Last week I started this series by giving an introduction on how to make money with your Filmmaking skills. Today I'll go into more details on how to go about doing that. Two questions I usually get from those who want to start are "Where do I find clients?" and "How much should I charge?"
How much to charge.
As I mentioned on my last post, I started small with my video business and expended as I gained more experience. When starting out I would advise you to charge based on how much you need to do the job (very important), and how much you're comfortable with handling. Your first few jobs shouldn't be about getting rich but about building your portfolio and your gear list, so if you can't yet handle the pressure of a $3000 job, don't charge that much.
No matter how low you charge in order to attract those first few clients, never charge lower than what you need to properly do the job. That is why I don't really agree when people say you have to do gigs for free when starting out. There are some exceptions, but 95% of clients who tell you "Hey buddy, work for me for free and I'll promote you. We can blow up together!" are lying, whether intentionally or not. Run when you hear that... seriously.
I did my first music video when I was 17 and I charged $350. I had no experience handling big money at the time, but I was confident that the work I would do would be worth more than $350 to the band. $350 was also enough to cover gas money, buy new gear, and satisfy the needs of a 17 year old, so I was happy. The most important thing was now I had a music video in my portfolio, which got me 2 new jobs that summer from other local bands.
Talk is cheap, so clients want to see your work before they spend a dime on your services. Unless you already have a portfolio full of the work you want to do, your goal should be about starting your portfolio and getting new gear to help you do a better job.
Where to find clients.
That is the question! Clients are like the wind: You know it's around you but you can't see it.... *cricket noises* Too cheesy? Ok, sorry!
Make the first move
Think of the work you want to do, whether it's music videos, corporate videos, weddings etc. Now think of people who fit the profile of a potential client (bands and artists need music videos, businesses need corporate videos.) and offer them your services.
You might not know any bands personally, but that's the magic of the internet. Find the page of some local bands (whether on Facebook or Reverbnation), and contact them offering your services. Don't sound too desperate, but remember you are selling them something, so make sure they see the benefits of hiring you.
To get my first gig I wrote about 10 local bands on Myspace (yes, myspace!). I made sure I told them what the benefits of getting a music video were (it's a great way to promote yourself in this digital world) and what the benefits of hiring me to do it were (I have experience making videos, and I'm willing to charge very little to get my first music video).
So I used my low prices as a way to say "I'm worth much more than that, but since I'm making a switch to music videos I'm willing to work for little to build my portfolio." Also show them that you have a plan, and find ways to reassure them that it's doable. Quickly summarize the process (band picks a song, we come up with concept, find locations and actors, shoot, edit) as that will simplify things in their mind.
After I sent those messages, I got into serious conversations with 2 bands. The first band hired me for the $350 gig, but the second was more hesitant because I only had short films and my web series to show them. After I did the $350 video, I showed it to the second band and they became more interested when they saw the quality and paid me $450 for their video. Then some friends of the first band saw their video and hired me; the price was also higher. So approaching potential clients is a great way to start when you have nothing.
Craigslist (or similar websites)
Craigslist is simply awesome for 0-$1500 work. When you start charging more, it loses its efficacy, but until then it's great. Take time when you post. Remember, your service is video, so be visual. Don't just type up something in 2 minutes. Take screenshots from your videos and add them to your post. Get a good logo as that makes you appear more professional. Above all else, add links to either your best videos or your equally professional looking website.
There are a lot of people posting on Craigslist, so depending on your area the competition might be fierce. You're probably more talented than most of them, so remember to show it. Price is also a big selling point on Craigslist, so titling your post "$1000 Music Video Production" is better than simply "Professional Music Video Production."
That is also the problem with Craigslist, a lot people who go there care more about the price than the quality of the final project. You might have beautiful shots and color grading on your videos, but if your client is happy with simply getting filmed in front of the corner store, you'll have a hard time justifying your higher price to them.
I usually refuse to work with clients who can't pay what I ask and who don't understand quality. Video isn't just point and shoot, and I find it very irritating working with clients who are satisfied with crap. If you really need the money, then of course you should do it, but DO NOT add that video to your portfolio. It's not the number of videos you've done, but the quality.
The good news is some Craigslist users do understand quality and they'll jump on your instantly. These Craigslist clients can also refer you to other better-paying clients.
One thing to know.
This post is about getting your first clients and charging a low price. Don't do more than the budget allows you to. If you're charging $500 for a shoot, it shouldn't be your responsibility to pay a crew, catering, or locations. It wasn't until I started charging well over $1000 that I would pay fellow film school students to come help out on set.
For my first few shoots I kindly informed the clients that the money they were paying me wasn't much, so they would have to cover locations, catering, and other costs with a separate budget. I also asked them if they could bring extra guys to help me out for simple stuff like holding reflectors and setting up lights. Don't try to provide more than the budget allows you to. If your $500 client is talking about jib shots, inform them the cost of renting one.
It is so easy to get taken advantage of in these early steps, so be upfront with your clients about the cost of the shoot. Try not to make big promises and then finding out that you ended up losing money. Remember to keep your job simple. At the start I was just the director, camera operator/DP, and editor. Nowadays, because of higher budgets, I can also be the producer who puts the project together and pay different departments.
Thanks for reading this post, I hope you learned enough to get your first clients. If you have any questions or comments leave them below. Also please share this article to spread the word, and check out our Filmmaking products. Thanks!