Novelist Neil Gaiman has described the three qualities essential to success as a freelancer: be good at the actual work, be easy to work with, and be on time. As freelance videographers of any stripe, wedding or otherwise, reputation is our currency, and it has to be earned the hard way.
That being said, there are things that can give you an edge when it comes to setting a price for your services, especially in the wedding video market. Here are some of them:
1. Look premium
There are places your videography career can take you where it doesn’t matter a whole lot what you look like. Weddings are not one of those places. The vast majority of wedding clients want everything associated with their wedding to look perfect, and that includes you. Crucially, this doesn’t apply just to the day of the actual ceremony.
During your initial consultation with a potential client, make the best, most polished impression that you can. Shine those shoes. Wear something upscale and dressy, like a suit. A fresh manicure wouldn’t hurt, either. Do you look like a $1,000-a-day wedding videographer or a $20,000-a-day wedding videographer? Looking premium will help you justify charging premium fees. Looking like a schlub won’t.
2. Fine-tune your demo reel
Your demo reel is your first, best chance to make a good impression. Some videographers will use the same reel for years and years but don’t let that be you. Make sure your reel is up-to-date. Don’t show your clients what you could do two years ago; show them what you can do today. It also doesn’t hurt to regularly check your reel to make sure that the fashions in your video don’t look tacky and out-of-date.
I know a videographer that lives in a Florida resort town and specializes in underwater wedding photography. He can charge more or less whatever he wants because, if you want pictures of your SCUBA wedding, he is the only game in town.
Whatever group you may be most comfortable with, become the go-to guy for that population and you will never want for work.
Specialization doesn’t necessarily mean risking shark attacks, of course. Sometimes you can specialize in a specific location where you know all the best angles and light. Other times, it might mean having special knowledge. Are you familiar with the traditions of a specific culture that most local videographers might not be? Lean into that experience and corner the local market for that group. Maybe you know your way around a Persian wedding. Maybe you’re dialed into the local goth subculture. Whatever group you may be most comfortable with, become the go-to guy for that population and you will never want for work.
4. Seek out VIP clients
All weddings are special days for everyone involved and all clients are important, but certain clients are more special and important than others. VIP clients, be they celebrities, tastemakers or the deep-pocketed, can make or break your career. VIP clients have VIP friends and if you break into that demographic, you can write your own ticket.
Even if you don’t make more up-front, landing one of these clients can mean big business in the future. A local videographer shot the wedding of a beloved TV meteorologist at a substantial discount but raised his standard rates by 25 percent immediately afterwards. He figured that a high-profile endorsement by a local celebrity weatherman, a trusted face in the area for many years, would impress a lot of people. He was right.
5. Go where the business is
If you’re really serious about your wedding video business, you might consider moving, or at least be willing to travel, to a popular wedding destination.The number of people that travel to get married in Niagara Falls, New York is much higher than the number of people that go to Syracuse, New York to get hitched. If you live in Syracuse, it’s probably worth your time to solicit work in Niagara, even if it is two hours away.
Yes, larger markets have more competition and that can be daunting, but moving to one is like graduating from the minor leagues. Nobody ever got rich playing in the minors — the real money is in the majors.
6. Get on preferred vendor lists
Being on a popular wedding planner’s preferred vendor shortlist can turn your business from a part-time hobby to a lucrative, full-time profession. Many wedding clients are daunted by the prospect of shopping around for a videographer and are happy to go with whomever their planner or event coordinator recommends, even if it costs a little more.
How do you get on those lists? Well, sometimes it’s as easy as calling up a venue or planner and asking if they have a preferred vendor list and, if so, how to get on it. More often, you have cultivate the relationship over time. Either way, you have to meet these people to get to know them and that brings us to our next point.
7. Network, but do it right
As a business that lives or dies on word-of-mouth advertising, it’s important to get out there as a wedding videographer and network. Go to wedding trade shows, videography seminars and bridal expos. Get to know dressmakers, pastry chefs, caterers and DJs. Making connections is essential in this line of work. But when you do, make sure you don’t rub people the wrong way.
Good networking isn’t some soulless exchange of numbers and job titles. Think of it as a mini job interview: You need to make a good impression with the person that you meet, connect with them on a human level, and establish how the two of you can help each other. Not coming across as selfish, perfunctory or insincere is a big part of making that human connection. Think “How can I help you?” instead of “What can you do for me?”
As a professional videographer, you already have the skills to make an amazing wedding video. Now, you have some solid strategies to help you get the compensation your work deserves.
Mike VanHelder is a working writer, photographer and producer in Philadelphia, PA. He has never caught a bouquet at a wedding.