We are always being asked for advice from producers, directors, editors, camera ops and animators on how we got started. It seems many video production freelancers out there are interested in exploring whether and how to start their own video production company. Now we’re not going to give away all our secrets, but we do believe in friendly competition and sharing what we can. So we asked our founders and directors how they got started and what they’ve learned along the way. Here’s what they told us.
You don’t actually need a huge amount to start a video production company. In fact, the barriers to entry are fairly low. You just need to know how to make films and how to resource them with freelancers and rented kit! That said, building any business, especially a video production company, is hard work – it requires grit, hard work, and the ability to roll with the punches!
The financial bits
Your start-up capital can be pretty minimal when you’re looking to start a video production company. Most elements of the production process can be done on a shoestring initially and you don’t need an office or a studio. However, you need to consider that you might not make much money for the first 6-12 months so you need enough in the bank to keep you going personally.
After that you should be generating enough to cover your costs. You will also need:
- An accountant – get recommendations for a good, technology-enabled accountant. They are cheaper than traditional accountants and vastly more affordable.
- An accounting system (we use Xero and we love it) to raise invoices, track your spending and produce your accounts.
- Amazing discipline – you need to record every expense into your accounting software and it’s ideal to do this in real time (we use Receipt Bank to save us lots of time).
- A process for raising invoices and chasing payment (we ask for some payment up front and the rest on completion so that we are not left in arrears if the client disappears for a while).
If you’re not a finance person, you need to become one. You cannot run a successful business without keeping a close eye on the finances. You need to know what financial reports you need (P&L, balance sheet and cash flow forecast), how much money you have coming in, how much you have in the bank and how much you have going out. You need to understand the difference between gross profit and net profit, variable and fixed costs and VAT and corporation tax. You need to get your head around whether you need to be VAT registered, how much corporation tax you need to pay and how much you can declare in dividends. Our advice to you is do not let this spiral out of control as it could easily derail your entire business.
One of the first things you should think about doing is to incorporate your business. There are several steps needed to do this, the main things are to register with Companies House (if you’re in the UK), have at least 1 director, have at least 1 shareholder, have articles of association (the agreed rules about running the company) and finally, set up your company for corporation tax. You can do this yourself (it’s really easy) or you can pay your accountant to do it for you.
Finding your niche
We wouldn’t recommend starting the company until you have decided on what niche of film to target. Are you offering a budget or a high end service? Focussing on training videos, events or case studies? Will you do animation? Whatever you decide, it’s worth checking that there is actually a demand by asking around, and by sitting at a computer and doing some research. Your niche might be very focused and original, but you need to make sure clients will pay for it.
Building your resource pool
If you can’t do the filming and editing yourself, you will need to use freelancers – you probably know a few already, otherwise ask around, comb through online film freelancer resourcing websites. Then you’ll need to consider equipment and software. Where will you get these from? What is the most cost-effective approach for your financial circumstances? Cost these out in different scenarios so that you know what you’ll need to charge to run a profitable operation.
Create your marketing strategy
This is just about the most important element of the whole process – you can’t have a production company if you can’t win clients. How you do this will depend on your niche and target market. If you’re making cheap videos for start-ups, then you’ll want to network with start-ups, for example. Other ways of getting clients include social advertising, social media marketing, paid search, organic search, or referrals from your network. You will probably find that if you specialise in a narrow niche you will quickly get known in that niche, and if you do a good job, then you will get referrals and it will start to build from there. And don’t forget to enter your best work into corporate video awards.
But if you really want your business to soar you need to learn some basic marketing – we’d suggest an online marketing course through the likes of Udemy or similar.
Starting a video production company is tricky – people tend to buy video projects (rather than long-term contracts) which means you always need to be selling to protect your future. That means even when you are busy with production-based work you need to set time aside for winning even more work.
Don’t fall into the trap of committing to big expenses, like an office or salaries, too quickly, because then you have to cover those expenses every month – it really strips away all flexibility.
And remember you don’t have to take on every project that comes your way. If it’s so low budget that you are going to end up doing a really cheap and low-quality video, then you will have a problem – you will become known for that type of video. So consider whether it’s worth doing at all.
As a service business you’re going to need to keep your clients happy. But that doesn’t mean they can walk all over you. Clients appreciate it if you go the extra mile, are responsive, listen to their needs and are honest about what can and cannot be achieved in their budget. And once a project is finished, you can thank them and ask for referrals to anyone in their network.
Get clients to pay up front – you don’t want to spend ages chasing invoices – the client pays a 50% deposit and the other 50% before their video is released to them. This approach keeps the client’s mind focused on getting their video and also makes sure there is at least some cash in your account. In other words, be really organised with your finances – even if it’s not your strong point!
Have a contract in place with your clients that covers rights of use, payment, number of changes, licensing of music etc. A contract protects both you and the client, and also keeps things clear as to what has been agreed and helps to remove any doubt or second guessing.
Beware of advisors
You probably don’t need a coach or a non-executive director. It pays to be really wary of people who offer business coaching services – they sound amazing and they will alleviate some of the loneliest bits of running your own business. However, they will never do the really hard stuff – sales- that’s down to you, at least for now. So don’t fall into the trap of spending £500 a month on an advisor unless they are going to deliver more than £500 in revenue.
Building any business is hard. And building a video production company from the ground up is no exception. Get started. Get out there. Do whatever you need to do to get those first few clients on board. Do a great job. And stay organised.