A 5-point plan to get your video production company off the ground and flying high.
Upon entering a business, you will often see a framed dollar bill on the wall with the caption “first dollar earned.” I don’t have a dollar bill hanging on my wall, but I do have a carved duck that reminds me of my very first paid video job in 1988.
I was soon approached by a neighbor who heard that I had started a video production company. He had an old 8mm movie of his wedding, and wondered if I could transfer it to VHS tape. Knowing that I could borrow a projector, I took the job, confident that it would be easy money. He then asked if I could add music and an audiotape of the ceremony. I said “sure ” no problem.” He also asked if parts of it could be done in slow motion since the movie went so quickly. To make a long story short, I soon learned that I was in “over my head” and I also learned a lot about video production as I corrected mistake after mistake.
By the time I was able to do everything he requested, I had invested a lot of money and many hours into a project that I originally thought would just take minutes. When it came time to give our neighbor the final product, which he and his wife loved, I realized that I really didn’t know how to charge him for the work. If I charged what I originally quoted, it wouldn’t come close to covering my time and expense. If I charged him for all the time and money put into the project, I knew it would be unfair to him.
I explained my involvement and, knowing he was an excellent wood carver, I asked him if he would give me one of his carvings in place of payment. Without hesitation, he reached over and handed me his newest carving ” a duck. It now sits on our coffee table, and every time I look at it I am reminded not only of the lessons learned on my very first job, but also the many lessons I continue to learn in my home-based video production company; and lessons I would like to share with you.
1. Educate Yourself
First of all, to have a successful video production company, realize that you have much to learn. You may be a professional and even earn your living through video production, but you will always be a student. I read recently that, often, medical doctors don’t make good pilots, because they sometimes come from a perspective where they think they should know everything ” and that attitude can be fatal in flying a plane.
Even if you have earned a B.A., a Master’s or even a Ph.D. in video production, remember that you will earn the rest of the alphabet through the school of “experience” ” which includes failures as well as successes. After completing a project, ask “What new skill or lesson have I learned?” Continue to be a student of the technical aspects of video production, as well as the practical lessons learned through working with people. As a student, you will grow, not only in your video skills, but also in your people skills. In many ways, your people skills will help your video production company succeed more than your technical abilities. The lesson of the carved duck reminds me that we need to be honest with our clients and communicate truthfully.
To be equipped for a lifetime of learning, begin acquiring resources that will help you grow in your technical abilities. You will need to sharpen your video skills as well as your computer skills; it is impossible to have a successful video production company without knowing your way around a computer. But be encouraged. You don’t have to go back to school to gain this knowledge. There are many excellent publications, such as Videomaker, that will keep you on the cutting edge. Begin building a library of resource books and training DVDs that can sharpen your skills in audio, lighting, editing, and the many other subjects that you will be required to master. It is helpful to belong to a local videographers’ association, or to a user group for a particular editing system or software program. In most cases, you will find friendly people who are more than willing to share their knowledge and experience and be a practical resource for you. By being an active participant in a group, you will not only give and receive encouragement, but will make lasting friendships. Never be afraid to invest in others. Remember, the more you give, the more you get; professionally as well as personally.
2. Equip Yourself
Second, to do a professional job requires the right equipment. But this doesn’t mean you have to own the equipment. Find out what resources you have for renting or borrowing what you need. By knowing your resources and the cost involved, you can add that amount to a proposal when dealing with a client. You should, however, own or lease the equipment you use on a regular basis. Use good business sense when deciding which piece of equipment you really need. Just because it is new and everyone has it doesn’t mean you need to own it. Master the equipment you have and maximize what it can do. Take time to study the manufacturer’s manual, as well as supplemental instructional material on the use of your equipment. When a piece of equipment has outlived its usefulness, get rid of it, either by selling it at a reasonable price, or by donating it to an organization that will give you a receipt that can be used for tax purposes. (See December 2006 Videomaker’s “Recycle that Cam” for ideas.) When it comes time to replace equipment, or to add new equipment, ask “Will this enable me to do a better and faster job for my clients, and will it allow me to make more money?” Learn to make equipment decisions with your “head” and not just with your “heart.”
