(My ADVICE for) Starting A Production Based Business
Step 1: Read this blog.
Step 2: Take the bits you like, then….
Step 3: Do it your way.
Fortunately and unfortunately there is no road map. I’ll tell you what’s been helpful with what we’ve done though and then do it your way.
Here are the tips:
Rent before you buy.
I see a lot of people wanting to jump into the “biggest and baddest” camera and not have any return clients. Don’t do it. Maybe the “biggest and baddest” camera doesn’t fit long term, the type of work you will be doing. You might just need a smaller more versatile/cheaper camera for more of your gigs, and you can rent the big stuff for your larger gigs… Or maybe you are ready for the “biggest and baddest” one now… there’s like 3 or 4 “biggest and baddest”. Don’t just pick the one your favorite blogger/vlogger/cinematographer uses. Rent that one for your next shoot… If you’ve never shot with a camera of that caliber hire a DP that knows what he’s doing to shoot for you. Long term that will be really helpful.
Hire people that know what they’re doing.
When I started I did everything on my own or with 1 other person. I slowly started hiring certain people to do some of the work, but I shied away from hiring pros. Real pros. I figured they couldn’t take direction from an amateur like me… Or maybe I thought “I got here this far I don’t need no pro telling me what to do”… That was a mistake. When I started using pros, man I learned so much more, so much more quickly. I saw how they set up shots, how they lit sets, how they directed, how they collected footage, how they cared about the other players on the team and how they connected with the clients and talked from experience. When you can, even if it costs you money, hire pros, legit pros, not just guys with a demo reel. Guys with long resumes that know what they’re doing. You might hit a couple rotten eggs, but mostly you’ll find people that get it and want to make you look good.
Save as much money as possible, don’t take out debt.
You don’t need to put anything on a credit card or on the store’s credit. This means don’t buy a mac because you get 12 months free interest. If you need to work at a coffee shop long enough to afford a computer, do it. Once you have your computer, hit up an online lens rental place or whatever and rent a cheap camera, or borrow one from a friend and go shoot your reel. Do everything within your means. When you make money, save it. Save as much money as possible. Don’t quit your job until you have enough money to not have to make money for a year. Hopefully while on your job you are also getting gigs, weddings, promo videos, whatever to make money. Save all of it. At some point your gigs will make you enough money to buy a camera, buy the one you use most and find the cheapest one you can buy… used. This is key; If you get into debt, you are needlessly losing money. If you’re already in debt, get out ASAP. If you need more advice on that check out https://www.daveramsey.com/fpu
I can’t say this enough. Debt is dumb, avoid it because it can crush your growth.
1099 vs Hiring
When you start your company, you might want to hire someone to help you get the work done, wait as long as you can before doing so. Until you actually hire, contract out. Hire contract editors, shooters, PA’s anything to help you get the job done right, for specific projects.
You should answer these questions before you hire. This isn’t full proof but it can help.
1. Do you have enough money in the bank to keep that person employed for a full year, even if the company doesn’t make any money?
2. Does your monthly income exceed what you would pay yourself and your employee and your bills?
3. Have you looked into insurance, workmans comp, and payroll taxes. (We use a company to handle our payroll and payroll taxes, some smarter people could probably do it themselves, we didn’t want to take the risk, especially with all the changing fed and state tax laws)
4. Do you know how much money you pay out to contractors for specific roles? We use Quickbooks, so we know how much we pay a camera operator, an editor, DP, PA… so we know specifically how much we spend a year on certain roles, so when it comes to hiring we know what type of person we need. If you don’t have quickbooks or software to help you figure that out, do it manually, go through all your invoices and everyone you’ve hired for different positions and count it up! And a follow up, do you pay that position more than you would pay a full time employee? If so it might be time.
5. Is the amount of work you are doing keeping you from growing? Like, do you have to do so much that you don’t have time to find new clients, work on reels, work on the vision of the company? This is really subjective and only you can answer that truthfully. I never have enough time even with employees… that’s a lie. I can make time, I don’t because I’m lazy, or sidetracked, or want to binge watch a show. There are a million things to distract me. Be honest with yourself, because if you hire someone thinking you’ll have more time, it’s not true. You’ll need to work even harder to make sure you are making enough money so your employee can feed their family.
If you answered favorably on all of these, check out entreleadership.com they have good guides on hiring the right people.
You probably don’t need an office
Some of you with kids (which I don’t have) will probably argue this. That’s fine, do it your way.
If you’re just getting started, an unnecessary expense is an office. You can edit, store and create at home. You can rent a studio for video shoots (at the client’s expense) and you can meet your client at their place or at a coffee shop. Either way you don’t need an office location at first. You don’t need one until your yearly sales exceed the price of paying yourself and paying a team member, and you’ve already factored in workmans comp, insurance and payroll taxes. What I’m saying is that spending money on something you don’t “need” keeps you from growing in the right ways. Besides, you should be saving your money.
Clients are the most important
Sure the way you treat your staff is most important. But as important is how you treat your clients. In every way possible go out of your way to solve their problems and treat them well. If they need something small done, even if it’s not really a service you provide, go out of your way to do it for them for free. One of my most loyal and largest clients came from a DVD duplication job I did. I don’t do DVD duplication… But I did it as a favor to one of my other clients who hooked me up with this other person working at a local bank. That person left the bank and started working for one of the largest companies in the US. She connected me to the head of communications, and now we have a solid relationship with their marketing and other departments. Sure we got lucky. But that only happened because we live by this philosophy. Go above and beyond when we can. Sometimes that means creating some videos pro bono. Sometimes it means jumping through a seemingly endless amounts of hoops, but in the end the clients see it and they love you for it. Treat them well, they feed your family.
I’m sure there’s more… and I’ll add them here when I or the team think of them.
Thanks for reading!
Matias Gordo Flores
Axiom Media Productions