The Principles of Business

The principles of business could be debated forever. There is already a library’s worth of complicated, verbose books on the subject, and no true business person would ever have the time or inclination to finish any of them.

So, for the sake of all those trees, here’s a summary from the creative perspective:

Tips on finding a client can also fill volumes. We start here and here.

Matching expectations is a crucial part of any business process. With creative work in particular, this process is open to misinterpretation. Clients won’t be happy to hear that their supplier has a vastly different idea of the deliverables three months into a project. Communication is the key to success and any good producer/manager will go out of their way to clarify expectations before the job starts. And they’ll get it in writing. Even if there’s no formal contract, at the very least there must be a written agreement about what’s expected, how it’s to be delivered and by what date.

If you’ve just been in a meeting with your client and they’ve been full of smiles and congratulations and everyone is brimming with confidence that the world will be a better place from now on, when you get back to base and before you order the champagne, review what you think you’ve agreed and… put it in writing. It’s quick and easy and will potentially avert many headaches if you do it properly. Something like:

Thanks for giving us such a great job. I just wanted to make it clear what we’ve agreed is as follows;

  • we’re going to do this (brief but precise description of work)
  • we’ll deliver it to this location on this date in this format
  • our fee will be XX squillions + tax
  • you’ll pay us 50% in advance (please see attached invoice) and the balance 30 days after delivery of our final invoice (and if you pay late we have the right to charge interest at 3% above base.)
  • I hope this is in line with your understanding but if it isn’t, please let me know urgently as we’re going to be burning the midnight oil from today until we deliver you a great piece of work.

You may have to add details about review periods, or kill fees if the project has been set up in different stages, and if there’s no contract you might need to add details about such things as copyright transfers, usage rights, periods, territories or numerous other possible provisions.

“Make sure that expectations are matched at the start of every job.”

Agreeing fees and terms requires basic negotiation skills and takes practice. Of course, doing the work is where it all counts. But bear in mind that with creative work, the process is usually one of discovery and doing things that have never been done before. It can be an unpredictable process that forces changes to the brief and the client’s expectations. This is where communication comes in.

All good producer managers spend almost all of their time simply communicating – for good reason. A client that’s aware of what’s going on and why, and is informed and happy with the process is a lot easier to manage than one who’s been kept in the dark, misled or avoided. The key here is that if you’ve agreed to do something and you aren’t going to be able to do it; tell the client as soon as you know and involve them in the process – it can lead to better things.

“Good work comes through doing what everyone wants, great work comes about by doing what nobody expected.”

And when you’ve done it, the rules of getting paid are here.

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