Keeping Up With Jones: The Over/Under
Posted Mar 7, 2011

Chris P. JonesRecently, I was sitting in seat 29D of American Airlines Flight 161 to Maui, excited to be lifting off shortly to undertake a glorious destination shoot. I had buckled my seat belt, brought my seat back to its full and upright position, and secured the tray table in front of me. All that remained was the captain’s issuance to the flight attendants to prepare themselves for takeoff.

The captain’s soothing voice permeated the cabin through the intercom system. However, instead of dispatching the crew to their seats, he notified us that due to a mechanical malfunction, our flight would be delayed 30 minutes. I knew better, so I leaned over to the passenger next to me and said, “Double it.” She nodded as if she had been there before too.

I hate to be callous, but I’ve learned that in the event of a delay, airline representatives are more likely to tell passengers what they want to hear rather than what is likely to occur. Typically, after passengers have waited the first 30 minutes, the pilot will say, “It should take only 15 minutes more.” Then after those 15 minutes, “Just another 15 minutes.” In the end, they’ve communicated three different expectations, and the once-enthusiastic travelers have waited half an hour longer than initially foreseen. Fueled by their disappointment, they swear that they will use a different carrier next time.

How much different would they feel, if, from the outset, the airline representative announced, “We’re sorry; there’s going to be a delay of at least an hour and a half,” and then lifted off in only an hour? While the wait is the same length as in the previous example, the airline beats its own communicated expectation, and many of the passengers fly away with a different attitude toward the carrier than they would have given the prior approach.

My first five articles have centered around one main idea—the faster you can guarantee and fulfill delivery, the better it will be for your business. When it comes to generating referrals, the law of diminishing returns manifests between the time of the couple’s departure from the wedding and the time when the couple receives their final film. You will generate more and better referrals the sooner you can deliver.

However, in your rush to turn over the final product, can you force yourself to deliver too soon? This must sound strange to you, for I have been encouraging you—browbeating you, even—to get your edits out the door and enjoy a life without backlog. Let me assure you that I’m not reversing my position; rather, I’m challenging you to think about a few obstacles and opportunities when determining how fast you are willing to push yourself to finish a project.

First, let me introduce you to my “friend” Murphy. Murphy shows up uninvited when I least expect him, and he makes a mess of things that require my immediate attention. When Murphy drops in for a visit, I have to postpone my other priorities and take care of his needs. And he almost always knocks on my door when I am nearing a deadline.

Murphy may be a “friend” of yours as well. For that reason, in determining a delivery date for a project, you should avoid choosing the soonest possible time in which you can complete that project. You should always build in buffer time for Murphy, because Murphy will make demands on your time whether you’ve budgeted for him or not.

You should expect obstacles that will take you away from completing your projects—sicknesses, family emergencies, hardware failures, and even something as simple as forgetting to reorder packaging supplies. Without buffer time, hitches and hindrances can push a project beyond its expected deadline. Going beyond an initial deadline expedites diminishing returns, and failing to meet the next target date will accelerate it even more.

If you promise delivery in 2 weeks and then ask for three 2-week extensions, then you will be delivering at 2 months and receive far less enthusiasm than you deserve. But if you guarantee the same client a 3-month delivery from the start and deliver in 2 months, then the client is going to feel overjoyed even though your delivery time is the same length as in the disappointing scenario.

In contracting yourself for the fastest possible delivery time, you are also taking away the possibility of engaging in unexpected opportunities that arise during the editing period. Let’s imagine that you get noticed by a business partner of a past wedding client. This executive wants to hire you at the last second for a project that needs to be completed yesterday. She will pay your full corporate rate, and this could lead to more high-dollar projects with this company.

If you haven’t built in any leeway to allow yourself to escape editing your wedding projects, then you either have to turn down the high-paying corporate gig or you have to break your promise to your bride. Trust me, if you want to continue to be the leader in your wedding market, then you cannot afford to be inauthentic to your brides.

My main man Matt Mitchell once told me, “Aim low and exceed your greatest expectations.” On the surface, his charge seemed to be an opportunity to enjoy the feeling of success without actually challenging myself. While he was offering his wisdom tongue-in-cheek, it was not without its merits. Underpromising and overdelivering is a hallmark of excellent customer service. It worked for American Airlines when it got Flight 161 off the ground in 15 minutes rather than the 30 minutes the pilot had communicated. It somehow left me feeling confident in American Airlines even though it had denied me a quarter of an hour in the Aloha State. Mahalo!

Chris P. Jones (jones at masonjarfilms.com), an Austin, Texas-based EventDV 25 all-star, has been shooting weddings for nearly a decade and is a co-founder of the event filmmaking educational gathering IN[FOCUS]. for more on getting rid of your backlog, follow twitter.com/chrispjones.