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B2B Video Mistakes

The #1 Mistake B2B Customers Make When Creating an Animated Video

We’ve been making b2b Animated videos for a while.

Longer than almost all of our competitors, and we’ve outlasted quite a few of them. I say that with some pride, and it makes the lows (we had highs and we had lows) more palatable.

So we’ve made – and survived – just about every mistake that you can make while making videos. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had great success, but consider this:

  • Michael Jordan missed over 9,000 shots.
  • Babe Ruth struck out almost twice as often (1330 times) as he hit a home run (714 times).

So anyone who has been around makes mistakes.

Want to know the biggest mistakes people make with their b2b animations? It’s not in video style, it’s not in scripting.

It comes a lot earlier in the process than you think.

Failure – and loss – come when businesses treat their video like an art project. 

Let’s face it, it’s fun to make a video. It’s neat to start with an idea and watch it come to life. The process of creating a story from whole cloth is energizing, uplifting, and it’s creative. And that’s where the big temptation lies.

When we’re making b2b videos, we’re here to do a job, win business, or inform customers. When we lose focus we get tempted to make an art project.

The Problem With Art Projects

Art is inherently subjective. What one person loves someone else might hate.

And neither are wrong.

Nickelback is the most “hated” band in America, yet they have sold 50 million albums. That’s the same number as Tony Bennett.

We hear the stories of brilliant artists that never lived to see the success of their work.

B2B Video Problems

Norman Rockwell criticized art.

When you make a video into an art project, then you’re setting yourself up to fail. Because what could work really well for you may be a bad idea for your customers.

One of the hardest things to remember in b2b video work is that you are not your customer. 

Maury Parody To Illustrate B2B Video Point

This means that you are not your market, you do not have the same problems. You may have some overlap. But you’re different. This means that when you try to make art, you’re risking a lot. 

So instead of making something that makes your department happy, build something that solves a problem.

This improves your odds of success a great deal.

We’ve made 400+ videos. And we try to make each one useful, big, entertaining and fun. But this is all subjective. Where we are really locked in is when we have a brief and a target and we are asked to hit a goal.

How you Should Think Of Your B2B Animated Video

You should think of your business video as an employee. You’re hiring it to do a job, to occupy a space.

You can hire it to do a variety of things:

  • Inform your clients what you’re doing.
  • Teach them how to use your software.
  • Persuade them to work with you.
  • Persuade them of an important idea.

This, then, is less subjective. These ideas are able to be executed measurably. 

An Art Project Vs. An Employee

The “employee” metaphor helps dissipate the pressure.

You’re hiring a video to do a job.

There are several “types” of videos: Marketing Videos, Onboarding Videos, Support Videos, Explainer Videos, Persuader Videos, Sales Videos.

We have to get clear on what we expect to happen – what the job of the video is – before we begin the work. We want to be as specific as possible. 

Here are some examples of bad b2b video goals:

  • Video #1: Make a hip, edgy video.
  • Video #2: Brand us as the industry leader.
  • Video #3: Look “big league” like our competition.

Here are some examples of good goals for b2b videos:

  • Video 1: Job Description: Teach our customers EXACTLY what to do when they get our product. This will reduce support requests by 5%.
  • Video #2: Job Description: Increase the number of opt-ins from 4% to 7%.
  • Video #3: Job Description: Get walk-by traffic at our next trade show to stop and talk to us and to entertain our guests while we’re waiting.
  • Video #4: Job Description: Create an asset that accurately states what our process is so our customers can comprehend.

Remember: Sometimes good goals may be able to achieve other things. A highly focused conversion video may be able to brand you, make you feel hip and edgy. The difference is we’re starting with a business goal first.

These are good examples of what to do vs. what not to do. 

How To Finish This

When you are making a video into an art project, you’re competing with world class entertainment. When you’re making a video an employee, you’re doing a job that helps your customers. You’re serving, and you’re not getting caught in delusions of grandeur.

We make videos that do their jobs.

And yes, we make them beautiful, fun, entertaining and compelling. We try to make sure that they have good taste.

But when you hire an employee, you know if it’s doing its job or not. When you make an art project, it’s a much more daunting task to learn if you have been successful.

Your turn.

Do you want me to take a look at your brief?  Why not reach out on my contact page.

Why Every Video Project Planning is Important For Every Project (Even Small ones)

Good people working hard can cause bad outcomes.  I call it the Phantom Menace Effect.  Do you think that the folks working on that movie didn’t care?  Do you think the people didn’t have talent?  They had both. But for a number of reasons things went awry.

We recently had a project that was way harder than it needed to be because we treated (and priced it) it as a simple “order fulfillment.”  Except we misunderstood the scope and worked hard on something that the client didn’t want.

Time, energy, talent, and effort were spent moving in a direction that we didn’t want to go.  And it could have been prevented with project planning.

We thought it was a simple, straightforward change order.  So did our client.  However, we both had different understandings of what “change order” meant.  So the delivery wasn’t what they had had in mind.  And it’s not as if we didn’t put effort and work into it.

What Video Project Planning Is:

Planning is the process where the client and creative partner reconcile all the differences that they have, and come to a shared understanding.

This will include:

  • Production Values
  • Scope of work (Statement of Work)
  • Limitations on The Work (ie. Revisions)

Every project needs it.  And, as a general rule, planning comes early.  It can come either pre-agreement or post agreement, but no later.

Project planning should be roughly 10-25% of the total time estimated to have in a project.

Why?

  1. If the budget won’t cover (hey, it happens) we learn that after only 10% of the money is spent, not more.  That’s much easier to untangle and refund than 65%.
  2. You can educate your client on what it takes.
  3. You can also offer other services that would enhance and defend the project you’re delivering.

At our company, we’ve mostly gotten away with “winging” change orders in the past. We wanted to prevent ourselves from being bureaucratic and so we kept the SOW or Change Orders to a simple budget document, and then we dived in.

This worked, but we are now realizing that we were _fortunate_. We were able to get by with an immature process because we have amazing clients and they are generally great human beings.

How To Implement Lightweight Project Planning

First, ask what _result_ you’re going to look for _from your client_. They can talk about what they want to happen in an honest and earnest way.

Then list the things that will need to happen – we do this informally in a Google Doc or other sharable doc.

Then, estimate the time needed for each step.

Finally, pad the estimates so if you’re wrong then your client still doesn’t suffer much.

Look at the project.  If it’s something you can live with, do it.  If not, don’t.

Finally, Productize

90% of what we do is ordered from the menu.  We’ve developed video services that are exact and specific and that are profitable to us and valuable to our clients.  The 10% that are off menu have been change orders, edits of our competitor’s work, and unusual projects that we did to support existing clients.

The importance of productizing is that you work subjectivity out, and the SOW becomes the same on every project, and less energy is spent correcting misunderstandings.

