Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Video Business: Concepts & Consequences

A friend, follower and (so far) believer e-mailed me recently with a LOT of questions about the video business, how I can make money and stay in business charging the low fees I charge, and essentially wondering if he even should be pushing forward with video, or looking elsewhere to make a living.

His situation is not unique. There are many in the business questioning the sanity of staying with it or getting out, panicking over the current economic situation, or wondering where to focus to return to profitability. The business people asking this of themselves are not only those who just entered the business, or are a couple of years into it, there are a number of 20-year veterans taking a long, hard look at their video production business model as well.

I am afraid that the lengths at which I go to "cover it all" this may have to be a two- or three-part series, but we'll see. First, I will attempt to condense my friend's thoughts and respond to them, hopefully, with some degree of accuracy, honesty and confidence.

My friend wrote:

“As you may remember I was in a totally different line of work until I went to business school the start of 2009. They swayed me to rethink my path and long story short here I am with video. What do we know so far? First I need much help with organizing and setting up and running a business (why I went to business management school) but that is another story.”

“I officially started this career in June of 2009. Reflecting back I was not ready with business skills and I now know I did not have much setup correctly. Where am I right now, still trying to set things up. Your e-mail response made me take a hard look at where I am right now.”

My first response:

What I am hearing in this e-mail, backed by previous correspondence with you, is frustration with a capital “F”. Less than 12 months ago you started business school. You have “officially” been in the video business for six months. You are NOT making any real money yet and I suspect income is a major issue here. NOW!

You need money and nothing is coming together fast enough to counter the fiscal pressures with which you are dealing.

While it is important that you measure your progress, think out your mistakes and refocus on your goals along the way, less than 12 months out the gate is way soon to be expecting miracles of yourself, especially trying to juggle doing business, making money and learning a new trade.

Six months after hanging your shingle is way too soon to expect solid, continuous and renewable business. Don’t get me wrong, it certainly CAN be done, but you're probably too focused on setting up the perfect business to make that happen right this second.

Two things are, or should be, obvious to you at this time: You NEED to focus on a specific marketing approach with a specific (or diversified) product/service; and you NEED to be out yesterday, shooting something, billing for it, and making money, or at least generating cash flow.

The WAY to do this is to start now. Just do it, is a term I use often, and apply to my own marketing efforts, and strategy implementation as well. Sitting around, undecided, NOT focusing on a plan of approach, waiting until things become clearer, or you can focus better, or the climate changes, or whatever, isn't going to cut it. You HAVE to make decisions, decide on a direction and go for it - consistently, persistently and immediately.

This calls for doing something - taking action, not just sitting there worrying about it. If you are in a larger population area take your camera with you, drive around and check out the many (or few?) public parks, ball parks and other areas of youth sports activity. There's everything in every season, from baseball, basketball, tennis, soccer and swimming to events of celebration being held at the local park. It takes a certain amount of gumption and determination to cold call on these things, but there's money to be made by taking a guerilla-style approach to business and conducting “Walk-ON” marketing. This doesn’t work all the time, or every time, but persistence pays.

At the same time, in between your walk-on exercise and guerilla tactics for immediate business and cash flow, take the time to put together a one-page direct-mail letter, or half-page size post card. Do a look-up for whatever areas of interest you wish to pursue in event video production: again, youth sports, martial arts studios, private or school dance studios, area elementary, middle- or high-schools for plays, dance, sports, band, flag and other competitive or performance activities, funeral homes and/or mortuaries for funeral videotaping and montage production and/or projection services.

Work the guerilla approach and direct mail until you start receiving positive reactions and responses. These two areas, if you do them consistently, daily, will finally pay off dividends.

You could also put together something that reflects any type of production(s) you have already done, using snippets of your clips for samples, burn a demo DVD reel and start mailing that to every possible home/business address you can confirm - even if you have to address it to "occupant" or "business owner" at first. Eventually you will begin acquiring names and contacts and be able to develop a more personal approach to a specific person at many of these addresses.

