How to Charge More For Video: Get $10,000+ For Every Video, Part I

MattBusiness, Filmmaking, Marketing, Mindset, Video Production4 Comments

I came across with Q&A with Henry Finn of Blueprint World Media, a top San Fransisco based video production company. In this Q&A, Henry responds to questions about how to charge more for video, and specifically how to get $10,000+ for every video that you make.

Note: I’ve edited the original Q&A for readability reasons. The answers are still Henry’s, but I’ve added punctuation, paragraph breaks and other grammar edits for readability. I’ve also included relevant additional links to help readers, as well as images and video throughout.

This is Part I of the Q&A. The rest of the Q&A will be released in two more parts, as it’s rather lengthy.

Without further ado, let’s get started!

Introduction

Hi all, I’ve been a videographer for over 15 years in the Bay Area. I started when I was 19 shooting weddings for years and eventually got into corporate and startup work which has been my bread and butter for 10+ years. I don’t do weddings anymore actually.

I have worked for major companies and taught at the Academy of Art University and now I am considering creating a course to teach people how to build their work and clientele up to charge minimum 10K per video.

I learned a lot of lessons the hard way but also was helped by the community, so I want to give back and also create the ultimate resource guide for the business. You can see some of our work at Blueprint World Media.

What questions and struggles do you have as professionals that you want to address?

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What You Will Learn

Some of the topics that will be covered in this Q&A:

  • Essential knowledge areas for creating professional work.
  • How to prospect clients.
  • How to build solid relationships.
  • How to manage client expectations and educate them to justify charging more.
  • Pitfalls to avoid in taking work/managing time/resources.
  • How to manage billing.
  • How to save your money and grow (don’t just dump it back into gear).
  • How to creatively solve client needs under budget.
  • Tips and tricks to increase profit margin.
  • How to not burn out.
  • Building a team and working with other freelancers.
  • How to strategically reach out to build relationships in niches you want benefits from.
  • And much more, this is just off the top of my head.

The Questions & Answers

1. What would you advise for a 16 year getting into video production?

A. Hey man, thanks for commenting that’s amazing what you’re doing at 16. When I was 16, I’m pretty sure I was just getting in trouble. You should be proud of yourself and I encourage you to keep going, don’t stop, stay smart and stay focused on one thing…getting better in every way.

You have good work especially for your age. Better then when I was 19.

Focus on a few things: more shot selection, color grading, movement and also…storytelling. The key to successful storytelling is emotion and finding the “heart” of everything you shoot. Find the underlying story elements that move people.

Study cinema, all kinds not just big hollywood films, but more films that directors love and apply their techniques to your paid work.

I would not worry about making 10K, because you have to work your way up to that, but since you already know that you’re fine. I’m sure you’ll get there. How much are you charging right now, that’s important to know.

The key is to always be professional. Never let your ego get in the way of dealing with clients. Never voice your displeasure in anything in an emotional way, always strive to find a win win situation and if you can’t then walk away with grace.

Experiment! Keep shooting lots of stuff on your own time because you will discover techniques and ideas that you can apply to your business that will help separate you from others.

Enter competitions and win awards that also helps justify charging.

Learn to network and work for others who are more established, I guarantee you if you work hard and have a great attitude, they will take you under their wing and show you the ropes and also make you better.

For now, I’d say focus on developing your talent so by the time you’re 19 you’ll blow away the competition because you have a great head start.

I would also learn about After Effects and motion graphics, because in the future everyone will know it so you have to be great, not just good at it. Invest that time into it, study tutorials and mimic them. Plus you can use it for your reel.

2. How important is having your own gear when starting out? And what gear is the most important to own?

In my mind, trying to charge anyone for anything means you have to have something to bring to the table instead of experience or a demo reel. Neither of which I have, but I make up for it with an insane amount of vision and creativity.

A. Normally, I would advise against purchasing a bunch of gear outside of a camera, lights and sound when having zero portfolio.

However, I actually think in your case you can use it to your advantage if you have a DJI, because you can reach out to your local videographers and offer it to them to use for their projects for free if you can tag along and learn.

This is a great way to soak it up and also build connections.

