- October 11, 2013 at 5:26 pm
I could really use some help in regards to some business communication.
I’ve recently picked up some freelance wedding editing work, and I seem to have managed to both impress a client and offend him. The client is a relative of a producer I work with, so we were invited to their home for a meeting regarding his vision for a reception entertainment video. Later in the week I was able to finalize the details of the contract with the client, and I emailed it to him. I waited to hear back, but days passed, the videographers did their shoots, I received the footage, and I didn’t receive the contract back. [I guess I should mention that the client did text me to see if I had received the footage, and I had to field a terse phone call where I had no explanations for why the videographers had not contacted me to pass the footage over]. Still waiting for a response to the contract I sent, I talked to the shooters regarding their contracts, and they said that they never got theirs signed; but that they were paid, in cash, at the end of the shoots. I finally got a hold of the client and he said that he would sign and mail out the contract, with deposit, the next day. I’m in San Diego and he’s up in L.A., so when I hadn’t received the contract, or heard from him, after 6 days…I became a little concerned for the time frame for when the video needed to be completed. I e-mailed the client and simply said: “I haven’t received the contract yet. I think it may have been lost in the mail”.
Well, let me tell you, that was apparently the wrong thing to say. The client called me and spent 10 minutes defending his honor as a business man, telling me he paid the photogs up front, and telling me that it came down to whether I felt comfortable starting work without having a signed contract in hand. [ side note: I’ve since had many conversations with a variety of colleagues and they are split on: being as perplexed by the clients defensiveness as I was, and feeling that I had seriously insulted the client with the unintentional inference that he hadn’t bothered to send it yet]. I told the client that I had already ingested and organized all the footage, and even chosen my shots, but that I would begin editing when I received the contract.
Fast forward to yesterday morning, I uploading an online preview of the final product and e-mailed the client. I heard, through my producer, that they really loved the video. That afternoon I received a group e-mail from the client telling us all how much they loved the video, and that now we can move on to the wedding video. However, at the end of the short e-mail the client tagged on: “Jess… do we have the trust now??” I really had no idea what he was talking about.
After much discussion with coworkers, I’ve come to 2 conclusions:
The first being that I clearly need to take a business communication class because apparently I’m both too blunt and don’t know the ‘producer-spiel’ of twisting words when talking to clients. The second, is that this client wants me to ‘trust’ him by not requiring him to sign a contract. I am not comfortable with not having things in writing, but I also don’t want to piss off a client that: 1)I still need to give the 1st video dvd to, and receive the check. 2) wants to hire me to edit his wedding. Where the hell do I go from here!? The time is ticking by since he sent that e-mail, the wedding is in 2 weeks, and I’m wary of committing any further business faux pas. How do I tactfully send the client a contract for the wedding video without screwing myself over here?
- October 11, 2013 at 6:10 pm
“The client called me and spent 10 minutes defending his honor as a business man” …or he could have spent 10 minutes getting the contract signed and mailed … interesting choice, does it tell you anything?
Stand your ground. The more they express outrage and defend their honor, the hollower their promises always seem to be. If they are offended that you do business in a businesslike manner, (and it should be a simple matter to get a contract to you) there should be no need to “develop trust.” Cash is also a non-businesslike sign.
For heaven’s sake, deliver nothing nothing nothing without a big ol’ watermark, until you have a _cleared_ check in your bank account. If you lose this job, you’ll live.
There is no “way to peace.” Peace is the way.
- October 11, 2013 at 6:25 pm
[Jess Cornish] “”I haven’t received the contract yet. I think it may have been lost in the mail”.
Poor choice of words. Would have been better to say something like, “I have not received the contract yet. Do you have a timeframe on when it will be signed and delivered? Thanks so much.”
[Jess Cornish] “Well, let me tell you, that was apparently the wrong thing to say. The client called me and spent 10 minutes defending his honor as a business man, telling me he paid the photogs up front, and telling me that it came down to whether I felt comfortable starting work without having a signed contract in hand.”
No clue on why he went off the deep end like that. Answer is “No, I don’t feel comfortable starting work without a contract. I have all the materials and will be ready to start as soon as the contract is received.”
We have two rules here at the company. No work begins without a signed contact. No Master work is delivered without the final payment.
Walter Biscardi, Jr.
Editor, Colorist, Director, Writer, Consultant, Author, Chef.
HD Post and Production
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- October 11, 2013 at 6:43 pm
You did nothing wrong.
