How many crew positions pictured here can you do?
There’s an old axiom, “It takes money to make money.” What I’d like to explore is how much do you need to use your skillset and smarts to land work and when do you need to call in the experts and pay them to help you grow your business? No matter how you define your role in our business, whether that’s being videographer, producer, writer, director, DP, sound mixer, grip, gaffer or any of the other dozens of jobs that we deal with and do ourselves, at some point, you need to define exactly what your strengths are and what your areas of opportunity are. More specifically, when do you need to hire an expert?
If you have a constant flood of new business hiring you on an ongoing basis, that’s great. If, like most of us, you could stand to have more business or a big increase in new clients and projects, the end of 2019 is a good time to take stock of where you are and where you want to be in 2020.
Let’s Talk Marketing For The Production Industry
Do you market yourself as a freelancer or your business if you have a production company or post facility? In 2019, what does marketing even mean? For me and for many others in our business, it boils down to a few different categories of how we generate work, clients, leads and how we get our name or our company front and center with potential clients.
- Word of Mouth
This has always been the number one way that many, if not most of us in production, generate new business. Having a satisfied client “sell” you to another potential client gives you a tremendous “leg up” with actually landing a project or job.
- Social Media
This category has come to sort of complement and mirror word of mouth, except it’s word of mouth online. Social media has also come to be defined as several different things, from true “social” media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, to more business-oriented social media like LinkedIn. All have their advantages and disadvantages.
- Advertisement and Marketing
Whether you run ads online, market straight to your audience or even post flyers or send direct mail, advertising is a whole entity unto itself as far as how to do it, when to do it, return on investment, long term advertising and numerous other fields and subcategories.
While we all know people who are successful in our business, and possibly, we may know some who are MASSIVELY successful, in general, for those trying to make a decent living in our business, times are tough and getting tougher. With the upswing of media consumption in general, you’d think that the increased demand for content of all types would have us pros turning away work because we’re so busy. Yet, this isn’t the case in real life. I’m not going to speak for the industry because there are plenty of articles, YouTube videos and websites that can give you the actual hard numbers of income, profit margins and overall demand in the production business, but as the opportunities the digital video age has brought have increased, the amount of competitors hasn’t only increased but have become insanely prolific. Anyone with a camera and a few lights is now a “production company.” I’d like to talk about some areas where I’ve discovered hiring experts has made a difference in my bottom line.
The Editor Example
If you’re a professional editor, this doesn’t apply to you obviously, although if you’re a pro editor and don’t regularly work with an assistant editor (AE), hiring or making sure that your projects have been budgeted for an AE can elevate your work and in the long run, make you more income. Assuming you aren’t a professional editor though, there are many of us who are producers, writers and DPs who can actually make our way around Premiere, AVID, FCP X and Resolve pretty well. We know how to do things technically and may even be pretty good editors ourselves. But if editing isn’t your primary source of income, consider some of these factors you gain in hiring an expert, a pro editor:
Time Is Money
As you’ll know if you’re a good editor, editing, as an endeavor, to do well and be organized and utilize your footage metadata to its full capability takes time. Lots and lots of time. The question you need to ask yourself is, “If I can hire a professional editor for say (arbitrary figure) $50 per hour and I can bill a client for $85 per hour for editing, I’m making $35 per hour profit (not including overhead and expenses obviously). If I edited myself (I know this isn’t a realistic number because there are numerous equipment, location, insurance and other numbers to factor in, but bear with me to get the point), I could make $85 per hour. Wouldn’t it be smarter to do it myself instead of hiring a pro editor?
Of course, like everything else in our business, it depends. If your client hired you to produce the project and they specifically hired you because they LOVE your editing style and want you to edit it, there’s your answer. Take the $85 per hour, minus expenses, and edit it. If your client doesn’t care who edits the project and only care about the end product, hire a talented pro editor.
- The pro editor will probably have a lot of tricks and skills in their bag you don’t.
- Though not always, the pro editor should edit more efficiently than you do, oftentimes, just plain faster too with better organization of bins, clips, sub-clips and metadata. Say the project has five 10-hour editing days in the budget, what can you do, as a producer, director or DP with those 50 hours to generate new business, more business, repeat business?
- How much more lucrative will it be for your business and bottom line if during those 50 hours you generate and kickoff one or two new projects and gain one or two new clients/prospects asking for proposals?
The Motion Graphics Designer Example
Now that you can see where I’m going with this, let’s talk about some other examples in the same vein. Let’s say you are a professional freelance editor. You’re efficient, fast, creative and a great visual storyteller. You’ve been editing so long, you’ve picked up some skills in Adobe After Effects. You’re good at setting up comps, keyframing and you know how to get a serviceable, if not jaw-dropping result. Same scenario as above, you’re hired to edit a series of promo videos. The footage looks and sounds good; you know you can edit a masterpiece from it. But the script calls some tricky visual effects and a new custom logo designed for the ad campaign. You think you can possibly carry it off, but you’re on a tight deadline with a demanding producer and client.
- Should you hire or get the producer to hire a motion graphics designer/animator or try to do it yourself? Of course, there are a lot of variables at work here, but if I were in this position, I’d seriously consider hiring a motion graphics designer or having the producer do so.
- Designing a new logo from scratch, and a really great, inspired logo at that, can be a very time-consuming task, one totally separate from editing. In this scenario, you simply aren’t going to have the time to do it, even if you have the skillset.
- Typically, approval processes for new logos are long, arduous and require much iteration. Probably best to have a separate person doing this since time is of the essence.
- If you’re subcontracting the logo and motion graphic work out yourself, think about how much pressure it will take off of your shoulders NOT having to design and worry about the logo and the tricky VFX that the whole spot depends on.
Web Design, SEO, Marketing and Advertising
Few in our business are experts in most of these areas. If they were, why would they bother to mess with production? Right? I’ve designed my own websites. They look adequate, not great, but most importantly, hardly anyone sees them. They have very low Google ranking, and I’ve almost never gained leads that turned into paying projects from websites, social media or marketing and advertising.
I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I’ve hired a web designer and an SEO specialist and both are going to help me focus my company’s web and social media strategies in order to build new clients and more business. Everything I’ve read and heard says it will take a minimum of 3 to 5 months or longer to start to see tangible results from this effort and expenditure. New website. All new demo reels. New blog. Stay tuned, and I’ll report back on how this effort has worked in a few months.
I’m the king of the multi-hyphenates, I’ve been in the production business so long that I’ve evolved my skill set to include writer, producer, director, DP, sound mixer, gaffer, editor and sound designer, and I can sweep and organize a mean closet too. My point is, I’m honest with myself; I can do each of these jobs with varying degrees of mastery. I’m more skilled at some of these positions than others. I enjoy doing each job, some more than others. When projects come across my desk, I’m honest with myself and my clients about the skill levels needed to execute a given assignment. If it makes sense for me to do more than one position, I’ll consider it in the overall schedule, budget and project. If it doesn’t, I always advocate for hiring the experts needed for each position.
This is the whole point of this blog entry, part of what can lead you to success in this business is knowing a lot and being skilled at a lot of things, but most importantly, knowing when to tackle a given job yourself and when to hire an expert. It’s a fluid line that once you know how to balance upon, can make your job more profitable and give you a better quality of life, lower stress and more fun in your work. At the end of the day, isn’t that what most of us are after?