Home Automation Podcast Episode #175: An Industry Q&A With Jaclyn Boutwell
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Jaclyn Boutwell, Owner & CFO at Media Systems shares tips on how to approach your clients for approval to photograph projects and how she manages the finances for Media Systems.
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Jaclyn Boutwell. Recorded live on Wednesday, June 23rd, 2021, at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Jaclyn Boutwell
While Jaclyn is normally behind the scenes or behind the camera, we had so much fun connecting with her husband Donnie a few weeks ago on show 172 that we asked her to share her perspective on the business with our audience.
Jaclyn is a technology designer who specializes in merging beauty with tech. With a keen eye for detail, she elevates the home environment with high-tech solutions that blend seamlessly with architecture and aesthetics. She uses her background in artistic design, professional photography, and smart tech to aid every aspect of the business -from managing finances for the firm to assisting with sales.
- How to approach your clients for approval to photograph projects
- Basics of video and lighting configurations for successful Zoom meetings
- How she manages the finances for Media Systems
- Parental control and privacy management for minors on the Internet
Ron: Hello, Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. I hope you're having a good afternoon. Today is Wednesday, June 23rd. It's just after 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time. We are busy over here at One Firefly, where I was to say we're busy bees, but I guess we're busy fireflies, and life is good. But at the same time, many of us, including myself, are gearing up for a version of summer vacation. I will be taking a little time wrapped around the July 4th holiday and enjoying my family. I hope you out there listening are doing the same. Once we get going, I drop into the comments. Tell us if you have a summer vacation planned. That's always fun to hear what people have planned. I know for me, I'm going to be going over to the west coast of Florida to a nice resort and having a little bit of beach time, which will be very nice.
Today we are here for show 175. We are featuring Jaclyn Boutwell, Owner and CFO of Media Systems, and for those of you that are regular listeners or viewers of the show, you'll know that we had Jaclyn's husband on actually a few shows ago. I want to say it was for show 172 and his name was Donnie. That was a well-received interview. We've had thousands of views on the video, and I reached out. Everyone knows Jaclyn. Maybe they know Jaclyn more than they know Donnie. Let's have Jaclyn on the show. And we were able to clear schedules and make that happen. Without further ado, let me go ahead and bring in Jaclyn, and we'll get the interview started. Jaclyn, how are you?
Jaclyn: Hi, how are you?
Ron: I am good, thank you. How do you feel coming on after Donnie came on a few weeks ago?
Jaclyn: Well, it's funny. We usually do this together so that it might be a little strange being without each other. We bounce off of each other with ideas and stuff, but we'll be fine.
Ron: I have done a few tandem interviews where I've had a couple of guests on simultaneously, and that is fun. I've done a couple of husband and wife teams. But we're also trying to mix it up over here at Automation Unplugged. We're interviewing you guys differently. I'm pretty confident we will explore some different areas of discussion that we probably would have otherwise. Yeah, we both do different things with the company and just stuff in life. It might be entertaining. I think it'll be fun. First of all, Jaclyn, tell us about your role within the company. Then again, for those listening that don't know Media Systems, maybe give us a quick snapshot of the company.
Jaclyn: Sure. Well, I handle mostly just all the money. A lot is coming in and going out, and lots of people to manage. I'm overseeing who's doing what. Donnie and I work together to make the sales, which is actually really helpful as a woman to go to a technical sales call because you get somewhere, and nine times out of ten, the wife is like, I hate this stuff. And I'm like, I got you, girl. Don't worry. I make her feel confident and comfortable with that. Then managing the marketing and social media side of everything, too.
Ron: Wow. You have your hands full. Tell us about Media Systems. Where do you guys operate? What type of projects do you guys do?
Jaclyn: Sure, yeah. We're a big company in Houston, Texas, and Donnie's uncle had started our company in 1980, and Donnie has been working there for 12 years. I've been there for eight years, so we've been running it together for the last six years. But we do luxury home automation, basically. We have a pretty small bubble that we work in. We like to work within about a 15-minute radius of our office, but sometimes we'll leave the bubble, especially if it's like a second or third home for somebody.
Ron: Got it. And what I'm going to ask my team to do is drop the link down into the chat on the various platforms. We'll put this in the show notes as well. And that'll be the link to Donnie because Donnie goes through quite a bit of the background and the history of the company. But would I love for our audience to learn, how did you land here? How did your story originate? How did you end up in this industry here in the present? Tell us, where did it all begin?
Jaclyn: Well, funny story about that. When we first moved, we lived in Nashville before we got married, had two of our kids in Nashville, moved to Houston, and had our third daughter. And Donnie was working for his uncle. At some point, it was like, maybe I should just help out or something. Then both of us were like, no, and it is weird if we work together. Especially working for his uncle, that would just be strange.
Then the girl working in the office put in her two weeks' notice, she was just going back to school, and his uncle was like, why don't you just come work for a little bit? Somebody in the family knows the books. And if anything ever happens down the road, at least somebody can take care of stuff. OK, sure. Our youngest was two, and I would bring her up to the office with me. She'd watch a movie in the theater right across from my desk. And about a week into it, Steve, his uncle, was like, this isn't a bad idea. Maybe one day you guys can run this like a mom-and-pop shop, like so. Then it just became what it is. And I'm really glad that I did it. I think it was a really good call.
Ron: I know this because you and I have known each other for a while. We also chatted in advance. You studied photography in school. You did not do a business or a finance major. Maybe you did so correct me. But I know you studied photography.
Jaclyn: I didn't do a business major. But I just was always good at math, even though I didn't want to be. Nobody really wants to be good at that. But in high school, I was working for a radio station, so I loved taking pictures of the bands that played. It wasn't very good, but I took some classes then. And then, in college, I went to a community college in Nashville, paid my way working as a nanny, paid my way through school to learn photography. Back in Nashville, I did lots of bands and models, which that's what we were around. All of our friends were into some form of art, and they just needed help looking better and promoting their stuff. I did some fashion shows and worked for a local arts magazine. Then when we moved to Houston, Johnny's mom sold houses and was like, "Please take pictures of these houses." And I was like, "OK." It just didn't sound that fun.
