ask a simple question. What's a video worth?
The plastic shell, the
tape, the box - intrinsic worth under a buck, right?
So obviously what makes
a video valuable is the information it contains.The message -
and getting it out to people - is what really makes a video worth
more than the cost of the tape.
So if you tell a client
you're going to charge them (to pick a random number) $10,000
for a video, aren't you really saying that you're going to put
stuff ON the tape that's going to be worth a lot more to them
than the $10,000 you're charging?
More, because if they
pay you $10,000 and the tape generates only $10,000 worth of
profit, it's just a push. In business, if $10,000 is spent only
to make $10,000 back, you go broke.
So the central question
in making a living by making videos is really this: what can
you add to the tape that will generate enough profit for your
client so that it's sensible for them to make the video in the
It's a question that
almost nobody asks when they start out in the production business.
Rookies look at a video
through the filter of what it means to them. What kind of camera
will I need? What format should I shoot? How much money should
I ask for? How much time will it take to edit? What are my hard
costs? How much profit can I make?
The common thread is
that those questions are all about what you need, and NOT about
what your clients need.
Those of us who've learned
how to make really good money making videos don't really focus
on costs the same way newbies do. If your business is healthy
and you're making good profits, costs are just a method of benchmarking
- comparing this project to previous ones in order to make sure
your expenses stay roughly in line.
For the successful
video producer, the focus isn't on the costs of the project,
but rather on the RESULTS we can achieve for our clients.When
someone hands me money and says "make me a video,"
my entire focus is on making sure that the video has the potential
to solve a problem for the client that costs (or saves) a lot
MORE than they've paid me.
It just makes sense.
If someone gives you a big fat check to make a video - and you
deliver a tape that adds significantly MORE money to their bottom
line than the video costs to produce - THEN you've got something
really valuable ... a happy client!
A client who's likely
to look favorably on making ANOTHER video! And then another,
and another, and another. And that's the key to long term success.
Okay, so how do you make
sure your video is worth more than you're being paid to make
To answer that, you need
to know enough about how your client's business operates to understand
out how to make them a video that helps them make (or save) MORE
than the video cost.
This simple change in
thinking is the first step on the road to making a good living
at this gig - simply changing your orientation from what YOU
need, to what will help THEM be more successful.
Another important change
in your thinking is to stop thinking that your clients are paying
you to make videos. They aren't. They are paying you to solve
a problem - hopefully, the kind of problem that a well-made video
A video isn't a solution
in itself. It's a TOOL you use for helping fix your client's
problems. And your video can only be worth a fraction of what
it potentially makes or saves your client. So it just stands
to reason that to build your budgets and make a better and better
living making videos, you need to work your way up to being given
larger and larger problems to solve.
And that takes a step-by-step
In more than a decade of making videos for profit, here are some
of the skills I've found to be most important in getting people
to trust you with larger and larger problems and, in turn, larger
and larger production budgets.
Listening is the key skill to understanding what your clients
trying to accomplish. Sometimes they don't fully understand what's
in their business. But if they're paying you to make them a video,
bet it's because they think the video can help them manage a
you don't uncover the real problem by asking the right questions
listening carefully to the answers, you risk making a video that
nice, but doesn't fix anything. Make videos like that and your
STOP calling you.
2. Focus on the clients
needs, rather than yours.
Making a video isn't about what YOU need. It's always about what
needs. You may think water-ripple 3d cube spins are totally cool.
they distract from the video and your audience starts paying
the transitions instead of your clients' message - you're hosed.
3. Qualify the client
Not every problem can be solved with a video. And making a video
client THINKS they want, but that you know won't fly, might make
bottom line look better in the short run, but it won't build
Don't waste your time. Concentrate your efforts on making videos
sense, and try to make them for clients who can pay their bills
their agreements. Before you agree to do a video for anybody,
little time checking them out. It can save you a lot of grief
4. Contain your equipment
Your equipment doesn't make your videos - you do. Give a talented,
experienced video maker a marginal camcorder and the most basic
tools and they'll still do good work. Turn a rookie loose in
equipped edit bay and you shouldn't hold your breath waiting
product. Your goal should be to get a stable, functioning, shooting
editing system in place as quickly as possible. That's because
make money until you learn your tools. And you won't start learning
until you get your hands on them. So if you want to make a buck
videos, stop shopping around. Make a buying decision and get
5. Cultivate the client's
It's important that the division head or CEO feels comfortable
you. But it's just as important to get the administrative and
assistants, and other lower-level folks on your side. With them
you'll have a great line on what's REALLY happening in the organization.
