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Establishing a successful video production business is no walk in the park. Getting new clients can be hard, and nurturing the relationship with the former clients is important.
And then there are all the questions about purchasing or renting gear, bookkeeping, scaling your business and more. Much more.
So I decided to reach out to the owners of video production companies in order to hear, what they’d learned along the way.
“What’s the one thing you wished you knew before starting a video production business?“
Here’s what they had to say:
David from Crushpix.com
There are so many things I wish I’d known. One thing I wish I’d known is that I have just as much talent as the next guy and to charge accordingly.
Probably, being more of an artistic type, it would have helped to have had some knowledge or someone to turn to who could help me run my business better.
Here’s another one. Just because you’re married to someone doesn’t mean they are the best person to partner with in business.
As for all the technical side of running a video production business, I enjoy learning, so, there’s nothing I wish I already know.
To build your skills as a producer, cameraman, director, editor and all the other things you do to run a video production business, all you need is some money, access to tutorial videos on the Internet, and the dedication and discipline to practice on your own time, in addition to your paid time, to get your skills to the level they need to be.
Heather from TopLine Film
I think one of the most important skills to run a successful video production business is the ability to sell.
It comes down to the owner of the business to put in the work to get new clients and it’s a full-time job.
That means marketing, lead gen, and lead conversion are all really important skills.
Jordy from Cinecom.net
My biggest mistake when I started out was that I tried to do everything myself. I thought by doing the production, directing, camera, and editing alone, I would have better control.
It took me many years until I actually hired my own staff that I realized you need to work with other people from the very start.
Although it might feel like what you do is best, it’s often not true. Other people have different and sometimes better ideas.
The weight of the work is balanced over your crew, so you can focus better on your role. And you will also grow more as a filmmaker as you can learn from other people.
Nikolas from Media Division
I can’t really say that there is such a thing for me.
Of course, I knew that this was a tough business. The evolution of the technology and the falling prices made the entry into the field much easier, and I certainly profited from that.
On the other hand, it leads to a market with a lot of competition.
I wished I would have gone into my own productions earlier instead of just operating as a contractor. It is more fulfilling and if done the right way, you can build an income that is less vulnerable to crisis or customer politics.
Time is a crucial factor and I wish I had five more years under my belly to build this segment of our company.
Aaron from Allied Productions
I would say that the thing I wish I knew before I got into the business is that personnel is just as important as performance.
It’s important to have the right gear and to find the right solutions for establishing a business pipeline, but the difference between struggling and sailing is often a result of team cohesion.
To further discuss that idea: I think the key is to be very mindful when building your production team.
It’s important to find a balance between people who are experienced yet malleable and able to adapt to the specific dynamics of your team and people who are inexperienced yet energetic and bold.
There are a lot of people who want to be in the business because they have an ill-informed idea of what the work actually entails.
We discovered that in some cases, the reality of what a production day actually looks like makes some people reconsider their desire to continue on the production path.
I think there is a sort of fantasy around the idea of being a storyteller or an image-maker and while it is an absolutely amazing experience for us to get paid to do what we love, there are a lot of long days facing the elements and dealing with complex work environments that many are unprepared for.
For us, we run a very small crew so it’s essential that we depend on each other and that we approach the work as something we’re facing together.
Especially with the current events, we believe that efficient, lean production is the future of the business.
Taking the time to build a team not just based on skills or experience, but being mindful to how the various personalities interact with each other is an essential element of success.
For our business, we take a simple personality test as a way of opening up the discussion of ‘here is how I work best’ with our team. I don’t know if that’s helpful for everyone or if I’ve fully answered your question but feel free to let me know if I need to clarify.
Misha from Dave Productions
Many things! Every time I make a mistake I learn something, sometimes I have to make it more than once before the lesson sticks.
Over the course of the past year, there have been many mistakes and, consequently, many lessons learned.
I think the main thing I wish I’d known is the investment required to start a production house, or any business really.
When I first began, I figured I had a set of skills and equipment that I had acquired that I could use to make some extra money to fund my personal projects and to help fellow artists.