Ron: It sounded boring. I guess it did.
Jaclyn: Yeah. And then Donnie went and bought me the right kind of lens. I just got started with that. Actually, I found a job through Craigslist which, who does that any more? I don't know if that's a thing, but it was then.
Ron: I don't know if Craigslist is even around. I haven't been on Craigslist in years.
Jaclyn: I have no idea. And I wasn't even on it much then. I was just trying to find some side things because my kids were little and just wanted something to make some money on the side. There was this company out of Chicago that has a nationwide photography company for real estate. They called. I applied for the job, and out of 100 people that applied in Houston, I got the job. They flew me to Chicago and gave me a weekend full of training on shooting the perfect pictures of architecture. Then at the end, they were like, "We're going to pay you $25 a house." And I was like, no, no. Houston is huge. That's not going to work.
Ron: This was a joke? $25 a house?
Jaclyn: And I was like, you probably shouldn't have trained me first and then told me that. I backed out of it. And a week later, they called me back, and they like quadrupled the pay, and they were like, we'll only give you the big jobs. But basically, all I had to do was shoot the house, and they took care of all of the editings. But because I had already learned all of that, I just worked on it on my own and was figuring things out and took some online classes.
The best thing you can ever do with your life is finding a professional who's already doing what you want to do and learn how they do that thing. And then you put your own spin on it. I had already had my clientele through Donnie's mom's company. It's a big builder in town. They just go. They buy up a whole neighborhood and build all the houses. I was doing all of their houses, all of their model homes. I think I ended up having, I don't remember how many seven or eight hundred houses for the year. It was a big deal with that company. Then this other company was paying me just to do their pictures while they did the editing. It ended up blowing up, and I was able to work just two or three days a week while my kids were in preschool, which was pretty awesome.
Ron: Alright, so if you'll allow me, I have so many questions about your photography, and we'll get to the Media Systems stuff as well. It's all intertwined.
Jaclyn: It's all intertwined.
Ron: Yeah, photography. We'll start here. What makes for a good architectural photograph?
Jaclyn: Well, every part of the picture matters, so your lighting has to be right. The biggest and best way to show a whole room is to show three walls. Many people go in and take a picture like in the corner, and you just see these two walls with the corner in the middle of it. But if you turn and get three walls in your picture, it makes it look a lot bigger. You see more of the space, and you kind of get an idea of what the layout is of that room.
Ron: In our industry, we're in beautiful projects. And I feel like I'm beating a drum when I stand on stage or do a webinar and talk about photography and videography. I want to get into some of the challenges of getting an agreement from clients to get that. Maybe we'll keep it, first of all, to just the mechanics of a good image. Yeah. Do you bring lighting to jobs? Are you bringing your own gear or just a camera on a tripod?
Jaclyn: It's a camera and a tripod and then in a flash. Not the on-camera flash because those are horrible. It's an external flash with a diffuser on it. But the reason I do the tripod is that I can. I don't have to bring a big softbox type light if I have a tripod because I can do two different exposure's HDR, which is now a hot word for TVs and all these things. I don't believe that that is what HDR was or really should be. But basically, I can take five exposures of the same room from really dark to really bright and mesh them together to make it one perfect photo. You know how when you take a picture in a room, especially if it's of a person or something and there's a window, and the window is really blown out of white and you can see the white kind of seeping into the rest of the room and the person may be dark if there's not enough light on them?
If you have a flash on them, they'll be brighter. But you still may have some of that whiteness coming from the window where it just looks like it's glowing on the edges. You just don't want to have that. If you take a really dark exposure of the room and you get a perfect picture outside the windows, especially if you're at a beach house, there's a pretty yard. If there's a pool out back, you take a dark exposure in the room. You get a beautiful picture through the windows, and then you keep going up until it's totally bright in the room, and you get the details beside the couch and whatever else might be out on the wall and whatever. Then you can mesh those pictures together, and there are automatic ways to do that. I wouldn't do that just because I know how to do it better myself.
Ron: What software do you use to do it out of curiosity?
Jaclyn: I start in Lightroom, and I finish in Photoshop.
Ron: Alright. It's fair to say the average listener here will not be doing that level of fancy?
Jaclyn: No. But if you're at least bringing some light into the room and you're getting three walls to show the right angle, that's a good start. Maybe take some online classes to get there and learn some techniques. But I mean, jeez, the new iPhones, they're pretty good.
Ron: I was going to go there. I was going to say, is an iPhone good enough?
Jaclyn: I use an iPhone for a lot of just random stuff throughout the day. If it's our guys hanging a TV or some products or whatever, I use my iPhone. But if I'm going to shoot a house that we just finished and the designer has come in, and it's a really big deal, I'm going to use my equipment. Maybe that's the balance. There is your everyday stuff. Use your phone and think about where the light is coming from. When you take it, use the window as your light, turn your back towards the window and shoot the rest of the room. But if it's a big deal or something from marketing on your website or whatever, maybe you just need to hire somebody who can do that for you.
Ron: Alright. Let's talk cost generally or maybe broadly with a spread. If someone is hiring a photographer, to someone listening here, we'll keep it to say the United States. We do have listeners around the world. I don't know what are in other countries, but if someone is here in the United States and will hire a photographer to shoot a project, what should they be budgeting to spend?
Jaclyn: It probably depends on how big the house is and how many pictures you want, but I'd say probably in the $300-$400 range to get 10 to 20 pretty good pictures. That's just from what I know from when I was doing it several years ago.
Ron: That's a Texas Houston-type rate. I'm going to round out what you said to $300-$400. Maybe $300-$500 would be normal.