That being said, until you get the DJI, shoot as much as you can! I think the key takeaway is do not wait.

All great artists are prolific and will work with anything, just because they need to. Just shoot, shoot, shoot! That’s the priority.

Do it now, don’t worry about showing it to people even if taking that pressure off helps. Just be free and shoot and learn.

Do stuff for fun, do spec stuff, do fake commercials and music videos with friends, because you want as much hands on experience as possible before you can charge someone.

I think in your case, actually, a few good lenses are more important then the body itself. You can learn to make stuff look good with a few good fast lenses and you’ll still need them when you move up.

I know people who own REDs and Alexas, and they frankly told me that their investment in lenses were more valuable then their cameras.

That being said, I remember when I started out I saved and spent good money on a more intermediate/advanced camera and just kind of jumped in the deep end.

It’s weird how people will hire you more if you have a good camera. But f you don’t have the work to back it up the camera doesn’t matter.

So, again, it goes back to shoot now with your 70D. You need to make mistakes and learn things the hard way on your own time. Plus, you can put together a reel.

I think the focus right now would be making a 2 minute reel with lots of pretty shots. So don’t worry about getting paid or doing full gigs. Go out and shoot stuff first and put it together.

Once you have a 2 minute reel, that’s actually enough to start getting some jobs. But keep in mind they will be very low paying until you have the real body of work to share.

I would start with a zoom lens with a fixed f-stop, because while shooting events, often you will find yourself zooming in suddenly and you don’t want to see the image get darker while that happens. You might miss an important moment.

I would probably recommend a Canon L series lense, but I know it’s expensive. So, if not, then forget about the fixed f-stop.

However, I would get something like a 35-70mm, at least, because you want a decent range and it’ll solve a lot of your problems on the run.

Honestly, I’d do some research. Look at some blogs and see what they recommend. I haven’t been a gear head for a while. I’ve been more focused on the business side. Which brings me to your next comment…

In the example I recommended of offering your gear in exchange for experience, I would not let other people use my gear unless I am standing next to it. And if it’s a DJI don’t let them touch it at all, tell them you’re the operator and that’s the deal.

The awesome thing about that is you can use it for your reel. But when showing it to someone, be careful about what aspects of the video you claim ownership over.

If you say you produced all of it and then take on a job bigger then you can chew, it will show and that could hurt your reputation. And that’s the most important thing you want to protect at all times.

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3. You can check out my work at https://vimeo.com/shyguytim and maybe you can tell me if I’m on the right path. I’ve been told that friends of friends, restaurant owner friends want to hire me for things.

I just don’t know how to approach the whole, “So what do you charge?” question. Do I need a company name, LLC, business cards, website? I’m okay with doing for free or in exchange for or products/services.

A. I checked out your work. I think you are definitely good. You can probably charge small clients right now.

There’s some things I’d work on, which would be more shot selection and movement, but you have a good eye. I’vee seen much worse people charge for work. So you are definitely on the right path and I would encourage you to keep going if you want.

I think in figuring out what to charge, you can do some reverse engineering. Look up some videographers who do comparable work, reach out to them like a client and ask them what rates they charge. Or ask your friends if they know any videographers you can be introduced to and interview them.

However, a lot of people don’t like to share, so figure out what works for you.

To be honest, to start off your Vimeo site is already enough. This sounds crazy, but I didn’t even have a website until last year. And I was charging a lot of money way before that.

How did I do that?

I just sent links to my work (I was lazy). So don’t overthink the business stuff.

You dont need an LLC because you need to be making good money before an LLC has benefits, unless you’re worried about hurting someone and getting sued or something.

However, you do need business cards. It can just be “your name productions” to start off unless you have a cool company name you like. In that case, reserve the URL and have it point to your Vimeo account, if you want.

Or if you really want a website, it can help in getting work and looking more professional.

Use Squarespace or even Tumblr to start if you don’t want to spend any money.

When you’re starting out, to cut down on nervousness: plan, plan, and then plan some more. The more prepared you are the better.

Have a tight script. Time it. Do storyboards, know every shot and movement. Find music for it before you even shoot. Make sure you have all the props, wardrobe, and decorations.