However, I didn’t realize that as your client base and the scale of your productions grow, your house needs to grow along with it. You need to adapt to larger commercial/film shoots which means crew members and more equipment.
Suddenly you’re spending more money than you’re making.
This does not mean that you’re failing as I initially believed; you shouldn’t expect to profit off of your work for the first few years realistically. All the money that is made by the production house is fed back into the business so that it can grow and become self-sustaining.
I think I experienced initial success because I didn’t expect to survive off of my business, so I kept my prices reasonable so that I could build a client base.
Every other shoot I realize that there is a piece of equipment that would make the process faster, more efficient, or produce higher quality footage. I never question whether or not to buy it, I know that if we’re going to keep growing that it’s a necessary investment.
So brace your credit cards! What looks like a fiscal failure is typically just growing pains.
Scott from Fifth Color Films
I wish I knew that we were going to be successful.
There was so much pressure and so much hustle needed to get going that, in the beginning, it was hard to realize that we were actually doing what we set out to do.
Once the world is back to normal (after Covid) we are going to relaunch with the confidence and excitement that we will succeed again; and this time, bring more young producers, editors, and cinematographers along for the ride.
We began five years ago just trying to make the squad but now we feel ready to lead a bigger team…with excitement, gratitude, and joy.
Justin from JustinOdisho.com
I wish I would’ve had to the confidence to invest in myself and take it seriously earlier. Not to hesistate on buying a camera or website etc.
Will from StayInspiredMedia
I wish I knew more about the actual business side of running a production company.
I went to film school, and they teach you how to make really good looking images and the processes behind the production, but they don’t teach the business of the business.
I don’t want to knock my school because I learned so much there and gained a lot of valuable experience but, the hardest thing after school is finding enough clients so that you can kickstart your own company.
If I could go back and give myself some advice during my college years it would be: pair my film degree with a business minor, find a mentor with their own business and work with them until you’re ready to go out on your own, don’t feel like you’re above certain jobs (especially straight out of college with little professional experience).
Take the small gigs that will help you build a reel then once you have a solid professional reel start selling yourself at a higher value since you have the material to back up your price point.
Jay from Splash Bros LLP
The one thing I wish I would have known sooner is that its a business first. Without proper marketing plans, financial planning, and contracts you will end up with a hobby instead of a career.
It will seem as if the market is just over saturated and that can become the excuse used as to why you aren’t making enough money.
If this is truly what you want in life then it is worth investing in some business courses and books so that you can learn the basics of business.
Bradley from Koos Productions LLC
I think the one thing I wish I would’ve known about starting a video production company early on is that you need to have a strong sense of business management skills on top of being a creative artist.
The content that you make does not sell itself. You have to use that business management skillset to make connections, network, find the work, create a budget, etc.
Owning and operating a production company isn’t just about creating beautiful masterpieces of Art (subjectivity). It’s also heavily on operating a successful business.
You have to love the work that you do and I definitely love being a filmmaker.
Just like any other job there are good days and bad days but in the end if you’re not making money to promote or grow your video production company then you don’t have a company, you have a hobby!
Operating a video production company is more of a 50-50 split between creating the content in running a successful business.
Sometimes it’s more on the content side while other times it’s more on the business side.
Either way if you can be proficient in both of these aspects, then you can call yourself a filmmaker.
Tucker from Tucker Horan Media
If I could go back and tell myself one thing when getting into professional video and starting my own business, it would be “Say YES, but know your worth.”
When I was first getting started, I would literally say “Yes” to every and any opportunity that came along.
At first, this was great for experience and got me jobs and opportunities that would help shape my work and style for the years to come.
Don’t get me wrong, if you’re just getting started, you’ll need this type of mentality until you’ve proved that you can actually start charging for the type of work you want to get into.
Never expect to pick up a tool and start charging for services, without being able to show that potential client what you can do with that tool.
However, there is a point where your work gets to the point where you not only CAN start charging but SHOULD.
Obviously this time period is different for everyone, but don’t be afraid to re-work those “No” answers into a reasonable conversation about value, and how you can provide it.
Creating something for another person is a two-way street, and we as creatives provide value through our services and need to recognize that and stand by it.