Jaclyn: Yes. And I tell realtors this all the time, you have to spend the money because people buy the house because of the pictures. If people buy houses because of what the picture looks like, think about what it does for your business. As anybody with an AV company, a designer, architect, builder, you have to have the pictures because people are attracted to beautiful things. If you put up a beautiful home, that shows the kind of house you work in and the type of work you do. As an AV company, most of the things we do are hidden. They're all in a closet.
Nobody sees the stuff we do. It's on the walls, and it's in a closet, but we show a beautiful room with a TV on the wall. We know that there are hundreds of thousands of dollars in the rest of the house to get that TV to not have stuff underneath it and make everything look pretty and have one remote control everything or voice control or lighting control or whatever it is. We get some close-ups of the products. But then, you really don't see a lot of what we actually do for the whole room.
Ron: The pushback that my team and I get the most often is that is wrong. Our clients are particularly special, particularly private, particularly unwilling to cooperate and allow us to shoot their homes. Yeah, we get that too. I think some of that is real, and some of that is an excuse not even to try. But how do you guys handle it? How do you manage to get approval? Do you always get approvals, or is it some of the time? Maybe what are the techniques you guys practice?
Jaclyn: If we're doing a pre-wire and you can't tell what it is, you just see lots of wires and stuff. We're not going to ask for approval for that. But every contract that we have with somebody, one of the terms in our agreement says we're going to take photos of your house. You can't expect any money from us, or it just says what we'll do with it, that it might go in a magazine or for a contest like CEDIA has contests and that kind of stuff. It explains what we're using it for and just says you're allowing us to take photos of your home. But also we're not going to tell anybody who you are or where you live some. But even though that's in the terms and that's a sneaky way to do it, if we don't just do that.
We go to the client and say, "Is it OK if we take photos of your home?" We explain everything. We'll bring magazines that we've been in before and say, see, this is what we've done before. We just want to show a pretty room, show what we've done, and most people and say probably eight times out of ten, they're like, "Yeah, of course, do whatever you want." Some people are just like you can't have any pictures of my house, and that's OK. They may have signed the contract that says that we can, but if they say no, then we're just not going to do it.
Ron: My wife and I hired some contractors to do some stuff in our backyard, and one of the contractors is going to put in a waterfall in a pergola. I remember the salesperson part of his sales process checklist was, "Mr. and Mrs. Callis, we'd love to photograph the finished product. Is that OK? Do we have your permission to do that?" And they did it right up front, right when we're all happy and all in a high of getting this feature added to our backyard. We were like, "Yes, of course, show it off. That's going to be wonderful."
Jaclyn: Doesn't that make you think that they're proud of their work, too? He's coming in saying this is going to be so awesome. I want to use this to show other people. That should also give you confidence in them, in hiring them. That should be the same for our client base as well.
Ron: Yeah, no, I agree. In terms of the language you added to your contract, your terms and conditions, did you draft that, did you and Donnie do that, or do you hire your counsel to do that? How fancy did you get with that process?
Jaclyn: We got fancy with it. We wrote it the way we thought. We have an attorney that has gone over all of our terms, which I would suggest that for any company, any contractor doing, I don't care if it's a thousand dollar job, you need a contract, both signatures from both people. But that was just one of the many things we put in there that we had her look over for us.
Ron: What percentage of the time do you do it get crossed out or negated?
Ron: Most of the time, it's accepted?
Jaclyn: Yeah. We had in the last three or four months. We've had two people who said no, and one was a homeowner who is a wealthy guy but not famous in any way. He just said, "No, I don't want you to do that." The second one was a builder on behalf of the homeowner. He just said, "I know you. I know you're not going to do anything with these pictures. But as their representative, I need to say this just sounds weird, and we're going to say no." I'll probably still to the homeowner say, "Can I take pictures of your house when we're finished?" And she may say yes or no. I get it that the builder wanted to protect his client even though he knows us and we've known him for a long time. It happens.
Ron: He was more covering his butt by doing that.
Jaclyn: Yeah, I think so.
Ron: I want to comment on all the guests that I have on this show. You and Donnie, your lighting, and your video or audio are particularly fantastic.
Jaclyn: Well, thanks. We work hard on that.
Ron: Do your photography skills carry over to how you conduct yourself on video conferences? Or please tell our audience how are you doing the magic that you guys are doing?
Jaclyn: Well, we're both perfectionists to start. He went to school for audio engineering. He has done music his whole life. On the audio side, I have no idea. He was like, "Turn this on and turn that on." OK, so I hit those buttons and made sure they were plugged in. That's his side, the audio side. He also studied videography in college. He does the video side. We both know the lighting side. Between us, we've got so much gear, it's ridiculous. It fills up like a whole room. It's a little bit of both.
Ron: Give our audience some of the basics to come across as solid and professional. I'm going to say we live in a Zoom world. We're all Zooming all day long every day. We're perhaps trending as a society to maybe a little bit less of that because we're hopefully on the other side of this pandemic. But tell us how what are the basics to delivering the goods on a Zoom?
Jaclyn: Yeah, well, first off, clearing all your clutter and stuff behind you, all mine is directly below me. You can't see any of it. I even posted a picture of that when Donnie was on last time, like all the junk that's all around. But this picture at least looks pretty. Framing it right. There's a rule of thirds. You want to keep your head, your eyes up in that top third, and be somewhere in between these two thirds. I'm a mirror image there. There we go. Then the lighting is so crucial, and you don't have to have fancy lights at all. Just sit by the window and have your camera or your computer, whatever, at the window facing into the rest of the room. If you're using the light from your window, that is a giant softbox. That's exactly what photographers are trying to achieve is what's coming in the window from the sun.
People do car selfies all the time. It's because your light looks amazing in the car. After all, you have the black on top of you, and all the light is coming in from the sides and all around the car. There's no direct, harsh light on your face giving you lots of shadows. It's just a really pretty soft light. Use the windows and its key, and then it doesn't hurt to get the $30 ring light on Amazon, clip it onto your desk, and use that little light. It works pretty well.
