Finding the Right Video Business

by Hal Landen

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OK, you love video, but it can get too expensive to pursue as a hobby. So let’s explore how you can turn an expensive hobby into a profitable business which will help you buy all that gear on your wish list. But which way to turn?

Good question. What I’ll try to do in this article is to outline some of the possible avenues you can pursue. But first you’ll need to take a hard look at yourself, your goals, strengths and weaknesses. This is an important first step in making any business decision. And even though you may be considering just a small part-time business, it is still a BUSINESS. All businesses require an investment of time and money. In a moment we’ll get into some of the different kinds of video businesses and how they may fit your personality and circumstances, but first I suggest that you read and print the Small Business Administration’s Winning Ideas For Small Business Success. This extensive article will be invaluable to anyone serious about starting a business even though some of the information may not pertain to the video business you have in mind. After you’ve gone through the article, then return to this article.

Now that you’ve had a glimpse at the realities of running a business, let’s take a look at some of the types of video businesses available to you. We’ll break them into categories: consumer, special interest, business, freelance, and television.

Consumer Video Service Businesses

These businesses serve consumers in a wide variety of ways. One of the most popular and successful types of consumer video business is the wedding and event business. The average wedding video costs well over $1000 and for many people this is an ideal sideline business because it can be done on weekends. For more information on this type of business see our book Wedding Video For Profit.

There are many other examples of consumer retail video businesses. Some are quite unusual. For example a friend of mine made quite a good living producing vacation videos for passengers aboard a cruise line. As much fun as that sounds, he had an inside connection in the business and warns that it’s pretty tough to start such a business without a good connection to a cruise line.

Others videotape dance recitals, school videos, and the related sports events.. A very interesting take on the event video business is a business that focuses on large competitions like my friend does. He’s had weekends that grossed over $10,000.

Another mostly consumer business is the transfer business where you transfer photos, VHS and other video formats, and film to DVDs. Some videographers take this a step further and specialize in producing family histories from photo albums. Some of these family history videos cost up to $15,000.

Closely related to the transfer business is the duplication business. No matter which market you focus on, duplication is part of most videos. And if you’re serving the business market, your clients will definitely want more DVDs of their videos. DVDs are still a big part of the video business. Just ask NetFlix and Redbox.

Special Interest Video Business

The Special Interest video business can take some time to build. Ideally, you produce several related videos which will appeal to the same audience. And then you’re off and running.

One nice thing about it is that you can do it all from your website. Most of your customers will order your DVDs or Internet videos from your and other websites. And don’t think it’s all $19.95 videos. There are many niche markets where the right (video) instruction costs in the hundreds and even thousands of dollars.

Most video businesses are service businesses that are operated in a local market. Special Interest is a publishing business that, thanks to the Internet, is international. If you are patient and work at it, this is a video business that you can grow into a big business. Many producers do this business on the side in addition to their regular consumer, business or freelance TV business. One of the biggest factors in your success in Special Interest Video Business is choosing the right niche. Some niches are profitable and others will be only a labor of love.

Business Videos

Business videos (formerly called industrials) cover a broad area. They boil down to a client (a corporation, business or non-profit agency) paying you to produce a video. Typically this video is for promotional or training purposes, and since your client is paying for it, the video belongs to the client.

It is very creative work. They are like commercials, but longer.

For more information on starting this kind of business see the free report 50 Ways To Dramatically Improve Your Video Business. This is excerpted from my course Professional Video Producer which shows you step-by-step how to start and expand a successful business producing videos for corporations, small businesses and non-profits.

Producing videos for clients is a lot less risky than producing a special interest video because your client pays for all the expenses of producing the video(s). You get paid in stages.

Legal Video Specialist

The video taping of legal depositions is not especially creative work, but it can be quite lucrative as well as interesting. One requirement is a very flexible schedule since the depositions can arise quickly and be canceled just as quickly. There is virtually no editing of depositions and the equipment required is pretty basic. This can be a full time or part time business if you have a flexible schedule. For more information see The Legal Video Specialist Business Kit.

* * *

The Decision

The decision as to which type of business to pursue does not have to be an either/or choice. Many people start in one type of video business and then expand to another. After you get the first one going, expanding to another type of video business is relatively easy because you now have most of the equipment and skills, and the Cash Flow.

I advise you to start by producing videos for others, either in the consumer or business market. Then after you’ve created a business with dependable cash flow, you are in a much better position to pursue the special interest video business. The cash flow from video production contracts gives you the freedom to do this.

