When you’re just starting out (heck, at any point in your journey as a video producer or microbudget filmmaker), the majority of people will not know who you are. So you have to push against the grain that says “don’t call - don’t email - don’t drop by” etc. You have to make the calls and knock on doors! If people don’t know who the heck you are, you’ll never earn their trust or their business!

You need to be "everywhere" and you definitely need to be networking. More on that in a bit.

Here’s one way to “get out there": pseudo-free work. From here on out, if I say "free work," I mean it's virtually free. You're going to ask for gas money essentially: a deposit of $15 or thereabout to cover gas there and back, even if you're volunteering for a NPO. In fact, don't call it volunteering. Tell them you want to complete a world-class video to bring more donors through their doors, and it will only cost $15 to cover transportation.

It's like giving away a book but charging for shipping & handling.

Try it. Skin in the game is important. You want your would-be client to value your work.

Let's continue shall we?

Free work is a two-edged sword though.

Think about college tuition. College is something that you have to pay for here in America, and there is an argument to be said that because you or someone (conditionally) is paying for you to go to college, there is some incentive to show up and apply yourself. The argument is we value the things that we exchange goods and services for, or money as the case may be. So if you offer to do your work, and it doesn't have to be video production, it can be any craft or discipline, and if you agree to do it for free, there is a strong chance that the benefactee will not respect the work you are doing or the product you are giving them. Because of this, when a nonprofit asks you to do work for free, I highly recommend that you run for the hills. It de-values our industry. You have to eat too. Your plumber doesn't work for free. All of these and more from author Jon Acuff → listen/watch here.

Having said that, it's another story to volunteer your time for a nonprofit. Nonprofits do not measure their success by the bottom line but rather if they are creating impact for the mission for which they were created. So find a nonprofit in your backyard that jives with you and go serve them.

If you want to be a filmmaker, you have to get out and meet people. You have to go share your skill set and your vision with others. And when you’re a unknown, it’s incumbent on you to break the ice! Here are several steps to build that kind of relationship from scratch. And just because you call and email, you won't necessarily get a response on the first few tries. So if you stick around, I've got one simple technique to increase your chances by 10-20% that you'll hear back from your prospect after the first contact. It's so simple, it's easily overlooked, but it is worth the extra five minutes. Hang tight.


1. Call regularly.

All my life, I have been terrified of the phone. I'm still afraid of the phone, and there is at least one phone call every time I cold call that goes horribly wrong because I fumble my words, I get caught off guard handling an objection, or whatever the case may be, but I know how to repress that fear now because with anything that's unknown, frequency and practice go a long way.

When you call someone for the first time, aka the infamous cold call, one of the few things will happen:

A. Answering machine - you need to have your pitch rehearsed especially because you're trying to volunteer your services to an organization when they don't know who the heck you are.

For example...

Hi John, this is Uncle Bob. I took a look at your site and your Facebook page, and I know that you can reach 150% more donors with a video. I want to do one for you - FREE. I don't want to waste your time, so here is a quick question: if I could even get even 50% more donors for you in the next 90 days, would that be worth a three-minute conversation?  Give me a call at 702-543-5433.

B. Admin - these are the gatekeepers and you will not get through to the decision-maker if you are not treating the gatekeeper like the President of the United States. Do you remember from the Thor movies Idris Elba as the gatekeeper to all of Thor’s realm? Think of that picture here. You aren’t getting through if you don't show some basic customs and courtesies. Always leave a message, ask them to write down your name and number and your call to action. Is it call me back when you have 3 minutes because I would like to do a free video? Or is it what’s the biggest reason for not doing a video yet to promote your mission?

C. You manage to get the decision maker on the phone -  be to the point, explain that you're calling because of... and then give them the quick pitch. Reinforce the fact several times that it is a free video and you want to support their mission. Use the word mission because it's extremely powerful. Use it often. At this point, one of three things will happen:

Case 1: they hang up on you.