Ron: Is that what you're using?
Ron: What are you using?
Jaclyn: I have the big softbox. It's probably two and a half feet in diameter, and then I've got another little light behind me to have some backlight and something to shine on the wall. I have the window beside me, too, for fill light.
Ron: Does this classify, and I've only recently learned this term, is this three-point lighting?
Jaclyn: There are definitely three lights. There's some word for it that I probably did in college 15 years ago that I don't remember.
Ron: Let's talk about the light. You said you have a light behind you. We can't see it, and it's doing something. What is it doing? And why is that something important?
Jaclyn: It is. If you have something shining on the wall behind, you can almost see some shadow on the wall. It separates you from your background. It just makes it look a little more dynamic. There's the one big light, which is most of the light that you're seeing. That's the key light. Then the window on the side. I have blackout shades and drapes beside me. Most of it is closed. Because it's all motorized, I can just lift part of it. This window is open a little bit, and that's my fill light. That just brings in a little bit of extra light on the side. Then the one over here is actually behind me, pointed towards the wall just to give the wall that depth.
Ron: Now you help others with this, don't you? This is not your first time explaining the basics or the fundamentals.
Jaclyn: Yeah. Our church asked us to help with some teaching people how to do social media-type stuff. I've taught some iPhone photography classes and just setting up this kind of situation so you can look good on camera.
Ron: Got it. Understood. Behind me is my dog, and she's snoring. I'm not sure if that's coming across on the microphone, but she's got a pretty good she's slumbering on back here.
Jaclyn: I saw her spinning the chair earlier, but I don't hear the snoring. But you look great. You've got the light on. You see, you've got all that light behind you, but it's not shining on you. It just makes it look a little more dynamic, makes the room look bigger. Yeah. Yours looks great now.
Ron: I appreciate that. What camera are you using? Is this being accomplished? And I've already told the audience I've got a Sony camera. I upgraded it back in March. What is yours, a webcam or whatever it is?
Jaclyn: This is the Sony. And I actually don't know which one. Donnie has two of them. I usually use Canon, so I have two canon cameras, but those are all for still. He does the video stuff, and it's a Sony A97 or something like that. I don't know.
Ron: Yeah. In my research back in March, I went to YouTube land and did my research, and it was giving the best life or unfiltered HDMI output. Which running that through black magic. And I heard you say the word black magic. I'm thinking we're running it through the same. It's a converter.
Jaclyn: Yes. Yeah. There's the black magic item and then the Macchi for the I guess I don't know what that does.
Ron: Back to the photography side. What's the craziest when you were actually shooting, whether houses or people was a great one of the maybe the crazier gigs or the more memorable gigs you've done?
Jaclyn: If I tell you, will you not assume this is political?
Ron: I have slipped slightly political on occasion, but it has not been in many months since maybe the heat of the election. I think my audience doesn't want us to get very political.
Jaclyn: Yeah. I'll start by saying this is not saying anything about anybody politically. That being said, we have a client who likes to host lots of political events. She built a ballroom in front of her house. And right after the build, about 10 years, 10 or 12 years ago, I don't remember Donnie, was working on the house, and she said, "Donnie, Ted Cruz is running for Senate, and I want you to be here, make sure everything works." He was like, "OK, cool, can my wife come? She was like, "Whatever." So Donnie went to make sure stuff was working. And I went behind my camera because if I'm going to be there by myself while he's working.
Ron: That's like your shield.
Jaclyn: Yes. Yeah. I'm like. I got something to do. I don't have to make awkward conversations. I did this event with Ted Cruz, who I knew kind of who he was at the time, but he wasn't who he is now. That led to several other events for him where I did the first fundraising event right after he announced that he was running for President, which I thought was a huge deal. And it is. But because I had done a handful of events for him several years ago when President Trump was in town, it was this big event at the Toyota Center, where the Houston Rockets place. It's a big venue. Cruz's people called on a Friday night at nine p.m. And they were like, "On Monday, can you do a private event for the President?" I'm like, "Yeah, I sure can."
Ron: I think I can clear my schedule.
Jaclyn: Yeah. I dealt with all the details and had to be there like 7:00 in the morning, even though the event wasn't until, I don't know, 5:00 or 6:00 that night.
Ron: And you had to get checked by Secret Service and all that?
Jaclyn: Yep. I had to give all my credentials, and they had to do this background check. I got a special pin that let me because you have to have this particular pin on to be in certain parts of the building.
Ron: Probably a GPS tracker? No?
Jaclyn: No. It was letting the security know that I was cleared to be this in this part. And I didn't have to have somebody walk me in so I could walk in any part of the building until the President got there. Then after that, there was just one section. I couldn't go without being escorted, but I basically got to spend about 30 minutes in a room with Trump, with Ted Cruz, with our governor. There was another Senator. It was a handful of dignitaries and me, and I'm like, "Ok yeah, I can do this."
But the cool thing was that the White House photographer was there and the campaign photographer. Just because of the way all the legalistic stuff works, they couldn't do this get paid like through the Republican National Committee because they're getting paid through the government. Somehow you can't mix like any kind of political party. I was the third-party person. I have these two people behind me who do this stuff all day long for the President. And then there's me trying to get it all done. It was pretty cool.
Ron: Out of curiosity, do you still go out and book photography gigs, or is it that just a random thing? It still happens, but you don't go out and chase that.
Jaclyn: That's what it is. It's a random thing. If somebody will call and say the president is the town, whatever president is, yeah, I'm going to be there.
Ron: I don't know anybody that's listening to that leans one way or the other politically, that if the President or a Senator asked you to come and provide services, I mean, who's going to say no to that?