Other Articles:

A couple of articles informed our perspective on this:

Creative Bloq:  http://www.creativebloq.com/netmag/project-discovery-and-design-professional-6126273

Chris Lema: http://chrislema.com/stop-preventing-scope-creep/ .  <–one of my favorite articles by the great Chris Lema on this stuff.

The Agency Client’s Bill of Rights

What rights does a client have?

When someone pays you money and agrees to trust you with their brand – or even their career – shouldn’t they automatically get something for it?

Shouldn’t certain things just be givens?

When a marketing director hires us, they risk their job.  Because chances are, the only thing the boss is going to look at is the work that got done on a video.

When an author hires us, they are trusting us with their life’s work.  So, shouldn’t that trust mean that we go beyond the agreement?

I. Every Client Has The Right To On Time Delivery (On Every Milestone)

If the agency causes any part of a project to be delayed – even by one second – the client is must be offered a full refund.

Any agency without this policy in place is guaranteeing you that they are going to be nightmarish to work with.  That they don’t respect your time – a more precious commodity than your money.

Agencies pretend to be artists when in truth, most are simple amateurs.

On-time delivery should be table stakes, and yet we are told again and again it’s ‘refreshing to work with us because we stick to our project plan’.

When Simplifilm struggled it was simply because we took too many jobs.  We’d bet on a client-side delay or a rally.  Or, we’d pawn off the fault of the delay to the client – always possible to do but it’s the hallmark of an amateur.

II. Every Client Has the Right to Regular Automatic Status Updates

If a designer is working on a project, every client has the right to hear from them at periodic and predictable intervals.

“Hey, what’s the status of my project?” is an email that no client should ever need to send out.  Ever.  That’s a straight-up insult to them.

It is a failure of respect so massive that a refund is definitely in order.

If the provider of design work is so disorganized that they aren’t prepared for a simple status update, then it’s certain that the clients are dealing with hacks.

Clients trust us with their most important projects, and to make any client chase us for information shows we don’t care about them.

III. Every Client Has the Right To Complete & Useful Updates

A client’s time is respected when they are given enough specific information to make a decision.

“We’ll get this to you ASAP,” is something that we used to say.  How utterly worthless.

What does ASAP even mean?  Tomorrow?  Next week?  As soon as we feel like it?  What does ASAP mean?  I mean, how soon is now?  (I had to get my Smiths reference in).

What we’re basically saying – to our client – is “go away, we’re doing something else more important right now, and we don’t respect you enough to offer any transparency.”  We can thank the great customer service expert Steve Curtin for leading us to this insight.

Now we send updates like this:

“Hey, we got your request, and we’ll be able to turn it around tomorrow by 3pm, worst case.  We’ll try for sooner, does that work?”

The format we use is what now, what next, and exactly when. The habit takes time to build, but when you make and keep commitments you save the client money.

It’s also more operationally efficient because the client doesn’t have to begin a follow-up cycle that nobody wants.

IV. Every Client Has The Right to a Written Project Plan

“I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.”
-Dwight D Eisenhower

With a plan, a client can understand the playing field.  Clients can now grade us.  They know what should happen and when, so they can feel comfortable with the whole process.

Amateurs run from this because it requires thought.  Good agencies run to it because it widens the gap between us and our competitors.

Is our project going well?  Poorly?  What are the steps?  When will feedback be due?  How do we determine success or failure?

A written plan – beyond the proposal – covers the progress.  Redundant respect and reassurance.

V. Every Client Has a Right to Enough Time For Feedback

There must be adequate time for clients to give feedback built into the schedule.  

Agencies are famous for pushing feedback delays onto their clients.

“I would have been on time, but we thought we’d get feedback sooner,” is the amateur’s favorite excuse.  As if feedback is a big surprise.  “Ooooh, you wanted input on our $15,000 project?  Wow!”

The need to collect and respond to feedback has always been a large part of creative projects. Having a plan without that time is simply not liking your client enough to set them up to win. 

“Enough time” can vary and it depends on the client.  Good agencies ask up front.  Sometimes clients have stakeholders they need to touch base with.

VI. Every Client Has the Right To Know the Consequences of A Reschedule

Client delays happen.  It’s part of any business, and it’s as predictable as the need for feedback.

Sometimes the result is minimal on the final delivery, but other times the wrong delay creates a domino effect that’s felt for a long time – and the client would choose something else if given the option.

An example: a 3 word script change may cost a week in production time when it happens at the wrong time.

Let’s say the client requests a script change on a Thursday.  The Voice Artist is out of town and can’t get back to us till Tuesday.

When he does, there’s a routine, but minor, mispronunciation of a technical term.  We get it back late on Tuesday.

Then we can get it into production, if we don’t have to change the shotlist, storyboard, and intended style frames.

That’s a domino effect.  And it could have been that the client didn’t care that much about the script change and it certainly wasn’t worth a delay in the delivery date.  That’s why a client has a right to know in advance what the consequences of changes will be.

VI. Every Client Has the Right to Have Overage Disclosed In Advance

Clients must be warned about overage and change orders before they are incurred even if it’s written up in the agreement.

Sometimes creative work pivots.  This is just a fact of life.  It’s sometimes a great idea to invest more to make good projects better.  What also happens is that agencies famously spring a “surprise bill” on their clients.

After all, the client signed a master agreement, and they knew that this particular change created overage.

Nope.  The lines between an additional revision and a change order can sometimes become blurry.  So when something that’s requested incurs overage, a professional should take the initiative and be straightforward to clarify it.

Overage is often a very good idea.  If you’re making a great video and you come up with something at the end of the process to make it spectacular, well, if it happens to cost a few dollars, who cares.

VII. Every Client Has the Right to Respect

You can’t take their money if you don’t respect them, too.

We see sites like Clients From Hell, we watch videos like this (well done and funny, but fundamentally wrong.  The creative underclass, hacks and beginners take comfort in their failures at places like this).

It’s OK to do business with someone.  It’s OK to not do business with someone.  What’s never OK is to take a project or a client that you can’t get behind.  If you have to take money from someone you don’t respect you are not a good designer, and you’re not doing good work.

VIII.  Every Client Has A Right To A Good Spec

The responsibility for providing a useful and valid spec lies the provider of design.

So many amateurs know that a client wants something else, but they have a sloppy or muddy spec that they hide behind.  A client – without specialized expertise – may trust their developers and designers.

Without a solid spec, we don’t have a target to hit. We don’t understand the goals of design and we can’t comment on if this is – or isn’t – appropriate.

IX. Every Client Has A Right To Know They’ve Been Heard

Every client should get feedback and changes read back to them with proper technical language.

Feedback is part of the process.  And a lot of times agencies “shuffle off” the feedback.  They start to work on what they think the client says.

Why not confirm it?  Reword it into correct design language, show you know it, and confirm that’s the right choice before doing it.

It’s only a little bit of extra work, but it removes so much subjectivity.

