Ever thought about turning your video expertise into cash?

You don’t need a closet full of expensive gear. You don’t need an MBA either.
You just need to make a good video for someone who’ll pay for it.

Sounds simple enough. But where do you find customers?

Fortunately, that part is easier now than ever. More and more, ordinary people
think video when they want to get a message out or record an event. Your skills
and interests can help speed your search.

In the next few pages, you’ll learn about popular video markets that exist in
nearly every city. You’ll also find ideas on how to use your interests and
hobbies to carve a profitable video niche of your own.

Whether you tap a traditional market or forge a brand new one, now is a great
time to get a little money back on your video investment.

The Wedding Video Biz

Wedding videography is the most common of the new video markets. For years,
still photographers have counted on extra income from shooting weddings. Now
scores of videomakers do the same. In fact, video has quickly become a key part
of recording and preserving the marriage ceremony. As long as couples continue
to marry, the wedding video industry will continue to thrive.

The easiest way to start making wedding videos is to practice taping one for a
friend or family member. You might not get paid, but the process will teach you
what it takes to tape a wedding. You’ll learn if it’s work you’d like to do.
Plus, you’ll have a sample project to show your first paying customer.

If you decide weddings are your gig, take time to develop a unique approach to
taping them. Competition is heavy in the wedding video biz. You need to set
yourself apart.

Create a hook, something only you provide that will draw people to you instead
of everyone else. Use your competitors as inspiration. If a competitor doesn’t
do something, consider doing it in your work. Perhaps it’s something as simple
as using wireless mikes, or as complex as major league post-production.

Make that hook your “videosignature.” Be the only one to provide a certain
look or style, and customers will come to you for exactly that.

Once you’ve got your style, promote the heck out of it. Post business cards
and flyers at churches, bridal and tuxedo shops, and bridal fairs and shows.
These are popular, effective ways to spread the news about your business.
(They’re also good places to get more info on your competition.)

But getting the work takes more than advertising in well-traveled places,
especially in a market as competitive as wedding videography.

Try meeting with bridal consultants. Form alliances with them. Consider
offering a small percentage of what you make on a project in exchange for
referrals. Let them know you do something unique as a wedding videographer.
Perhaps even leave a sample tape with them.

Once you make contact, stay in contact. Noisy videomakers are often the ones
who get the work.

The Legal World

The legal industry also provides lucrative opportunities for aspiring
videomakers. Recording depositions has become almost as popular and dependable
as taping weddings.

At a deposition, attorneys for the prosecution and defense in a legal case
meet to ask questions of witnesses. Recording these discussions on video helps
everyone involved in the legal process.

With video depositions, a witness can appear before a judge or jury without
taking time off work, or traveling a long way to court. Lawyers can count on
testimony regardless of a witness’s work schedule, place of residence, or state
of health. Taxpayers also benefit because video depositions help speed the
trial process in many courtrooms.

Another possible market in the legal world is the “dayinthelife” video,
where you chronicle the daily lives of negligence victims or insurance
claimants suspected of fraud.

Breaking into the legal video market is tough. Setting yourself apart from
others isn’t easy. Lawyers typically don’t want someone with a unique, creative
approach to the work.

Instead, lawyers want deposition videographers to essentially disappear during
the taping. They don’t want someone who’ll disturb the event with constant
technical or aesthetic adjustments. They only want someone to record it.

That doesn’t mean they don’t want technical excellence. They’re quick to spot
bad camera work or tinny, distant audio. You’ve got to know how to get the best
from your gear with a minimum of tweaking–even in the worst conditions.

Knowledge of the legal process is certainly a point in your favor. If you find
the legal process and its intricacies fascinating, legal video may be your
niche.

In your marketing efforts, stress dependability. Tell potential clients that
you’ll show up prepared and on time, and that they’ll walk away with an
excellent video.

Making Money in School

If you want something more creative, try taping a school event, like a
basketball game or a class play. Many parents and students are willing to pay
for videos because they bring back sights and sounds that trophies and
yearbooks can’t.

The key to making a school video marketable is to include as many of the
participants as possible.

For example, the fathers of two high school tennis players found a way to make
highlight footage generate money for the team. They taped parts of every match
played during the season, along with footage of a few practices. This wasn’t
too tough; they were already there taping matches featuring their sons.

At the season’s end, they edited the best clips onto one tape, and asked the
coach to narrate the finished video. He added comments about each player and
funny anecdotes from the season. They previewed the tape at the awards banquet
and sold copies to nearly all the players and their parents. They contributed a
healthy chunk of money to the team fund and still had plenty of footage of
their kids.

Class reunion videos have also become popular in recent years. Attendees enjoy
keeping a record of their re-acquaintance with old friends and the school.

Get old photos from the school archives and library to spice up the video. If
you interview an attendee, use a shot of their yearbook photo somewhere during
the segment to show how they’ve changed. As with any school project, get
footage of as many people as possible.

If you’re taping a reunion, ask the organizing committee to mention your tape
in announcements and invitations. You can help make on-the-spot sales by
setting up a booth at the reunion where people can order copies.