Brenan from Kova Films
The one thing I wish I knew before starting my video production business was how important pre-production and planning is.
The client is everything.
Planning out contracts, insurances, invoices, details, and generally having everything on paper is so important.
The more preproduction and planning you do the better the communication is between you and the client, which in turn leads to very positive and productive client experience.
This is everything and contributes greatly to better testimonials and landing your next gig.
Blake from Guild Productions
Starting my business was a leap of faith, and I feel the biggest challenge was finding work without prior professional experience.
I think something I wish I would’ve known before starting my company was how to effectively build a portfolio BEFORE launching into a full career.
I’ve been very lucky and received lots of help and advice from extremely kind individuals, but if you are looking to start a video production company, I highly suggest building a portfolio FIRST.
Offer low-cost services to other videographers as a B camera operator, take on smaller projects that you can handle on your own, and keep the positivity and creativity flowing!
Tim from Trini-Media
I wished I knew how to select customers. In the beginning, I wasted a lot of time chasing people and business that:
1: Had no need for, or interested in what I was offering.
2: Only willing to pay anything next to nothing.
3: Big businesses who were never going to work with me at the level I was back then.
Many times I felt discouraged and questioned myself. I almost gave up but I continued to improve both the Videography and Business side of the abilities.
I began doing online business training in marketing and sales as well as business management. I now select my clients based on anticipating needs instead of reacting to need.
You have to have foresight as to what major event etc that will come within 3 months. Then I begin to approach these clients from early.
Nathan from Miles-Through-The-Lens
The one thing I wished I knew before starting a video business is that it is 20% video and 80% business.
It is important to really understand the basics of running a business.
You could be the best with a camera and broke or you could be an amateur with a camera and wealthy.
The difference between the two is the knowledge of business and networking.
James from Tailored Penguin
One thing I wish I knew before beginning was knowing the types of projects that aligned with the vision of my brand and who I am as a person.
While taking little bits and pieces of different genres can help in making you more well rounded as a video creator, you can also find yourself lost in the trend and struggle to find you’re own voice.
Matt from Big Oak Productions
I would like to have known, that in my first year of trading, there would be a global pandemic!
I mean, that is a big part of why my business is slow at the moment, but I’m not sure it would be overly helpful for those thinking of starting their video production business when this is (hopefully) all over.
The more I’ve thought about what I’ve struggled with, and still do in some ways, the more I realized that it’s actually two things.
Pricing and the desire for artistic appreciation.
Pricing is one of those things that is part of researching your market and the potential when setting up any business. I saw some people charging £150 for a full-day wedding video and others charging £10,000 for a full-day wedding video.
Then I looked at other industries that utilize video (pretty much all industries) and saw that music videos with big budgets were mostly being made by seasoned pros or those with a particular style, and the rest were bands or artists that had low budgets and big dreams.
As a musician, I know their pain and would work for “…whatever your budget is…”. This (obviously) makes zero business sense.
As for the corporate scene, my biggest challenge and the one I’ve yet to conquer is getting my foot in the door with a large company willing to give me a break.
My background is working for some of the world’s best known and respected technology companies, traveling to multiple countries, and gaining a lot of varied experience, the kind that could make me more of a consultant or trustee advisor than a videographer, but still, it’s hard to break in.
On top of that, it’s very easy to talk yourself down in pricing when you’re starting out because it tends to be that your portfolio of work is smaller.
My advice is this, stick to it, do some freebies, and spend time making things wherever you can. Short films, product videos in your home, epic B-roll videos, or re-editing your footage in a different style. Keep learning and trying new things.
The Desire for Artistic Appreciation
This is something that I’ve known for a lot longer than I’ve been running a video production business for, yet for some reason, it was still hard to overcome.
I’ve spent 16 years as a musician and a big part of being a musician is writing original material — having a sound (or in our case a vision) and turning it into something somewhat tangible.
But sometimes the scarier thing to do after you’ve written your music is to share it. That’s when you’re opening your music/film, but more importantly yourself, up to criticism.
Sometimes that feedback is helpful and constructive, other times it is comments from someone you can only imagine is a classic wannabe know-it-all proudly smirking as they furiously beat the letters on their keyboard sending their crippling blows via the power of the internet. The Troll.
