Work On Your Business, By Working On Yourself

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I’ve been very fortunate in business. Since I first started Edit Creations in my basement in 2003 I’ve been blessed with having multiple clients follow me into business based on our work history together and friendships. And over those years, word of mouth has filled in the rest of the time. Within the first 5 years business grew from me working in my basement to having a 2000 sqft office with multiple edit rooms, vo booth, graphics, travel gear and 4 employees. Things were going great. Then, the fall of 2008 hit.

At the end of 2008 work dried up and 2009 was the most difficult year since the business was started. During this time a few things happened that changed the way I looked at my company.

First, I didn’t lose any clients. I still had the same clients that I’ve been working with for years, in some cases close to 15 years. The problem was that those clients were no longer getting the jobs they used to. Projects were being scaled back, rescheduled or flat our cancelled. In one case a job that was normally 4 weeks of editing in 2 suites (a job that we received every December running into January) just went away and has not yet returned.

Second, for the first time in my career I was faced with having to find new clients. Two years ago I would have said you were crazy if you told me to go out and find new clients. I was already working 10+ hours a day and the thought of looking for more work seemed like self abuse.

Third, I realized that you can’t count on jobs that are promised to you, even if you have a long standing relationship with those clients. For example, in 2009 there were no less then 3 major jobs (one a broadcast TV series) that were promised to us. In one case actually scheduled for the last half of 2009. “Great!” I thought, the year is covered! The pressure is off! And then, one by one the projects just went away, in large part due to the economy. So I was left with open edit suites and very little work to fill them, but the same overhead as if it was business as usual.

As this all started to unfold, the reality that I needed to go out and sell the business hit me, and hit me hard. But what also hit me was that I didn’t know where to start. I’m an editor, I’m a tech guy, I’m a creative and a Mac addict but not a salesman. That’s not to say I couldn’t sell, it’s just that I have never had to and don’t really have the knowhow. Yet.

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Late in 2009 I was invited to attend a local business leaders meeting at a new store in Naperville IL. I thought this would be a good opportunity to meet other business owners and possibly make new connections with people that were in need of editorial and creative services. Hell, any reason to go to the Apple Store is a good one in my book!

So I went to the event that was scheduled before normal business hours, and there were about 30-40 other business professionals there, snacking on donuts and drinking free coffee. I very quickly realized that I had a problem. I was, at least in this setting, a social misfit. Instead of walking up to people and striking up a conversation, I found myself avoiding all eye contact and just taking interest in the machines on display. I was nervous and genuinely uncomfortable. Was it really this hard to talk to people? It’s not like I don’t have years of practice working with clients, meeting new people at the office and giving tours of the facility (both Edit Creations and previously at a much larger facility). Driving back to the office that morning it hit me. How was I going to meet new people and convince new clients to do business with me, if I couldn’t talk to people? ┬áThis is a problem, and I had a knot in my stomach just thinking about it. I could no longer rely on business just walking in the door, I had to go get it. Yet, I didn’t have the most basic skills needed to do so.

Over the next several weeks I did some deep soul searching and came to the following conclusion. I needed to develop my social skills, and in a big way. My goal, I decided, was to get to the point that I could walk into a room of strangers (business people or otherwise) and not only feel comfortable, but be able to approach people and have a meaningful conversation. As if that wasn’t enough, I wanted to improve my public speaking/presentation skills.

If you’re already good at all of these things you’re probably wondering what the big deal is. But if you’re not, you know what a tall order this is. Just the though of taking this on scared me deeply. But at the same time I thought if not now, then when?

What really got me over the hump was thinking about the hours and hours of training I do every year to improve my editing and graphics skills. I will easily dedicate myself to doing whatever is necessary to learn a new software program or take my skill set to a new level. I’ll read manuals, 3rd party books, PDF files on my iPhone and do tutorials on Lynda.com until I fall asleep on my laptop. But over all of these years, what have I actually done to improve my personal skills? My interactions with the people around me have not been “upgraded” for years. When I started to look at it from this angle it became clear that this was something I had to do.

