Some days you need to move mountains & others you need to be a Swiss army pocket knife.
I have always been an impatient person, but fortunately so are my clients. We’re a breed in an incredibly competitive field that need to move and adapt quickly, balancing design, marketing and construction on projects that may last years and have more twists than an Agatha Christie novel.
If I had to pause a project every time something new came up then all my work would suffer, stalling everything else down the line, including hard release dates. Pushing through barriers, or knowing how to dance around them goes a long way in a game when some days you feel the referee has it out for you. Flexibility to confront the unknown is something you learn, and you eventually plan for it on every project. When a client calls you with the latest change, restriction or deadline you need to know what to do immediately to solve the crisis and miraculously not lose any time along the way.
Everything digital is still exploding with change and ideas, but I set some simple rules in my business a long time ago that keeps me saying “I have got this” to a broad range of clientele with an even broader range of unexpected, and sometimes unrealistic, demands:
Do your own work – don’t outsource
Oh, the lure of that email with the exceptionally low rates! What have you got to lose? If they mess up you wont pay them the balance, or if the quality is low, you can try to fix it up, or maybe the price is so low that you can afford to just do it yourself if the whole thing goes south. Don’t try to tell me you have never thought about it – in fact some of you are doing it right now.
When you outsource your project you become a middle man who effectively loses control of the product. You may not have any personal or professional issue with that, but the fact remains that if you don’t have full control of the files, techniques, and hardware, then you are going to fail when the client needs exceptional performance. Too many links on an over-stressed chain means one of them is going to fail.
Always over engineer
It’s sometimes hard to imagine that a digital media process needs to be engineered in the first place, let alone that it is expensive and somewhat fragile. In the 3D world we use a staggering array of hardware as to get those subtle shadows and warm lighting we need to process every photon of light. That generates a lot of data, which must be stored safely and accessed rapidly, so we aren’t talking your average home PC or even an office setup. This is hard core computing.
Each piece of the hardware has varying degrees of quality, some being an overkill and some being critical, all dependent on your processing needs. I personally build each of my workstations and backup machines, so can personally testify that everything “mission critical” is over specified and over engineered, so much so that even the people that sell me the components think I go over the top.
Why? It’s because when so much load is imposed on computer hardware a failure of something is guaranteed, whether it be in a week or 10 years, something is going to go wrong, and always when your project is being worked on… Murphy’s Law.
You can’t go to the ban with hopes and dreams
I don’t recall who taught me this, but it has held true for not just finance but also deadlines and many other things in business.
Never, ever, go at a job with a “I think I can do it” attitude as you will fail. You either have the resources or you do not. If you don’t have it together then don’t take someone’s money. If you only think you can do it on time then assume you can’t and be honest with your client. You may be surprised that they can be more flexible than you thought.
Expect problems and delays
I cannot recall any sizable project that I have done that did not have some kind of issue along the way. There are some things that are out of my control and mostly project based, such as:
- Town planning made a last minute change.
- An investor wants to buy more of a certain product – plans are reworked.
- The client changed his mind… lots of times.
- Lighting hit my studio and fried all my hard drives.
- The cool new interior designer’s first inspiration was shot down in flames.
- A hurricane blew away all the trees so we can’t do photography on site yet.
So assume that “#@it happens” and be ready for it. A 4-week schedule will be at least 5, and 1000 man hours will turn into 1500.
Focus, focus, focus
I could also use another one of my favorite phrases; “Always run scared”.
In the games of 3D and marketing if you lose focus then you go backwards at twice the speed of going forward. Train of thought and being able to focus precisely on the goal is critical as the industry is so complex and creative that if taken by a siren mermaid you can easily get carried away and never come back to delivering anything.
What we do is cool….. very, very cool….. And that means we can get wrapped up and stolen by the many things that make it such an emotionally rewarding field. Unfortunately it is the fiscal responsibilities of being in business that make it only 50% creative and the other is a hard core 50% competitive.