Clients are buying design, but they are not trained designers.  To expect them to have perfect design language is absurd, so we have to take that responsibility. 

X. All Clients Have The Right To Only Say Things Once

When something is said to one person in the company, it’s said to everyone in the company.

Once you tell something to one person in a company, you’ve told it to the whole company.  Whenever a client says something – and they are paying a good fee – then you should know.

It’s easier than ever with Slack, Zoom and other tools.  A process should support and confirm a client’s desires.

The Big Challenge

Breaking any of these rules means that the project has failed.  And that the client should get an immediate refund.

Because the provider has stolen money, and more importantly time.

Because the project lacked alignment.

That’s our standard.  So when you’re comparing providers, ask if they provide a service guarantee as tight as ours.

Why We Made This?

Because we have made every mistake you can possibly make.  From making client repeat themselves to giving vague and careless status updates to missing intermediate milestones.

Doing this well has two benefits: we dramatically cut down on revisions.  And our clients became happier.

We also increased our referrals, client satisfaction and everything else.

Just yesterday we got this nice message in our inbox:

screnshot

That’s the result of a well-done process.

Take Action!

When design is sold correctly, packaged correctly and the process is smooth, everyone benefits.

Get our “bill of rights” agreement for use.  Simply put your email in the box below.  When you do, you’ll immediately get the Client Bill of Rights for use with every design contract you ever use.

How To Eliminate Your Risk When Choosing New Creative Partners

Welcome to the age of the creative partner.

Most big companies are more and more reliant on outside partners – especially for marketing. Done are the days of one agency with departments that handled everything. That “department store” model is dead because it was impossible for a big firm to compete with specialty shops.

But now, companies have a new problem! The new problem is that with more vendors comes more risk. You have to work with a number of companies, and you have to take the time to vet them.

Because if you pick someone that doesn’t perform – it has huge consequences especially in high-profile projects.

So, we wrote this post to give you a quick guide to eliminating most of the risk when working with new vendors.

Insist on a Performance Guarantee

Here’s a hint. If they don’t have a bold public performance guarantee in place for every client then they don’t stand for anything. Sure, most agencies will make one for you, and guarantee you to get a contract. But that’s not the point. You want someone with a process that’s designed to do something perfectly.

Because when you get one big piece settled the rest falls into place.

But if they don’t have one in place then you don’t know what’s going to happen. The presence of a guarantee in one area generally means that the rest of the project will go as they plan it. It’s an indicator that they’ve thought things through.

Our guarantee is that we will deliver every milestone on time or early or you can get all of your money back. That is the linchpin that drives our whole business because it makes sure that we have that big part in place.

Insist on a Written Project Plan

We begin every project – always – with a written plan that goes all the way to the end and includes every major touchpoint. We started this several months ago and it made everything smoother for every client. We used to ‘wing it,’ and we learned that that created random results.

Now we deliver better work with less effort from everyone because every client knows when they’ll need to be available for feedback. Many companies do this on request, but it should be a standard part of every service every time.

This means that our client gets to plan on having resources available for the parts of the project where we collaborate.

Know Exactly Who Did The Work

Look at their portfolio. Is there some work that is magnificent? Jaw dropping? Are you a little jealous of it? If not, move on.

Have they done work in – or similar to – your industry with success? Ask specifically who did each part. A lot of agencies may make small contributions to the big picture and then try to take credit for the whole piece. Ask what they did, ask how they did it, and ask who else contributed.

Insist on Frequent Updates With No Excuses.

We offer client updates every other day, and daily on request.

This happens automatically without them having to chase us.

Why? Because it’s the minimum standard to show we respect and care for our clients. We get it – in video work – so many of our customers are risking their work reputations by choosing us.

For a marketing manager, the one minute video we make together may be the only look-in that the CEO gives on their performance that quarter. So it’s gotta be great. They trust us with their jobs, the very least we can do is show them the same consideration and share progress each day.

There’s no “perfect system” to making choices like this, or reducing risk. However, this will weed out the bad apples and help you keep your gig.

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Hidden Content

Why Do Some Change Orders Cost So Much?

A couple of years ago, we had to put together a simple change order for a client that added a tagline to their brand name. They needed the key words in the script twice. Seems fairly straightforward as far as jobs go.

And of course we wanted to help! So, we charged what voice talent needed plus a fee for our time. It looked like a couple of hours of simple work. The client agreed our fee was fair and we swiped.

Except it wasn’t. It wound up taking over 40 hours work on our end for a number of reasons that all “went wrong” at once. We had to retime the entire audio, we had to find a new voice talent because the initial voice left the industry. The audio mix then had to be redone. All of that after we’d agreed on a fee.

What Goes Into a Change Order…

Here’s what goes into a “regular” change order.

  1. We have to understand: The change order has to be understood. This isn’t a small part of the process and it takes time to do. Something like “Just make the logo stand out more,” could mean a number of things. Are we isolating it and zooming in? Are we adding a drop shadow to it? Are we making sure that the logo stays in motion the whole time?
  2. Calendar Risk:  The work has to be assigned and scheduled. This isn’t the hard part, usually.
  3. Original Assets: The original file and assets have to be found. We archive everything and have a thorough process where we keep things for 3 years, but sometimes files get corrupt (thanks, Dropbox).
  4. Computer/Software: A computer with the same environment has to be procured. If we started in After Effects, we have to finish in After Effects. Or Maya or C4d or Final Cut or Premiere. Sometimes some projects may have multiple programs in different scenes. After Effects versions change fast to keep up with the times, and sometimes they leave behind old ways of doing things so that scenes have to be rebuilt.
  5. Audio: The audio has to be edited and music redone. We don’t just slap a track on at the end of a project, good companies sync the visuals with the rhythm. A small change can push the timing off throughout.
  6. Learning The Project: Someone must become familiar with the project again: looking at old work, old writing and old code takes a minute to “get back into” the project. This takes time, and has to be factored in.
  7. Pricing: Change Orders must be priced in a way that’s fair to Simplifilm and fair to our client. Clients don’t understand that if an entire video costs $10-12,000, then why does a 5 second change order cost $2,000 or more?

The above is just what happens on an ordinary change order with no special issues.

Other things that may happen:

  • Domino Effect: Good craft means scenes are built with the whole of the piece in mind. Changing one early part creates work later because there is a ton of interdependency in any good piece of work.
  • Profit Risk: When we build an entire Simplifilm we make some money. When we do a change order we make less. We have to be good to the company in order to be around to continue to do change orders in the future.
  • Licensing Risk: Sometimes stock media is picky about how many times it’s licensed to show up. When we do a change order we have to relicense it, and sometimes we’re simply not aware of what had happened.

That’s what goes into a change order, and while we ALWAYS want to help our clients we have to make sure that we’re fair to Simplifilm, too.

So, we’ve taken a path of charging a little more to do change orders. We’re happy to do them, we just have to make sure that it’s fair to our company. Within about 60 days, the change order fees are less because a lot of the risks don’t exist. After 60 days, our fees are increased.