Jaclyn: One of the Ted Cruz events actually had six senators there. That was pretty cool. They're from all over. It's been interesting to meet that kind of person and just see who they are in a small group. It's very different than who they might be on stage. Trump was actually really soft-spoken, and I was like having to lean in to hear him talk and what's crazy about that is you can't be like, "Hey, can you move over?" You know, that's not how I talked to the President of the United States. Would you like to move to the center of the photo and guiding him to where the middle was really interesting.
Ron: Were you proud of the photographs that you created in that?
Jaclyn: Oh, yeah. Considering I had no information walking into it, they just said, can you bring a setup? OK, sure. Who's coming? How many people per picture? Is it just one person with him? Is it 20 people? I just had no information. They didn't know either. I had a rolling cart full of two hundred pounds of equipment. My camera, my tripod, I had two lights. I used the big softbox light, which is actually about six feet in diameter. It's huge because if it's a big group, I didn't want it to be this tiny light that didn't light everybody up. I just didn't know.
Ron: Did you set all that gear up for the shoot?
Jaclyn: The lights and everything. Yeah. They had a backdrop. Actually, when I first got there, there were these two flags. It was an American flag, but it just looked kind of cheap. But I didn't really think anything of it until when I came back into the room later. Everybody has to leave the building for a couple of hours for a sweep. I just went across the street and ate lunch, and I came back. Apparently, it's a really big ceremonious type of thing where they get the flag out. They've got gloves on. It's this really beautiful event that happens. I didn't even get to see it. But it's like the flag that travels with him that goes to all of these events for stuff like this.
Jaclyn: It was really interesting. I will have to show you the picture. I have a picture of the original flags that were there and then like the real flags.
Ron: You know what, Jaclyn? We need some of those photos because we're going to put some of that content. We'll do a gallery on the show page on our website for Automation Unplugged for show 175 because the audience will have heard us talk about this. We'll put a gallery on the site.
Jaclyn: Yeah, I can do that. I even have a picture standing in front of his car barefoot because I had blisters on my feet after standing in heels for 12 hours.
Ron: Whatever images you're willing to supply us with to put it up there so our audience can tune into that. I'm mindful of time. And I see that I've touched on one of the six topics that I wanted to get to. I'm going to switch gears here. Within Media Systems, you act as the CFO?
Jaclyn: That's right.
Ron: Talk to me about how you manage the finances or the money for your business. How do you think about that? Maybe we'll start there.
Jaclyn: Yeah, I think it's really important that the company is its own entity, and it's not my money or Donnie's money or anybody's money. It is Media System's money, and we pay ourselves a weekly paycheck. It's a totally separate thing. We don't buy any equipment or spend money on a particular job until we have a signed contract and a deposit, and we make sure that our deposit schedule makes sense.
You don't want them to give you so much money upfront that you end up having to pay in on sales tax. You also don't want to have them give you 50 percent, and then you do the whole job, and then they never pay you the other 50 percent. It's really important to make sure that you have a very particular schedule when you're getting paid. Ours is typically like an 80/20 unless it's like a really long-term thing. We may get 5% percent upfront just to hold the job, but we won't get the money until we're ready to order parts, which in the current climate is like 12 weeks before stock because it takes forever to get anything right now.
Ron: When you say 80/20, expound on that for me? Do you want to have 80 percent before?
Jaclyn: Before ordering. It depends on the client and the job and all these different things. But 80/20 is our go-to and maybe 70/30. If it's a $10,000 job that we know we're going to do in two weeks, I'm not going to have three or four payments. We're going to get 80 percent upfront because we're going to order the parts. We're going to do all the configuring and do everything at our office, as much of it as we can, so that when we go on-site to install, it's the shortest amount of time possible. When we're finished with the job, then we get that remaining 20.
Ron: OK, so you do leave. That 20 is probably most of your profit.
Jaclyn: It just depends. But yeah, we just want to ensure that we at least get paid for everything that we purchased in the work we did up until that point. You're going to have clients who are just are not good about paying their bills, and maybe you need to change that for that particular person. But otherwise, most of the time, we get paid without any hassles.
Ron: Got it. What has changed at a high level regarding the current climate with product shortages, equipment, all the different stresses around that, and then many vendors are raising prices? You've seen that?
Jaclyn: Yeah, we have. And in our terms, again, it says we will only change the price on something if the manufacturer changes it within that time. But that's also why we do the deposit schedule the way we do so. The minute we get the money is the minute we order products. Whatever quote we gave somebody, that price should be exactly what it is. We have to check our prices all the time because things are going up. But, we've got a system designer who stays on top of all of that and our CTO, and between all of us, we're getting emails and whatever and sharing it. Probably I don't know. I guess I don't know how many jobs, but a lot of our jobs right now are we're doing it in the next few weeks. So there's not going to be any kind of price change within that time frame. I want a fast, but maybe we'll look at the first part of a project, the first engagement. You've met a prospect, and you guys are learning about each other, your prospects, learning about you guys and what's possible. You're learning about them and their project goals.
Ron: Do you guys proceed from that meeting into collecting information and "designing a full proposal ?" Or do you guys give clients approximate budgets and scopes and, with approval and maybe payment, move into a design phase? I always love talking to folks around the country about how they handle this.
Jaclyn: Yeah, and we may differ from some people, but we don't charge an upfront design fee. We spend a lot of time and money on the front end, but we are very confident we will get the job. Rarely do we not get a job, and we feel like that's mostly because of our personality and integrity. We just want to work with people and be honest with them and upfront with them.
We will have a meeting to figure out what they want to do. We'll come up with a list of recommendations. We give them a whole design proposal. Sometimes we'll send two guys out to do some research, and then sometimes, we just kind of assume we know most of it and see what they'll do, and then we'll change it after that.
