Fellow budding filmmakers and video producers, I know your pain when it comes to price-sensitive shoppers in need of video production. I also know speed is a currency in this new digital economy. You don't want to waste the client's time or yours when it comes to quoting your services.
Our work in videos is extremely mathematical (as far the time goes), right down to the time spent color-grading and backing up footage in the cloud. After this post and its sequel post, I fully intend to equip you with the know-how to compute your quotes at the drop of a hat.
Bonus: stick around... after the show... FOR A FREE... performance... by Limozeen... or simply for a couple of information-packed webinar replays on this very topic of "What The Deuce Do I Charge For My Video Services." I'll also share some actual quotes for client work that's itemized so you learn how to better communicate the value you bring.
Super Important Disclaimer: live, A/V work is a little slower to quote. There are many variables and parties involved (I'm finding), so offering a client who is in need of live video production (for example, a conference) is anything but an instant process. But if it's pre-recorded, traditional video production, knock yourself out with this guide and blow their hair back with a super speedy quote.
That's right. Instant quotes. No more headaches. No more guess work.
Video people ask this all the time - how much should I charge?
Clients ask this all the time - how much does it cost to make a video?
They are two sides of the same coin muchacho.
You need to be filling out your checklist when your client is talking with you on the phone. What better way than to have a calculator do it for you?
The biggest problem facing videographers, video producers, and budding filmmakers is the lack of unity. We are one-man-bands, and we all aspire to be auteurs.
And because we do this thing called film and video on the side - OR as a full-time living - we don't all charge the same.
Especially when the global market keeps driving down the prices on digital goods and services.
Don't despair. There are plenty of people who need you. Before I get started, let's segue.
0. Why You Need To Pound Out An Exact Quote And Not Waste Time
We don't have a uniform bar to reference for:
- crowdfunding videos
- strictly animated videos
- corporate videos
- visual-fx work
and so on, so forth.
When it comes to searching for answers on "how much does a video cost," the front-page answers on Google are vague and very surface-level (like this one).
Thankfully, there is a growing movement (thanks to content marketing) towards longer, more in-depth blog posts.
Which is good.
We need more intentionality in this area. Really. If we're going to stop and talk to someone on a forum, INVEST in that person. That's discipling. If we're going to teach something, we should teach it and not just give the one-page Chilton's Manual answer.
That means our videos are here to stay, especially with the tools at our disposal. And the demand for quality stories that go deeper will grow, just like the rest of content marketing.
The best will be longer, richer, and way more engaging than the ole "quick 2-minute video" humdrum.
Have you seen "Making A Murderer" on Netflix?
Don't let the title scare you - give the docu-series a whirl if you're a student of film.
It is a shining example of longer content, and like longform blog posts, it will be the new norm for stories: deeper, longer, and absolutely detailed.
It's sink or swim champ. Supply and demand.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. We need a uniform bar to gauge how to price our services as video producers.
I can't tell you how many jobs I've lost in the initial phone call. Or the initial conversation.
I haven't even mentioned the price (you should either always do that in the first convo - more on that later), and after what seems like a great conversation, they vanish. Or after mentioning the price, you spend an hour with the person covering everything from baseball to the Tet Offensive (I talk more about spotting these folks - tirekickers - HERE), and then they still disappear, despite your creative followups.
Poof. It's your fault for losing the deal (not theirs), but it's still a tough pill to swallow.
I asked this question (sort of) in the podcasts. It's the embarrassing pitch moment.
For example, I once submitted a video proposal to a big-ish group. They didn't have detailed how-to videos, and the ones they did have lacked a direct, human presence to guide viewers.
It was unsolicited, but I put a lot of thought into the proposal. I hand-crafted a solid 90-second demo, found the right person, and sent them the email.
I didn't ask for money. I only asked to see if they were interested in a series of short videos like the custom demo I made for them.
I spent a good 4 or more hours on that one proposal; I've spent upwards of 12 hours on other kinds of proposals. I've spent many more hours in the followups with the unsold.