This was made just so people could understand that it’s not just “a quick drop in.” We want to be able to help all of our customers and support the folks that support us. It just needs to be fair to everyone!

 

How To Save A Troubled Creative Project

Nobody sets out to make The Phantom Menace. But they make it anyway. Talented people working hard fail.

[box]Welcome back to process week, part III. Two more to go. The first two are here & here. They are preventative. This one is curative![/box]

It will happen. Despite all preventative measures you will encounter a project that goes wrong. Sometimes it’s a matter of things being “just a little off.” Other times things are wildly wrong – a key misunderstanding.

Let’s assume we set everything up for success. That the business arrangements worked out.

And someone raises their hand and says “we’re in trouble here.” What should we do?

First: Ignore Sunk Cost: Should This Project Continue?

https://twitter.com/AndySwan/status/745613446826307584

Sometimes a good agency (with a good client) will make a mistake and should find an honorable exit. Despite the time and hours working together we have to ask: what does finishing this project bring both parties?

Does the project still matter? Are the goals viable? Is the reason that it’s been hard because it’s an unimportant project?

Second: Defend Against Late Joiners

In our business, we’ll lock in a brief, script, tone and design elements, and sometimes, the “big boss” will show up wanting to change things. Wanting to reverse decisions.

This always feels bad, till you realize that it doesn’t have to be bad.

When we get late joiners we ask:

  1. Did the brief change?
  2. Did we change?

We have to identify that – “This is a departure from our existing goals, so what do we do about it?”

First, if you have been impeccable in all things, you needn’t panic. The client may change what they want, and cover the costs. Or they may stick with the brief. Either way, it’s just business.

OK, now let’s assume that we’ve decided to move forward on the project.

What attitude should we have? Simple:

No Judgements, No Punishments, No Lectures

It’s OK for projects to morph. It’s perfectly fine for clients and providers to change their minds about work.

People change their minds all the time.

It’s not the time to punish them, lecture them, or judge them for being indecisive.

Sometimes when you go to a hotel, you need to change rooms because, on reflection, being closer to the conference floor is more important than having a panoramic view. That’s not a mistake, that’s a choice borne of knowledge. So you ask to move. The hotel should honor your request. Occasionally, there’s a fee for changing rooms (let’s say that the centrally located room is a more expensive room). That’s fine, and choosing to pay that fee is fine.

What’s not fine is snarky remarks about changing your mind. Your goals may have improved upon further knowledge.

So consider this as we move into the next steps:

Have an Alignment Meeting (or two)

The next part of the process is to have an alignment meeting.

No matter who calls time out and raises their hands, you have to have a meeting.

The purpose is to see what gets us to the finish line. Who cares who is at fault here. Everyone wants the project to be successful. There are no secret saboteurs. It’s hard to do these and let issues roll off your back, but it’s the best way to salvage the project.

Stuff isn’t working. That in itself is unfortunate. So we are saying “we’d like to have a meeting to increase the chances of a good outcome here, and get this project to a place where we’re confident in everything.” That acknowledges the troubles, but it puts the blame on nobody.

We don’t put our clients on the defensive, and we don’t let routine processes cause us to apologize (clients hate it when their vendors are weak).

So the goal of this meeting:

  1. Learn what’s not working as specifically as possible.
  2. Figure out what we can do to make things right.
  3. Compare what’s necessary to the original plan.
  4. Plant the seeds for a change order.

All four steps are important. We recently had a client who changed all their branding right before a project was supposed to go live. We had to be prepared to make the reversal of existing decisions a change order.

Agree to a Revised Plan

Now you’re cooking with gas. You’ve figured out what you need to make this hit the finish line.

There are three elements to a revised plan:

  1. New Timeline
  2. New Deliverables
  3. New Business Arrangements

Not everything has to “change,” but they should be addressed. This should agreed by the client:

  • Hi, Client, We have agreed to use the new logo and color scheme throughout. Our original deadline was  the 15th, and now it’s going to be done on the 16th. Provided there are no further changes that are caused by this, there won’t be extra fees.

 

All three elements have to be in play when we are making a project cover.

Use Precise Language To Describe The New Plan & Sign Off

The responsibility – under every circumstance – for having an understandable spec is on the provider. Not the client. Period. You can always tell a bad designer because they mock clients for not having a nuanced and precise design vocabulary. Or they rush into business with someone too soon.

The new plan has to use design language. That’s clearly explained and understood. That’s agreed. That’s different than whatever didn’t work well.

Then sign off on it.

Finally: What Not To Do

Remember that this is business.

A client not liking something isn’t a personal attack on your company and its values. As long as everyone is well intended, plays fair, and doesn’t get emotional about it.

You don’t have to grovel or feel bad because you deliver a lot of work to a lot of clients. You are impeccable and didn’t have any issues so far. It’s part of a routine process, no more unusual than having to search for parking in Manhattan.

You are presenting an idea that doesn’t work. I know a ton of people that think Stanley Kubrick is a great director. I think his movies are tedious and boring. Doesn’t mean that Kubrick isn’t a great director with a great audience. The other clients that have paid and referred you are what validates your work.

So don’t get emotional.

This job may fail, and you could still be a legendary creative team. One job doesn’t make or break you.

After all, George Lucas produced Star Wars and Howard The Duck within 10 years of one another. We remember Star Wars, and are reminded of Howard The Duck.

What about you guys? Do you have an idea to recover troubled projects?  If so email me at projects@simplifilm.com and let me know what we should add to this post.

How To Prevent Problems In Creative Projects

This is process week here at Simplifilm, and yesterday we talked about client communications.

Today we’re talking about preventing problems.

Be Impeccable

Be Impeccable With Your Word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean.

-Don Miguel Ruiz

First, in order for your project to work, you have to be impeccable in your actions. If you say something will happen on Tuesday, it’ll happen on Tuesday by 1pm, client-standard-time.

Why? Because the client is expecting it, she’s aware of it, and if it happens later than you told them they will say that they are fine with it, “no worries,” but they spent the day expecting it and having it come late in the day is a bummer.

These little cracks and kinks are things that a client will forgive you for. They’ll tell you “no big deal.” But the client will lose confidence in you. A little at a time.

The way to fix this? Keep your word.

Plan Everything

“In preparing for battles I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable”

-Dwight D. Eisenhower

The first thing you have to do is have a robust plan for each element of your process. Some type of project management software – like Basecamp or Asana is useful for sharing a plan.

The plan should cover every element of what it takes to ensure that your project is successful. Assume nothing.

Does your video need to go live on Youtube? Put that up as a checklist item. Make sure someone is accountable for it. Do you need something from the client? Same deal, put it up.

Do you need to select a color palette? Include a tagline? Put some notes together and make it happen.

Our tools for this are the creative brief.