Ron: I jinxed us talking about a good video. I saw it went black. You're back! Back to our topic of finances and this concept, you do a lot of the heavy lifting with your clients, and you have a very high percentage close rate of that work that moves into that. I want to consider, and I think I remember this from the conversation with Donnie. Put it into perspective for our audience. You guys work not always, but you're in this referral network of families in many of your clients. You're almost like in this network of people referring. You're coming in very highly recommended or referred to. I'm going to say versus the company that's listening, that might be more talking to strangers.
Jaclyn: Yeah, definitely. We do have some random phone calls, and we'll answer them and deal with them. But we don't always know what to propose when we're not sure what their tolerance is for. Somebody who has never had a smart home may not have a tolerance for what it costs. If we're getting a referral from somebody, usually they have an idea of what somebody else did in their house. We do so many things like we can do everything related to technology in your home to become this massive deal. We just have to really figure out what people want. But, yeah, we go to a really big church, and our kids go to the school through the church. We've been working in all these same neighborhoods since 1980, that we even have a client we're working for this week. They're like, "Oh, yeah, we did our first house with your uncle in '85, and they're just going to keep coming back and coming back. But they know that they can trust us, be honest with them, give them a good deal and get them what they want. There's a lot of trusts involved.
Ron: What are any nuggets of advice that you'd be willing to share regarding financial management, astute financial management of a small business, or an integration firm? I'll just tee you up with that. Any words of wisdom?
"If you're not good with your own personal money, you're not going to be good with your company money. If you're not good with that, then you need to hire somebody who is."
Jaclyn: If you're not good with your own personal money, you're not going to be good with your company money. If you're not good with that, then you need to hire somebody who is. You need to make sure that you have enough money in the bank before spending any money. You have to hire qualified technicians to help you because if you don't have guys who can work hard and get the job done, you will lose money by sending out the wrong people who take too long. You don't have somebody helping you design a job properly, or you don't spend the time designing it properly, then you're going to lose money that way, too. It's all kind of intertwined. But you have to have enough people on your staff to support you, and you have to have a really good service plan. Somebody has to be answering the phone, and you've got to be taking care of people. After all, as long as you're taking care of them, even if it's for Comcast or their Apple TV, the stuff that you're not going actually to make money on at that moment, you will continue making money with these people because they know you and trust you. It's always about building that relationship.
Ron: Can we go a little deeper into service plans? Does every customer come on board for some level of service or service plan?
Jaclyn: We have service plans. Not everybody signs up for one. We don't care how they do it. It's basically you can just hire us at will when you need service. Or, if you do a plan, you get a cheaper labor rate for that. It also includes remote management. The bigger plans you do will even include after-hours and weekends and that kind of stuff. Then we have a VIP plan, and those are the big wigs who want us to change light bulbs and stuff that we shouldn't really have to do, but they just want us to take care of all of it.
That includes everything. Plus, they get a discount if they upgrade, so it's a very wide range of stuff we do, but it's basically no plan. There's a basic plan, a Premier plan, and the VIP plan. Lots of different options for people to pick from. These industry partners for any of that work, either software or labor or phone support. Or is this all in all? It's all internal. We've looked at that. It just doesn't work for us on the personal touch. That's our biggest stress. People know us personally.
They have our cell phone numbers and everything. They want to know what I think about something or what Donnie thinks. They're not trying to call. They're not calling some random person because those people will not ever know the life that we have spent with these people. We've spent 10 years working on the same house with the same older single woman. They're not going to know how to tell her what to look for. Maybe this works for some people. It just doesn't work for us. So to change that, we took Donnie's old cell phone number and turned it into a Google Voice number. And so that goes to several people in the company because everybody likes to call Donnie. They all know he's worked in all their houses, and everybody just knows him. They'll text that number, and now different guys will trade off on who is after hours. It doesn't have to be Donnie answering it at 8:00 at night. It can be somebody else. That's helpful too.
Ron: I want to touch on our last kind of area here. I want to go down this path because you and I actually have children. I have a child of a similar age. You had mentioned that at your church, you actually do training for parents.
Jaclyn: Through the school. Yeah.
Ron: Through the school. You help around parental control setups within networks. And I'm assuming, and maybe you could clarify that that also becomes a conversation on the AV or the CI side of the business where you're doing these installs. My goodness, what job doesn't include a network these days? Can you talk about how you're helping people get educated around what's possible?
Jaclyn: Yeah. We were sitting in a band concert one night. Our 12-year-old is the drummer for all of the 6th through 12th-grade bands. This tiny little girl is sitting up there on the drum set. Anyway, so the head of school walks over to us, and they are 6th grade and up, and they all have school laptops.
Ron: Everybody younger has an iPad. He said, "What do you do for your kids for parental controls? So many people are asking, and we don't know what to tell them. And I was like, "We could speak for like an hour about that." And he said, "Great, do that. Can you set that up?" We can because we talk about it all the time and create like an actual talk for an hour. We started with, "They're your children. You're allowed to parent your children. You're not just allowed to, but you should parent them.
Ron: It's a verb.
Jaclyn: Yes. Our oldest is fifteen, and she just got her driver's permit. And I wasn't like, "Here you go. Here the keys. Go figure out how to drive." It was six months of telling her what to look for while I'm driving. She had to take the training class online. She had to pass her permit. She had to get her actual permit from the DMV. Now she's in the car. We're like, OK, just let go of the brake, don't hit the gas. Just let go. Let's make sure you can steer and turn a corner. And it's this constant teaching and doing the next step and the next step. She's learning proper etiquette in a vehicle. Well, the Internet is key to the entire world.
"You don't just hand your twelve-year-old a phone and say "Figure it out." They have to learn what proper etiquette is."