When the would-be client emailed me back, they sent this response (click to expand):
It missed the boat entirely. And I should have followed up with them until one of us died (advice from Uncle G). My fault for throwing in the white towel too soon (start practicing total responsibility now my fellow filmmakers).
And I know you can relate.
A lot of lazy salesmen will send a lazy email and hope for a bite. It's just as bad as a cold-calling with NO information ahead of time (of which I am guilty of doing in the past).
When you don't know someone, go out of the way to show them how much you can be of service.
Didn't Jesus, the ultimate example of a servant leader, walk the earth with this m.o. in his back pocket? He went out of his way for people. Same be can said of a lot of great leaders in history - Esther, MLK Jr., Mother Teresa, Gandhi, et. al.
(Note: sometimes Jesus dodged people too - it went both ways.)
You also need to stop selling yourself short. You can be super service-oriented, but at the start of the relationship, you also need to get your quote to your client as fast as humanly possible (i.e. before they hang up).
Here are five quick reasons why you need to pound out exact quotes right away:
- You need to eat.
- Your family needs to eat too (even if it's just you and your pup Jax). Heck, you might want to take them to a movie once a year.
- You de-value the playground for everyone else by insisting on doing free work.
- Jon Acuff agrees.
- Cheap begets cheap. Why have your client invest in something that will fail? Hook them up with someone that will last years.
Now, is the Almighty bigger than the laws of supply and demand?
Does that mean God will step in and stop video production (and related fields) from going belly-up?
I don't believe God will necessarily step in and salvage any career field because He's the ultimate provider, not 21st-century W2/1099-work.
Look at Upwork if you don't believe me. Pick any digital service and you will find it for pennies on the dollar through Upwork.
Look at the semiconductor industry.
Jobs and entire career fields do not last forever, and without over-spiritualizing the matter, neither will video.
Take a gander at VR/360 video that's coming online. It's a baby right now, but 15, 25 years from now, traditional film will be radically different than what it is now.
50 years from now, film will be a cute novelty and looked on just like we do silent films now.
In the meantime, while you are still shooting traditional video, you need to be sharp as a tack and on your game.
Nothing turns a customer away like a lack of assertiveness, especially if you hem and haw around the price.
Let's study some of the video production costs you're not thinking through. Do your homework, know your costs, margin, and communicate price and value in the first call; don't settle for less than what your time and skill are worth.
Note: don't ever give a client an hourly rate (with anything in life, not just video). They will default to "no."
1. Price Your Pre-Production.
Your client will want one of three things:
- Production only (which includes Pre-Production of course)
- Post-production only
- All three phases of making a video/film
The bulk of your costs will come in the production phase (pre-production as well), and it's always good to gain more experience with directing. Call up your Uncle Bob if you have to for extra help and take every paying gig where you can get real-world experience on set - and haggling with clients.
James Cameron said we have to work on negotiating our budgets and our fees as directors.
For you, the one-woman or one-man-band, that's your cost and your gross profit.
It's no different when you talk to Steve's Upholstery, Inc. downtown. He's the big studio exec and you're the storyteller.
And pitch again.
For example, I spent collectively over 30-40 hours sending 11 different video pitches in the first part of 2016.
They weren't super outlandish, but they would command a deeper involvement than just a one-and-done small business ad.
Which is why they required more time and attention to detail.
One of them made it to the discussion table.
Was it a gamble? Absolutely.
Some folks won't respond, even after three e-mails (leave some breathing room for this - Reply is a good service for this that I'm just now testing out). Some won't pick up the phone. Some ignore faxes. Most folks would rather trust someone they've met in person (so get out in your community!) vs. someone who is presently faceless and exists only as an email or voicemail.
Regardless, be willing to invest in people, same as your parents, teachers, coaches, the Almighty, Uncle Sam (maybe) et. al. invest in you.
And with video, you can't just talk shop. You have to SHOW what you want to do in your pitch.
It also helps to have an admin help you find these leads.
Broke as a joke? Go to Upwork and hire a VA (virtual admin) to find leads for you and email them for you as well.
You can easily do it with a fixed price and count it as an expense.
Okay, down to the nitty gritty.