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4. How do you decide what equipment to get at what time? Some people swear on your sensors or your glass while others push stabilizers (tripods, monopods, steadicam) or lighting.

I think it’s safe to say that your first couple checks you cash are going right back into equipment, but how do you choose what comes first?

A. I used to be gear crazy, but after many years of only spending every penny I made into gear and chasing the latest greatest camera (they’re so sexy!), I found myself constantly broke.

The thing to remember is a videographer is a filmmaking entrepreneur. This means every penny must be wisely spent.

Luckily, there’s so many more options then when I started at lower costs.

I would invest in stages.

First, the camera, obviously. Now I would get a camera like the Canon c100 first, because for videography a lot of times you run into situations where you have to sit and record for long periods of time. So something like the Black Magic camera is not effective, because you have to worry about offloading, media costs, etc.

Plus, most clients, at this point, don’t care about 4K but luckily now with the new cameras by Sony and such, you can have both!

What I’m saying is, to make your money stretch you should focus on a camera that is durable and easy to manage media you shoot, because when you’re starting out you need to save costs in every way and a data wrangler is not an option usually.

Then again, a lot of people start with DSLRs and that’s fine, too.

The point is, don’t worry too much about which camera. Just get something dependable. The quality of your shots and camerawork is much more important than which camera you use to capture it.

When you’re starting out, I’d invest in a good camera and a solid zoom lens. Also, get basic audio gear not just an on-board shotgun mic, but a lavalier and hand mic. You’d be surprised how much you need it for corporate work.

Next, I would also get a 1×1 lite panel minimum, if you can’t get a 2-3 light kit, because you will need lighting for interviews.

When you’re starting out you will probably be doing lots of testimonial videos, etc. So you cannot rely on natural lighting only. The first time they usher you into some shitty dark room, you’ll cry.

I’d add Steadicam before a slider. And a cheap tripod before a monopod, because a monopod doesn’t fly when you have to do a sit down interview and you have to manage camera light and sound all by yourself.

Also, a strong locked off shot is more pro looking than a slightly shaky one, but monopods are great if you do a lot of live events with no seating. Just don’t get a monopod before a tripod.

In a pinch, you can extend one of the tripod legs longer then the other two and make a monopod out of it.

5. I just had a few questions: How many videos do you make annually?

Also, do you work alone, hire contract work, pay employees?

A. Wow, that’s a good question!

The past year, it’s been very different. II’ve actually been lucky enough to move onto getting paid to do passion projects and I’m kind of figuring out how to balance doing less paid corporate work and more personal work (ie, films and docs).

Because of various health/life reasons, I started questioning my time, and actually have been taking less clients on purpose. I currently do about 2-3 videos a month, but also have a few clients on retainer and split my time between personal work.

But I’d say for a few years before this, when I was strictly doing corporate work, I was busting out 5-10 clients a month.

I really was killing myself and had a low quality of life but that’s a different story for another day 🙂

One way to look at it is to choose how much you want to make a month and divide that by how much your profit margin is for an average job. Voila, that’s your minimum clients per month required.

Why do I say divide it by the profit margin per job?

Say you want to make 3500 a month and you charge 1500 a job, but on average only profit 500. Then you actually need 7 jobs a month not 3.

I own the company alone, but I do hire contract work (editing and visual effects is the worst bottleneck, at my rate). I pay people as contractors, not employees. Although to make the leap to the next level, I’ll save money with actual employees, not contractors.

6. I saw you got lucky (by doing hard work) by doing projects for the TedX guy who referred you a lot of business and that moved you into the 10k world.

Looking back, if you didn’t have that opportunity, how do you think you could have made the jump to those level clients without that?

A. To be clear, I actually was charging around $10k per video before I met the Tedx guy. But he is an example of someone who helped me stay consistent and also helped bump me up a bit.

To make the jump to charge more for video, it definitely requires a good reputation and a solid body of work. And I feel at least one or two household brand names is very important.

Honestly, the best activity that results in $10k+ jobs is truly networking. For instance, the Firefox work I did was around $15k, and that came from a referral of a friend I worked with many times on smaller jobs.