You don't just hand your twelve-year-old a phone and say "Figure it out." They have to learn what proper etiquette is. What's dangerous? What should I tell you as the parent that somebody sent me or that I accidentally came across? Maybe there was an ad that looked funny. There are just so many things that can go wrong with that. You don't want to keep them from it completely so that when they're 18 and out of the house, then they have it. It's fine to give it to them when they're younger. They just need to know what's appropriate. Because we do networks and stuff, that's now part of this started. We used to use Disney Circle and things like that and just didn't love it. But with the wi-fi networks that we provide, we do Araknis. You can do content filtering. And we feel like that's the first layer of protection in your house. Everybody who's on the wi-fi gets this content filtering.
Ron: What does content filtering do? Just for clarity. You can block particular not types of domains or types of words?
Jaclyn: There is basic filtering. There are just different layers. Even when we have the basic filtering, Donnie and I were looking at the margarita recipe, and it blocked us from doing that.
Ron: No drinking in his house.
Jaclyn: It will block certain things, but not everything. You can do any kind of level within that. Then you can set each kid up with their own. Through Araknis, you can do OvrC Home, which is an app for a homeowner. You can manage all these things on your own and reboot the wi-fi and other things. But then each kid has their own account, not them, but that you can control. Our oldest, we turn her wi-fi off at 10:00 p.m., the middle daughter, it's 9:00 p.m. The youngest is 8:00 PM. And if it's during the middle of the day and I just want them to stop playing on their phone, I can just pause their wi-fi, and their phone shuts off.
Ron: I have a question. Would the phone not auto switch to using the cellular network for data?
Jaclyn: Yes, well, our middle now has a regular phone, but the youngest is wi-fii only. She has a phone, but it's not used like that. It's only on wi-fi. All I have to do is pause the wi-fi. But the school laptop can't get up in the middle of the night and use the laptop because their wi-fi is turned off. That's just the first layer. Because you brought that up, that's the second layer. Using something like Apple Screentime or Android. Something like that, and you can set up screen time for each kid. With Apple, you do family sharing. You set the kid up like a kid on your account, and then under screen time, you can set up time limits.
That's where you can block particular websites or apps, or after hours, our kids can only text our family members. They can't text their friends, and it'll show a little hourglass on their friend's name. If they're at a sleepover, they can text me, but they're not like texting a bunch of other people. That's the second layer of that, which is great that Apple will allow you to do all of that for free. It's just a matter of figuring out how to do it. Yesterday, one of my daughters was doing some art app, and she wanted more time. And she was able to send me a request to my phone, and I could just approve for another hour. There's some flexibility in that. Then the third layer of security would be monitoring. We use a Bark company, and we have a link that we can send to people if you want to post that later.
Ron: Yeah, we could put it in show notes. It would be great.
Jaclyn: Yeah, that'll get you three months free just to try it. But they use an AI to monitor your kid's devices. Suppose they're sending two thousand text messages to all these, you know, group chats and everything, like who has time to read all of these and what if they delete it.
There's just too much to look at. Bark will monitor certain apps. Not all apps allow it, like Snapchat won't allow any kind of monitoring, but Instagram will and several other ones. If there's bullying or cussing or porn or whatever it is, it will send you an alert. Now, if there is something sexual that shows up as a photo, they won't send you that photo. They'll just tell you who it came from.
Ron: They're not going to distribute it further. They're just going to warn you or flag that something's being shared on your child's device.
Jaclyn: Yeah. One of our guys, Chase, has two little girls, and one of them took a picture, the other one in the bathtub, and then deleted it. It sent him an alert and said that it was taken on this kid's phone at this time, and then it was deleted. He had to find it. And it wasn't a big deal. She can only text her parents and grandparents anyway, but it just let them know. For us, when we first set this up, the kids were in quarantine last year.
It was March, they were doing their online school, and our youngest handwrote her spelling word and sent it to her teacher. I got an alert for drugs, and I opened it up. She took a picture of the word. It said edible. It read her handwritten word and told me that there was drug use.
Yeah. It's pretty good what it can find. Yeah. But it just gives you an overall idea of the things your kids are saying and doing without seeing every little thing. They have the opportunity to have some privacy. But if they're crossing the line or somebody else's, you know about it.
Ron: It sounds like you've researched into this. I'd love to know your take on cyberbullying and how big of an issue this is, and how much is what you're describing here may be part of the solution?
Jaclyn: Oh, yeah, we see it all the time. There are a couple of documentaries that are good to watch. Childhood 2.0 and The Social Dilemma. They both get into all of that and the stats and how many kids deal with anxiety and depression. And I just feel like, when we were kids, we could deal with our bully face to face.
Ron: Did you have a bully?
Jaclyn: Yeah, I was just going to say that when I was in first grade, there was a fourth-grade girl, and I had to walk to school. It was like a mile maybe, and she would follow me home every day and pick on me and throw stuff at me. And I just couldn't take it anymore. And one day, I turned around, and I punched her, and I spit in her eye, and I ran home, and I got in trouble. But she never messed with me after that. She just left me alone.
But now our kids are dealing with these keyboard warriors commenting on their Instagram posts and sending them DMS and texting them. The kids are living with this bully in their pocket 24/7. They never get to have a break from it. They're pulling it out and reliving their trauma over and over again. Did they really say that about me? Is this true? Am I stupid? Am I ugly? They're just going through and dealing with it. It's no wonder they have so much anxiety now in this world. Plus, they just don't have a break from this constant distraction. If they could just put their phone down and be bored, you know, that's how you learn how to be content. You got to have time to be bored as a kid. That's how you learn how to be creative and learn how to play the guitar or paint or write stories or, whatever it is, play a game. But if they're constantly on their phone, they just don't have the opportunity to do those kinds of things. Just obviously, there's some passion here.
"This generation of kids are getting that instant gratification, that dopamine hit of checking their device."
Ron: No. This morning I do a morning walk. I try to walk every morning and get my exercise and get some me-time. This morning I listen to the Simon Senex podcast, so I just pulled out my phone to get the proper name. It's called A Bit of Optimism with Simon Sinek, and he always has valuable or interesting guests on. I listened to Episode 35 this morning. Anyone who wants to, it looks like he published it on June 8th. It is fascinating that when you and I were pre-show, talking about subjects like this exact subject was what I was just listening to. It has to do with the idea that this generation, and maybe it's the last ten years or so or however long smartphones have been around, this generation of kids are getting that instant gratification, that dopamine hit of checking their device. In my son's case, it's YouTube.