3. Video Production Company Focus
Third, define the focus of your video production company. In many ways, you will always be looked at as a generalist and be expected to be competent in many areas of video production. But, in addition to “being all things to all men,” you need to be able to say “this one thing I do.” As you develop a reputation for one specific area, you will become “branded.” That simply means that when people have a need for your skills, your name will be the first they think of because it has been “branded” in their minds that you are an expert in that one area. If you are new to the business of video, it is a good idea to take any job that comes your way. This will allow you to develop new skills, give you a lot of experience, and provide an opportunity to find out what you are good at and what you really enjoy. But there will come a time when you want to be more proactive in developing your video production company, and that will mean defining the parameters of what you want to do. You also need to constantly evaluate what you are doing so that you don’t get into a rut. Every couple of years it is a good idea to look back and evaluate what you are doing and ask yourself if you are still having fun or if your work has become routine. Make changes to recapture the excitement that you should have in working with video. I call this “reinventing” yourself and the direction you want your video production company to go. This will allow you to continue to experience the joy and fulfillment that will keep you motivated and your business successful.
As you narrow the focus of your video production company, you will be regarded as an “expert” in that particular area and often sought out for advice. That will simply add to your reputation and deepen the “branding” that will guarantee success for your video production company. By saying “no” to the things you don’t want to do, and even referring jobs to other videographers, you will develop loyalty and respect among your peers. You will also be able to manage your workload and even be able to take time off for yourself and your family. By focusing on the things you enjoy, you won’t think of your occupation as “work,” and you won’t easily get burned out. Instead, you will be amazed that you have the privilege of doing what you love – and actually being paid for it!
4. Employ Yourself
Fourth, honestly treat your video production company as a business and not just a glorified hobby.
It will always be a “hobby” in the sense that you really love what you do, but it is also a business. If you neglect the business aspect, such as record keeping, you may soon discover that you will no longer have your “hobby” to enjoy. This means that you need to make decisions that will allow you to be efficient and, more importantly, to help make your video production company more profitable. Then you can buy the “toys”… just for fun!
When you think about setting up your video production company, think also about the business name. If you use your own name, it will be difficult to sell the business in the future. Create an “assumed” name for your business ” and one that communicates what you do. In our area, we have a business called Kitchen Re-modelers* (name changed to protect privacy). I talked to the owner after I had just completed an extensive addition to our house. He asked me why I hadn’t contacted him for a bid, and I explained that I thought he only did kitchens. Much to my surprise I found out that he did all sorts of remodeling and construction projects, including building new houses!
Make sure your video production company name communicates accurately the intent of your business, and then make sure that the name you want is legally available. You can check with the Secretary of State to see if the name isn’t registered. If it is available, take time to register with the State and be properly registered as a business for tax purposes.
5. Hang Your Shingle
Another decision that you need to make involves the location of your video production company. If it is a business that requires “walk-in” customers, then you will need a store-front location with good visibility. If this is the case, you need to determine how long it will take to build up the business to a place of being profitable. During that interim time, you still need to pay bills, so a small business loan would be a good choice if other funds were not available. However, to get that loan, you will need a solid business plan and documentation to show that you will be able to earn a living through this business. I encourage you to become friends with your local banker. They are there not only to give out money, but they are a good source of advice, and can even help you connect with business leaders who are willing to give practical help for your business. If you have the kind of emphasis in your business that doesn’t require “walk-in” traffic, then you might succeed working out of your home. This poses a whole new set of challenges. One challenge is to find a place in your house that will allow you to isolate yourself from family activities, so that you can concentrate on the business of video. You may even consider putting an addition on the house or converting your garage to a place for your video production company, to give you the space needed for your work. Ideally, when working out of your home, you should have a separate entrance for your business, so that the customers who do to come to see you won’t disrupt your household and it gives a more professional impression. Whether you work out of a store-front, or out of your home, be sure to present a warm, business atmosphere that is tidy and clear of clutter. You shouldn’t have to clear a chair before customers can sit. Most of all, you want a work area that will allow you to be efficient and productive – and that is good for business.
Alan Naumann makes his living producing memorial and commemorative videos and has learned to keep his business thriving and growing in an ever-changing industry.
Setting up business is more than hanging your shingle and waiting for the phone to ring.
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