Friday, June 12, 2009

General Video Business Philosophy

The following was a recent forum discussion I posted that got a couple of interesting responses. I hope my response to one of the people, a video/film student, might stir up some thoughts, or some exchange of philosophy regarding our business.

This may be too open, personal or embarrassing to invite candid responses, but gotta ask it anyway. You who are in business as independent professional video service providers (some say "videographers") either full time, or putting in a LOT of hours part time, with the income thereof being important to your fiscal survival - are you making money, getting all the business you want or need, or making a profit?

Why? Do you think. Or, why not? Do you think.

How are you making money, getting business, making a profit?

What are you doing to change that if you are not?

Could be a lively, informative discussion. I know many of us tend to inflate things a bit, not wanting others to know how difficult our struggles are.

Me? I have feast AND famine, and not much rhyme or reason for when either hits. I market often, constantly, and vigorously via internet, direct mail, and occasional print advertising, as well as engage in guerrilla tactics. Each surge in my marketing efforts results in a surge in business. Each submersion into a state of non-marketing funk results in less business. On an annual basis, I am comfortable with my gross income levels, but I would rather be in the $100,000+ range than under it.
I have EVERY expectation of topping that marker this year, based on a variety of things I am pursuing, doing or that are in/on my 2009 marketing program planner/agenda.

What say you?

After the reply
from a forum participant, college student and video business upstart, I shared the following:

I suspect that the number of people who gravitate toward video production from non-related educational and previous work experience backgrounds might be equal to the number who elect to pursue the business formally via education, working at an apprentice level, essentially being hired on as a "go for" or gopher and "learning" the hard way with menial tasks, responsibilities and as slave labor. The industry's sad way of taking advantage of some pretty good resources - if only more of them would treat excited, adventurous and willing newcomers, or graduates with a LOT of respect and a little better pay scale. You want cheap labor, go to a third world country and dodge bullets :-)

You have set off on the right path, as (another responder) notes in her reply, by starting to market yourself, by realizing that marketing and advertising ARE full time endeavors that will ONLY pay off if you utilize all the possible resources at your disposal. My mantra has for a long time been, "If you market, you will make it!" © Earl Chessher You only have to read a bit of the articles (on this blog) to realize how seriously I take diversity, marketing, branding, marketing, advertising, get the picture.

Being a full time student, AND working at development of a business, maintaining a business plan and sustaining it, maintaining a marketing drive and sustaining it is certainly a full time + job. It is very similar, I suspect, to how those of us who came in through another entry, or even the back door - working a 40-hour or more per week primary job, while maintaining and sustaining a full-time-hours "part time" approach to establishing a successful video production business. The hardest thing for me to establish in my own mind is the term "successful."

I THINK I am successful, but I'm by no means where I want to be in terms of how MY mind views success. Like perfection, success (defined in a way MY mind can grasp it) seems more like a goal rather than a destination. I suppose my final degree of success will be judged upon me by family, friends, peers and competition sometimes mis-perceived as "the enemy." :-)

You are right about how easy it can become "...spending too much time making productions for a few people for free..." I used to think I was obligated, or felt obligated - that I "owed" people something, needed to "give back" to the community, etc. Hogwash! Yes, by all means do something altruistic, help humankind, give of yourself, but first and foremost do FOR yourself. Until you are in a position to help others (who REALLY need it) more, do what it takes to put you in a position to go that direction - think Bill Gates, whatever anybody wants to think of him, he's plowing money back into the world community with little or no hesitation. Also, however, think Donald Trump who made another saying popular besides "you're fired" when he noted that some business-focused action was "Nothing personal, just business."

I am only just grasping with some degree of consistency that I HAVE to depend on myself for the success of my business, for the continuance of my business, for paying my bills and fulfilling my obligations. I am only just grasping that I MUST be true to my needs, and my company's needs, first before even thinking about focusing on the needs of others - be it business, friends, even family. Yes, I continue to have problems balancing my emotions, feelings, business acumen, etc. and often make poor choices and decisions. But I am aware, and try to maintain a balance of some kind in the process of my daily endeavors.

Setting up your web site (I want to see it when you're up) and making yourself a legal business entity are important steps. Remember also that your web site will NEVER be finished - that goal vs destination thing again. You will forever be tweaking, maximizing, minimizing, mitigating, changing, improving, updating. Another burden to bear in the business of doing business. Your higher education will make some things clear, while muddying others. Only real life experience, going for it, jumping in (well, into say a cold lake as opposed to the mouth of a volcano - recognize the difference between being foolish and being brave) and taking a shot at it.