Pad All Deadlines

“It wasn’t that things were harder than you thought they were going to be, it was that they were hard in ways that you didn’t expect.”

-Lev Grossman

The most important thing you can do is add two layers of padding in every deadline you have.

Internal Padding You take the time that it should take to begin a project, and you add at least 50% to it. Stuff goes wrong. You have to expect it, and internally know what something’s going to take.

Promise Padding The next thing you do is add another 50% plus 1/2 business day to when you promise it to your client or stakeholders. This way you don’t miss a deadline.

Preview & Proof Everything Before Doing It

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”

-Albert Einstein (commonly attributed)

The worst thing that can happen is wasting work. Many hours and a lot of thought go into a project and it’s…wrong. It misses the brief, it doesn’t work, it has choices that we know aren’t happening.

This is exactly why we use references.  (Similar work that will evoke similar emotions with a similar style).

This way, we don’t risk wasting time on a path that won’t work (and risk having to bill a client for an error). We take small risks and “bake them in,” getting consent a step at a time.

When we combine these tools:

  • Be impeccable
  • Plan everything
  • Pad deadlines (to support being impeccable)
  • Preview and Proof

It all starts to come together.

Wait For Assets Before You Start

The last thing that we have to do is to wait for assets before you start a project. A lot of times you’ll see clients jumping the gun; “Yes, we’ll send the logo tomorrow, but we need something from you first.” This isn’t the way that great projects are built. You wait for the client to come through – for their benefit – because if you get to the middle and are chasing assets, you risk having to bill them for wasted work.

Conclusion: You Can’t Prevent All Issues

Now, you can’t predict and prevent all issues that come up. But you can eliminate 80% of them with an exceptional process.

How To Improve Your Client Communication [Process Week Post #1]

Welcome to Project Management Week on the Simplifilm blog.

We’ve spent a ton of time and effort on project management and improving our process.

We’ve learned this year that having excellent people in the production process leads to better creative work. So we’ve spent the last two months improving that process. 

HOW TO IMPROVE CLIENT COMMUNICATION

By establishing the way we communicate with clients we save a ton of time, energy and effort. By having sound communications you can:

  • reduce the time that projects are “out for revision”
  • reduce the number of revisions (which is what clients want)
  • increase – dramatically – the referral and rehire rate
  • spend less time going down paths that don’t work

Here’s why a process works. Projects are more alike than different. Clients themselves are more alike than different. What a client wants from a design team is to have an efficient, well handled, beautiful project done perfectly. Design teams want the same thing.

So we’ll state all that.

First, the obvious things are table stakes. Having good manners, being nice, speaking in terms of how decisions benefit the client all apply, but we’re already doing that.

This week is all about improving client communication.  So without further ado, here’s how.

Idea #1: You Must Have A Plan To Communicate Your Process

We have a memorized and rehearsed on-boarding call. This creates a “performance” mindset that helps us set the tone.

We also have a process roadmap that we share with our clients so that they can ‘keep score at home’ and follow our process (especially in relation to the deadline). We also get to say what will happen when a client is late on something (that sometimes it has an increased impact).

Our plan includes:

  • Onboarding call: an initial call that displays mastery and sets the tone.
  • Process roadmap: our “as you go” list of things that still need to be done.
  • Process messages: scripted, predefined messages that share with the client how much we’re in control.

Since we’re a video agency and all of our clients get videos from us, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel with every thing that we do.

We simply write out what must be done.

Your business may have different needs, but you’ve gotta have a plan in place.

Idea #2: You Must Communicate Completely

The easiest way to explain complete communication is to share with you what incomplete communication looks like. Let’s take the example of sending a first version of a video:

Dear Steve,

Here is your delivery- hope you like it.

-Chris

Now, what we’re doing wrong here is this:

  1. We don’t tell them what type of delivery it is. They don’t know if it’s a draft, a final copy or just a random thing.
  2. We don’t tell them what the next steps are. Do we need something from them? Will they get something?
  3. We don’t tell them when we need action.
  4. They don’t know what the consequences for inaction are.

Imagine the back and forth – how many more emails this badly written email will cause.

Let’s change this to something useful:

Dear Steve:

As promised, here’s the initial version of your video.

What we’d like you to do is to get us feedback tomorrow by 10am – we can do a call if you’d like, or you can fill in this form [LINK].

After we get your confirmation, we’ll usually need about 2 business days to make any changes. We’ll confirm our timelines again at that time. Do remember that this video is needed by September 22, so if it takes a while to get feedback that could be an issue with our timeline.

Thanks!

Chris

We call this method Exactly What Now, Exactly What Next, and Exactly When. When we use this consistently, all of our projects go much more easily.  We also spell out the consequences for inaction here.

Idea #3: You Must Gently Remind People Of Business Arrangements

One of the silly things that happens on the Freelancer blogs and groups is that they expect the client to have memorized all of the terms of their agreements. When a client forgets, they are enraged! How dare they!

Occam’s Razor applies: The client wasn’t evil, he simply forgot. Remember: they signed the deal ages ago. It was one of 6 competing proposals. In fact, when’s the last time you remember every detail of your own…home mortgage?

Often, a client will ask for extra things. They’ll do this at all times in the process, and you so you have to remind them of their business arrangements.

PROACTIVE REMINDER EMAIL: Glad we’re done! Just wanted to let you know that now that the script is finalized, any changes will mean a change order (which will obviously have a nominal fee).

The other thing clients will do is ask for changes that aren’t covered.

The answer, of course is always yes. No matter what they want. But it’s a different type of yes. See below.

CLIENT: Hey we’d like another script change here.
YOU: Absolutely! We’re happy to arrange that for you, and we’ll be eager to get going. As you may recall, we’ve finalized the script. To change it at this point will be just $1500, and it will cause us to shift the deadline from September 20th to October 2nd. Once you confirm that’s OK we’ll make the change!

This starts a conversation, and often times a client will be happy to order the extra work. (Note: all change orders must be profitable, not just churn. You have to be fair to your own company and have profit in every action you take, otherwise you’ll get hurt. Ask me how I know).

Conclusion: The Rewards Are Great And The Stakes Are High

We know that we get better referrals when we stick to the process. Referrals and rehires where all of our profits come from. And whenever we have regretted something, when our company has underperformed, it’s because we’ve abandoned our process.

My friend Steve Curtain talks about how to do better than going through the motions here on this post.

Some client cultures will do all they can to disrupt this sort of thing. They will stall, they’ll complain, they will stop what they are doing to keep things from happening. Even when this happens, stick with it. Because you can seriously limit the damage that they can do and have a profitable, fun business.

We commit to process so that every client under every circumstance has the best shot at getting a great result with their projects.

Tomorrow’s post is about how to prevent project management issues from happening.

Tell me what you think – what’s the most important part of client communications?

The 11 Steps To A Great Creative Process

Our Creative Process is what gets things built. It’s what we count on when things get hard (and yes, things get hard at every company).