Write down your list of everything you need to do in the pre-production phase with your client.
Ready for this?
What do you have?
You - the student of film (I'm one too) - probably came up with a list like this one:
- Location scouting
Is that fair?
What about insurance costs for any gear rentals?
Or the gas you'll spend location scouting and meeting with your client?
Or how about the time you'll spend emailing and calling your client to make sure this project is going to work?
Or the piles and piles of hours just trying to get in front of a big client and then following up with them. And following up some more. It's okay - it's natural, and you should approach this facet like a servant, but it takes time; do you account for it?
Because there are truly three phases to making a video, you need to be able to ask for a deposit at each of the three intervals - OR - you can ask for half up front and the other half at the end. Or help them with financing so you can get paid in one fell swoop (*ahem* Paypal's no money down, no payments for 6 months).
The reality is with payment processors like Square, Stripe, or Paypal, you're going to absorb some transaction fees (typically , so you might want to give serious thought to asking for half up front and half later.
Here they are (domestic sales):
- Stripe: 30 cents plus 2.9% of the amount
- Paypal: 30 cents plus 2.9% of the amount
And Square is all kinds of crazy (Paypal too truth be told):
Bottom line: these guys all have the same rates.
But don't do that processing fee nonsense in the first conversation. You WILL scare them away. In fact, don't bring it up at all. If your client pays with anything other than a virtual currency, cash, or check, you can expect comparable if not exact industry fees, so budget them in.
Speaking of budgeting, plan your closing ratio. This takes time, and it's dependent on a myriad of factors, including your skills as a saleperson. So be proactive: account for time prospecting, account for time following up prospects, and account for time converting prospects into clients. I recommend a simple, free CRM that integrates right inside of your gmail to do this called Streak. Heck, even keeping notes on your Google Calendar is better than nothing.
By budgeting time spent with your clients (each prospect needs 5 to 12 points of contact for the majority of deals), you can make up the difference because you're going to have people that jump ship after the first conversation. Like Mr. Sinatra said, "that's life."
Price yourself like a business - not a freelancer. You'll be out of business in the latter camp. No physical overhead? Your time is your overhead in the early days.
Don't operate with the mindset you'll always be a one-person band. We want to grow as a filmmakers, so treat your video productions as a business with employees you'll have one day (or already have). Flat rates are key, and you have to price yourself like a business (> freelancer rates).
2. Price Your Production.
Your client needs to see where your hours are going.
Production involves a handful of items -
- travel time
- gear rentals
- location costs
- time spent packing up gear from HQ and unpacking back at HQ
- and of course payment processing (Stripe, Paypal, Square, etc.)
Do you have a system for this?
Do you know what to put on your invoice if you have a 90-second video for a nonprofit of 50 employees with a 12-day turnaround and Music Bed licensing costs, voiceover work, and merchant processing fees?
I don't either. That's why I built the calculator (end of the post) to do it for me.
Dad always said "do it yourself or hire someone else to do it."
This tool is somewhere between the two.
In time, I'll have it built for clients to use if they want, but never to replace real human connection. Human relationships - community - are how God wired us, and they're absolutely fundamental to providing goods or services to people.
Back to these costs.
Think about your crew. A good sound guy can cost up to $1,000/day (12-hour shoot). A solid DP can run more.
And how many locations you need for this shoot - can you really do multiple setups across 4 locations in a day? Not if you're directing at everyone of them.
Are you a part of an incorporated business? If so, do you have a tool besides the old-fashioned pen and paper to log your mileage?
Do you even know what the new mileage rate is for 2018?
$0.54.5 or less confusingly, 54.5 cents.
It's up from last year's 53.5 cents.
Do you really want to add up all of these over the phone, even if you know the locations?
Of course not. Your client certainly doesn't want to wait around for you to multiply 54 cents by 9.7 and 8.2.
Get an average going. Understand that most shoots are going to be within a set radius of your HQ.
For me, most shoots are going to be within a 13-mile radius. Is that always true? Of course not. It's a good average though because of where I am at in Las Vegas.
