From Play to Profit

Getting Your First Paid Gig

There’s little better than doing what you love. Well, for some of us, there is: doing what you love and getting paid for it.

But how do you get that first paid job if you are just starting out? How do you make the right contacts? And how do you ensure you’ll be getting future work?

First, ask yourself what kind of video production you want to do: corporate training, local broadcast, wedding and event, special interest or documentary. Look at the work you’ve done so far for fun and for friends. Do you currently have the kind of production tools that are appropriate for the job? You can get away with far less investment in equipment if you decide that you want to produce wedding and event videos rather than broadcast commercials.


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Answering these questions will shape how you market yourself to potential clients.

Networking Protocol

Getting paid video production work requires you to do two things: meet lots of new business people and advise everyone you already know that you are looking for video production work. Of these two groups, the first is potentially the largest and most profitable. But the second already has the most important element … a personal relationship. You must, however, gently “train” your friends and family to actually think of you when they hear about video production opportunities. This might sound strange, but friends and relatives often know you so well that they think right past you. Tell them specifically what kind of video production work you’d like to get and even how to become more aware of potential opportunities.

The most direct route to developing new business prospects is face-to-face. Start by joining your local Chamber of Commerce. Just about every town in America has one, and they are designed to support small business in your area. Local service groups, such as Kiwanis, Rotary and Soroptimist, are also good places to meet business people and give back a little to your community at the same time. Some areas even have pure networking groups, such as LeTip and Business Networking International, where the only purpose is to exchange qualified business leads.

There are also business networking groups that address the concerns of specific populations, such as the Hispanic, Black and Asian Chambers of Commerce. If you graduated from college, alumni groups can put you into contact with many people who are or soon will be involved in some sort of business. Of course, online networking is exploding at a rate that is difficult to measure. A search for the term business networking groups will give you more than 35 million results.

Lastly, get to know your competition. This might sound strange, but they can be an excellent source of new work. If they are busy on a given date, to whom are they going to refer the job?

Advertising & Marketing

“Don’t advertise and no one will notice,” the saying goes. But where should you spend your small advertising budget? More people are now using the internet than the Yellow Pages to locate local businesses. But does that mean you should skip this once-required advertising venue? Probably not. But it certainly means that you’d better have a website that does a great job promoting what you do.

Finding where a particular target audience is likely to see your message has always been a moving target. And just when you think you know where they are, someone moves the bull’s-eye. In one sense, this is a good thing. You don’t have to worry about focusing your marketing and advertising too narrowly, say on targeting just the “bosses.” Frequently, in fact, the owner is not the real decision-maker. Especially with something like video production, the head honcho usually will delegate the research to staff members. They are the ones you want to reach and impress with your message.

Always be ready to sell yourself, either in person or by proxy, which includes advertising, marketing materials and even friends. What can you do better than someone with more experience? Are you more familiar with the subject matter? Can you provide the finished video faster? Are you willing to do it for less money? Any one of these factors can result in getting your first job. Just be careful not to over-promise and under-produce.

Demo Days

Unless you are a remarkably good salesperson, your potential client will want to see some of your work. Of course, since this is your first paid gig, you won’t have much to show, so what do you do?

First, polish any completed video productions you currently have by re-editing just the parts you want to show until they look and sound their best. If you find you don’t have enough, or it’s not the type of video work you want to attract, find out who needs that type of production and offer to do it at no charge, so you can add it to your demo.

Contact your local film commission and volunteer to produce a special short project. Local churches often have events they need covered. Or simply go to the places where the action you want to cover is happening. If it’s what interests you, what could be better than spending a day at the yacht club, baseball field or BMX course and putting together a cool short video? Above all, remember to keep your demo short.

Next, invest in a good DVD labeling system. Direct-to-disc printers can make professional-looking DVDs for very little cost. In fact, your current ink jet printer may already have this option, so be sure to look for it. Your objective is to create a unified professional package that includes custom letterhead, demo DVD and even a logo.

Last, do some research before submitting anything for review. Find out everything you can about the company and what problem the client hopes to solve with this video. Include those insights in a cover letter that accompanies your demo.

After the Shoot

Congratulations! You got the job, did the shoot and now the most important thing you can do is exceed your client’s expectations. You want to be sure you can use the client as a professional reference. That means doing the best you can with editing, completing the project early and delivering your final project with a professional presentation via overnight courier. Or, if you have a really nice home theater setup, and you think it’s appropriate, invite your client to a premiere at your place, where you can control all aspects of the viewing environment.

So you now have a taste of what it’s like to work under the pressure of doing something you love for money. Did it come out all right? Was your client happy? Do you still enjoy producing video? If so, getting Gig Number Two just got a lot easier.

Contributing editor Brian Peterson is a video producer, production consultant, trainer and lecturer.

Side Bar: The Business of Business

Getting your first paid gig often requires you to do much of the groundwork for getting future jobs. If you want to give it a serious shot, you need to develop a business plan. While there is software to help you do this, it really comes down to asking yourself the following questions, answering them as completely as you can, then reviewing your answers to assess your strengths and weaknesses.

  • What are your professional and financial goals, and how will you achieve them?
  • What is your core product or service, and what unique properties does it offer?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Who is your competition, and what are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • How will you fund the startup of your business?
  • For more information, check out

Side Bar: Networking Resources Online

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.


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