As Wayne observed, the people who get all worked up and their feathers ruffled over “having their honor questioned” are invariably the people whose honor should be questioned. Virtually without fail. Anyone else wouldn’t haven’t taken any offense at your comment or even given it a second thought, because there was nothing to be offended by.
Why did you get a dressing down? I’d bet anything this guy got so upset because “his honor had been questioned” before… probably many many times. And likely deservedly so.
A 10-minute lecture is, by the way, about 9:45 more than I would have listened to.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
- October 11, 2013 at 7:02 pm
I wonder why he couldn’t pay you in cash on delivery like the camera shooters.
I think I would ask for them to sign the contract and email it to you as a PDF file, keeping the postal service out of it. Hell, a clear smartphone camera grab of the signed page should be enough. Offer to accept payment by PayPal to save having to deliver a check.
I agree with these pros that the over-reaction is a warning sign. Thieves always assume everyone else is constantly stealing from them.
The big problem to avoid here is starting the next project without getting paid and done with the previous one. This is a classic “grinder” tactic designed to make you the bank loaning out free working capital to the producer. Your counter is to say it’s policy to complete and square one contract before starting on another, and you had better stick to that.
You hold the trump card here: he’s on a time-table, you are not. He doesn’t have the master and the other elements: you do. Be assertive, but calm and polite: you are a rock that can’t be rolled on this issue.
One final rule: you have to be willing to walk away from a bad deal, and he has to believe you might, or he owns you – you’ll never get a higher rate and will probably get paid less and less until they stop paying you altogether.
- October 11, 2013 at 9:06 pm
My ditto to the sentiments offered here. In my experience the ONLY people who tell you how honest they are, are the ones who are NOT.
- October 11, 2013 at 9:28 pm
Attach the new contract to a copy of your billing statement for the first job, send it, see what happens.
- October 12, 2013 at 12:17 am
Thanks guys. All the feedback is much appreciated. Usually it’s my producers who have to deal with clients, so I’m out of practice with having to do it myself.
Wayne: I thought the same thing; it would have been more professional had he saved his breath and just re-sent the contract.
Walter: I will keep that wording in my back-pocket for the future; definitely a better way to say it.
Todd: Normally it would have been 9:45 more than I would have tolerated too. I think I was initially stunned with confusion, and then I was just trying to figure out a tactful way to deal with the situation, so as not to offend, and cause tension between my coworker and I (as the client is her uncle).
Mark: Good reminders. I’m a big freaking boulder on the contract issue, but the reminder helps to deter any wavering. I’m going to ask that he scan and e-mail me the signed contract for the wedding video. I wouldn’t have thought that just a picture of a contract would hold up in court.
Unfortunately, I wrote into the current contract that payment was due upon his receipt of the final product; Stupid that I wrote it the wrong way around. I will re-word that line in the next contract.
I’m going to mail the DVD with the billing statement, and a contract for the wedding video. Here’s hoping I don’t receive any more offended phone calls.
Thanks for the feedback
- October 12, 2013 at 2:22 am
Walter, how do you work that with agencies who never pay within 30 days? I have a few who are on 70 days AFTER the final video was delivered. Haven’t found a way around it…everyone deals with it here.
They have a strangle hold on when they want to pay. And they don’t realize the havoc it plays on cash flow!
Tilt Media Inc.
Video Production, Post, Studio Sound Stage
- October 12, 2013 at 12:59 pm
I know your question was directed to Walter, but I can chime in as we face this issue all the time. For repeat clients that we have a good relationship, we’ll work within their payment terms.
From a cash-flow perspective, we simply build in the cost of tying up capital into the project. I don’t like it, but it’s a reality for me. I’d be curious to see how others (like Walter) handle these kind of long term relationship client.
But all of this based on the premise that you TRUST the client to eventually pay you! For those that have been in business for a while, you’ve developed a “sixth sense” about which clients are likely going to be problems right from the first phone call. You the ones… they’re “overly” friendly and complimentary of your work when they don’t really know much about you yet. They talk about how much work they’ve got for you… yada yada yada…
Bottom line: If we don’t have a (good) history with them, we require payment before delivery. We rarely deviate from that position.
One other thought is that for larger projects that may go on for many weeks or even months, we’ll discuss and agree from the get-go on a schedule of progress invoices at certain benchmarks. For example: upon script approval and pre-pro, completion of principal photography, completed draft edit before grading/audio post and final deliverable. That helps you cover your bills with crew, equipments, etc… and gets you out of the “production financing” business.
Production is fun – but lets not forget: Nobody ever died on the video table!
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