Freelance Technician/Artist

This is an entirely different category in the video (and film) business. Freelancing is a career choice that takes a major lifestyle commitment. There are a great many possibilities for freelancing as you can see just by reading all the credits in a feature film. The vast majority of those people in the credits are freelance artists and technicians. Since the film business is a “glamour” business, there is a lot of competition to work as a freelance artist or technician, but it certainly is possible if you are willing to work your way up the ladder. As more and more feature films and commercials are shot in video, the lines between film and video are blurring.

Many people start their freelancing careers as Production Assistants (PAs) working for a production company or established freelancer. Typically PAs are not paid much and often perform lowly work like sweeping floors and carrying camera cases, but the ambitious 1. Get to learn how the real business works, 2. Meet and work with successful freelancers and 3. Hopefully, establish a reputation as a dependable worker with a great attitude. All of these advantages are invaluable in establishing a successful freelance career.

To Succeed As A Freelancer, Here Are Some Tips:

1. Learn where the business is. If you want to freelance in movies, you may need to consider moving to New York or Los Angeles.

2. Educate yourself by reading everything you can get your hands on. Attend workshops, take courses, and investigate training programs like those offered by the Directors Guild and the International Film & Television Workshops in Rockport, Maine.

3. Network with freelancers who are in the business. Investigate the different unions which may apply.

4. A great ATTITUDE can make all the difference in your success because the film and video business is a collaborative business. Producers and others who may hire you will rate you by both your technical competence and attitude.

5. ALWAYS be on time or 15 minutes early for a freelance job. This is a cardinal rule of freelancing because in this business time is money.

Freelancing requires a very adventurous personality and is a lifestyle choice. To succeed you may need to move to another city as I did when I began my freelance career some years ago.

Television

A good portion of the television shows on the air are produced by people who on staff at a production company or network, but a number of slots are filled by freelancers. My own career began as a staff PA for ABC Sports. I was paid the princely sum of $100 a week, but in return I accomplished the three goals listed above. I was also paid to travel around the world and work with “stars.” Before I left ABC to freelance I was given a 50% raise which brought my salary up to $150 a week!

Why, you may ask, would a big network pay so little? Even back in the late 70′s, that wasn’t much money. The reason it paid so little was that a million people wanted the job I had. And believe me, that job wasn’t easy to get. I spent six months full-time knocking on doors in New York City. But I was determined and would let nothing stop me.

After a couple of years I left ABC to become a freelance assistant cameraman and my income shot up like a rocket. Most years in the high five figures. The amazing thing about my freelance work was that I worked fewer hours a week and yet made five to ten times more than I did on staff. Then I joined the camera union and eventually became a cameraman and Director of Photography. My primary clients were the network magazine shows like 60 Minutes, 20/20 and others. But I also worked on commercials, feature films and what in those days were called industrials.

The bottom line is that if you want to work in big time television, you have to live where TV shows are produced. When I started, that meant New York or L.A. So I moved from Vermont to New York City. But these days more TV shows, especially cable shows, are produced from many more locations than used to be the case.

Another way in is through local TV. You could start by producing a Public Service Announcement (PSA) for a local non-profit agency. When you’re starting out you’ll want to do this for free, but nevertheless, you should treat it as if this were a very important high-paying client and do a knock out job. For more information, see my book Marketing With Digital Video: How To Create A Winning Video For Your Small Business or Non-Profit.

You could also produce your own show. Public Access TV makes it possible to learn the ropes of producing a show on little or no budget. From there you might lease air time and syndicate your show. For a list of public access stations where you can explore this possibility see our list of 1200 Public Access Stations in the U.S.


I hope this article has helped you. The bottom line is that if you want it enough, you can get it. Do your homework thoroughly and never stop believing in your self.

One thing I haven’t mentioned is the most important part of any business – your customers. You’ve heard the old saying “The customer is always right even when the customer is wrong.” Well it goes way beyond that. The customer, and by this I mean anyone who pays you, is everything to your business. Learn who they are and what they want. Give them what they want and more than they expect. Always treat them fairly.

Take this to heart and you will succeed regardless of your type of business, the equipment you own or anything else.

It’s up to you. Now, go make it happen!

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4 thoughts on “Finding the Right Video Business

  1. VAL

    Hal,

    This is a fantastic post. I have been exploring different business models to start a Production company. Although I remain undecided, there appears to be tremendous competition (More noticeable in certain areas), so having an experienced mentor (You) certainly helps.

    Reply
  2. Shobha

    Hi Hal,

    This was a great article and a great motivator for me as I am exploring the possibilities of video business and it answered a lot of the queries I had in mind. Thanks for sharing so openly.

    - Shobha

    Reply
  3. Dan Banici

    Great article, Hal. I hope it inspires and motivates people. It’s a long road from buying a camera to making money. It’s good to know you are on our side to make that journey easier.

    Reply

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