Video Production Services: Advice for Startups

Video Production Services Startup Advice

If you've decided to take your video production services to the next level and actually turn your talent into a business, good for you. But before you get started, be aware that there are plenty of snags out there that have been the end of many a new video production services business.

What follows are some rules, tips and hints that will help you steer your fledgling operation away from potentially dangerous waters.

Accounting: Three Video Production Services Rules to Live By

Rule number one: Don't mix your business and personal finances.

This is an extremely important point. When starting up a new video production services company, many people figure it's not worth the hassle to open a separate checking account for business purchases and deposits. Fact is, it's worth the hassle and more.

One of the first problems that arises from not having separate accounts is the eventual "loan" that will take place. It may come from business proceeds to finance personal pleasures, or vice versa, but it'll happen.

As a purveyor of this practice, I found myself in a jam when I tried to write a check for a cable client's airtime. The client had written me a check two months prior that included both his production costs and the spot's airtime charge. I, in a serious lapse of judgment, had used the extra cash to finance a weekend trip with some friends

. When the check bounced, the cable company bumped his ad. The commercial promoted a sale the client was running. By the time the spot got back on the air, the sale was over. The client demanded a refund. My image and wallet were both bruised.

Video Production Services Rule two: Balance your checkbook.

We're not all mathematicians, but balancing a checkbook must be in your repertoire if you want to run a successful business. In addition to risking bounced checks, service charges and irate clients (see above), an unbalanced checkbook indicates mismanagement. You must organize your time and activities.

Video Production Services Rule three: Keep records.

All those annoying receipts that clutter your car ashtray and pockets must be filed and retained for bookkeeping purposes. The information from any transaction within your business, be it income or an expense, is vital to the final accounting for that year. All balance sheets, tax returns, income statements and profit/loss analysis comes from this data.

And while we're on the subject: if you don't know bookkeeping, hire an accountant. I unsuccessfully tried to "keep the books" for my first year in business. When tax time rolled around, the CPA I hired to file my refund just laughed at my record-keeping system. The additional charges incurred to straighten out this mess certainly cost more than if I would have had a part-time accountant go over my books once a month.

At the very least, hire someone to get you set up. Or try one of the many computer-assisted software programs available. But approach this task in a knowledgeable manner by reading everything on the subject and asking others for advice.

Gear: Stick to Essentials

Don't buy what you don't need.

In my case, some trusting benefactors invested a sizable chunk of cash in my business to get me started. Let's just say my ambitions were higher than my experience level.

To make a long story short, I was, and am now the proud owner of several pieces of equipment whose technological glory has never seen the light of day.

Before making any equipment decisions, do your homework. Keep in mind actual needs. For example, if most of your shooting will take place outdoors, don't invest in a state-of-the-art lighting set. It might be nice to have a light or two, but you really don't need a professional-level kit.

Maybe deposition taping is your gig. These tapes usually need minimal editing with no effects. An A/B-roll editing system with 3-D transitions is overkill. Equipment is an investment to earn money. If a piece sits around for months untouched, you're losing money on the investment.

Before buying anything, check out trade magazines for used gear. Often, you can get nearly-new demo pieces for a fair percentage off their original costs. Ask if a new equipment warranty is included. For jobs that are very intermittent, consider renting the needed equipment or sub-contracting the job to another production house. It'll save you a capital investment and more if the job is a one-time deal.

Go with What You Know

Don't spread yourself too thin; concentrate your efforts on what you do best.

Let's say your field of expertise is estate taping. Very straight-forward, aim-and-shoot type of stuff. No elaborate titling, editing or planning. Suddenly, one of your pleased clients asks if you do weddings. Sure, you say. Why not? Well, seeing that you have no experience with moving subjects, sound, lighting problems and major editing, a wedding production may turn difficult. If you deliver low-caliber work, it could ruin your reputation for further jobs in any facet of videomaking.

Before taking on any new venture, research and practice first. If you find yourself in the predicament above, you might want to do a couple of "freebie" weddings before actually charging a client. In this way, you'll get a feel for the proceedings, and a chance to develop the skill level necessary to pull off the real thing.

Quality control is probably the most important reason not to take on every job that comes down the pike. These first formative months of establishing yourself as a professional are crucial to the future of your business. Developing a reputation as a low-cost hack will only keep your equipment collecting dust. A popular saying sums up the caution here: "Jack (or Jill) of all trades, master of none."

Location is Everything

Just as you should research any equipment decisions, your video production services business's location should be given the same type of scrutiny. Determine what you actually need in a space to get the job down. Again, during this preliminary period, it's important to keep any overhead costs to a minimum. A great hangout is a lot of fun to call home, but is it contributing to the ultimate success of your video production services business?

My first location was very primitive. I found an abandoned office with a large storage garage attached. I struck a deal with the landlord to waive rent for the first six months if I renovated the space with my own funds. It was a ton of work, but keeping overhead costs down during this initial business period helped me minimize my losses. The "elbow grease" was a lot cheaper than coughing up the $400 a month the space eventually ended up costing. And the owner was so pleased with the remodeling job, he discounted the second six months' rent by 50%.

