based on this.
Q. How did you start to make the steps towards making your business profitable?
A. The best decision we made to make the business more profitable was to HIRE STAFF. In the early years we only saw staff as an expense vs a way to help us generate more revenue. Of course, if you think of it that way then it would scare anyone off. Once we realized that by hiring people they would take things off our plate, get the projects done and get more revenue in, things evolved much more quickly and profitably. It was much easier to see this with the wedding films because we have our pricing structured to receive a final deposit. I realized that I could hire an editor to finish these films for less than the final deposits for the wedding films were. As long as I kept them on track, then they would finish the films much more quickly than I ever could. Not having to edit anymore freed me up to work on continuing to build the business and focus more clearly on sales. My job is to get the business in and their jobs are to help process all of the business.
Q. What are some of the most common mistakes you see new filmmakers make in their businesses?
A. The most common mistake I think new filmmakers make is pricing themselves too low to get new business, getting too many clients at a lower pricepoint, and then not being able to finish the projects and keep clients happy. I’m also a big fan of leaving some of the payment until when you finish editing the film because this gives you better annual cashflow than taking all of the payments before the wedding day. Sure there are risks with this method that couples may default on the final payment but if the % isn’t that high you likely won’t have any issues.
Q. One of the hardest things for filmmakers is figuring out what to charge. What would you suggest someone should consider before setting prices?
A. There are a lot of different factors that go into pricing and each market is different. I would first recommend that you try to asses your own level of quality as objectively as possible. Try to identify where you realistically sit in comparison to the competition in your market. Then, I would look through your competitors’ sites to see if they reference any starting pricing. I’m NOT a fan of contacting your competitors and pretending you’re a client getting married because that’s a sideways business move, but I do think that you should look at what your clients will be looking at to see if you can get a sense of what your competition is charging. That should give you a ballpark to start at. When thinking of what you should specifically charge, the biggest mistake people make is not accounting properly for their time. Pick an hourly rate that you’d like to be paid and then double it to account for expenses. Count up the number of hours that you’d like your packages to start at (8, for example), and then calculate the number of hours that you think it will take to edit the film. Try to also get a clear idea of your annual expenses each year so you can be sure they don’t take an inordinate amount of your profit. The first 3 years your expenses will be higher but as your client base increases and you grow your staff, your profitability will start to increase. The key is patience and persistence.
I would then remind yourself that you’re selling a product based on emotion, so the pricepoint with a wedding film is less of a barrier to the right client if you can connect with them and build trust. If they trust you and like your product, they’ll pay what you’re asking.
Q. What’s the best advice you can give to others regarding running your business?
A. Hire good people and try your best to keep them. Don’t be afraid to let any employee go if they aren’t continually contributing to driving your company forward. Lastly, value your time and keep working ON your business and not IN it. Too many people focus on being “busy” all day but you should continually ask yourself if what is keeping you “busy” is driving your company forward and if it can be done by an employee. Offload/delegate/grow your sales. A business that is not growing every day whether it be by adding staff, more sales revenue, or new projects is on its way to a slow death. Your business is like a child – you need to feed it what it needs to grow and thrive – so treat it that way!
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