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 production, 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 II of the Q&A. Don’t forget to check out Part I here. The rest of the Q&A will be released in the third part, as it’s rather lengthy.
Without further ado, let’s get started!
8. Should I be setting flat rates for my jobs? Currently I am charging clients an hourly rate for TV commercials/brand/web videos. Thank you for this.
A. That’s a good question that I’ve wrestled with a lot.
I personally feel that hourly rates are better for specific work like editing or steadicam. But if you’re owning the process from top to bottom, flat rates are better because you can build in more profit margin.
For example, if you have a client that can pay $5000 for a job but you quote hourly, you might end up only charging $2500. Leaving the rest off the table, and you can’t ethically bullshit them and say you did $5000 worth of hourly work at that point to make up for it.
For smaller jobs, if you do a flat rate, protect yourself by telling them that the rate is good for up to X number of hours (over estimate your hours). And that if you’re approaching the limit, and expect to go over, you will notify them and charge them an hourly rate for every hour after that.
And you can also say that the flat rate is good for 1-2 revisions only and after that any changes will be charged at an hourly rate.
I think I know a few people who charge hourly rates, but most people I know do flat rates. At least in my market, the problem with hourly rates is sometimes you can scare a customer off, or give them room to question how many hours you should be working.
I guess what I’d mostly be interested in, is learning how to prospect clients outside of the field we are currently working in. We feel we can do so much more then events (like this short we recently produced), and we feel ready to take on bigger projects outside of the event niche. However, we don’t really know how to get into the ‘big league’.. How does one get the major $100k+ contracts? How does one start making adds for big companies? How does one cross over from events to big corporate?
Aside from that I might be able to learn how to get more out of my day; like how to more efficiently use these 24 hours we have. And maybe I could work on expanding our profit margins.
A. Nice short!
Thanks for sharing. I definitely would branch out if I were you. I think you can do commercials, serious branding stuff, etc.
For prospecting clients, I think it helps if you have a specific goal in terms of either niche or budgets. If you go niche first, then figure out the niche you like and/or have higher payout rates.
In my experience, live music is usually low. Tech/startups are good for me because they are used to paying more (after all, they throw money away on frivolous things). Also, they actually know very little about media production, so startups have much more room to build profit margin than standard corporate work or local TV type stuff.
A corporation like a bank or a company that has done a ton of commercials already knows the standard rates, but startups don’t.
I think when you are switching genres, it’s almost like starting over again a bit, because a startup, for instance, doesn’t care about your live music work if they need an explainer video.
So I might do a semi-trade, or give someone small a great deal since you obviously aren’t going to do it for free.
I might find a new startup that needs video to help gain traction (look on AngelList or Crunchbase), and then tell them you’d be willing to help them out. If I’m doing trade or giving a great deal, I tell them up front that I am giving them a deal, so what I want in return is 1-3 referrals to their friends if possible.
You have to put in an “ask” for yourself before you begin work, or before you’re done. If you don’t, they’ll say “thanks!” and you won’t know when the next referral comes in.
If you tell them before hand that’s what you want, and then they’re happy with their product, it’ll be more in the back of their mind when they’re having conversations with their peers.
LinkedIn is another source, but I’m still new to that since I have lived off natural referrals for a long time. So I’ll wait to share more info on that when I’m more concrete on how to go about it.
So for the 100K + jobs, it really is about relationships since it is full-service ad agencies that usually charge that much. No company will pay six figures for a video, unless it’s a music video or something like that.
Mostly they’re paying that much for a video within a campaign, and so either you have the entire campaign (you know PR, marketing, branding, etc.), or you’re being hired by an ad agency.
However, I will note that I’ve only worked on 100K+ jobs three times in my career, and each time it was because of a contact, so I wouldn’t presume to be able to teach that yet.
Also, I feel like budgets are getting smaller overall. However, I can say that I got those jobs because of my networking and relationship efforts which translates no matter the budget.
Sorry, wish I had a simpler answer but I did notice that six figures is a wall that is closely guarded by agencies.
To get more out of your day, you have to start counting your hours for each project and really see where the time is going. Then see what you can outsource using for instance the 80/20 principle, or whatever makes sense for you.
For instance, I noticed that my bottleneck was editing. I just wasn’t turning them around fast enough on my own once I got to the 5K+ range.
So I found a few editors that would do most of the work and I’d just put my hands on in the very beginning and very end.
The other thing is that I don’t know if you have a team, but I know companies that are charging minimum 10K usually have a lead sales guy whose sole job is to go out there, network, prospect and meet people. Then he turns the work over to the team and then goes back out and sells and sells.
I think the main part is, don’t take jobs that don’t fit your budget requirement. The time you spend on lower paying gigs is time you could be spending prospecting. Like I told someone else, it takes less time to find one $5K job than prospecting and completing 3 $1500 jobs.