Alright, cool. It'll put some chest hair on you. Don't take it personally. They are constantly bombarded with other people vying for their attention. Follow up with them at a later date.

Most people don't want to be rude. I've had many people be quick to get off the phone, but I've only had one person hang up on me ('twas a for-profit, B2B call, not a nonprofit cold call), even when I'm prospecting them for business and it is a cold call and yes it does interrupt their day. The reality is, some people are just grumpy, and they will hang up on you. Be like the one-year-old who smiles and tries again.

Case 2: they're interested but they don't have time right now.

Ask to schedule a 5-to-10-minute conversation at a later time, and confirm the time. I learned this one from Grant Cardone, and it has saved me a lot of frustration. Always ask at the end of the call if there's any reason why they could not make that appointment. Thus far, when I have used this lock close, as Grant calls it, I have never had the person I was calling or meeting in person cancel. It's worth the extra 20 seconds to double check or confirm while you still have them. Do it.


Case 3: they're interested & they have time.


Spend no more than 5 to 10 minutes planning when you can meet them in person. If you're doing something really short and simple, you can meet them in person and shoot the video for them in the same meeting. This is typically what I do, but I hardly ever get the decision maker on the phone with a few minutes to spare in the first phone call. Even though it is a nonprofit, it usually will take me several follow-up attempts to land this conversation, and if I am trying to sell them my service (in the case of a for-profit followup), it can take even longer. Persistence is the key here.

And how do you persist?

Call frequently. Use funny accents (Sean Connery, William Wallace, Jimmy Stewart, be creative…), share valuable information, and just be interested in the person you are trying to reach.

If you really want to help a nonprofit, and they have no other basis for knowing you, and it is truly a cold introduction, then you need to increase the amount of contacts you make. Commit to calling one to two times a week, for example, in addition to…

2. Send emails with valuable information.

The things that you read should be clipped to your Evernote or saved somewhere (aText for example) so that you can pull them up and share with people at the drop of a hat. I keep a running list of articles that I think are useful in the business-to-business relationships that I maintain. I share them frequently, as well as fantastisch examples of amazing ads that I can share with people through YouTube or Facebook. You should be keeping a running dossier of this sort of stuff too!

aText for Macs

aText for Macs

3. Send video messages.

The person you want to go work for doesn't know you, so one way to disarm the unknown is to send a video message of yourself. Inherently, we don't like talking to a little camera, though some do, but I believe the vast majority of us don't. The willingness to step in front of a camera and talk to it speaks volumes about who you are to your would-be client. Make no mistake, just because you are volunteering to do free work for this nonprofit, that does not mean that you should treat them as anything less than a client. Serve them with excellence from start to finish.



Oh, and I should mention, I got a face-to-face appointment with a whole team once because I sent a video message. It helped me stand out from all of the other sales pitches that this owner was getting on a daily basis. It wasn't a nonprofit, but the verdict remains the same: video messages are a win.

4. Confirm the appointment within 24 hours of the appt.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but I have made this rookie mistake more than I care to admit. Call that day and make sure everything is golden. Don't text. Don't email. Don't settle for anything less than getting them on the phone and confirming the appointment. Life happens. People get sick. Show grace, and when the appointment is set, make sure you show up 15 minutes early. Leave the house so that you are going to be there 15 minutes early. If you are on time, then as they say in the military, you're late.

Always be 15 minutes early to every appointment.

I remember this one time I was going to meet with a prospect (it was not an NPO), and truth be told, I was an even bigger rookie than I am now, and my guts were all twisted up. Needless to say, I had to pull over to relieve myself. Thankfully it's an urban town (i.e. I wasn't in the middle of nowhere), but the point of the story is you always want to have a time buffer. Because of that incident, I ended up being right on time, well, at least I thought I was on time. For unrelated reasons which I took full responsibility for, it turns out I was a whole hour late. If even you are on time or a whole hour late, you need to own it, not make excuses, and apologize and asked to be fired.