The Process makes everything better.

When things break down it’s usually because we have abandoned our process. The Process is the source of all integrity.

What we’ve done here is broken down our creative process and adapted it to any creative project that we can think of. Even though we’re a video company, our process can be adapted to just about any creative effort.

Some parts of the process seem formal/boring, but we know from experience that projects with a process outperform projects without. Sometimes “just doing it” is faster, and sometimes it even works, but more often than not it doesn’t work, and it doesn’t lead to good results.

Step One: Discovery & Intake

The first step is listening. We learn about what the goals of the client (internal or external) are. We look at the competition, we look at what others are doing. We also collect & organize assets from the client.

Discovery is learning about the client’s goals and opportunities.

Intake is getting what we need to do our job.

The questions here will be things like:

  • What is your vision for this project?
  • Where are the logo files?
  • Are there any “must airs” in this project?
  • Are there “third rail” ideas or clichés that we can’t use?
  • What are competitors doing and how are the competitors marketing?

The Goal of discovery & Intake is to get the things you need to do and research your job.

Time Commitment: 1-2 hours, plus some research which varies.

Step 2: Write A (Simple) Creative Brief

If you can’t agree on the goal of the project, it’s nearly impossible to deliver a great video.

So the creative brief is where we lock in some goals for the project. Sometimes the goals will have numbers, sometimes not.

“To create a video that allows people to get the point of our product in 90 seconds,” is one.

“To create a video that moves opt ins from 1.4% to 6%,” is another.

“To create a video that provokes curiosity about our book project.”

We’ve made a video-specific article that details this process, but the keys are:

  • Who the audience is.
  • What they are supposed to know, do or feel.
  • What they need to remember.
  • Any must-airs (i.e Intel Inside) by third parties.

Time Commitment: This will take 60-90 minutes.

Step 3: Gather References

Nearly every work of art and beauty started with references. Star Wars famously used Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey to inform everything that they made together. Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like An Artist references this process. More to the point, the title of the book steals from Picasso.

So you want to find work that evokes the emotions we want.

Having 3-4 pieces of prior art and what you liked about them will save time.

You’ll spend 60-90 minutes here if everything is working correctly.

Step 4: Create A Script

Notice that the script is a foundation of the video. But before we do that we have work to do. RedBull and Starbucks both sell caffeinated drinks that provide energy. But they market their offering in different ways to different markets.

Not every project is a video, so this may be a “framework,” a goal, a takeaway. In an infographic, you’d “do your research.”

We’ve written about this process here.

Time Commitment: Up to 12 hours.  Generally a good script takes between 3-5 hours per draft, and we generally see 2-3 drafts per script.

Step 5: Create an Outline

In video, we call this a shot-list.

A blog post or e-book may have some text.

This is where the script marries the visuals. In a PPC campaign, you may have a bunch of initial ads that you write for further use.

The outline part will be where all of the elements begin to come together, and you can start seeing what’s happening before you over invest in a bad direction.

Time Commitment: Varies by project, but takes about a 1-3 days.

Step 6: Create Some initial Design Work

We call this the “style frames” in our business. We want to create a look at our first visuals at this point and go from hypothetical to reality.

We use style frames to share what’s happening here, but in other design projects your mileage may vary.

Step 7: Cast Your Project

In a video we have a lot of moving parts:

  • Voice Artist
  • Script Writer
  • Creative Director
  • Producer
  • Lead Designer
  • Client Side Producer

Sometimes these roles are the same, sometimes they are different. We need to know exactly who they are so that we can get confirmation from the right folks.

When there is a team leader, we want to have someone who collects consensus and advocates for some work.

Step 8: Create Some Scenes

In video, we call this a motion test, which is generally 10 or so seconds of original, first quality work. In other creative work it would be important bullet points, important concepts to use.

We also may try to take on the riskiest parts of what we’re doing first.

We want to anchor a video project around a few scenes because THOSE scenes are what has the best chance to be memorable.

Step 9: Create an Advance Copy

We don’t believe in first drafts. A client should never have to see one. Because it’s work that they shouldn’t have to do.

We call the initial version of any work an “Advance Copy.” Because, from our perspective, it’s the first version of good work that the client gets to see. And it should be delivered first.

Because we do a lot of upfront work before we begin.

After this, we add any polish, or details that are needed to take something from A to A+.

Step 10: Quality Control

Ideally we’ll do quality control at the end of every step we have, and then again to finalize the project.

Details will be minded here, and we’ll make sure that something looks good so that it’s consistent and professional. This is something that no client should ever be expected to do.

Step 11: Release & Launch

The last step is overlooked. But distribution and buy-in are an important part of any process.

We’d never know about E.T. if Universal didn’t have a group of people that printed film and posters and got that into theaters.

If a video falls in the forest it doesn’t make any sound, does it?

Without a pre-planned, plug and play distribution strategy any project will always fail. Consider exactly how to make this happen.

I have seen great videos we’ve made die on the vine because there was no plan in place to release them. A most unnecessary failure.

Have Faith: It Gets Easier

Adopting a process always feels like a “it gets worse before it gets better” moment. That’s true in most cases. The way you “naturally” do things will often produce better initial results than working a process. Baseball players that rebuild their swings see a decrease in power and average until it gets better. Then it gets better.

However, once you work a process, and create a streamlined system you’ll find that everything moves along a lot faster, the work is better and the troubles go away.

This allows you to treat your clients better, the way that they are supposed to be treated.

Why Does Revision Hell Happen (And How Agencies Can Avoid It)

Weak agencies and designers blame their clients for predictable problems. “We got stuck in revision hell,” they say. “Because the client didn’t know how to make up their mind.”

We get a knowing grin.

And like snarky little amateurs, they scurry off and post to sites like *Clients From Hell*, where the creative underclass vents their rage. (Hint): contempt for client is always the surest sign of an unskilled and incompetent designer.

Revision hell has happened to us.

And, if we’re being honest, it’s 100% our fault.  What we’ve done below is listed the first hand experience we have with revision hell and exactly what we did to prevent it.

Tolerating Mediocrity Is Always The Cause of Revision Hell

The root cause isn’t unreasonable clients, or someone that’s taking their day out on you.

The problem, if we’re being honest, is letting the cancer of mediocrity in.

The client is not being unreasonable. The client just reacts to the hand that they are dealt. When we allow mediocrity, we get those results.

Mediocre Presentations Cause Revision Hell

A lot of what the client is paying for is the ability to work out problems with a collaborator. Our agreement may read “a website” or “a video” but the truth is that they also expect to be able to have a sounding board and a second set of eyes on their business & its problems.

When we present our work to our clients and aren’t prepared to teach, explain and sell the choices we’ve made, we do the client a grave disservice. They lose confidence in the work that they paid for because it came in junky packaging.

Mediocre Contracts Cause Revision Hell

What does your agreement allow? What’s a change order? How many rounds of tweaking do you allow? This is something that you have to absolutely know. Because if it’s loose or ambiguous then the client isn’t abusing you.