But don't stop there. Build good business relationships on ALL
the company. When your pal, the former receptionist, gets promoted
prime job in the marketing department a few years down the road,
glad you did.
6. When you
can't avoid screw-ups, embrace them.
Sometime disasters can be your best friend. Things change. You
need to keep a clear head and look for opportunities within the
change. I'll never forget a client who defected to producer "B"
because a new VP had a contact there. Our shop was gloomy because
we felt we'd done a good job for them and didn't deserve to lose
the gig. They were back two months later. The new production
company didn't take the time to really understand the client's
issues and problems as well as we did, and their first video
tanked. Silver lining: producer B's rates were DOUBLE ours. Result:
the client expectations changed as to the cost of video and our
budgets doubled instantly when they came back. Sweet!
7. Look as much like
your client as possible.
Sounds funny, but it's true. We're most comfortable with people
who look like us. If your client wears suits. Wear a suit. If
they dress business casual,
so should you. And if you're making biker videos, go buy yourself
a bunch of black t-shirts.
When you've established
your business and your clients know your
work is impeccable and effective, you can maybe ditch the "uniform"
and wear what you want. But until then, avoid dressing better
OR worse than the people okaying your invoices.
8. Work to solve your
clients' problems BEFORE they know they have them.
The ultimate job security in this business is to get to
know your clients so intimately that you spot - and solve -
their problems even when they aren't around. I've made
videos for clients who called with a problem -then after
script approval - didn't even feel they had to supervise on
the set. Building mutual trust with your clients is the best
job security in
Most of this article
has focused on corporate and industrial type videos because that's
what I do day in and day out. But the concepts are the same for
everything from digital movies to commercials.
In feature film making,
the real problem that needs to be solved is pretty simple. Putting
butts in theater seats. (Or at least making copies fly out of
Blockbuster!) If you don't concentrate on that, you're going
A lot of young
digital filmmakers, particularly those entranced with the idea
of making works as an "artistic expression" rather
than a crass commercial enterprise probably are cringing at this.
But think about it. What's the downside with changing your focus
from making a movie just because YOU think it'll be cool - to
making a movie that you honestly feel the audience will benefit
All the change in thinking
does, is help get you out of your own head and into the heads
of your audience. A skill that I suspect every really successful
filmmaker has mastered at some point in their career.
Remember, making money
by making videos isn't about what equipment you own or even how
well you've mastered the technical side of the business. It's
about how effectively you address your client's problems. Period.
YOUR new digital camera doesn't matter. YOUR hot new NLE doesn't
matter. YOUR clever script doesn't matter. Not unless you've
learned how to USE those things to help your clients get their
The good news is that
most business problems ARE communication problems. And video
is one of the most powerful communications tools ever devised
by man. So when you successfully learn to use this technology
to really solve people's problems, the sky's the limit on earnings.
your prove your skills, the problems you'll be given to solve
will grow in importance. Your clients will happily budget more
and more to solve them. And if you play your cards right, you'll
happily watch your bank account grow and grow.
So if you want to actually
make money making videos, the key is to stop thinking about what
you need and re-focus on what your clients need. Focus on using
your skills to help them fix their problems and you'll eventually
find yourself smiling all the way to the bank.
About Bill Davis
Bill Davis has been self-employed for nearly 20 years - 10+ in
production and advertising - and the last 9 exclusively making
now he figures he's made all the big mistakes and is starting
to get the
hang of it. When he's not making videos he writes magazine articles
does quite a bit of professional voiceover work. He lives with
his wife and
8-year old son on a horse property in Scottsdale, AZ and has
spent the last
two years converting his former hay barn into a digital production
His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org