The Industrial Market

With today’s better camcorders and editing VCRs, many videomakers are breaking
into corporate and industrial video. The big companies often spend lots of
money on video projects because they the want best gear and talent to maintain
their image. Despite the improved technology, these customers may still be out
of your league.

Look instead to smaller companies. Find folks who need video programming but
can’t afford to spend thousands per finished minute on the production. You
might even have a good potential video application at your regular job.

Meetings, seminars and roundtable discussions are great first projects. A
basic camcorder and tripod are usually adequate to record the video. You might
need a microphone or two to get good sound, depending on the situation.

Videos that teach employees to operate a particular machine, deal with
difficult customers or fill out forms are also common projects for many small
companies. You’ll need more equipment to do these effectively.

Lighting equipment will improve the look of your shots. A second VCR designed
for editing will let you control the pace of the video. Use a titler to stress
the important points by putting text on the screen.

Impressing corporate clients, however, requires more than just good equipment.
Do your best to understand the material they want to present. If you understand
both medium and message, you’ll provide a video that meets or exceeds their
expectations.

The Perfect Market for You

The popular markets attract videomakers because they’re chock full of an
element critical to any successful business: customers.

Be warned, however. Where customers abound, so do competitors. Success may not
come as quickly or be as rewarding in these popular areas.

You can get ahead of competition by finding a new market of your own. Blur the
line between videomaker and entrepreneur and create a niche that specifically
suits your interests and equipment.

For example: if you play golf or tennis, consider starting a stroke analysis
service. Video is an excellent tool for improving performance in almost any
sport. Offer customers the analysis as part of their regular lesson, or as a
separate service. Team up with a local teaching pro to help track down
potential customers. Pique the pro’s interest by offering a small percentage of
what you make from each customer he refers.

To find your niche, study how other popular markets, like wedding videography,
became successful. The results will help you discover your own way to make
money using your camcorder.

A wedding is a good model of an ideal video niche. Despite a relatively small
audience, everyone at a wedding is interested in preserving the emotions that
inevitably charge the moment. Wedding video pioneers knew that in the hands of
a talented person, video captures that better than anything else. More
importantly, they bet that a video could translate into dollars. They we’re
obviously right.

The market also succeeded because unlike commercial or broadcast video,
technical quality wasn’t as critical in wedding videos. This was great for both
videomakers and the consumers, because equipment cost was fairly low and so was
the cost of the end product.

You must clear these hurdles when cutting a video niche of your own. You need
an audience interested enough in preserving an experience to either pay you to
record it, or buy your recording of it.

In some markets, you might be part of the potential audience. The parents who
taped the tennis matches are an excellent example. Since they were essentially
one of the potential customers, they knew what other parents and players would
like to see in a highlight tape. That gave them insight about how to put
together the finished tape.

In other markets, however, you’re simply an observer recording the event for
someone else. Weddings, sports events and legal depositions are good
examples.

In these situations, it’s very important to put yourself in the audience’s
position. Imagine how a video might best let them relive an event. Decide what
they’d most like to see and hear, and do your best to give that to them.

If you’re not sure what they want, ask. Give them what they expect (or more)
and they’ll advertise for you.

Keep your skill and equipment level in mind when searching for a niche. A
basic camcorder probably isn’t enough to produce training or sales videos for
businesses. Those markets require additional equipment you may not have.
Instead, you could try recording events, meetings and seminars.

If you’re just starting out with your camcorder, don’t go after the projects
that might require more creative camerawork or editing expertise.

Guerrilla Marketing

The purpose of marketing is to make people think of you when they need a
product or service. The best way to do that in the videomaking industry is with
referrals from happy clients, or with a tape of samples from projects you’ve
done.

If you’re considering one of the popular markets as your first venture,
remember the key to survival is to stand out from the crowd. You’ll only make
your job more difficult if you market yourself as a plain-vanilla
videographer.

Flip through your local yellow pages to learn who’s doing what with video in
your town. Survey your competitors to find out what they do and don’t offer. If
you can go one notch better without spending a fortune on equipment, do it.

Also, remember that creative use of technology is always what separates busy
videographers from hungry ones. Find unique ways to use what toys you already
have before you buy more. Experiment with simple elements like lighting or
audio to find something to set you apart from the pack.

Surveying competitors is also a good way to decide what to charge for your
services. Prices for various projects vary widely from city to city. Research
what typical customers pay, and what they get for their money. Use that as a
reference in setting your own rates.

Don’t assume lower prices will attract customers. Often this draws people who
want an expensive video but aren’t able or willing to pay for it. Let your
skills attract your customers, and charge them appropriately.

You also need to separate yourself from the hordes of people who already own
camcorders. Show potential customers they get more from you than by doing it
themselves or asking a neighbor. If they can get a nearly identical video for
little or no money, there isn’t much incentive to hire you.

What to Expect

While making videos may be your ticket to fame and fortune, it’s best not to
bet your house on it. Don’t expect to make enough money to support you, at
least not yet. Businesses need time to grow, and video is no exception.