Had a friend who was already running a successful business. He'd paid his dues and learned the trade as an employee for a major area industrial/home pest control expert. He supported his employer and was loyal, and one day began making arrangements with his "boss/friend" to purchase some of the action. Over time the boss retired and David bought it all. He paid it off and brought in a half-million a year or more killing pests.

But he also enjoyed video. We both became interested early on in public access and joined the area program. David also started taking courses at area colleges. He kept taking courses, volunteering at the local public access station, taking courses - saying he wanted to learn all he could before "jumping into" video production as a final destination or side business. We did a LOT of video together in those early days, but David worried that he didn't "know enough."

I began marketing, developed a fairly basic web site, printed cards, advertised, talked incessantly about my "video business," did stuff for free and occasionally started getting paid. I did charity work, and got a few big breaks through the University of California system - did good stuff and they kept coming back. Things began to grow, then die, then grow, then die...they still do. Feast and famine, but you can mitigate that frustration by sustaining a marketing endeavor ALWAYS. NEVER stop marketing.

David finally gave in, or up, and occasionally does a bit of stuff at the public access station. He wants to retire but a few things took a wrong turn, now he's had to re-enter the pest control business after unsuccessfully retiring, and HAS to work at something he now really dislikes. He still talks about doing video, and told me just recently: "I guess I should have focused more on gaining experience and 'just doing it' like you told me, Earl." David admitted he was a "bit intimidated" by tackling another profession or business after all his work in another, and used "educating" himself as an excuse for not taking the leap forward.

Your statement is an accurate one: "Working as a professional requires a constant 24-hours-a-day commitment which is key to success; the marketing, production, hiring of crews, financing takes time." You can be fiercely independent, running the show and only doing what you yourself can do, charging more as you gain experience and qualifications, jobbing yourself out to others who recognize, want and need, and are willing and able to pay your worth to make their projects the best they can be. You can elect to seek growth and become a major company, a major employer and a successful mega-millions business enterprise. Either way you can achieve success. Actually, I don't know if either one is any easier than the other - depends on what you personally want to achieve.

I adhere to a "work once, sell many" approach where I produce performance events with the potential for sales of dozens to hundreds of copies, and prefer to keep the work load within my abilities to do alone, or with my partner and the occasional assistant, even occasionally jobbing something out and handling the business and receivables/payables myself. I do, and have, taken on larger productions, and have gained invaluable experience, resources, new and renewable business and headaches from them.

I preach diversity in production for the independent professional video services provider on this blog site, and most anywhere I participate - forums like this one, and videomaker, and video university, and wedvidpro, etc. I twitter and facebook information or links to information. I do what I can to encourage others in the business community, and also to eventually build up a relationship with enough followers that I can finally share a "monetized" version of my advice, articles, experience and ideas.

Video production IMHO is an awesome and wonderful business that provides maximum reward for maximum effort, but also requires very little beyond a devotion to doing it right, treating people right, and demanding that others treat YOU right. Honesty and fair play can take you far, but you also have to be willing to put on the gloves and duke it out. You'll know, if you have any drive and gumption at all, when fairness will work, and when the gloves HAVE to be applied. Trust your instincts.

You asked how I got started...

Briefly: I have been a writer and keeper of family history and stories all my life. I have spent the major portion of my professional life as a writer, publisher, journalist and photo-journalist and pretty much anything related to these areas. The transition to video, for me, was a natural one.

I wanted to establish myself as a fiction novelist, and published/paid writer of magazine articles. The road is slower, long and difficult and everybody, it seemed to me, also wanted to be a writer. In these subsequent years the printed form is taking a hit of sorts, so maybe I picked a better path - video.

Video quickly became a source of instant gratification - a short time between effort, and receiving money for it. It allowed me to be creative and also requires of me professional discipline and focus on making productions for others so I can occasionally, and perhaps one day ONLY, do productions I want to do. That day is still out there, somewhere, waiting for me.

In other words I had the personal interest, creative, physical and mental drive and ambition. Rather than re-educating myself (with the exception of a couple of editing courses, public access and some software lessons on Photoshop, etc. at area colleges) I opted to "jump in" and just do it! I have NEVER regretted the decision to quit my day job and pursue business as an independent professional video services provider.

While many in this industry frustrate me, there are many others whom I LOVE and with whom I enjoy a professional and personal association. Like ANY community/family there are good and bad people, good and bad experiences, but overall the professional video communities of which I have become a part are as close to family as I can get without visiting my brothers and sisters, and my dad in Texas :-)

If you read this far, I am impressed. If not, you failed to get to the part where I said I was impressed.

Remember: If you market, you will make it! © Earl Chessher

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