If you are interested in pursuing wedding production, go visit a bridal gown shop, a tux rental place, a caterer, a location/venue, a bakery, perhaps a coordinator and offer to put together at no charge a 3-to-5-minute clips featuring their business, services and products or location. Combine this (especially if they are in a general service area) content with your own demo clip(s) and provide them free to the participations. They will distribute them from their counters, use them for web video and generally promote themselves while promoting you as well.

This could be done with other inter-related business and services as well. Perhaps a pet shop, pet supplies center, specialty shops or other small businesses with complimentary services or products.

But the only way to make this happen is to start now. Do something. Make an effort. It takes a major effort on your part to motivate yourself and push until you establish a strong self-starter mood. The incentive would be gaining business and establishing resources for immediate cash flow, even if it is a $125 down-and-dirty montage, or sales of several highlight videos from Saturday's youth soccer event. Cash flow is cash flow, and on a consistent level it can carry you from month-to-month until you've established broader, bigger and better business resources via your direct-mail marketing strategies.

To be continued...

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

Monday, November 09, 2009

A Newcomer Wants to Know

Hello Blog Follower...

I know you didn't intend for it to be, but your "how many jobs (gigs) should I take on" question is a bit open ended, and could be answered with a simple, or complex response. I am known throughout the circles of my readers, followers AND detractors, for writing MORE than most of them want to read; for writing LONG answers for what they perceive only needs SHORT responses - T.M.I one person recently responded. But I try to be detailed and definitive when people ask me questions.


OK, the simple answer is if you acquire one gig a month that covers your fiscal needs then, well One Gig a Month. I'm not trying to be coy, but if you only need $2k, give or take, a month to be comfortable, there are numerous gigs that can bring that amount.

More realistically, let's say your gigs average $500 for a 2-3 hour effort, then FOUR jobs a month should do you well. The thing is, in my arena where I do a LOT of memorial montage & projection gigs and have carved a huge niche for myself in the funeral video production business (a vastly under served market for video IMHO) - any given gig of this nature can bring me business on ANY given day.

Since it is feast or famine in this business, I take what I can when it's there, and use my downtime for other pursuits - fiction/non-fiction writing, research, personal projects and marketing. But for example last week, after about six weeks of NOTHING, I had a gig a day for six-days-in-a-row, all of them funeral and/or memorial montage & projection, picking up nearly $600 a day. Sounds like a lot (or a little in some circles) but a $3,600 week is cool to me.

This week I have ONE scheduled gig, but several inquiries and a number of them could come through by the end of the week.

I am telling you this to point out that you will have an ebb and flow of business, and you need to think more of the slow months so that you are in the right perspective when business IS available and not turn away something simply because you're "gold" for the moment. There will be lean times, so if you are in this full time then working two gigs a week on average (as often as you can) that bring in say a grand a week, will take care of your estimated financial needs and offer a pad you can fall back on during the lean weeks - and there WILL be lean weeks. Trust me.

So, shoot for two gigs of some kind a week.

Depending on the extent of your initial business focus: if you are working with mostly events held by individuals or small groups then errors and omissions insurance or liability insurance is probably not THAT critical. I do recommend that you carry both at your earliest ability. If you are careful you will rarely need it but poop happens and you will appreciate the peace of mind having insurance brings. Also, you really should cover your equipment for theft or natural disasters - fire, flood, etc. So, you're looking at something like at least a couple grand a year (if you shop around) for basic coverage of these three types. You'll need to divide that up by 12 to see what you need to add to your $2K "get by" estimate.

Think seriously about health insurance, especially if you have youth and health on your side - the older you get, and the eventuality of developing something that makes you either uninsurable or prohibitively expense to insure: diabetes, heart disease, etc. Premiums for you now will be less, and then you ARE covered when/if health disaster strikes unexpectedly. At your age and given good health you should be able to find something in the $300 and up zone that you can pay for, live with and have further peace of mind about. Trust me, a guy with BOTH diabetes AND a heart condition - at age 60 I am uninsurable, and Obama's designs on health care reform are not going to come into play early enough to bail me out either. So, I live day-by-day, try to remain healthy, and work as hard as I can to develop a financial buffer that might serve me in worsening health times.

