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Copyright © 2004 -
Information Today, Inc.

Lehman's Terms: Getting the Right Help
Posted Oct 6, 2004 - March 1998 [Volume 7, Issue 4] Issue Print Version     Page 1of 1

Okay, I admit it--I'm a control freak. I wish I could be my own videographer, editor, accountant, duplicator, sales person, office manager, and marketing and promotions director. It's great if you have all of these talents and the time to use them, but sometimes it's best to delegate jobs and play to your own strengths. If I can hire an assistant to make copies, digitize, and run errands, that frees me up to make more money doing what I do best--it just makes good business sense. Running your businesses as a business rather than a hobby is essential to success, and delegating responsibility is essential to successful business.

In his 1995 book, The "E" Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It, Michael Gerber argues that entrepreneurs—however good their ideas and talents--actually make poor businesspeople. He lays out an organized and regimented plan in which every job is defined, freeing the entrepreneur to build the business. He points out the often-overlooked distinction between working on your business and working in your business. When you you work on your business, you can effectively direct, produce, and delegate jobs to others.

What does this mean in the videography world? I can spend a day digitizing footage and making dubs, or I can pay an employee to do that for $10/hour and spend that same day shooting a job for $200/hour.

These are not just decisions to make on a case-by-case basis. You should start by evaluating the strengths and weaknesses in your business and yourself. Then devise a plan to systemize your business according to the most effective production flow.

First, create a Plan of Action based on your own workflow. Include how work is generated, from preproduction to production, postproduction, and delivery, and npte any attendant administrative work. Assign a dollar value to each task or job. Assign the best person to each task.

For me, getting help with production was necessary to maintain a high-quality product. Five years after going solo in my business, I hired my first subcontractor. He was fantastic. His job included carrying equipment, set ups, shooting, and providing me with pleasant company.

I can't cover every angle of an event alone and I like the security of a backup person to double shoot. I once hurt my back picking up a 15 pound camera and could hardly breathe; thank goodness it was at the end of an event. Had it been early in the day, I never would have been able to give 100% of myself to the job. I could give hundreds of examples of how assistants have helped me and my business and now I can't imagine how I could be successful without them. I am now quite dependent and thankful for my subcontractors and cannot imagine reverting back to the "good ol' days."

But it's not just a matter of finding warm bodies. Here are some guidelines to consider when hiring help.

Where to get it: Word-of-mouth refrrals are best. I tell everyone--photographers and other vendors--that I am looking for help, and usually someone calls me. Others good sources include a local school of photography or video. Students usually are eager to get experience and willing to work hard. Many schools offer school credit to students to work as interns. My local college is eager to work with me to supply me with students for hire. You can also search for help through local video and photography associations. Strong photographers make great videographers. I have also advertised in my local Woman In Film and Video Association for editors and had many, very interested and qualified people eager for the job. Running an ad in the local paper will also get lots of responses.

How much training and experience: My employees have ranged from untrained to overqualified. A strong photography or visual arts background is a plus, but I prefer someone who is eager but untrained--I can teach my style and methpods and avoid having to break bad habits. The primary qualities I look for in an assistant are enthusiasm, a pleasant personality, loyalty, and--most of all--honesty and trustworthiness. Everything else can be taught.

How to play them--employees or subcontractors? For production, I hire subcontractors; for postproduction, employees. Regardless of whether you use subcontractors or employees, it's essential to protect your rights with a written agreement. It's easy to find sample contracts in business software and online and customize one for your purposes. Be sure to include ownership of copyrights to work produced for hire and non-compete clauses if applicable, and have your attorney review it. Communication in writing is the key to a smooth business relationship between you and your help.

How much to pay them: For production shooting, I pay my subcontractors based on experience and ability. Generally, I pay about $30/hour. For postproduction, I employ editors who work in my studio and also pay them by the hour, based on experience and skill level. I highly recommend using a payroll service. I use Paychex for all my payroll and taxes. On occasion, I also subcontract work-for-hire postproduction help to edit at their studio. I pay by the job on those projects.

How to keep them: The best way is to treat them with respect and show them your appreciation. Thank them for their hard work and dedication. Guide them along the way with constructive criticism, reward them with a fair wage, and give them a gift or bonus when they go above and beyond their duties. Invest in them, and let them know you want them to stay a part of your team.

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