At 14 years old, I snuck into my parent’s closet and “borrowed” the family video camera to make the most rad skate video my neighborhood has ever seen. I took that camera with me everywhere. It wasn’t long until it was no longer about the skateboarding and more about the videos. As I got older, my passion for filming took me to Temple University, where I received a degree in broadcasting and started my video production company, Chocolate Bar Studios, shortly after.
When starting my company, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I was already making a ton of videos, but now people will pay me to do it? It seemed like a dream come true. I started my company by doing what any 22 years old would do and bothered everyone and anyone I knew to see if they needed a video.
Surprisingly this strategy wasn’t the most effective and left me bouncing from client to client, hoping that a good referral would come. In the beginning, they didn’t. The reason? I was so focused on creating beautiful videos that I lost sight of what mattered - my clients.
I worked day and night to reshape my business. I took courses, watched youtube videos, and read blogs. After years of tinkering and speaking with colleagues, clients, and advisors, I am proud to say that I managed to fix but also learn so much about my company.
If you are just getting started or thinking about starting a production company, let me tell you the five things I learned the hard way.
Clients come first
When I first got started, I worked so hard to make every video look immaculate. I spent excessive amounts of time obsessing over every video until I felt it was perfect. But every time I showed it to my client, they were happy. The problem? I made videos that served my interests instead of creating content that matched what my client wanted. As a production company, your client’s interests, needs, and brand guidelines always come first.
At Chocolate Bar Studios, we always strive to help our clients create video content that looks good and generates a strong ROI. To implement this, we put all of our new clients through a Marketing Assessment. We do this to discover what is the best way we can help our clients succeed.
No two clients are the same, and it is your job as the video producer to figure out how you can best serve each customer. You will have happier clients who will come back time and time again for your services.
Purchase Gear with a Purpose
Having the newest cameras, lenses, and lights is fantastic. You can regularly find me window shopping through the latest listings on B&H. When I first started my company, I was always buying the trendy camera gear that just came out.
My mistake was getting enamored by all the tech and not thinking about my business or my clients. About two years ago, I had to go through and sell 50% of my gear! After years of arbitrarily buying equipment, my studio was filled with a random selection of equipment that didn’t work well together or didn’t fit my business’s direction.
Before buying any gear for your business, I recommend talking with a “gear expert” or someone with more experience than you who can help you put together a plan for your equipment. It isn’t as sexy as trolling camera blogs, but it will give you a blueprint to create an arsenal of gear that will grow with your business and work seamlessly together.
Pricing your Services
The most common question I get asked is, “How much do I charge to make a video.” It is a complicated question but a significant one.
When I first started I didn’t know what I was doing and priced videos based on how much work I thought was involved, or how much I liked the client - I know not the best method! Due to my lack of structure, I frequently ended up underbidding and was underpaying my crew, trying to pull the pieces together.
After years of headaches, I changed my ways and resorted to a standard pricing method for more accurate pricing. I spent one afternoon and broke down all my possible line items… the camera operators, video editing, drone pilots, etc. and wrote down what I need to set aside to hire them for my production. After that, I take the subtotal of the crew and multiply them by a 20-25% markup, which then becomes the profit margin for my company.
Using this method, I can now put together estimates faster and provide a more accurate representation of the budget to reduce under or overbidding any jobs.
The Value of Networking
As an introverted creative, I loathe the idea of going to networking events. An event where the purpose is to talk to people you don’t know? My literal nightmare. When I first started, I avoided networking events, or if I did go, I only went to 3-4 a year tops! Then I would complain I wasn’t getting enough new business.
If other businesses don’t know you exist, how do you expect them to hire you for your services?
As a business owner, you need to be spending hours, if not days, every month reaching, connecting, or emailing with your network. This can be networking events, emailing with old clients, or shooting spec projects for businesses in your town. Pick a method or two and go all in. It is better to have one strong network instead of 4 weak networks.
People do business with who they like, know, and trust. If you are always putting yourself out there to connect and help other business owners, you can rest assured that they will do the same.
Invest in You
Running a business is a full-time job and a half. It can eat all the time you can throw at it and then some. It is easy to get lost in the machine and never think about yourself. When I first started, I would grind on my business for hours. Waking up early and working into the evening every day. My business grew, but I wasn’t growing with it, which left me feeling stuck and unsure what to do when at a standstill.
In recent years, I have since spent more time, money, and resources on myself. The reason is I always want to be learning. The more I can learn and grow, the better I am able to help my clients.
An example of this is we have all of our staff take the Hubspot free marketing courses online. Taking courses like this or going to seminars are ways to stay on top of your game and keep growing. Getting stuck in your habits is a quick way to lose current and prospective clients.
Video production is a great field to be in, but it is essential to remember when starting a company that you need to cover your business needs first. Taxes need to get filed; expenses need to get paid. The creativity of the job is a perk, but you will never allow yourself to make some quality pieces of content if your business is not operating at 100%.