I think the marketing plan(s) outlined in my blog articles are sound, and well-thought-out, practical and effective. I really believe that a person could adapt these principles for their business model and efforts and come out ahead. So, unless you read/see/find something that makes MORE sense, then my advice is probably just as good a place to start as any other.

The industry IS absolutely changing AND growing, but in ways that many of the old-timers are not going to be able, or inclined to keep up with. Video will rapidly transition from hard copy delivery - BluRay, high def or standard def delivery on DVD media, even tape in some instances, hard drive, thumb drive or solid state SDHC cards are going to bow (within mine and your lifetimes) to delivery over the internet. As people already download and record, deliver for worldwide collaborative editing projects, upload, share, stream, etc. this method of delivery and use of video will grow immensely. It will do to hard media what cassette did to 4-track; CD did to cassette; digital did to VHS analog; DVD did to tape; et al. The future of video is on the net, trust me.

In my book I will be including a couple of chapters on what I am currently doing to take advantage of this arena of video production. More and more people are going to want/demand internet delivery, although for some years into the future some might continue to want a "backup" on one of the above-mentioned mediums. Yes, your video business future is and will be web centric. Web content and live streaming...get on NOW while you can be among the front-runners, instead of waiting just because shooting, editing and delivering on DVD/BluRay events and standard gigs is easy money. It will be going away sooner rather than later, I am sad to say. YouStream and LiveStream (formerly Mogulus) are good places to hedge your bets.

The "other" things you should know about already IMHO exist - standard day-to-day celebratory events. The funerals and memorials and projection gigs I mentioned earlier. These are the potential daily cash-flow areas that will keep something coming in while/when you're developing, marketing or working your web-related services and honing your skills there. I cannot really see, or imagine much beyond this point in the future but flexibility and diversity are important factors in a video-related business IMHO - be aware, read up constantly, look, listen and study, watch the market, when you hear about something for the first time check it out, see if it offers you something to work with, then plan and jump on it before it becomes totally mainstream.

ALSO, look around you for markets that are NOT being adequately served, or overlooked by the majority of independent video services providers (funerals and memorial montages/projection for example - they're not for everybody but they're making ME MONEY!). I'm not the ewwww or squeamish type when it comes to blood, or dead people. Guess 30 years in the news reporting business, doing coverage on murders, rapes, robberies, trials and more have given me a thick ewwwwwless skin and mind. :-)


Turnaround time for me depends on the complexity of the project.
Weddings? A week to 10 days.
Celebratory events? 2-3 days.
Funerals? 3-5 days.
Montages for memorials? less than 48 hours from receipt of materials.
Commercial productions? Whatever time line is established and agreed upon. If I can meet or beat a 30, 60, 90 or one-year contracted time line I will. There's often a bonus built in for me, for early deliver, meeting progressive points along the way, or coming in under budget. I try to play that to my fiscal advantage, but never to the exclusion of the quality of the product - I ALWAYS will deliver MORE than promised or expected. This keeps my clients returning year-after-year and a reasonable expectation of renewable business and referrals.


Essentially, deliver fast, price reasonable and create good-to-great product. Believe me the word will get out and a major portion of your business future will be referral based. Develop relationships within the circles of the business you want to pursue; be it weddings, destination sites/venues, real estate, working for non-profits.

Regarding non-profits, due to the nature of their roles in society NPs are looking for the MOST they can get for the least outlay. But by and large they have gotten money, do have budgets and unless you want to develop a reputation for being an easy mark, charge something for your efforts. Otherwise it will be like when I send in a donation to various charities - Veterans groups, Children hospitals, burn clinics, cancer groups, Alzheimer's groups, etc. I am flooded for years to come with monthly mailings and e-mails seeking donations, even asking for specific amounts. Not my way of giving. I give what I want when I want and can, and quickly turn away from those who are spending too much IMHO for the paraphernalia they send me seeking more. Nuff said.

You've got some reading material here, should give you some things to ponder. Stay in touch. Remember, if you market, you will make it! © 2009, Earl Chessher, E.C. Come, E.C. Go