At the onset, it makes sense to charge somewhat less than other more qualified and experienced for-hire producers in your area. The goal, however, should be to improve your skills and increase your prices expeditiously to quickly bring your rates up to the market standard in your area. You might think charging far less than market rate would play to your advantage. You might be wrong.
It’s easy to assume that clients who pay less will be more forgiving and less demanding than those who pay a higher rate. They won’t. Many videographers learn this lesson the hard way. Any time anyone pays any amount for anything they expect a high value product. Experience shows that people who pay little or nothing can be more demanding and difficult to please than those who pay a higher price. If you need convincing, spend a few minutes observing the customer service desks at Walmart and then at Nordstrom. While those paying more rightfully expect a high quality product, they also tend to trust they have received a high quality product. Cheap products attract cheap customers.
Likewise, cheap work attracts cheap clients, and cheap clients are hard to work with. Low ball prices appeal to penny-pinching customers who can nickle and dime you to death. At the end of the day, you will be doing as much work to deliver a cheap product to a customer who does not place a high value on your work or your time. If your customers are making demands and asking you for more and more, you may not be charging enough. It may be better to start charging more and targeting higher quality customers. You will be happier working for them, and they will treat you as a higher quality provider.
If your customers are making demands and asking you for more and more, you may not be charging enough.
By the same token, it’s important that you pay a fair rate to the people who work for you — especially when you’ll be benefiting financially from the project yourself. Sure, you may be able to recruit unpaid crew for your next production with promises of pizza, a listing in the credits and resume-worthy experience. But by trying to save a few dollars, you may be doing more harm than good to the local industry, up-and-coming media professionals and the quality of your production. Unpaid workers are notoriously unreliable. Those who are not being paid have little incentive to show up on time, work hard or stay late when needed. You can only push free help so hard before they lose interest in the project. Paid workers feel more valued because they are given a value in the form of their pay rate. Production work takes a lot of energy from the whole crew. It’s worth paying your workers, and paying them well, so they can give their all for your project. There is a fine line between being the beneficiary of good natured volunteerism and exploitation. Make sure you pay and feed your crew well.
Perpetuating a work for free atmosphere can actually harm the state of video production in your local economy. In every area, there are skilled and experienced professionals trying to make a living by freelancing or doing work for-hire. Charging too little for your work and creating a culture that devalues skilled production forces other producers to lower their costs to get a gig and undermines the value of media in your market.
Matthew York is Videomaker's Publisher/Editor.