Those are just random numbers, but the ratio of effort to budget is applicable for you as well.
In terms of expanding profit margins, it really depends on how you operate. I don’t know how many people work on your projects and how the money is split. Usually what I do is I have a list of options for different positions, and then I use the guy/girl that is the best quality for lowest rate that the job needs and keep the rest.
For instance, I just did a job that I hired a DP for that has an Alexa. Afterwards, I was kicking myself because I realized for the job I should have just used a Black Magic or something.
The client didn’t give a shit which camera I was using, I just wanted to use an Alexa, but I could have saved that extra $1,500.
In hindsight, I don’t even know why I did that, lol.
10. I would be most interested in how you can find clients. Also any mistakes you think are commonly made by people starting out?
A. Finding clients is a full time job, almost. But a necessary part of the business when it comes to scaling up your pricing.
I’d say there’s probably a few different career stages which have different prospecting techniques
1. For newbies (no portfolio) — Craigslist, LinkedIn, friends, cold-calling businesses for spec work
I’ve shared some techniques for this in previous answers, so please look for them. Basically, it’s consistently responding to ads and offering to trade work.
2. For mid-level (currently charging anywhere from $500-$2500 a job)— referral based, cold-calling, and LinkedIn
This is usually after you have some work to show.
You have to make sure your clients are happy every time, so that they send you more work. If you keep people happy and have reasonable turnaround times, you will keep getting work.
The catch here is that they usually send the same quality clients, or lower, as referrals.
Keeping clients happy means learning to set up their expectations before you start the job. This is because these clients typically have zero understanding of what they are getting for their money. They tend to look at unrealistic goals.
For example, if you don’t set up expectations you fall into the trap of over promising and under-delivering without realizing it.
In this phase, when you cold-call/email you are also sending in a deck or formal proposal to impress them. I can talk about that more later
3. For high (charging $5K-10K) — primarily referral based
Usually, by this point, you have a reputation and a body of work. So the main job is networking and creating signs of social proof.
I used to hate it, but if you want to make the jump it’s necessary.
By this point, you want to have at least one job completed with someone of note, who has a great reputation and social cache and connections.
For instance, I hooked up with a guy that runs TEDx events, did something for free for him. He then started referring me to clients who are millionaires and very happy to spend $10K per project.
In fact, he just referred me to a billionaire who is thinking of making a TV show. So I’m working through the process of helping them develop their idea ,which is most likely going to be a 3-6 month process.
4. Higher ($50K+)
This is almost purely relationship and reputation based, and you have a team of people working with/for you so I won’t go into that here yet.
Also, usually this is with ad agencies, etc. So by this point you probably aren’t doing the production work yourself at all.
For some of the Hankook work that I did my team was flown out to Texas for a weekend and we shot and partied and made great money. But the guy who hired me eventually switched departments and then, poof, I lost that business. It went to whatever videographer the new guy was friendly with.
MISTAKE: Not setting up client expectations properly.
MISTAKE: Not properly budgeting projects.
When I first started out I don’t know how many times I took a job because I needed the money, without properly budgeting. Only to find out I either made zero profit, or worse, lost money and had to cover the gap with the next job.
One thing I used to do was get pissed off at my clients when I wasn’t making money, or they were being difficult. And I realized, finally, it was because I was making mistakes #1 and #2. So it was my fault to begin with.
Now, that being said, one thing that really saved me was the realization that once I’ve taken the job, even if I was unhappy, I forced myself to make sure it ended with a quality piece of work. You are going to use it to get the next job and that is also how you save your reputation.
There’s more than that, but those are the most important mistakes I would avoid when starting out.
Hope that helps!
11. How much did you charge for a video when starting out?
A. That depends on if you have a portfolio or not.
When I first first started out (literally with zero work to show), I told myself I have to earn the right to charge. Some people might argue that. So I offered my work for free for the first half dozen projects because:
- I knew I was going to make mistakes and I didn’t want other people paying for them, and
- I take pride in my reputation and nothing kills it like people complaining you “took” their money and gave them crap back.
So that being said, you can break it down by the type of video (and this is based on Bay Area rates, obviously it will vary depending on region).
Now assuming you have zero portfolio, here’s the lowest starting rates I might recommend, and it depends on clients. It takes experience to figure out how to gauge someone’s ability to pay.
- music videos – $250
- weddings – $400
- commercials – $400
- youtube videos (under 2 min) – $150
- explainer videos – $150
- corporate testimonial videos – $250
Again, this is for people just starting out with zero work. I wouldn’t recommend these rates for anyone who has a body of work to speak of.