In my opinion the best way to find new clients is to first create new relationships, without pushing any type of business angle. Sure you want people to know what you do and what you could offer them, but that should be secondary to developing a genuine relationship and interest in the person. What’s key in what I just said is creating a genuine relationship, not a superficial one. Look at it like this. If you were a producer and needed a editor for your project, would you rather call up somebody out of the creative directory, run an ad to interview new people, or call the person you’ve already developed a trusting relationship with and that you enjoy being around? People like to work with people they like. If you’re going to spend several weeks working on a job, don’t you want to like the person you’re working with? Dare I say, even have fun on the job?

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So, it starts with creating relationships, which is one thing I need help with. At least when it’s from a cold start. So I started doing research on-line and after a few weeks there was a clear winner. The Dale Carnegie course. The overall objectives of the course are as follows.

  • Build greater self-confidence
  • Strengthen people skills
  • Enhance communication skills
  • Develop leadership skills
  • Reduce stress and improve our attitude

It’s everything I was looking for in a single course. The class meets once per week for 4 hours in the evening, and the class I’m in has about 20 people in it.

If you have not read the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” I highly recommend it. I’ve read it twice over the years and this course builds on those basics. Here is a list of the 9 principals they teach in reference to building better relationships.

  • Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
  • Give honest,┬ásincere appreciation.
  • Arouse in the other person an eager want.
  • Become genuinely interested in other people.
  • Smile.
  • Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  • Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  • Talk in terms of the other person’s interest.
  • Make the other person feel important, and do it sincerely.

While the thought of taking this class scared the hell out of me, that’s the idea of the course. They want to push you beyond your comfort zone and have you face your fears, but in a nurturing and positive environment.

While I have already started the class, I had to miss the first one due a petrie dish of disease at my house (aka 2 year old twins). So my first class (class 2) included me having to do a 2 minute speech. Nothing like jumping right in! While I was nervous all day before heading to the class, by the time the class was over I was feeling a lot more comfortable and could already see a difference after only 4 hours.

The idea behind the 8 week course is that they teach you certain skills and give you new tools every week, and then you have a week to implement what you’ve learned in your work environment. This allows you to really practice what you learn before moving onto other lessons. In fact, part of each class is reviewing how everybody did with their past week.

This week (class 3) includes having to do 2 speeches. One that’s 2 minutes, talking about how you used one of the 9 principals in the work place to change or influence a situation, and a 1 minute one explaining how to do something that’s related to your job that others in the class might be interested in. It’s an exercise in breaking things down in a very concise manner to quickly communicate your core message. So for my 1 minute speech, I’m going to teach the class how to create a 30 minute HD video in FCP using the Log and Transfer Window, standard transitions, 3rd party plugins, color correction with Color, audio mixing with Soundtrack, 3D graphics in Motion and how to repurpose the final edit for everything from BluRay DVD to YouTube. I’m just hoping I can fill the full 60 seconds.

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My main idea behind doing this post was to get others thinking about their social skills, and to ask themselves if there was room for improvement. Some people are naturals at this kind of thing and could probably teach the class, but many of us are challenged in certain areas. A class like this can really give you an edge and create new opportunites for your business.

Over the upcoming weeks I’ll post an update or two and tell you how it’s going. At the very least I’ll do a post once the class is over to give you my full review.

1 thought on “Work On Your Business, By Working On Yourself

  1. Hi Thomas,

    Thanks for your article, after reading so many websites about the technical side of things or 'how to run a business' articles, it's nice to read something a bit more personal as I'm in a similar predicament.

    I've been working as a freelance editor for about 7 years now and while I'm in work at the moment, it's always from those same producers.

    My friends and family have always told me to go beyond freelancing and setup shop myself, but it's the relationship side of things that has held me back. I'm looking into some sort of coaching or training myself, so I'll be following your progress with interest.

    Peter

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