Now, in the world of commercial video production, I’ve not experienced this but the feeling post-reading-troll-written-comment is similar to the moment when you send the video that you’ve painstakingly spent hours planning, shooting, colour correcting, grading, editing, and re-watching gets a less than enthusiastic response.
They may say “we love it”, they may say “thanks so much for sending it over, we’ll look at it soon”, they may come back to you with a list of edits and need to go through multiple revisions.
Only some see the artistic side of it, especially if it’s a music video or a wedding video where there tends to be more creative flare (although I’ve seen lots of really cool corporate films).
Some see that the final version you send over as a product, and others will tell you how much they love it and then share it with all of their friends and family.
Both situations are ok. Accepting this and being proud of your work regardless of the excitement level of your customer is something that still takes me some time to remember.
Top tip: Reach out to filmmakers your admire in the area(s) of video production you’re working in and ask for feedback. This has worked really well for me.
Should anyone want to reach out to myself for feedback, you are more than welcome to and I’ll do whatever I can to help.
Stay safe and keep creating.
Dylan from Son Of The Sea
The one things I wish I had known when starting a video production business in the year 2000 is that stories are eternal.
If you can learn good storytelling methods then you will have business because we always have and always will love to tell stories.
Jarek from Jester Pictures
I started my production company, Jester Pictures, in 2004, after realizing that the corporate 9-5 lifestyle wasn’t for me.
If there was one thing I wished I knew before going ahead, it would probably be how long it would be and how much effort I would have to put in before I started making a profit.
After investing in camera equipment and editing software, it would be years before I was actually able to say I’ve recouped my losses and began making money.
As with all businesses, you really need to be in it for the long haul and stay with it long enough. I’ve seen people give up on their dreams far too quickly in the past.
I always say, do what you love, do it well and do it long enough, money will follow. Just don’t stop.
Vlatko from Artwist
I wish I knew more about the business side of things much sooner.
Your skillset is always benefitial to SOMEONE, no matter the skill level you’re at.
Your ability to sell that as a service to people or businesses that will benefit from it is really important, more important than skill level.
Сергей from Blinoff Production
We are a production studio from Ukraine.
Before you start selling video services as production, you need to know what prices are in this area and what services are more required.
Video production, post-production, or maybe graphic design. What kind of specialists to hire and how many.
Is it possible to work remotely in other countries? Is it possible to work in collaboration with other productions?
And most importantly, where to find customers.
Hugh from Hugh Sweeney
I wished I put more work into delivery time and getting the job done rather than focusing so much on quality and perfection.
Often, clients don’t need to have the best quality, they prefer to have something done quicker. So, I wish I knew this!
Roy from Royalty.nl
Audio is as important as video and often even more important as you can’t make up for ‘ruined audio’ by using B-roll, etc.
Jeffrey from Rondevu Pictures
One thing I wish I knew before starting my own video production business… that would have to be give yourself permission to invest in things that save you time.
There are many free resources available online whether it be templates, motion graphics, etc.
But more recently I found a set of premade production forms for sale and it was the best purchased I made it a long time. Wish I would of done it sooner. It helps expedite my preproduction process so much!
Don’t be afraid to invest in the things outside of gear, invest in what will save you time as a start up entrepreneur in the video production business.
Michael from Coen Film
I wish I knew the value of learning from mentors early on.
I have been a freelance video producer, going on 5 years now, and got started late. I didn’t go to film school or have any internships with bigger production houses.
I think gaining experience from others who have already put in years of hard work would have really cut down the learning curve.
I shadowed people and worked as a production assistant on a few shoots but always admired my peers who had done internships with a production company.
Even today, I’m running a full-time video business with my wife and I would still work as a PA for someone more experienced just to learn more. It’s just hard to find the time!
Still, I’m happy doing what I love and I’m committed to learning every day. There are no right or wrong paths to take in the world of production.
Juan from Juan Noguera
I wished I knew the importance of a fast computer with a lot of RAM 64gb and processor.
It is how you save time in this business when time is money.
When you spend more time editing because your computer is slow and can’t handle 4K raw footage, definitely you are doing something wrong.