12. I have a very big portfolio of live music all around paris ( a good 30 videos ) but I cant seem to get clubs to pay me at the moment as I started off with the free approach to get some portfolio; I’m kinda stuck into them thinking ill work for free, how would you get out of this circle?
I’m kinda worrried the reason they’re using me is because I’m free; if i demand them money they might not want to use me anymore (thats how I feel, anyway).
A. Haha, dude I feel your pain. I’ve done almost every type of job you can imagine. I’ve even filmed a funeral!
I used to do club stuff…the problem with the music scene is that there’s so many people who will offer their work for free. The owners of said business will never see value in paying you.
That being said, I looked at your work. It’s definitely good enough to warrant pay. I might add some value by throwing in some glider work. Movement is always money, but your shot selection and editing is great.
What I would do if I were you is use the owners of these venues to ask for introductions to the musicians. I see you’ve filmed some big names and those are the people you want to connect with.
Say, “Hey dude, I really enjoy shooting for you and Diplo is one of my favorite artists. Do you think it’d be okay to intro me to them? I’d like to offer my work for them too and I really appreciate that.”
If they do, then bust your ass for these artists. Eventually they’ll take you on tour, etc.
If they don’t, then fuck it, go around them and send a link of the highlights directly to Diplo’s management via the artists website and say:
“Hey, I shot the highlights of your show at X venue, and I really love your music. I’d be willing to shoot some free stuff for you next time you’re in town. I’m sure you already have people you work with, but in case they’re unavailable or you need a backup, please keep me in mind!”
If your work is good (which it is), then they’ll remember you and either respond or keep you in mind. I’m not saying everyone will respond (or even most), but really you just need one big artist to bite.
Finally, another approach you can do is hit up a really big music festival with your entire body of work. Say:
“Hey, I specialize in live event coverage. I’d be happy to shoot some stuff for free for you even if you have someone covering your event.”
You can then use this as a bigger social proof for other clients: “Hey I shot EDC.” They’ll assume you got paid for it and will want to pay you in turn.
I remember one of the first scores I got I sent a cold-email to a major film festival and said I’d be happy to assist in shooting with their video team. I found out they didn’t even have a team!
So I ended up covering their festival myself and then the next year they paid me and the relationships I built were invaluable.
I remember too when I had to make the jump to charging and I was nervous. Then I saw some work other people were charging for and realized I deserved it.
If you want to introduce the thought of charging to someone who hasn’t been paying, I’d phrase it by saying that I’ve gotten really busy and can’t afford to work for free.
Also, I agree that as you make a jump to each level you will naturally lose the clients that don’t fit in with your new pricing. It’s a good thing as it means you’re growing.
I learned clients in each tier tend to stay there, so don’t expect someone who pays 1500 to suddenly start paying 2500.
I remember when I took the leap from 1500 to 5000, I went through a lean period where I had no work. But I forced myself to not cave in and strive to find ways to find clients who pay the rates I felt I deserved.
And you know what?
They eventually appeared!
But I realized it is a time issue. Working on lower paying jobs take as much of your time as higher (and often more), so you really have to value your time and use it to prospect for higher paying jobs.
Plus, you can think of it this way: you would spend less time working to get one $5000 job than it would take to complete work on 3 $1500 jobs.
One thing I would add is that as you move up you still want good vibes from those who are below your rates. So instead of telling them they suck, just tell them your business is growing. You would love to work with them, but sorry you’re so busy that you can’t do it.
You can even refer them to someone else, or bring in someone to work under you and keep them if you want. It’ll let them know that it’s their call if they can’t afford your services, not you rejecting them.
Gotta pay to play. It’s a professional stance.
13. How do I know how much to charge? And how do you know when to increase the amount you charge?
A. In my experience, this is how it works (if you start with zero portfolio)
1. You work for free and for trade.
2. You charge ~$500 per project.
3. Then jump to $1000-1,5000.
4. Then you can charge $3,500-$5000.
5. Next tier is $5000-$7000.
6. Finally $10,000+ (this can vary from $10K all the way to $50K).
7. After that, $100K+. You are working with major agencies or branding companies that hire you (requires deep connections to get here).
These tiers are a little blurry depending on industry and niche.
As far as when to start charging more, that really depends on how much the quality of your work jumps up with it.
Remember, people can only jump tiers when their work warrants it.
I hate to put a time on it because if someone is focused and hard working, they can probably go faster than me. I would say a year or two possibly. Maybe faster if you’re really slamming it.
I hope you’ve found this second part of the Q&A on how to charge more for video production helpful. Don’t forget to read Part I, if you haven’t already. Part III is still to come and will be posted next week.
Any questions and thoughts, let me know in the comments below. And I’d really appreciate it if you would share this article with your audience using the share buttons below.