Advice for Freelancers Starting out in Video Production
Freelancing in any industry is no easy task. You can have a serious portfolio of skills but if you can’t market yourself you could well be spending a lot of days sat at home worrying about paying the bills. What separates a successful video production freelancer from the one that gave up and grabbed a 9 to 5 somewhere else?
The sad truth is I can’t give you all the answers. I broke into this industry at the age of 25 and chose the route of starting my own video production company. I did, however, have a brief spell of freelancing in order to help supplement my income when I was trying to grow the business. What I’m going to share is my experience of building relationships as a freelancer and my experience of hiring freelancers for projects that we run through Giant Leap Productions Ltd.
My Experience as a Freelancer
I worked freelance for a few years back before Giant Leap Productions grew and found my niche in a few different areas. These were as a lighting cameraman, editor and (eventually) director. I got the opportunity to work on some great projects for some big brands and was able to devour words of wisdom from lots of talented crew and business owners.
My first gig came off the back of a panicked self-marketing project where I essentially cut any projects I’d done into a 60 second reel and hosted it on a very basic website. I’ve never been a fan of my own work but I forced myself to step back and try and watch it through objectively. Now was not the time to slump in my seat and fantasise about how things could have gone better if I’d done x, y or z on the day (something I’m still guilty of indulging in from time to time) and instead I needed to put myself in the shoes of a potential viewer of my work and decide whether it would give them the confidence to hire me.
My Experience in hiring Freelancers
We get crazy amounts of emails from people hoping we have some space on our roster of freelancers that they can squeeze onto. I don’t want to dampen your enthusiasm for reaching out to companies but most people picking up the emails will be hoping it’s another juicy enquiry they can get their teeth stuck into as opposed to someone trying to sell something. That doesn’t mean your email will go straight in the trash but it does mean you need to grab their attention with something very early on in the email. I can’t speak for everyone out there but for me I’ll tend to respond more to enquiries that feel more personal. Most times I get an enquiry the person won’t know my name but the smart enquirers’ will acknowledge that early on and then proceed to demonstrate they have looked at the website by commenting on some of the videos we have made or brands we work with. The even savvier people will try and link this in with something they have done and make me see a connection between what we need and what they can offer. Other things I (personally) like to see are clearly laid out emails with obvious links to a reel and links to full videos, good grammar and sentence structure and I want to see some personality come across in the introduction.
Now. Things that turn me off a person. I hate waffle and I don’t like overly arrogant people. I want to hear what you believe your strengths to be and the things you are proud to of achieved but don’t be cocky with it. Some people may love that kind of attitude, but it has never personally won me over. Be clear, polite and don’t be afraid to tell me why you want the opportunity. Lastly, let’s talk about daily rates. Pick a rate you’re happy with and put it out there. I used to resent telling someone my rate as I always felt I was potentially missing out on money as they might have a figure higher in mind but they got me to say a rate before they offered one. Don’t get hung up on that. Just pick a rate that you are happy to work for and be quick to tell someone what it is. If they like you but want to budget less per day then they will ask if you can work cheaper. You can then decide whether it’s worth the drop to work on that particular project. The worst daily rate you can get is free. I’ve done a few of those but I learnt very quickly that I’d only do that for projects that really appealed to me in an artistic sense. I worked for free for a couple of arseholes that told me “I needed the exposure” or “that it would lead to more lucrative work” and none of that was true. They also ended up being some of the pickiest, most ungrateful clients I’ve ever worked with. Some of the freebies I went on to do, however, led to me making great friends and the opportunity to see my editing skills showcased at high calibre festivals. There is nothing wrong with free every once in a while but only for a project that you passionately feel you must not miss out on.
My tips for growing your client base as a freelancer are below;
- Is the work you’re sending technically sound? For example, if you’re pursuing a career as a video editor and send out videos in the wrong aspect ratio or with 6 minutes of black screen at the end people will dismiss you instantly.
- Try and expand your knowledge of equipment or software associated with your role. If you mainly edit on Avid try and get to grips with Premiere CC or FCP in case you need to use one of them when editing on-site for a client. If you’re a lighting cameraman or DoP and own your own camera(s) try and get to grips with operating other makes of camera. Not every employer will want to hire you and the camera you’ve shelled out on. They might have their own in-house cameras or like to always shoot to a certain codec on a particular sensor.
- Does your showreel or portfolio show a range and Is the content relevant to the person you’re contacting? For example, if you’re freelancing as an editor, two minutes of totally rad slow-motion footage of extreme sports looks great but that won’t endear you to the guy running a corporate video company that specialises with SMEs in the construction industry. You need to research who you’re contacting and those videos need to demonstrate quickly that you can work on a diverse range of products. Have you cut interviews, did you overlay some motion text over an edit, have you got an eye for gorgeous b-roll shots, what is your grading ability like?
- Do your research! Nobody expects someone to write each introductory email they send from scratch but add some personal elements to demonstrate you’ve spent at least five minutes looking at someone’s website. Throw out some compliments to feed their ego and then copy and paste the bits about yourself to send to everyone.
- Make sure you get the companies name right on the email. Someone once emailed me asking for work at “Giant Apple Productions”. They may well have been an amazingly talented artist who worked for minimum wage but I’ll never know as I deleted the email after reaching the end of the first sentence.
- Do some research into daily rates of other people doing what you do and settle on a figure. Make it one you’re happy with and if you ever get anything higher than that feel happy. Only discount if you want to. It might lead to that particular client trying to hold you to that rate for each job but you are well within your rights to say no. I’ve had freelancers start with the business on a lower rate when they had less experience and when they came to me asking for an increase and the reasons why I totally understood and was prepared to negotiate.
- Any type of marketing requires effort and will generally test your patience. A show reel can take time to put together and you might have to chase people for ages to get a copy of something you worked on but it’s all necessary to get yourself some traction in the industry. It’s really demoralising to send out 100 emails and not receive a single reply but email 101 might bring you your next 10 YEARS WORK!