Starting up a one-stop-shop
Hi all. This may be a bit of a deviation from marketing, but it seems to be a good business topic. I've really appreciated lots of the advice and info from previous threads in this forum.
I've been a freelance editor for about 7 years. Started a family right out of college, so I've been content being at home and letting clients find me. As a result, I've not had a large number of clients, but we've been willing to sacrifice large yearly income for the simplicity and convenience (sort of) of that route.
Kids are getting a little older now, and this year has been very dry for editorial jobs. One of my clients (freelance producer) has offered to take me under his wing a bit and I'm going to make the leap to running a one-stop-shop. Hoping to build relationships with agencies from the ground up, and looking forward to the adventure of it all.
1.) Should I take out a loan and buy my own equipment? I'm equipped for post production, but don't own a camera, lights, mics, etc. Or should I rent? I've heard from both camps on this. Maybe rent for a while before deciding on what to buy?
2.) If I buy, what tips would you have specifically regarding camera? The discontinuation of the AF-100 has surprised me...and I don't see other brands following Panasonic's model of the interchangeable 35mm lens concept. Has that ship sailed for some reason? Or is it still the future? Seems like it still may be a good choice for the scope of projects I hope to bring in...
2.) Knowing what you know now, what 3 things would you need to hear if you were in my spot, just starting out?
[Neil Gowan] " Should I take out a loan and buy my own equipment? "
No, definitely not... unless some very specific circumstances warrant it. Now, this is me saying "Do as I say, not as I do," because I myself did indeed get a loan to start my business 16 years ago. Not a ginormous one, but not chicken feed, either... mid-to-high five figures. BUT... when I started my company I already had a guaranteed production contract in place with an advertising agency for an amount and duration that made payback of the loan easy and of little risk. If you do NOT have guaranteed income in place like that, I would not recommend getting a loan. Rent what you need for now.
[Neil Gowan] "what tips would you have specifically regarding camera? "
The fact that you ask this bothers me a little. I may be completely out of line and I certainly don't mean to be condescending (honestly, I don't), but is this an area of your proficiency? I mean, it might be, and you might be a fantastic shooter, but just based on your description in your question (freelance editor for 7 years) we can't tell... I don't know if you shoot every day and can compose images like Spielberg, or have never touched a camera before... we can't tell. I think sometimes I'm a little touchy (probably overly) about that because cheap prices can now put a good camera in anyone's hands... but running out and buying a camera does not make one a cinematographer. I'm a decent DP, but it's taken me 20 years. If you are not an extraordinary director, DP, and camera operator, my question would be, "What's your plan for becoming one?" Because in today's production market you need to be very good at those three things. Again, not trying to be condescending, you might already be great at those things. But if not, you need a company plan to be great at it... whether it's learning, hiring experienced directors and DPs as needed, or whatever.
Specific camera questions are probably best for the cinematography forum... lots of experts in there. And no, interchangeable 35mm-format lenses aren't on the way out... they're in more than ever. It's just that that AF-100 was a plastic toy that was too difficult for consumer-level users but not nearly up to the level of pro users, so it went bye-bye. There are still tons of (better) options. Blackmagic, RED, a Sony or two, anything in the Canon C line (C100, C300, C500... I personally shoot the C300PL). The answer to that question is somewhat driven by what lenses you want to shoot... or, more often, what glass you already have.
I'm sure others will have tons more specific business advice.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
I fully concur with Todd on all of his points. The only time to buy something is when you have the business lined up to keep it busy and therefore paying for itself in short order. The "Build it and they will come" philosophy will not turn out well the majority of the time.
If you are NOT an experienced shooter, the camera isn't the only thing you should be renting. While in the learning stage hire camera people with their own gear. You can learn a great deal from working around those who already know a lot of tips, tricks and short cuts. You especially don't want to appear to still be learning your craft when clients are on a shoot. As an experienced editor you probably already have a good idea of proper coverage, but you may not know the best and quickest ways to get it.
In summary, deciding to go for it does not mean making a huge capital investment. Get the business, get it coming in with some consistency, THEN buy the gear that can pay for itself in a fraction of its useful life.
Own as little as you can get away with; rent everything per job and make the clients cover all your expenses. The wily pro owns little more than a phone and his or her editing system. Everything else is custom-obtained for each job, and purchases must pay their own way. Own only the core gear that's cheaper to own than rent.
