If you’re reading this, then you know something about producing and editing video. Maybe you went to film school. Maybe you learned hands-on. Nevertheless, the business side of video production leaves no margin for error for even the seasoned professional, so if you don’t know what you’re doing, then before you consider taking on clients and charging for a service, learn how the pros work — and not just one, but as many as are willing to offer you valuable advice and show you the tricks of the trade. Knowing what to bill or not to bill a client for is crucial. Maximizing profit and minimizing the hours of your time that go unpaid starts in the project’s earliest planning stages.
When you take on a project, the first goal is to establish if you’re a good fit for the job. In the preliminary contact stage, you should evaluate the key elements that are essential to getting started and assess the time needed to complete the project. In this early stage of the project, the goal is to outline and identify expense, cost, budget and time, so that the workflow runs smoother for both you and the client. When you determine the complexity of a project, you’ll know right away if you can deliver and if it’s right for you.
In video production, the “time is money” cliché resonates at every turn. This is especially true for the video entrepreneur who freelances or may be embarking upon earning supplemental income in video production and editing. Once you’ve already considered the goals and needs of the client, the next stage is writing a quote, signing a contract and getting a deposit — in that order. Some potential clients may not accept certain elements of your contract. At that point, you can either part ways or walk the client through the steps.
Some potential clients may not accept certain elements of your contract. At that point, you can either part ways or walk the client through the steps.
Get everything you’re going to need from the client up-front. This may vary from project to project. Some might send you a script or B-roll footage; others might send you web links. The project can be an eight-hour interview, a documentary, a music video or a TV show. How you plan around your workload depends on the project you’re working with.
Establish billing, time and delivery expectations before accepting any job. Your contract should include details about pay rate, when you’ll be expected to deliver material and any other stipulations important to you or the client. From this, you will begin to draw your estimates. All the hours you put into a project can be differentiated as billable and non-billable. The difference between the two is that billable hours are added to customer invoices and suggest basic project work. Non-billable time may be devoted to meetings, calls, emails, research or correcting mistakes. You may want to include estimates dealing with the time you spent presenting your work, and the time you put into meetings discussing the details of the project.
Before finalizing your quote, ask yourself if you are going to bill by the hour, the day or by the project? Some professionals recommend billing by the hour when dealing with demanding clients who might want more than what they are willing to pay for. With demanding clients it usually takes longer to complete a project.
Quote the Client
Now you can quote the client using the information you have from your estimations. Always calculate how many hours you plan to spend editing and any extended hours from the agreed upon timeframe that the client contracted you for. Add time for any unforeseen situations. Most professional production editors add around five to 20 percent more to their estimate just in case a problem arises.
Educate the Client
Clients are more interested in the final product than they are in itemized fees. But clients want to know what they’re being charged for as well. If you cut about four to six minutes of video in an eight hour day, or if you need a minimum of three days to cut a 10 minute video, sit the client down through the process. Let the client know any amount of animation or compositing takes up more time and adds to the rate. Most clients will be too busy or impatient to actually spend time going through the process with you.
Bill for Your Time
Projects may vary in length and time invested, but your time is your time. Some projects lag on and on, while others—like a video with long takes—will edit quicker than a video with several cutaways and inserts. Invoice for your time, even if the project is not finished. Always keep in mind, with each new project your skills will improve and eventually you will be accurately tracking your video editing costs like the pros.
Stephen Mandel Joseph is a published writer and journalist from NYC. He also writes screenplays and comic book scripts when he’s not freelancing. He has a passion for filmmaking and directing.