But on the other hand, I will not change that experience because of those mistakes I learned a lot about this business.
It is important to fall so you will learn how to stand up and rise in knowledge.
Steele from RackFocus Cinema
The one thing I wish I knew… That I could charge more and still get work.
Karl from Hot Karl Productions
The one thing I wished I knew is how to properly price projects. It took some time to figure that out.
Chady from 1PXL Studio
So I think one thing I wish I knew before I started a production company would be a little bit more business knowledge.
I think I’m very good with cameras and understand the production side but it took some time to grasp the business side of things.
How to properly budget, how to invoice, how to get new clients, and keep our existing clients. it’s important to know all that if you want to start your own prod company.
You need to look into all that because your business won’t run smoothly if you can only do nice videos.
Dennis from Lundin Studio
I wish I knew that you should hire a sales and marketing person from the start, so we did not have to waste years doing everything our self.
Learning all the ins and outs of technology, and buying camera equipment is easy, knowing what the customer want is the end goal.
So my word to anyone started a Video Production business today, THINK about it as a business because your customer does!
Patrick from Video405
Nobody told me that you had to embrace that you are now a business owner first and a filmmaker second.
For every filmmaker that makes an amazing piece for a client and gets loads of work out of the gate, there are ten who start their business and struggle.
Skills and knowledge about filmmaking and storytelling are great but if you don’t go out and promote yourself, odds are you won’t have the success your skills may deserve.
We all want to focus on making great content, but we all struggle on getting clients that will pay us to make that content.
The only way to fix that is to actually run with a business mindset. Read business and sales books. Network, use social media, build relationships with people that are a two-way street not just because you want them to be a client.
Businesses solve problems. Learn to position yourself as a solutions provider who happens to solve problems by making great video content.
Darryl from Eight Rays Studio
One thing that I wish I knew then before I ventured into this video business is that my videos were only as good as the type of clientele I got when I was just starting out.
What I meant by that is, I used to charge very cheap before but it only brought me stress and disappointment over time, plus clients were never satisfied with what I made for them.
Until one day I realized, doing this kind of videos isn’t for me.
So I stuck with doing Weddings, been doing Weddings since 2013 now and I just want to keep improving my craft.
I think my price is somewhere in the middle, compared to what the rest offers. It’s not super expensive, but not cheap either.
Since I’ve raised my prices many years ago, I’ve gotten the right clientele who knows and loves my work and hired me for my own style of storytelling.
I think many business owners who are just starting out need to learn from my mistake on charging too low and they should learn to improve their craft first and then charge what the industry charges minimum, not charge low to steal business from those who have been doing it for years.
Brian from Focusedstoryfilms
The biggest thing I wish I’d understood was the importance of contracts and setting very clear expectations with my clients before ever stepping foot on set.
Unfortunately in the first year of running my company I worked for some shady businesses who refused to pay me, and I’d taken the work without signed contracts, so I lost out on several thousand dollars because I didn’t have a strong legal case.
From a video production standpoint, I wish I’d understood the power of having spec projects when pitching clients my services. Most clients aren’t excited to hire a videographer with a very small portfolio or a portfolio that doesn’t look anything like the type of video they want to create.
Masa from Masa Tanahashi
Storyboards and Mood Boards are so important.
Knowing what you want is the easy part. Explaining what you want is incredibly difficult.
Most of the people that I speak with regarding projects I work on are not familiar with the production process.
They’ll have an idea of what they like and don’t like, or what they think will work or won’t work based off of their own experiences.
However, my experiences are not the same, and how I interpret their idea is almost always going to be different, at least in the initial stages of communication.
Client work is such a collaborative process. The goal, regardless of which side of the interaction you’re on, should be the same.
And for a successful outcome, both parties need to communicate effectively to make sure the ideas and expectations are completely aligned.
I really wish I used more storyboards and mood boards in my earlier projects.
Having a third party representation, outside of each of our brains, can be so helpful in conveying different thoughts and ideas in a more concrete way.
The more information you can digest alongside the people you’re working with, the more you will begin to understand each other.
And I believe that the more you understand, the better communication becomes.