They are doing what is allowed in the contract. In your contract. By you. And that means that they aren’t at fault. You are. Because you have a mediocre contract.

Mediocre Execution Of Your Work Causes Revision Hell

When you don’t execute at a high level you expose yourselves to the possibility of revision hell.

This means your art. Because agencies are really artists for hire. And when we don’t mind the details – from the script to the fit and finish – then what happens is that trust is eroded. Because clients aren’t dumb.

When trust is eroded *everything* comes into question. If, at some point a client had to see some work that wasn’t properly quality controlled, they will be questioning every decision that was made.

Because they have to.

Because to them, this project could be the only visible thing that their CEO sees them do this quarter or this year. That’s the stakes.

Mediocre Hiring Practices Cause Revision Hell

This is a hard one, but we had to turn over our staff. We had to hire a large group of people to get jobs out under the gun. We didn’t have the right mix because we didn’t learn how to hire people. This caused us to be in revision hell for a long time.

Because we hired only when in crisis (instead of always as we do now) we wound up green lighting people that we shouldn’t have green lit. We wound up working with a true horror of a placement service (that’ll get its own post). In order to hit deadlines we had to add staff and the staff wasn’t a great fit.

Mediocre Systems Cause Revision Hell

The other cause of revision hell is mediocre systems. Consider this: someone says, “hey,that looks great.” Is that a finalization? Is that confirming that that’s locked in? Probably not. But a lot of times agencies treat a little bit of positive feedback as if it is.

Formalizing the acceptance process – and a thousand other things – prevents this sort of thing from happening.

Mediocre Client Selection Causes Revision Hell

All of this leads to the worst part: Mediocre Client Selection. Unless you’re doing excellent work, you have to deal with mediocre clients. And the mediocre clients do what they can to prevent good work.

But guess what? You picked them. You screened them. You selected them. These guys are your fault. Chances are you are working with EXACTLY the right clients that you are supposed to serve. Just because you can’t currently get NIKE doesn’t mean you get to take your day out on someone else.

To fix this: select better clients.

Fixing Revision Hell.

Now sometimes we’ll make different choices than our clients want. We can fix that.

The hard work of ending revision hell is one of those “ounce of prevention” things. You can’t fix it by just willing it away. You have to fix it by doing the upfront work to have better presentations, hiring practices, client selection, and general systems.

None of that is easy. But the next time a project goes that direction instead of blaming the client, ask yourself:

Was I impeccable in every area of my agency practice? If not, then correct *that*.

And if you need a project done *that’s not* in revision hell…please contact us.

How To Make A Creative Brief for Video In 10 Minutes

A creative brief is a vital part of any successful project.  Most of the time, the advice you get makes it way harder the necessary.

In this article, you will:

  • Learn exactly how to make a brief for a video.
  • Learn how to keep it simple.
  • Learn how to repeat this process.

First, cut every bit of fat.

A video – any video – should have one goal.  One.  There can be supporting objectives, but the grade of a video is based on if it achieves its one goal.

Video should make someone understand or feel something, and after watching, interested people should do something.

On our end, each video gets a one sentence brief, and a five sentence supporting brief.

Step One: Figure Out Your Ultimate Goal (One Sentence Master Brief)

Here’s what happens mostly:

What not to do with a creative brief.

Properly licensed via Marketoonist.Com

Instead of this, make one goal per video and make damn sure it does that.

Here are some examples:

  • After watching this video, our audience will understand EXACTLY our service does, and interested people will schedule a demo.
  • After seeing this video, people will understand that I’m a great choice for speaking and book me for a gig.
  • After seeing this video people will understand that our brand is built for engineers, and engineers will ask to do more.

This will keep the whole team focused.  It takes discipline to make a video that does one thing, but the discipline is exactly why the projects work or they don’t.

Note, you can be even more specific with this: this video will increase conversions from 1.8% to 2.6%, or have clicks to the website go to 100 on social media.

Step 2: Add Supporting Information About Your Project

The next thing we do is what we call Target.  It’s an easy acronym that creates

It’s less important than the brief, but it guides us:

Treatment: How will this look (broad strokes, these are decisions that come a little later).  What referencews will we be using?

Audience: Exactly who are the viewers.  (Engineers that are using X product).

Requirements: What has to be in the project?  Sometimes we do have sponsor information, and sometimes we have to announce something critical.

Goal: What, exactly will a successful outcome of this creation be?

Emotional or Educational:  Is this designed to create an emotion or educate?

Time: How long is this, when exactly is it due, and what are the other milestones?

When we put everything in place  we’ll have something that is way easier than the normal creative brief process. It will be more accurate than most of the briefs are and create a great starting point.

Step 3: Get everyone on board

So we’ve done the first part – make one sentence master goal.

The second part supports and restates our goal.

The third part is to get everyone on board.  This is something that will keep the video from losing focus.  People all want to do everything, and the ideas are often compelling, but what’s important is to make sure that whatever video we make serves its intended purpose.

The key to video success is one video, one job.  Get clear on that and your videos will turn out great.

 

Tout Vs. Yesware Comparison and Review

Email Salesmanship Gamified On The Individual Level

[update: loads of things have changed since this was written but it’s still fairly accurate. Expect a new post soon.]

Tout and Yesware are excellent ways to see if you’re any good at email.  Winning your inbox is a fun way to make money.

They are new apps, and there is nothing on Earth more likely to get you better at sending email out than these two apps.

When you send out an email – what happens?

Do you know if it’s opened? Do you know when you’re baking up the wrong tree? Do you know why some emails work? And why others don’t?

Gamificaiton can help.  Keeping score…will help.

When we use list services such as MailChimp or Aweber we can learn a lot, do some split testing, and test some consumer behavior.

But most email has an audience of one.  And it’s hard to practice.    It’s been hard to learn why your pitches work other than gut feel or my own 4×6 cards and tally marks.

Some time ago, I started noticing founder  Tawheed Kader on Twitter from – probably – from some recent press coverage.  I began to engage. I looked at his service, Tout and had to try it. It had a 30 day free trial (and even a free version).  I had nothing to lose.

I had a few friends  and clients that I thought could benefit from our “one page product demo script writing guide.”

I used Tout to share it – instead of  Mail on my mac.  I sent it – mostly for the heck of it, making a connection, adding some value.  While I always want to sell more Simplifilms, I had no expectation that that would do anything- I was happy about how the article turned out and…connectors connect.

I was surprised by the result.

With 20 minutes work, I started 4 fairly serious conversations with some existing clients about immediate work.  I saw that 2 of my other clients frequently referred to the email about writing demo video scripts. They got phone calls. Another deal is on the books.  We had just brought our new animator in.  So, it was in our interests to get our people to work, so we made a “too good to be true” deal that only happens never and did the Dashter video.

