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Don't Undersell Yourself

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Hawke TayloreDon't Undersell Yourself
by on Apr 3, 2009 at 6:49:59 pm

If you own, or are thinking of owning, a video production studio, there are a few things you should keep in mind when presenting rates to your clients. So many people today believe it is easy to have a video studio and become a weekend artist. The fact is it can start off easy, but it gets harder and more expensive as time goes on. If you constantly underbid your services, you will quickly go by way of the dodo bird. (Extinct)
I own Taylore Studios here in Tucson, AZ. I have worked in visual production for 20+ years. I have worked for large companies like ABC and some smaller local companies as well. Like many of you, I started off small and made some mistakes when bidding a job. A few times, we almost lost everything just to get the project done. I am going to share a few things to keep in mind when presenting your bid. This is for those of you who intend to stay in business for five years or longer.

Keep in mind your expenses.
Starting a video studio appears to be inexpensive. I mean, all you need is a camcorder and computer right? Those who think that is true; get out now. We all hear about the weekend warrior who did their cousins wedding video on $50.00 and a six pack. Sure the couple seems to be happy with the video and uncle Bob just made 50 bucks right. Well let’s check that out shall we? Here is what Bob spent to get that $50.00
  • $10.00 for a 3 pack of DV tapes. (that is the cheap stuff that we as professionals don’t use)
  • $5.00 for gas to get to and from the wedding
  • $10.00 for electricity to run the computer and charge the batteries for the camera
  • $10.00 for a small pack of DVD’s to give to the bride and groom.
  • $5.00 for gas to get supplies for the wedding video.

So, keeping in mind that this is just a general possibility for Uncle Bob’s wedding video production, Bob spent $40.00 and made $10.00. Now, doesn’t that sound like a great deal to you? Realistically, if Bob spent 5 hours at the wedding and 5 hours at the computer editing. He made $1.00 per hour. Fun huh?

Well, how about the costs for the professionals? There are many obvious costs for the professional studios, initial software, multiple cameras, high grade computer, etc. but some of the things that businesses forget to factor in are the little things that add up quick. And the little things can bankrupt a business in a very short time.

1. Always factor in your utility costs for a job. It’s not enough to just keep the lights on; you have to include the phone bill, water, rent, insurance, etc.
2. There is wear and tear on all your equipment. All machines have a limited life before they need to be fixed or replaced. We have a saying here at TS, “It’s $50.00 just to open the camera case.” We understand that every time the camera is used we lose money. Batteries wear out, a camera light might blow, and we may have to upgrade a microphone. Etc.
3. Upgrades are a necessary evil. All software needs to be upgraded at sometime or another, you can factor between 8 and 18 months your current software should be upgraded to the latest release. That can cost between $ 1,000.00 and $ 10,000.00 depending on what products and how many you run on a computer. (and how many computers you run)
4. That camera doesn’t drive itself. Unless you use a bicycle, and I doubt that, it costs money to go to and from a production. Its not just gas which is ever increasing but the insurance and maintenance of a vehicle as well.
5. One-third for the crap. On some of the larger jobs like big corporation productions, you will want to keep in mind that things happen that are not foreseen. You will want to figure in approximately one-third for the insanity that will probably creep up. I.e. ten more edit sessions than what was originally budgeted. This will keep you from going broke before the job is done.

I am not telling you to overcompensate and price yourself right out of the community. But keep these things in mind when you work on projects. You still want to be close to the same price as your competition.

Hawke Taylore
Taylore Studios
Audio Visual Consortium

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Mike CohenRe: Don't Undersell Yourself
by on Apr 3, 2009 at 9:15:20 pm

Nice post Hawke. Cool name too.

Don't forget, which you touched upon, to compensate yourself for the work that you do. Cameras, editing systems and rental rates will change over time. Your experience only gets better and that is what you are charging for. In other words, a Client is paying you to create their video, not because you own a Varicam, but because you can make their project better than anyone else in your market, at a cost that is reasonable for both parties.

For example at our shop, we have loads of experience doing what we do - that experience and expertise has value. And this goes beyond earning a good salary - you need to have a profitable business or you will just work your tail off and still be in debt.


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Hawke TayloreRe: Don't Undersell Yourself
by on Apr 4, 2009 at 6:01:11 am

Hi Mike,
Thank you for the comments. You are absolutely correct. The experience is what makes us professionals. I was going to make a follow up forum with those points. now I guess I will have to credit you for the quotes. :)

Hawke Taylore

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Milton WershowRe: Don't Undersell Yourself
by on May 28, 2009 at 6:15:00 am

What you say is so true and to the point. I find it quite refreshing.
I am new to this Internet but learning all the time. I am an old stuntman and producer, director but for travel logs and human interest.

I have started a Video Clip Library with a helicopters expierence of travel and distance. I want this new adventure to work. I wonder if you would review my site and give me your thoughts.

We all must find that mutual value and I am looking for direction and communication.

I am Milton and hope to hear back from you.

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grinner hesterRe: Don't Undersell Yourself
by on Apr 4, 2009 at 4:22:07 pm

bottom line.. be known as the best in town... not the cheapest.

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Mike CohenRe: Don't Undersell Yourself
by on Apr 4, 2009 at 6:40:22 pm

Just today I received a quote from a young guy for a half day video shoot. He is clearly just out of school trying to get some experience. however his price was below market value - $150 for a half day shoot. Sounds too good to be true, possibly an indication he is not confident in his abilities. I actually wrote back to him telling him he needs to charge more to be taken seriously.

Mike Cohen

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Hawke TayloreRe: Don't Undersell Yourself
by on Apr 9, 2009 at 10:31:24 pm

And the hardest thing during these trying times is getting people and companies to understand that why you charge the amount you do, is because you know what you are doing. or at least have the resources to get it right.

Hawke Taylore

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