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A Quick Guide to Actually Making Money - Making Videos.

September, 2001

Poverty Sucks.
A Quick Guide to Actually Making Money - Making Videos.

Bill Davis

About this article
It isn't enough to just learn the tools of the trade. It helps that you can actually make a living at it. Videographer Bill Davis gives us a primer on how to make money making videos This article features cheesy Clip Art for those of you intimidated by large blocks of text.

Let me 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 first place?

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 it?

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 can address.

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 approach.
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.

1. Listen.
Listening is the key skill to understanding what your clients are REALLY
trying to accomplish. Sometimes they don't fully understand what's going on
in their business. But if they're paying you to make them a video, you can
bet it's because they think the video can help them manage a problem. If
you don't uncover the real problem by asking the right questions and
listening carefully to the answers, you risk making a video that looks
nice, but doesn't fix anything. Make videos like that and your clients will
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 the client
needs. You may think water-ripple 3d cube spins are totally cool. But if
they distract from the video and your audience starts paying attention to
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 that the
client THINKS they want, but that you know won't fly, might make your
bottom line look better in the short run, but it won't build your business.
Don't waste your time. Concentrate your efforts on making videos that make
sense, and try to make them for clients who can pay their bills and honor
their agreements. Before you agree to do a video for anybody, spend a
little time checking them out. It can save you a lot of grief later.

4. Contain your equipment enthusiasm.
Your equipment doesn't make your videos - you do. Give a talented,
experienced video maker a marginal camcorder and the most basic editing
tools and they'll still do good work. Turn a rookie loose in a fully
equipped edit bay and you shouldn't hold your breath waiting for great
product. Your goal should be to get a stable, functioning, shooting and
editing system in place as quickly as possible. That's because you can't
make money until you learn your tools. And you won't start learning them
until you get your hands on them. So if you want to make a buck making
videos, stop shopping around. Make a buying decision and get to work.

5. Cultivate the client's subordinates.
It's important that the division head or CEO feels comfortable working with
you. But it's just as important to get the administrative and executive
assistants, and other lower-level folks on your side. With them as allys,
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 levels of
the company. When your pal, the former receptionist, gets promoted to a
prime job in the marketing department a few years down the road, you'll be
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
the world.

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 to struggle.

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 from watching?

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 message across.

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.

Because as 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.

copyright©2001 Bill Davis

About Bill Davis
Bill Davis has been self-employed for nearly 20 years - 10+ in broadcast
production and advertising - and the last 9 exclusively making videos. By
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 and
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 studio.
His email address is

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