Within a week of using Tout, I was pursuing multiple sales. I closed a sale I never would have had on Friday, after starting Tout on a Wednesday.

I saw (instantly)  a ton of fantastic uses for Tout (a 500 startups alum).

Tout can help you promote your blog:  I wrote a post that riffed on a Brad Feld idea.  I scheduled the post to go live the next day.  Then, I used Tout to schedule an email to Brad (and a few other folks ) to share it and spread it.  Was out of the office, driving, but I found that Brad and a couple others tweeted it, and it spread.

That post got something like 800 views – (huge for us- posts are averaging about 125 views)- and it was all done in the same batch.  Just a simple email about the blog that went out to 10 people.  Took but 6-7 extra minutes.

Now, Brad has been “Touting” Yesware for a while now.  I blew it off because I had ditched Chrome (and Chrome’s insistence on killing my Air battery with it’s poor handling of the thousands of tabs I like to keep open).

So, I definitely liked Tout better at first- I had decided to ditch Chrome for Safari and live in the Mail app instead of other places. However, when I finally got around to giving Yesware a try, I found lots to like.

So much, that I changed my workflow, and I will be using Yesware for the foreseeable future.

So, What’s Better – Tout or Yesware?

What a question.  It’s like saying “What’s better Mailchimp or Aweber”.   Great software, both, with different approaches.

I’ll cover the shared features, strengths and weaknesses of each application, and which one I’m using for what.

Saying “one is better” is really dependent on how you’re using it.  They have some overlap, and you’ll be able to see what’s right for you pretty quickly.

Shared Features of Tout and Yesware

They have ways to create store and organize templated emails. They work well – we have a couple of minor bugs in the interface, but everything is laid out more or less sensibly, and they present the information in different ways.

Tout and Yesware both track opens and responses – they go about it in different ways.  Tout is focused on “which emails are working,” and Yesware is focused on a “feed” like approach of what’s just happened.  Both make some concessions to the other approach, but this seems to be the focus for now.

Tout  is more focused on “success or failure” of emails than Yesware is.  They are going in different directions – as you can see that they’ll probably have some features from one another.

Tout has several views to check in on the success of a template.

So you can send and track emails in both Tout and Yesware- they just do the process differently.

Tout is focused and ready with opens and clicks.  Yesware is more focused on what just happened.

Divergent Approaches in Tout and Yesware: What They DON’T Do.

Yesware has no easy way of seeing how individual templates are performing – it’ll tell you how many you’ve sent out, but not what each is doing.  Tout is oriented on the template, so you could  have 4 (or 100) different messages and pit them against each other, Lean Startup style. That appeals to us because we can quickly see what’s what with each message we shoot out.

Tout, doesn’t have anything close to Yesware’s activity feed [edit: when I sent a draft of this article to Tawheed, he said that yup, he sure as heck did- see the bottom of the article, they **just** released this].  With Yesware if you stay on top of it, you can spot when an old prospect jumps in and starts re-reading the email you sent months ago.  Tout captures the data, but it doesn’t display it in a particularly usable way.

Tout also has a very handy feature- you can schedule when you are sending an email out. Yesware is dependent on your Gmail interface (with Outlook apparently coming soon), so it doesn’t do this.

I had better luck with complex HTML in Tout than I did in yesware, but your milage may vary.

Problems, Bugs and Headaches.

Yesware has two major problems.  First, it simply doesn’t exist in Safari or Firefox. It’s chrome only.  Kind of a drag.  I swore off Chrome when they started being bizarrely sluggish with Google products.

Yesware got me to ditch Safari.  Because I could see what people were doing with my email. No, not everyone, but enough that it was pretty friggin’ cool.

My other big issue is that Yesware depends on your inbox. The problem with the latter approach is that you can’t hire a VA to send out stuff without giving him or her  full access to your email.  With Tout, you can have an intern (or whoever) send stuff to a list of people, and for the most part, you won’t have a major problem.  It’s got emails, you’ll be able to see what’s being said, and you won’t have to worry about if people get back to you or not.

Tout itself has a couple of bugs-  first, not having access to data that it’s collecting is kind of a drag. You have to look at individual emails to see what people are doing.  Plus, you can only see when people are doing things if you click through to the email itself:

It’s cool that you can do it, but it’s buried. That’s a bummer.

There are also minor quirks with manually editing names – if Tout thinks it knows a contact, it’ll fight your manual data entry.

The Feed approach that Yesware favors is useful because I can instantly see when someone I sent an email back a month ago is accessing it again. It can appear that I have ESP that way.  I can “just happen” to be thinking of them when they just accessed my email.

Tout and Yesware Feature Wishlist:

Both of these should have some formal a/b/group testing.  Tout comes the closest.

Creating a “Google Optimizer”  style system of headlines and body text and grouping it for optimal opens is within reach, and at the volumes of email we send, we can quickly learn what people respond to and click on.  I’d love to be able to have one “template” and send it out, and have the ap do the heavy lifting for testing in the background to tell me what works better.  Of course, it’d have to normalize for time sent and other things, and that might be tricky, but it seems like the thing to do.

I’ve pinged both founders (multiple times since they are in charge of a VERY important tool) and told them of some other fixes and features- some syncing with Google Contacts and more “proactive” reminders if a dormant lead becomes hot. (I.e. if someone opens a 6 week old email, it’d be fantastic to put that in context ).

Conclusion

For the foreseeable future, I’m using both.  It’s not a cop-out.  They are different tools, and they are probably going in different directions.

Yesware got me back into Gmail and Chrome.  It’s frictionless like RescueTime. I’ll use it. The number of threads Chrome opens and the impact on my Air’s performance is pretty ugly.  I was using Mail (because I like hotkeys).  Yesware is worth the compromise. I might try and Just use chrome in one tab for Gmail .

Tout is great because I can work a list really fast, and send stuff that looks great out with a minimum of hassle.

I’ll leave it to the Internets to determine who the original is and who the fast follower is, but for now, I’ll be using both services for as long as they stay on the paths they are on. I doubt they’ll ever integrate, but we can always dream.

I recommend anyone that’s hustling and pitching give one or both a try.

One of the things that I love them most is both Tout and Yes-ware respect you.  They aren’t going to do anything on your behalf you didn’t mean to do. You can’t spam your list or embarrass yourself too much here.  Worst case you send an email to the wrong guy once or twice.  That’s low stakes compared to how it could be.

[Edits – New Features In Both Apps Coming Soon.]

Since I wrote this, both Tawheed and Matthew have come up with some cool features.

I emailed Matthew Bellows and told him I was in the middle of writing up this post. He got back to me with a cool feature.  This is one of the cool things that the ap  will do soon.

It’s pretty clear from this that Brad Feld is influencing Yesware.

Tawheed came up with an “emails to pay attention to” feature, that addresses Tout’s most severe missing feature.  It shows you what’s up and why:

So it seems that both are adding features fast.