Dan from Stage Two Imaging
The one thing I wish I knew is how to effectively market the business. As a creative, and camera operator first and foremost, marketing isn’t something that comes naturally to us.
We naturally want to spend our time behind the camera, but without the marketing and reaching out to potential clients we wouldn’t have the projects to film in the first place.
After a few years working in the industry, I have learned rather a lot about marketing and how to get your message out to potential clients, but I am by no means an expert just yet.
Marketing doesn’t just mean using social media and hoping for the best, it means getting yourself to those places where your potential customers could also be, creating conversation and letting them know who you are, what you do and how you can help them solve their problems.
For me, this is somewhat of personal challenge I always aim to overcome. I am naturally an introverted person so the face to face aspect puts me out of my comfort zone and is a challenge to get my message across effectively.
If I knew effective marketing techniques before launching my video production business it may have helped to land my ideal clients sooner, however take this route into video is a journey and one that is constantly evolving and full of self learning; through mistakes, trial and error and of course those successes which we build upon.
Dieter from Abanico
This is a simple and difficult question. I started in 1990. I have no formal education or training as a photographer or videographer.
At that time I started to produce in Super-VHS. Not even knowing that there is something like professional equipment.
I produce martial arts instructional videos.
So I learned the hard way, that video production is very cost-intensive. Especially if you start to build up the professional studio.
I do not know if I would’ve started the business if I would’ve known, how much money I would have to invest to get good equipment. That of course was in the analog technique.
Nowadays, everything is cheap as hell. At least you’ll think about what kind of quality you get for your money compared to the old days.
Actually, things I would have wanted to know would all be back in the analog times. Especially about quality loss and how to minimize it when making several generations copies.
Something not known in the digital age.
But if I think about it, it would be basic knowledge of photography.
Aputure, shutter speed, ND Filter, problems of PAL-NTSC, 50-60 Hz light with the according to shutter speed, but also color correction, etc.
A long process of learning.
Brendan from Spark Media
Don’t feel let down if a gig gets rejected, or if you need to say no, or to refer it to someone else.
You can’t lose something you didn’t have, just like the job you think you were going to book.
Michael from Votary Films
I wish I knew how important a residual business model was years ago, rather than focusing so much energy on individual projects that don’t help ease a client into an on-going partnership.
Establishing a relationship that is mutually beneficial requires a lot of intention.
Kevin from Capion Studio
So I’ve been running Capion Studio since 2012 and in that time, not once have we ever generated a warm lead from our website.
The biggest thing I wish I had known before I started my production company was the importance of internet lead generation, and website SEO.
I treated my website as an extended portfolio, but never really paid attention to creating strong SEO keywords. I did not interlink my website to other outlets, and I did not metatag my data.
After a considerable amount of time went by without any guaranteed work, I said enough is enough and I started to dig into how to improve our website, how to turn cold leads into warm leads, and how to generate more traffic locally to our site.
Since then, we’ve seen a drop in our bounce rate from 80% down to around 20 – 60% depending on the month, and our web traffic as been increased organically.
We have generated a handful of warm leads and acquired about three clients direct from our page.
These numbers are extremely modest, but it takes time for a domain to aquire authority to rank better among our competitors, and this is purely organic.
Anyway! So this is such an important element of the business I wish I had paid attention to sooner, and actually hired a proper web firm to build our site from the ground up.
Dont effectively “park” your website and treat it like a glorified portfolio, because you are only doing yourself a grave disservice!
So that’s it. A lot of accumulated knowledge and GREAT answers from video production business owners.
One thing that seems to be a common thread for a lot of businesses is the dichotomy between the artistic craft of producing good looking content on one side and running an actual business on the other.
Running a business with everything that’s involved – from using the right tools to cut down production time and save money to dealing with clients, contracts and taxes – is something a lot of creative minded people have to learn – either through attending classes or through the school of life.
I hope you enjoid reading through this treasure trove of knowledge (I surely did!).
Thanks to all the video production company owners, who were willing to share their knowledge for this post.
Feel free to discuss and share your thoughts and experience as a video content creator in the comment section below.
About the author:
Jan Sørup is a videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.