You didn’t get chosen again. You’re talented, you know you are. But for some reason you keep getting overlooked and are not getting the gigs you feel you deserve. You need to either become more valuable or show the world that you already are. Here are some ways to build that value in yourself.
Brand, brand, brand. Branding is everything. A strong brand solves the majority of one’s problems. Now you’re dealing with the world of video. But look outside your medium for examples. Do you drink Coke or Pepsi? Do you own a Mac or are you Windows-based? What grocery store do you shop at? What brand of shoes do you buy? Now think about why you choose these items. Yes, you like the product, but chances are you also thoroughly enjoy being a part of that brand and what it represents.
When it comes to selling yourself, remember, you are the brand! When a client is doing their research on who they want to work on their next project, they are putting you in a line-up against other potential candidates. And while our impulse is to fit in, what are you going to do to stand out? What makes you different? Why would they choose your brand over the other?
You need to either become more valuable or show the world that you already are.
In Katie Couric’s book, “The Best Advice I Ever Got,” famous Chef Mario Batali gives his advice on branding and how realizing he had to brand himself changed his career.
“For better or for worse, I’ve got a brand. The orange clogs, the ponytail, the attitude, my seeming fluency in Italian. It’s instantly recognizable. But what matters to me is it’s not fake… Truth, passion, intense hits of joy. That’s my brand. Trust me. It sounds cheesy, but it’s not. Sooner or later, you’ve got to get a brand. And I’m not talking about marketing or focus groups or giving a second thought to what anyone else thinks. The kind of brand I’m talking about is nothing more — and nothing less— than your own truth, expressed consistently by you.”
Whatever you stand for, that natural thing you want to do. That natural thing you’re really good at. Focus on that and be consistent. Don’t worry too much about it being repetitive. It’s your brand, your style. Your consumer must know what they are getting from you before you even start the project.
Building Your Reputation and Reel
So if your consumer must know what they are getting before you even start on their project, you must show them examples. You must create a reel and a reputation. A reel is an example of previous works you’ve done.
Because the medium is becoming cheaper and cheaper, the competition is growing higher and higher. A lot of clients and companies know they can save money by going with the person who is trying to build a reputation and create their reel. Also, some clients don’t have any money, so they would strictly try to sell you with the phrase, “Would be great for your reel!” Tread these companies lightly. You decide what would be great for your reel. And also, remember, you can get compensated fairly and still put a project on your reel.
Before creating your reel, decide what you want to be known for. Let’s translate this into another medium to simplify matters. You’re a country music writer and producer, and you want people to know you do country music. Guess what music you should create in order to build your demo? Country music of course! Songs from other genres may pay you more, and you’re still at liberty to take them. You may have to take a paycut to build your country music reel, but once it’s finalized and great, everyone will know exactly what they are hiring you for. If you’re an editor building and editing a reel, choose projects that showcase your editing skills. If you’re an art director, choose projects that showcase that. If you’re a sound designer … well, you get the point. This determines if you take those “pay cuts” in order to put it on your reel. And if there are no outside projects, create one yourself. The whole point of showing a reel is so that the client can envision you properly handling their work and forwarding their project. So make sure your work reflects that!
Reputation is huge. So many jobs are obtained by word of mouth. Person A looks at Person B and says, “Hey, I really loved that music video you did. Who produced that?” Person B says your name followed by the experience they had. So make sure the experience is one that is going to get you more work and also try to be in as many people’s minds as possible. I try to tell actors that all the time. Chances are that big role you get is not based off of that audition, but based off a previous audition or experience you’ve had with that crew. It’s the same for you.
Improve Your Actual Value
This is where it becomes a game of chess. (I just learned chess by the way and I’m really good. So let me know when you want to play. Anytime, anyplace.) You want to have as high of a production value as possible. Now, high production value does not necessarily equal high production cost. A project or product can look like it cost a lot of money, or be extremely high quality, but also economical at the same time. A good example of this is Peter Jackson’s solution for the lack of snow in “Lovely Bones.” The solution, spread some cotton over the ground and call it a day. Cotton is cheap, but the look of snow raises value.
It’s easy to get caught up with wanting the latest and greatest and most expensive technology, especially when you’re a techie. And even if you’re not, you may not be as educated in that department so you assume you should go with the most expensive option. But you are running a business. It is a puzzle, all the pieces must fit. It is a game of chess, it all leads to checkmate of the King. There’s a balance between affordable and looking cheap. So do your reasearch on your equipment. When it comes to equipment, never make an impulse buy. I often make a wish list of equipment that I want. Then I prioritize that list on equipment I need, and equipment I can do without. Depending on the projects you’re doing, sometimes it’s more beneficial to rent certain cameras, lights, etc. If you use the equipment enough, perhaps it’s more beneficial to buy it outright. It’s like anything in life. Live within your means. It doesn’t mean you won’t be able to upgrade later, it’s what’s the best solution for right now and the immediate future and what would put you in the best position to accomplish your long term goal.
You also want to do really good work and spend time on your project. There was a point where I wrote and directed a commercial that went over very well. The ad agency contacted me to create more. Being a hot commodity and being able to do more work, I didn’t want to turn it down. Plus, I felt I could deliver. However, I took on more than I could handle. I wasn’t able to go about the process the way I normally did and create the product I wanted. What started out as a demand to recreate the successful project I did before turned into two products I am not proud of. From then on, I vowed to never take on a project that I would not be able to fully take on in the correct creative environment. The president of the agency even told me that’s what he likes about me, my willingness to say no.