The video business operates in cycles, with alternating periods of frightening
quiet and complete production chaos. Get used to it. Better yet, plan for it.
It’s the nature of the biz and if you’re caught unprepared, it can leave you
financially strapped.

If you make enough money to pay for your equipment, you’re doing very well.
It’s easy to get discouraged, however, when you’re not making enough to cover
your time, let alone your gear. Be patient. The best way to maintain morale is
to work on something you like.

Above all, making videos should be fun, whether you make money or not. As soon
as using your camcorder stops being fun, its value drops. You’re less likely to
use it for the real reason you bought it: recording moments in your own life.

So take time to discover some ways you might be able to generate a little
extra money. Remember the golden rule in business: always please your
customers.

Do that, and your camera case may soon be lined with green.


Sidebar 1: Proceed With Caution

One word describes the best way to approach the business end of making money
with your camcorder: carefully.

Although it grows by leaps every year, the video industry doesn’t guarantee
any success. Approach it with a watchful eye.

The rules that help big businesses grow should help your video business do the
same. Here are some hints.

  • Don’t invest lots of money in equipment. It’s bad business sense, and unnecessary for most of the work you’ll do. A basic camcorder and tripod are enough to get you started on a number of small but profitable video projects. Buying equipment you don’t need is a sure-fire way to get yourself in financial trouble very quickly. Use what you have, and wait until you land a big project to buy more equipment.

  • Be professional. Dress appropriately for the event or location you’re shooting. Don’t show up late or unprepared. Know your gear inside and out. Bring spares of anything you can: batteries, tapes, light bulbs. Always have a backup plan in case something goes wrong.

  • Don’t hand over a finished tape until you’ve been paid. Even though the budgets on these projects seem small to you, they’re big money to the folks who pay for them.

  • Set a professional payment plan up front with your clients, and make them stick to it. For example, make them pay half the day you arrive to shoot, the rest when the tape is finished. You can buy pre-printed project contracts at office supply stores. Modify them to fit your specific needs. The bottom line: no money, no video.

  • Avoid fancy advertising. Since you probably don’t have lots of money for traditional advertising, you’ll depend on word-of-mouth for promotion. It may be the slowest way to generate new clients, but it’s also the most effective. Referred customers are often your most loyal clients. Treat them well, and they’ll multiply. You can help stimulate referrals by asking for letters of recommendation from satisfied clients.

  • Make personal contacts. Anyone can pick up a phone and make calls, or send a brochure. Go the extra step and make a personal contact. Meet people in the business community whenever you can. Non-profit functions, Chamber of Commerce meetings, city government meetings and public events are all great places to schmooze and talk business. You never know when you’ll find someone with a situation perfect for video.

  • Provide a product you would pay money to own. If you won’t pay for it, neither should your customers.

  • Please your customers. A satisfied client may tell two or three other people about you, but a dissatisfied one will likely tell ten.

  • Keep your clients happy, and they’ll keep you busy.


    Sidebar 2: Gear You Do and Don’t Need

    The urge to buy equipment is difficult for many videomakers to avoid. The
    illusion that all you need to get customers is nifty gadget A or slick gizmo B
    is all too common.

    The problem is that as soon as you get the new toy, another one pops up.
    Whether or not it’s a sinister industry plot to take your money isn’t the
    point. The point is you don’t need loads of gear to make a buck making video.

    Here’s a quick list of essentials you need to get started, and some rules for
    upgrading or adding to your production rig.

    You might assume you need a camcorder. Actually, it’s not required. Many
    videomakers rent camcorders and tripods on an as-needed basis. This lets other
    companies carry the financial burden of staying on top of technology. You get
    to use it to make money.

    If you do own the camera, a tripod is essential. Nothing says “rookie
    videographer” like shaky video. Good tripods come in all shapes, sizes and
    prices. Find one appropriate for your niche.

    Headphones are a must. They will prove invaluable in finding out just how your
    audio sounds on tape. And they will alert you immediately to any dead cables,
    noises or other sound problems.

    You can probably find a good microphone cheap enough for almost anyone to own.
    If you do weddings, depositions, or other videos where freedom from cables may
    be an asset, consider wireless mikes.

    Filters are an inexpensive way to make better images. Some give an artsy look.
    Others correct lighting and color balance problems.

    Basic lighting gear and an assortment of reflectors can improve the video you
    shoot on location. It also is a great way to develop a look that sets you
    apart.

    Wedding video veterans know that packaging a video can make or break a sale.
    It may not add much to the video itself, but it helps the perceived value if
    your final tape comes packaged in a nice case with professional-looking
    labels.

    If you find loads of competitors in your market, consider buying a unique
    piece of gear to separate yourself. A good titler or special effects generator,
    for example, can give you a tremendous advantage over your competition.

    Remember to focus on creative visualization and production skills, not the
    technical toys. The best camera or the latest gadget will never guarantee even
    one day of work. Unless you can prove that piece of gear is absolutely
    necessary on a project, it’s no better than the lesser one. And chances are you
    can make the lesser piece do an acceptable job.

    It’s not what you own, it’s how you use it.

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