Define in detail what "one stop shop" REALLY means; what the expectations are, and can you really capitalize sufficiently to make this work while you drum up business?
Run. This idea looks half-baked from here. Not that it's impossible, but there's way more to this than you imply in the post.
Wow...lots of fantastic advice in there! Thanks guys.
This producer that I speak of "taking me under his wing" took the all-in approach when he started out - bought $15k of equipment with no clients lined up yet. Just went for it. But I tend toward the more conservative approach, and your words of advice to rent almost everything resonate well with me...even though the risky approach apparently works for some.
Yes, I've shot plenty of things over the years. But I'm not an expert on any camera. How were you able to deeply familiarize yourselves with equipment that you don't own?
I can see how my post sounds like a half-cooked business plan. Basically I'm seeing this as an opportunity to get my feet wet as a producer, with the guidance of an experienced producer to fall back on (which I'm sure I will). And I will continue taking editorial work while exploring new clients as a "producer."
[Mark Suszko] "Define in detail what "one stop shop" REALLY means
I'm hoping to start finding small projects (maybe around $3k-$5k range?) to produce from front to back. I'm gaining confidence in my organizational, creative, and managing skills and ready to take a step up. Some of the projects that I've edited recently (with that budget range) seem like projects that I could handle, with some learning curve of course. So one stop shop would be marketing myself as a "concept, prepare, shoot, edit, deliver" shop. Have you ever seen someone succeed at this? It's at least my impression of how my "mentor producer" started out, and he says there's a market for small shops who can produce good-looking stuff at smaller budgets than bigger shops.
[Todd Terry] "sometimes I'm a little touchy (probably overly) about that because cheap prices can now put a good camera in anyone's hands... but running out and buying a camera does not make one a cinematographer."
I can see how I might have sounded like one of those dudes that has the capital to spend and thinks that the camera that you own is what defines your business value. I'm not one of those guys though. In fact, I feel the same way about "YouTube Editors." My cinematography skills are definitely green, but I've got some, and I'm hungry to gain more. So what would you do in my seat? What kind of projects/clients would you seek out at my stage? Would you go straight to agencies? Are there any other choices even?
Please keep the feedback coming!
Take my advice and go for a different career.
There is no way of making a decent living from video it anymore.Only a bit here and a little bit there.
All the information given looks very interesting and is mostly common sense but if the (one off) customers won`t pay what you feel it is worth, its a no brainer....your out of business.
There is too many gurus dishing out their marketing knowledge for the production business and I can guarantee you they are probably in the same position as all of us. Struggling and skint!!
The gurus just want to sell you the dream and eventually charge you for it.
Here in the UK you can check out limited companies for free. Out of 50 companies I checked only two seemed to be in profit and they were in the tv broadcast sector.
Its the way it is and it is never going to change. Equipment is so cheap and so many are trying to do it now. This means a race to the bottom. Famine famine famine.!!!
Sorry for the rant but I`ve been in the business for over 28years. Seen the changes and the perception of our dying business.
Would be better off working as a checkout assistant at a local food chain. At least I would have a guarantee of a meal each week.!
And its still the same.....
Where are you based in the UK?
Co-owner at Pollen Studio
Based in Staffordshire.
I am primarily a freelance DP and have about 5-8 clients who I would categorize as editors who became producers. Several of them invested a good sum into shooting gear, figuring they could learn it and keep that aspect "in house", but after awhile they gave up and now hire me. What I think happens is if you do not learn under someone knowledgable, where you can observe and ask questions, and shoot quite regularly, you will not become competent at shooting. Also, buying the camera, support, lights and audio is just the start. There's a world of doo-dads you need besides, so the production aspect becomes a deep money pit.
I think you'd be better off having a stable of several local shooters who can satisfy various budget ranges and styles, and use them for the shooting portion of the project. You will never get as good as they are so why not let them sink their funds into gear?
Also remember "Cash is King", don't go into debt for assets that instantly depreciate. If you want to hang your shingle out as a micro prod co you should put every spare cent into landing new clients, such as a killer website, Google Ad, SEO, etc. Camera hardware becomes outdated quickly and your results won't compare to a pro anyway. Recognize your core skill as post and branch out by networking and selling. But beware, the local producers who need editing services and learn you are producing won't want to bring their post work to you. I know, I wouldn't bring an edit job to a potential competitor. Editors are in close communication with one's client and I wouldn't trust that.
That's my two cents.
Ok - best of luck.
Co-owner at Pollen Studio