What about your actors? Do you know what rate you'll be paying them for a short film? In Vegas, $12.50/hour is standard for an extra.
Steer clear of SAG contracts until you have a team and some critical mass. You need a seasoned pro to navigate those.
SAG-eligible is okay though - I've worked with those before.
This story was circulated in one of the Christian film groups on Facebook by Donald James Parker:
Do you have a similar story?
If not, don't let it be you.
I realize 99% of us will be shooting short videos and even then, most client work won't involve SAG actors. But every now and again, you get that itch to level up or you go shoot a microbudget feature.
3. Price Your Post-Production.
This is where you stand to gain the best margin from your work.
You might have to outsource music or subscribe to a service that allows a flat, yearly rate for music in your projects (even commercial projects).
Like Artlist. These guys are newer when it comes to music licensing, but they are building up their library and I wouldn't be surprised if they give The Music Bed a run for their money.
The ole YouTube audio library and the FMA (Free Music Archive) will only get you so far; if you're able to attribute the artist (for example, in your own projects), then the FMA is a great place to check out.
That's how I found Ryan Little.
Another biggie is color-correcting and color-grading.
Round-tripping with DaVinci Resolve (DVR) is okay, but it burns through your time and your computer's crunching power.
I know Premiere Pro CC allows you to color RAW files natively inside the editor - can the same be said of the Final Cut products or Avid? Comment below.
You have to account for the time spent on each file. If you can color-correct a clip in 2-3 minutes, and you have 60 seconds of footage or about 17 clips, that's time you need to account for.
Plus the time to load DVR.
And the time to export the colored clips.
Are you able to compute those nuances in a matter of seconds?
It's only one hill in the long laundry list of post-production services.
Without scaring my client with the 20+ itemized services that go into post-production (some of them are just too esoteric anyways), here are the costs I list for my folks:
We can further consolidate these editing/post-production costs for the client's sake:
- Visual fx
- Sound mixing
- DVD/Blu-Ray authoring
Do you know how much you're charging for editing? For that matter, are you lickety-split fast?
You owe it to yourself and your client to complete a job as quickly as possible without sacrificing quality.
I.e. work without distractions.
My productivity has doubled or tripled in the last month. I kid you not. And you can too with the Pomodoro Technique - here's a detailed guide.
If you're laser-focused on your editing, then you can quote a fair and equitable price for your work.
Honestly, editing and the other items are easy. You can see those jobs with clarity.
But are you taking into account the time you will spend emailing, on the phone, or on Skype to smooth over the final product?
This is the support I listed above.
Your time is limited to 24 hours in a day, same as Elon Musk's.
If you're authoring a DVD, are you taking into account the time it takes to ship it? Shipping costs? The wear and tear it places on your burner to create two copies?
Here in this modern area, DVDs are still hanging around (thanks Redbox - but I hear they are pushing their streaming service), but they too will fade away.
What about finding music? Do you have the funds in place if it's a crowdfunding video?
What if it's a corporate video for a company with 200 employees and they're sinking advertising costs into promoting their video?
Do you know how much your music bed track will cost?
Put up your right hand.
If you don't price your service right, you will never be the next Christopher Nolan.
I mean it.
Learning how to negotiate allows you to work with larger teams and larger budgets to carry out larger visions. I myself am still learning how to negotiate. Thankfully, I found a virtual mentor in this area through Grant Cardone, and his program quadrupled my company's revenue in 2016, and it afforded me the skills and confidence to land and work on 5-figure productions. If you want to invest in yourself and grow as a filmmaker, let me know, and I'll get you two connected.
Whether that's filmmaking or planting churches or starting a Fortune 500 company, you have to be able to count the beans and count enough of them to put bread on the table for you and your folks.
Oh, I just want to make videos for church.
That's fine. Look at what the guys at Elevation are able to do. They are impacting the world by bringing excellence to faith-based videos in a way that scarcely anyone else is - so don't settle or limit yourself.
James Cameron put it this way:
Pick up a camera. Shoot something. No matter how small, no matter how cheesy, no matter whether your friends and your sister star in it. Put your name on it as director. Now you're a director. Everything after that you're just negotiating your budget and your fee.
