Thanks for your help, Freelancer, but our intern owns a DSLR

“Thanks for making videos for us all these years, but our intern has a camera of their own, and we’re going to take it from here.”

Whether this exact scenario has happened to you, or something similar, there are ways to deal with it and ways to not deal with it.

One of the issues our industry faces, as hardware, software, and quality training become more accessible, is that anyone can do it. Our phones have cameras. Best buy sells enough stuff to make videos. And more and more people have, at least on some level, experimented with making their own videos.

When faced with replacement we can feel hurt, taking the change personally as an assault on our skills and background, but it’s not that. Our skills weren’t what took the client to this place. They’re being cheap. Existing staff are already a large cost, and their thinking is to roll up your cost into an existing one.

On paper it looks good. A minus B equals C. Great. We saved B.

The variable that isn’t being considered is this: you’ve taken the time and invested the energy necessary to take your production skills out into the market and sell them. You learned enough to operate your equipment, understand client needs, dream up creative ways to help them express their visions, and, most of all, have done work at a level that is saleable.

The intern has not. Well, there’s always a chance that they have, but if they wanted to be a video professional, it would be strange for them to be in a different role, where they might still be called upon to shoot a video.

Let’s assume that they do not have professional video experience. Maybe they have created a WordPress website, and shoot a fashion blog. Good experience, and a good way to learn a thing or two about video, but fashion blogs and WordPress sites do not form the basis of a pro.

The types of knowledge that go into video production go far deeper than what the everyday blogger needs to know, and this is the message that your client needs to understand, whether they choose to continue working with you or not.

In a typical small budget video production – and let’s face it, if you’re being replaced by the intern, or Dan in Accounting, you’re not making big budget videos for this client (if you are, they’re even more nuts) – a freelancer, at the very least, needs to prep equipment, shoot a video, offload footage, possibly transcode said footage, ingest footage into an editing application, edit the work, add effects, transitions, motion graphics, titles, fix audio, correct color, render, upload to a website for collaboration or hand deliver for review, accept revisions, revise video, re-render, re-upload, etc., etc., etc… all the while using thousands of dollars of equipment that you’ve had to purchase over time just to be considered legit enough to sell video professionally.

So, with that in mind, how do you line up against the intern? Probably pretty favorably. Each one of the points that went into making that video involved an investment in time, energy, possibly money, to reach a level that made people want to buy your videos.

Sell yourself on the knowledge, skills, and capabilities you possess, differentiate yourself with the service and white glove experience you can provide, and offer plenty of options for doing more if they so choose. Sell your value, and don’t sell your soul to keep the business. If the client is intent on saving a grand a month, they’re not the right client.

Or maybe they’re not the right client for right now. My company has had a number of retainer clients over the years, and a couple of them have made the decision to try making their own videos. I presented my value proposition to them, reminded them of the years of great service and pro video productions we created together and wished both well, leaving the door open for any future work. As of today, one of them is still using their graphic designer, a very talented girl with a great eye for shot framing who had a background in DSLR photography, and the other gave up on their experiment after about six months and resigned with my company.

Clients come and go, and situations are always going to change, but the lesson is a good one for freelancers: know your business inside and out, learn your clients’ business as best you can, do your best work on each and every project, and always under-promise and over-deliver.

The clients that matter will come back, and you’ll pick up more of the right ones over time if you never sell yourself short. Remember this for each project you quote: high speed, high quality, low cost. They can pick any two.

I guarantee 90% of their internal resources can only offer one.

Russ Fairley
Russ Fairley
Russ Fairley is a producer, editor and motion graphic designer. He also writes for Videomaker and several other publications.

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