Not everyone will be lucky enough to find such a deal, but at least look around for one. What may initially seem like an inhospitable place could very well become the video production services studio of your dreams with a little hard work.

If you must rent straight out, consider the following before signing any lease:

  • The access to your office. Are there too many flights of stairs, narrow hallways or poor parking conditions? These items become very important as you begin to do location work.
  • The physical location in relation to your market area. It's nice to be centrally located. If you plan on doing business in a wide area, you don't want to spend two hours driving to every location shoot.
  • The physical amenities of the building. Do all the utilities work? Is there a restroom within your space or nearby? Is noise a concern with neighbors? Is electrical up to standards? How is security of the space? Are there separate areas for storage and production? Don't jump on a location for its looks alone.
  • Cost. Can you afford the monthly rate? How long will the minimal lease run? Are there any "hidden" costs? What's the security deposit?

Clients are Numero Uno

Your customers are your number one priority. Mess up here and the future is dim.

Treat customers as if they were responsible for your existence--they are! In your hurry to race to the top of the video feeding chain, you may decide to prioritize the level of care customers receive. In other words, if someone is paying for a big job, they get the most attention. Small jobs orders get semi-ignored. Do not follow this practice. I'm telling you this from experience.

In my first few months, I landed a big wedding. Including the duplications, I would gross in excess of $800. At the time, I had a couple of film-to-video clients going, as well as a $200 anniversary. The anniversary was half-edited, as was the transfer job. I dropped work on both of these projects mid-stream to concentrate all my attentions on the big wedding. Both of these "little fish" got inferior treatment that resulted in late finish dates on their projects. In fact, the anniversary sat on my shelves for two weeks untouched!

I was unaware of the fact that both of these clients were somewhat "well-connected" in their respective communities. Bad word-of-mouth about my services spread like wildfire. Luckily, the wedding came out super, and those clients bragged me around to everyone too. But I'm unsure to this day how much damage my slackness caused.

Try to treat every customer, no matter what the size of the job, as though they were your biggest client.

The Joys of Being the Boss

What's the best part about owning your own video production services business? The great hours? The good pay? Maybe it's the fact that you're the boss and you can hire who you want. You can even hire a friend.

Mistake number one. It's very hard to reprimand a friend when he or she is working at a substandard level. What usually happens is that you'll take up the slack yourself, for a while. Resentment and bitterness builds, until the unavoidable explosion. A fight ensues, whereupon harsh words are spat to each other. No more friend. No more employee.

Make sure the person you hire is capable of doing the required job. Don't hire someone as a favor. Don't hire someone because you think she's cute. Don't hire a potential golfing buddy.

The manner in which you hire someone is another concern. Freelancers are often the best way to go, making for an almost hassle-free work arrangement. But finding a reliable, on-the-call videomaker is tough. Sure, you can get someone when they're out of work. Most people, however, want steady employment that produces steady pay. Look to colleges for qualified freelancers. There are many students that are willing to work the erratic hours at low pay just to build up their resumes.

If you feel your work flow is steady enough to hire a full-time associate, do a thorough background check on any potential candidates. I can't tell you how many people approached my company with little or no actual experience in video production services. Bearing falsified resumes, these potential employees would bring along a demo full of productions they've never touched. Luckily, a few phone calls usually took care of any liars.

Keep the Customers Coming

In most cases, marketing is the key to your survival. Promoting your video production services to the community and other businesses is the only way to keep customers coming to your doors. It's easy to ignore advertising, especially in something as service-oriented as video production. You figure you'll get all the clients you need with an extensive personal selling campaign. Just call up some potential wedding clients, and sooner or later you've got one to shoot. Doubtful.

Many low-cost avenues exist in which to promote your video production services. Most of these should be taken advantage of during the beginnings of your business's life. In lieu of costly display ads in the local newspaper, why not try utilizing the tried-and-true flyer method? Create a small poster advertising your services, duplicate it and distribute to business, fast food outlets, community bulletin boards, parking lots, etc. Wherever a potential candidate may view the information is a good place to put a flyer.

Another "cheapie" is physical display advertising. Emblazon your company name on anything that comes in contact with the public. Car or van signs, signage on your place of business, personalized pens, matchbooks or note pads and even custom shirts to wear on shoots are all low-cost methods in which to promote your video production services.

Just keep in mind that the main goal is to put your company's name in front of the public as often as possible. Achieve this using any means possible. It's critical to your success in this formative period.

Take Care of Your Video Production Services

As a new business owner, your life is liable to undergo some drastic changes. That's fine, if the changes are positive. Often, however, these lifestyle shifts alter your personal life as well. I have four pointers here that are pretty self-explanatory: Don't let the business take over your life. Don't let the business go to your head. Don't burn any bridges. And don't forget your friends and family.

Starting a video production services business is, without a doubt, a risky affair, both financially and personally. Take it slow and easy, testing each step before jumping to the next level.

Plan on making your fair share of mistakes. But remember--mistakes turn into catastrophes only when you fail to learn from them.

Issue: 

Mark
Bosko
Mon, 01/01/1996 - 12:00am