We are called to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.
If you have a family, you have to provide for them.
You can provide a service for someone while still putting food on the table.
If you're tired of underselling yourself, there's a tool I made for me first and foremost, but also for you to give clients a quick, precise, and pain-free quote.
The few tools for calculating video production services that are online are okay at best.
I think a huge reason for that is because they were probably made by a developer or someone that doesn't actually operate as a one-man-band (and thus really know every cost/hour that goes into a project).
They have no idea how much time you spend dealing with "no" just to get a single "yes."
They don't understand how much time is tied up in the computer when it comes to exporting and backing up files in the cloud.
They haven't done the heavy lifting to figure out what the music bed charges a church with 102 employees on staff.
You're tired of losing bids and underbidding yourself and we are too.
This tool will not only spit out exact quotes for any project, but it will also list your expenses, man-hours, and profit margins so you're not living off Kraft singles and bleached bread all week.
And you can share all of that information with your client in a ready-to-print invoice.
Pre-production and production services only?
This tool has you covered.
It's really simple. If you're a one-man band (in video production), you have to quote your client fairly, but if your work is REALLY good, then you need to be able account for that.
On the fly.
And in the first conversation.
Of course you have to gather a few facts first.
Runtime. Locations. Talent. Etc.
What about other variables?
Company size? Type of organization? Expected audience size? Project type and music licensing? Time spent on the phone? Skype? Email? Time spent in-person?!?
If you're a production company, you have way more overhead, and THIS TOOL will NOT be enough for you. You have:
- a plethora of insurances to deal with
- payroll taxes
- and a monthly rent, among other expenses that the home-based indie videographer and next-gen Christopher Nolans do not have
Your operating expenses > the solo-preneur's operating expenses.
If you're a solo-preneur slash filmmaking hustler that can work with a crew (or work by herself or himself), then this tool is for YOU.
It's your job to educate your clients. When you can give them a detailed reason for your price, that communicates attention to detail, and they will appreciate it.
Price yourself the right way. Pay your actors. Pay your crew. Cover your expenses. Feed your family, and keep working towards telling amazing stories of life change.
How does it work?
You'll only need to put in a few basic pieces of information, most of which you can ask the prospect in the first conversation.
In a handful of questions, you can have a quote right then and there for them instead of dumbly guessing and getting what amounts to $4.11 per hour in the long run.
This tool will do all of the crunching for you that also covers:
- what to charge for your time in searching for music
- costs of music if licensed through the music bed, no matter what kind of video you're shooting (corporate, crowdfunding, church, etc.)
- the time you spend color-correcting/grading
- the time spent backing up footage to the cloud
- location scouting
- visual fx: basic & advanced (e.g. rotoscoping)
- facebook ads
- travel costs/mileage
- travel worksheet for flights, per diem, hotels, etc.
- time spent prospecting
- time spent selling
- time spent closing
and lots more.
You'll simply add in your hourly wage, answer a handful of questions about your client, and then pull the lever and watch the 7's line up.
Hey, this is Vegas baby.
I promised I'd share some itemized quotes. Not only that, I'll give you access to two webinar replays of this exact topic: "What the deuce do I charge?!" To get in on the action, just join the Bold Nation newsletter by clicking the big blue button. Don't worry - your info won't be farmed out to marketers, and mail goes out about once a week.
I know how discouraging it can be to create a video, a blog post, or other content only to have the crickets sing its praises.
You have to ask for help with promoting it. I'm sure Ghandi did. Mandela? Yep. Princess Diana? Yar. Jesus said it too: ASK.
In this post, I talk about how you can approach strangers and ask them for help with sharing your content. Shucks, I do it with this shindig.
After all, if you're like me and you want to share the message of hope we have in Jesus in non-cheesy media, we have to ask for help. That starts with the Almighty, then other people; don't be an island Captain Sparrow.
WHAT WAS YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING PITCH MOMENT? COMMENT BELOW!
Originally published 2.16.16. Edited 12.10.16. Updated 12.30.17.