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Executive Decisions: The Budget Dance
By Russ Jolly - published May 2006

The tango, fox trot, and cha cha on television's Dancing with the Stars are no match for the extraordinary maneuvers a corporate video producer and potential client often display during the stirring pas de deux otherwise known as "The Budget Dance." Performing this dance requires spinning, twisting, and staring eye-to-eye all the while making sure that toes don't get crunched as the fast-paced steps of deal making are executed. It can be grueling work, but with some practice, any producer can learn to become smooth and graceful when creating budget estimates.
The question I get asked more than any other during the first contact with a potential client is, "How much does it cost to produce a video?" Typically the person inquiring relays little information about the project other than "We want a 20-minute training video" or "We're looking for a 3-4 minute marketing video—how much?"

Obviously, a lot more detail is needed to understand the scope of the project before providing an initial estimate, but sometimes after asking only a few preliminary questions, I'm interrupted with a response such as, "OK, that's great, but how much?" My standard reply goes something like this: "How much? Well, if we do it right, it won't cost a thing—you'll make money from your investment. So tell me, what kind of results would you like to achieve from this project?"

By stressing the importance of return on investment, you can steer the focus away from expense and frame the conversation on results. This is not a sales tactic or gimmick. This is the truth. I have never had a corporate client come to me to buy a training or marketing video. What my clients want is greater productivity, increased sales, improved fundraising, or reduced liability. They want solutions. They want results. Sometimes they just need to be reminded of that fact. Once this point is firmly established, I can recommend a range of options to help them reach their goals.

One of the first steps of the budget dance is to qualify the client and be sure they have an appreciation of the investment required to create custom video. It is imperative to know before setting up a face-to-face meeting that the potential client is willing and able to make an investment that is commensurate with your experience.

A simple approach you can use to get the budget conversation rolling in a positive direction is to briefly describe case studies of video productions you've created for previous clients. By explaining the problem a previous client faced, the video solution you created to help the client, the results achieved through use of the media, and the investment the client made to get those results, you can accomplish several goals. You stay on point by referring to video as an investment, you show a successful relationship with another company, and you positively portray your experience as a producer. Relating a few brief case studies with differing production values and price points can signal to the potential client your flexibility to work in a variety of budget ranges. You can follow this up with a couple of very direct questions: "Have you established a budget for your project?'' and "Are the projects I described in line with your projected budget?"

Another way to break the ice on video pricing is to use an analogy. I have often explained to clients that the range of pricing for a video can be similar to the range of pricing for an automobile. My part of the conversation typically goes like this: "Many brands of cars will get you from Point A to Point B. How you choose to get from Point A to Point B is another matter. You might choose to drive a Rolls-Royce, a Chevy, or a Yugo. Many of our clients choose a Chevy-type video and are very happy with the results. Some choose a Rolls-Royce-type video to tell their story because they need a higher level of production value. What approach do you think would best represent your company?" As you might guess, I don't extol the virtues of the "Yugo video."

Once the company has been qualified, it is time to set up a discovery meeting with the decision makers present and have an in-depth fact-finding session using the questions I wrote about in my March 2006 column, Twenty Questions. At the conclusion of this discovery meeting, you should have an accurate view of the scope, timeframe, and production values required for this project. Furthermore, you cannot leave this meeting without having a solid idea of the investment range the client is willing to make for this project. Ask for their budget.

I'll admit that creating budget estimates for corporate videos is one of the most challenging parts of my job. Every client comes to the table with different needs, different perspectives, and different levels of experience in the production process. Some clients are completely new to video production and truly don't know what kind of investment is required to create a powerful presentation. Other clients have used videos in the past, but are not as adept at communicating their vision in a manner that allows for easy calculation.

There is no such thing as "one size fits all" with the corporate videos we produce. Each project is a custom job. Hopefully some of the tips above will help you glide through the budgeting process more gracefully. Happy dancing.

Russ Jolly is owner of 214 Media: Dallas, TX corporate video production.

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“Russ is extremely intuitive and requires a minimum of background and input in order to produce maximum results. Extremely creative and very multifaceted I will use him again at my next available opportunity and as often as I have a need for the services he offers.”
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