Someone he knew worked for Firefox in their media department. We worked together on a live streaming job and we got along well so when he got swamped he turned to me to help him finish the work.

Now, the question becomes how do I network?

Well, I tend to look at an industry and then figure out the eco system and who the players are.

For instance, I’ll just take weddings as an example. I’d look at all the vendors in that game. Wedding planners, DJs, photographers, bakers and all the others.

I thought, “okay, who would do the most referring and have the best position of power?”

I decided photographers, wedding planners and venues such as hotels. So I cold emailed them one by one, sharing my work and telling them I’d love to be on their radar in case they ever need a hand. I also said that I’m easy to work with.

That way, they ended up calling me later, because people like that are always on the lookout for vendors to refer. It makes them look good in front of the client, the more connections they have the better. So then it comes down to how friendly and approachable you are.

Most people at a certain level work based not just on portfolio, but how much they like you personally. So being friendly, not pushing to hard with a hard sell, but more of a neighborly intro type vibe helps.

If it were a specific industry I wanted to break into, let’s use one of the previous comments like outdoor videography. I would again look at the ecosystem and figure out who the most influential people are.

So I’d probably go to a bookstore, look at outdoors magazines and then start cold emailing the athletes being interviewed and the magazine editors themselves.

Think about who has the most respect and voice. Even if they don’t have a budget and you have to trade or do some spec work.

What happens after that is you can then go to a product company and say, “Hey, I did this work with this famous outdoors athlete that you also happen to endorse, if you want a commercial let me know.”

One last example, (this one is a personal secret of mine so I’m giving you gold), if there’s a niche or industry I like I might actually just start my own project like a mini documentary and make a 1-2 page pitch for the project. From there, I’d send interview requests with people I’d like to work with in the future.

Why do I do this?

Most people, if you try to sell them your work, will only respond if they need you. But if you ask to interview them for a project that could potentially benefit them or their egos, they will say ‘yes,’ and then that can lead to work.

I did this a few times, and each time after we had a good interview, I’d throw out there that I also do freelance work, so if they know anyone who might need it, let me know.

And because you just built a great rapport with them, they are happy to refer you sometime sooner or later.

Obviously, the caveat to this is don’t pitch a project you’re not actually interested in completing. Because if you don’t finish, then you’ll lose the relationship permanently.

I’ve used this technique to get into huge conferences for free, and gain access to people that would never respond to me if I was just offering my professional services.

It’s kind of simple, but universal, which is that if you ask them to hire you, you’re really asking them to give you something (money).

On the other hand, if you offer to interview them for a special project, you’re offering them something (PR, free marketing) which they will be much more receptive to. Hope that helps!

7. My question is how do you make the catch? And how do you source/contact new clients with no connections (cold contact)??

Is it best to try make a storyboard cause I have found that my end result changes as I am going through it as I get more and better ideas and ends up better than what I may have originally presented to the client.

Have had no complaints yet. Doing this doesn’t mean you always have to follow the rules but there are certain ways to go about it. Any thought to this?

A. If I were you, I’d look at commercials that were made for comparable products and clients, and use that as your pitch.

For example, we can try to make something like this but for less money and lower expectations.

I never worry about how much the pitch and end results line up, because I tell them up front the purpose of a pitch is to inspire and due to budget constraints, the end result may vary. Of course, you can assure them you will do your best every step of the way to maximize the end result given the resources.

I think the key is to be clear from the start and reiterate gently throughout the process that if they don’t have a budget, then there are certain realities to consider.

Never over-promise based on numbers (ie, don’t say, “I will get you a million views”), instead make promises based on perceived value (ie, “I will create a product that helps your brand image quality, that will in turn lead to more business”).


I hope you’ve found this Q&A on how to charge more for video helpful. Part II and Part III are still to come and will be posted in the coming weeks.

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4 Comments on “How to Charge More For Video: Get $10,000+ For Every Video, Part I”

  1. This is great! Thanks for such a well thought out piece!

    Really like the video about overcoming price objections. I didn’t know about that stuff!

  2. This material is really helpful. I’ve been going through the answers and taking notes. Feel like I’ve answered quite a few of my questions about starting my video business and going forward.

    Thanks for this – it’s a great service you do.

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