Even after I asked to be fired, the prospect still graciously met with me, and she had real problems in the company. My biggest mistake was I tried to sell the wrong service instead of the one she wanted, and since I wasn't very persistent back then, I stopped following up with the prospect when she said to take a hike after the 5th or 6th point of contact.

My loss = some other video production team’s win.

Bring a book. Turn on your data. Be early and wait (hurry up and wait as Uncle Sam would say). The last two NPO’s that I did pro bono work for I showed up 30 mins early to a) avoid setbacks b) get set up so we could roll once the meeting started. They were both shocked, but thankful. I was too. Better to be early and read a book (every director should read this book before hiring their next & newest 1099- or W2-crewmember) than be late and be unprofessional.

5. Bring your camera.

When you finally get some face-to-face time with the head honcho or the founder or whoever at the nonprofit, bring your camera and bring your mic. You can do all of this as a one-man band and still do a quality product, you'll just have to capture audio separately from video if you want to be fully engaged. Or better yet, bring someone else along.

But be ready to roll.

Chances are because it's a nonprofit there is someone in that organization that would die for that organization because nonprofits are mission-focused and not bottom-line-focused. There's going to be somebody that will be full of energy and passion and that's the person you want driving the video.

I did a piece for our local zoo once upon a time and the principal decision-maker did not end up being the person that drove the narration for their video. The decision-maker smartly chose someone with a really outgoing personality who absolutely loves their organization while he (head honcho) could continue to operate at the 30,000-foot level. Great leadership and brilliant execution on his part: know your limitations and delegate to the superstars. When my wife watched the first draft, she was blown away by the level of excitement and passion that you could hear loud and clear in the lady’s voice.

So come ready to roll. Just because it's the first meeting doesn't mean you should slack off. Show up like it's a real shoot because it is to Uncle Bob, head owner of Bob’s NPO of Nevada, and so it better be a real shoot to you.

When all is said and done, ask if they know of anybody that is in need of your service. We have not because we ask not. Ask for a review & referral. Send a thank you note.

6. Invest in a good sales program

I promise you - to do video production right as a service, you need to understand business-to-business (B2B) sales. 

I use and recommend Grant Cardone's sales training materials, as evidenced earlier in this post. Start with his free material on YouTube, then move into the ace audiobook or hardcopy book "The Closer's Survival Guide" and train every day.

Michael Jordan practiced so hard, the games were "easier" than his practices (my paraphrase).

Be like that with sales. I practice sales training six days a week. You should too if you want to pitch bold, amazing stories of hope or life-change one day to a studio, producer, or reputable production company.

7. Be consistent in your presentations

Colors matter. 

Branding matters. 

What you wear in a business meeting or networking event matters.

Be consistent. You don't need to drop massive money on an image overhaul or branding campaign. Pick a few colors that are complementary to start at Adobe's Color Wheel, pick a font you like, and wear clothes that embody the color scheme you picked.

Focus on one social media channel really well (e.g. YouTube). Go a mile deep with it. Put your best content there. Be frequent. Your *ace* social media channel is a free digital billboard. Treat it well.


Alright, time to get cracking. For those of you who are in the trenches and are trying to get out of obscurity, this one simple hack I learned the hard way will keep you in front of people and get responses from them much quicker. In fact, I've seen 10 - 20% of new prospects reach out to me after a cold introduction just because of this one simple addition (with Business to Business relationships, and it's much higher for NPO's).

Join the newsletter to download this vital step:

Your turn. What have you done to jumpstart a new relationship?

Original post: 2/11/17; edited 3/4/18


Jake the film guy

I want to encourage others and bring honor to the Almighty in everything that I do with film and video. My goal is to take the first 11 minutes of my tv pilot and seek out decision-makers who can further the conversation about developing it into a show. If my team and I can do that, then we can teach 100,000 other microbudget filmmakers how to do the same thing so that we might tell stories of hope to millions. In the meantime, I'm a son of the King, a family man, a lifelong student of film, and the author of two microbudget filmmaking books.