As cliche as it may sound, knowledge is power! Some may have more money than you. Others may have more resources or connections. But what you can control is how hard you work and how much you learn. I graduated from film school, but I would be the first to tell you that film school isn’t for everyone, and I often questioned if it was a good or bad thing. But, I will never question learning. Spend hours at your local bookstore or library. Learn as much as you can about what others are doing. You’re already reading this magazine so I know you know this! Join classes and research online classes as well. Look up YouTube videos. And humble yourself when an 8-year-old is the leader of a YouTube tutorial. If they know what they are talking about, listen. They say the best way to learn is through experience, but you can also learn through others’ experiences as well.
So how do you get this experience for yourself? Do. It’s that simple. Do. You have to put out into the universe what you want. Once you decide what you want and put it out there, you’ll become more aware of the opportunities and also start creating ways in your own mind how to get it done. There is no shame in working for free, as long as you know for a fact it is something you want to do and the best way for you to gain experience.
The best advice I can give, in terms of giving off a great impression, is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Would you hire you? Ask that question to yourself repeatedly. Would you hire you? Why or why not? Then do what it takes to correct that. How are your clients finding you or researching you. Chances are they are going to that little known website called Google.com (I think that thing’s going to take off). And they are searching your name. They are being nosey or spies. But they are being smart. The good thing is, you get to control what shows up. Get your domain and your website up. And have that reel that you worked so hard to create easy to find. Create the navigation in a manner that’s easy for your viewer. And keep asking yourself, “If I’m looking at this person, what do I want to know and see?”
This is also where your brand comes into place. Create a logo for your company or yourself. Your logo says a lot about you. It gives off your mood and your feeling. It says what you represent. It can give off a feeling of your company or your work being tough and hard or delicate. Depending on what you are going for, choose wisely. Do not undervalue the importance of your logo. Do not make it generic. It represents you and your brand. Be aware of that.
Use the same color scheme on all of your materials. When I was creating my brand, I was having trouble at first. But somewhere along the lines, I began wearing a lot of gray. Just like Mario Batali branded his orange. I realized, that was it. My thing was gray. So when it came to my website and logo and business cards, it all came together. Grays and whites. You want to be consistent. Whatever represents you.
Business is a lot like dating. It really is. That impression you make is super important. So spend time on that and practice. Some seem to be inherently good at it, but if you aren’t, and a lot of artists aren't, don’t hesitate to research and learn. There are plenty of books and resources out there that teach you how to present yourself. You’d be surprised. From how to greet people, to how to accept business cards, to how to get out of conversations that are dragging on too long without seeming like a jerk. You want to sell yourself. You are the product. You are the brand, and it all matters. Think of some individuals who are also brands and explore how you predict the way they may act in certain situations. Because they are brands, you can almost guess.
Oprah Winfrey, one of the biggest names and brands ever. If she was introduced to someone, how would she walk? How would she talk? How would she shake hands? Or would she hug? Would she smile? Where would her attention be? Now let’s take someone else. Magician David Blaine. If he were in the same situation as Oprah, how would he react? How would he walk, talk, shake hands? Would he smile?
Now apply this to you and your situation. Figure out how you want to present yourself and be aware of the feelings it gives off. And be consistent. And while your goal is to land a deal, your goal is also to attract the right client and let them know what they are getting and what to be prepared for. So be yourself.
Building value in yourself and creating a strong brand that works, creates brand loyalty. Brand loyalty is the number one component of repeat business. You are going to do it again because you’ve done it before and you are satisfied with the results. Ideally, you are the best, but more important than just being the best, is pleasing the client. This doesn’t mean just doing whatever the client wants in an effort to try to keep them happy. This means, making sure the client is satisfied with the results. That is your number one goal. And if the client is satisfied with the results, they are most likely to return for your business.
Another key component in creating a repeat in business is to target clientele that are in that market. If you are doing a wedding, hopefully, that is the last wedding you are doing for that particular couple. But, the other guests, especially the ones who catch the bouquet and the garter are potential clients. Always be aware of potential clients and maintain a relationship with past clients.
Be Really Good at What You Do
Last but not least, be really good at what you do. It is extremely valuable to have an expert. Spend time getting really good at your craft. I mean really good at your craft. Be a nerd! Learn, learn and learn some more. Put the pressure on yourself to perform. Be confident in any situation that may arrive. You’re the expert and when people talk to you, they should naturally hear you are an expert. Not in the “use a lot of big words that nobody knows to show off” type of way, but the “I love this so much and know so much about it, sometimes I can’t help but sound like a nerd” type of way. You are getting hired because you have something to offer. Be reliable. Be undeniable. Invest in yourself. Build your brand, better your reputation and reel, be wise when it comes to purchases, get experience, create a website with a consistent brand, present yourself well, get recurring business, but most of all, be really good at what you do. And when you follow all of those steps you will be successful for a very long time.
JR Strickland is an award-winning director, filmmaker and musician. He specializes in strong narrative storytelling.