He follows all these YouTube people. I know and approve of all of the ones I know that he follows, but there's just a constant feed. My son is twelve. He's not yet on social media. I don't know. It's actually maybe a question. I'll bounce back to you. When do you think it's right? He's not there yet. But the idea is these children are being exposed to not only instant gratification, the dopamine hit. That's a drug in the brain. It's clearly affecting them in some way. Then you describe to me that the current rate of depression and suicide and other problems for this. I don't know if this is the millennials or the ones that are after the millennials. I employ a lot of millennials.
Jaclyn: I think I'm technically a millennial.
Ron: Are you a millennial?
Jaclyn: Alright. I'm a geriatric millennial.
"We're living in this world where my son has had an iPad in his hands since he was six months old, right? The safety issue and what they're being exposed to on the Internet, what are the ramifications for us in society? It has to be profound."
Ron: You're a geriatric? It was the generation gap. But let's just call it the newest kids. Like, my son is twelve. We're living in this world where my son has had an iPad in his hands since he was six months old, right? The safety issue and what they're being exposed to on the Internet, what are the ramifications for us in society? It has to be profound.
Jaclyn: You need to watch that Childhood 2.0. I think you said you saw A Social Dilemma.
Ron: I saw Social Dilemma. We watched it as a family. It was great. We all went to our devices, and I'm on lots of social platforms. I get to call it to work because I need to be and figure out what's happening on Instagram and Facebook for One Firefly. But I did go in and across all the apps on my phone. I removed all the notifications. Yeah, because with that, The Social Dilemma documentary educated me is there. That's all the science. They know what they're doing. They're trying to flag you. Hey, there's been an update. You better check it.
Jaclyn: Well, it's the creators of those notifications are the ones who did this documentary and don't allow their own children on social media. What does that tell you? And I don't think that they intentionally were malicious. I think they were just creating cool things and trying to make money or whatever else. It just has become this monster that it doesn't have to be. Social media can be used for good.
Ron: You use it for good for your business. I like to think we use it for good for our business.
Jaclyn: Exactly. Yeah, but I for sure still get stuck, and I even have my own. I've got a thirty-minute warning. On-screen time if I've been on Instagram or Facebook for more than thirty minutes, it will send me an alert, and then I can, of course, approve it for the rest of the day. But at least I'm getting that like you just wasted thirty minutes of your life. OK, if I didn't post something in that thirty minutes, I need just to post something and get out. But it's easy distractions.
Ron: Well, I commend you for your efforts with your school, with your church to educate around parental controls. And I know that I've learned a lot in the last few hours with you about the subject. Alright. But we are at the time. The time is the time. How can our audience that wants to follow you guys or get in touch with you? What what do you recommend?
Jaclyn: Instagram is where we keep up with most of our social media stuff. That's at @jaclynanddonnie when nobody ever spells that. Right. But it's like Jaclyn Smith. Our website is MediaSystems.com. That has all of our contact info and all the things that we're up to. Perfect. We will put both of those links down in the show note.
Ron: Jaclyn, I want to thank you for being very gracious with your time and joining me here on show 175.
Jaclyn: Well, thanks for having me. This is really fun.
Ron: Like I told you, an hour would go by in a blink.
Jaclyn: It did for sure.
Ron: Awesome. Thank you so much, Jaclyn.
Ron: Alright, folks, there you have it. We did go over the hour mark, but we had a little minor technical glitch. We'll listen to it. We may cut out that camera dying for the audio. We'll just play that by ear. I'll talk to my audio engineer, Carlos. But for you, watching the video here live on replay, you get to see how Jaclyn and Ron handle pressure under fire whenever you want to call it. When a camera dies, minute interview, you just keep a smile, and you roll with it. And Mario, if you're still with me, I want to thank you for chatting with me during that period. Mario did give me an answer, by the way. He says he just got his second vaccine shot, and he's going to be RVing in the US next year. Mario, I look forward to that. And actually, he just gave us a little great interview. Ron, stay safe. Thank you, sir. Hope to see you at CEDIA here in September. I'm going to sign off, folks. I will give you my daily dose of the reminder if you don't follow One Firefly on Instagram, I would love you to do that.
Just look us up at One Firefly LLC and as well as the podcast. I know if you're watching this video on Facebook or LinkedIn, you're watching us live or on replay. But if you prefer audio on the go, I know I'm an avid podcast listener. I love it. I found the medium really about five years ago and haven't looked back since. Definitely go to your favorite podcast app and just look up Automation Unplugged. You can subscribe. And we're putting out shows pretty regularly about one show a week. Definitely tune in there. If you feel so compelled to leave us a review, we would love that. On that note, I'm going to sign off. I will see you all next week, and we will have a great weekend. Thanks, everyone.
Jaclyn is a technology designer who specializes in merging beauty with tech. She elevates the home environment with a keen eye for detail with high-tech solutions that blend seamlessly with architecture and aesthetics. AS CFO at Media Systems, she uses her background in artistic design, professional photography, and smart tech to aid every aspect of the business -from managing finances to assist with sales.
Ron Callis is the CEO of One Firefly, LLC, a digital marketing agency based out of South Florida and creator of Automation Unplugged. Founded in 2007, One Firefly has quickly become the leading marketing firm specializing in integrated technology and security. The One Firefly team works hard to create innovative solutions to help Integrators boost their online presence, such as the elite website solution Mercury Pro.
Resources and links from the interview:
- Episode #172 Donnie Boutwell on Automation Unplugged
- Bark parenting monitoring
- A Bit of Optimism podcast episode 35