As videographers, I know so many of us wish for a clearly marked yellow-brick road to follow that will lead us to effective client communications and successful projects – every time. Is there some elusive manual or secret guidebook we can just quest to find that will help us unearth a formula for success?
Unfortunately, the path to effortless client relations and quality video results is much more of a trial and error process – complete with a great deal of ungraceful stumbling around in the dark. It’s important to recognize that every video project and every client will be different, which means there will never be an appropriate one size fits all approach.
Besides being technically proficient behind the camera and with post production software, I’ve compiled a list of the biggest insights I’ve gleaned over the years working with clients that will set you up for videographic success:
1) Never give your client exactly what they want.
99% of the clients that come to me with a script and concept for a video and request that I simply brute execute the vision ASAP actually need a lot of help – their script is typically either not succinct, their concept not achievable within budget or their overall narrative is ineffective at achieving their call-to-action (CTA). There is a small 1% that actually have a perfect script and storyboard, but it’s more the exception to the rule.
This isn’t the client’s fault, of course, because 1) the client is not a videographer and knows little to nothing about crafting effective visual narratives, let alone what even goes into production, and 2) more often than not, is unsure of what their call to action is or the best way to achieve it.
Even if you are just a one-person team, part of your job, as the videographer, is to guide the development of the video’s messaging and storyline; helping the client craft a script consistent with their brand and then translating those words into imagery that matches. This is also your chance to push the marketing of your particular clientele’s niche in the direction you’d hope it would go. For example, perhaps your client has a recyclable plastic product they were going to market as “single-use.” You can help them craft scripting and visuals around the idea of marketing the product as “recyclable” instead of “single use” and help drive the market demand for more recyclable products.
Your creative vision and expertise regarding what will and won’t translate on camera is a huge part of why your client has hired you. So, giving your client exactly what they want is absolutely the number one, most disastrous error you can make. If you creative vision does not align with your prospective client from the get-go, know good people in your network to refer them to – also strive to provide as much value as possible to prospective clients and you’ll set yourself up for rewarding word-of-mouth referrals.
2) Only tell stories that move you.
What types of stories are you most passionate about? What videos have you seen that move you? Does your strength lie in documentary style filmmaking, music videos or corporate branding videos? What kind of work do you want to build your company’s expertise in?
The answers to these questions take time to uncover. You won’t, overnight, figure out what you do and don’t like filming and what your strengths and weaknesses are – but as your portfolio progresses and you grow as a filmmaker, take careful notice of the projects you loved working on and were the most motivated to be a part of.
Because the bottom line is that if you and your team are not excited about the client’s product or story, it’s going to be really hard to stay motivated during production (and especially post production!). You won’t put your best work in and the final video will suffer. I know how hard it can be as a freelancer to say no to any kind of paid work, but at some point, you’ll need to start strategically choosing the projects you’re taking on based whether they will or will not move you in the direction you want to focus in.
As the Creative Director of Ripples Edge Media, I work with my team to continually explore the niches we perform best representing. It’s clear that we are a passionate team of production specialists that love to tell emotionally-evocative stories and represent socially-driven products. We care deeply about each and every client we produce a fundraising or Kickstarter video for; striving to set them up for maximal influence online. We deeply respect every client that works with us to produce a crowdfunding video; the vulnerability required to put yourself out there and fundraise for what matters most to you continues to inspire and amaze us.
3) Determine the types of clients you want to work with, and only work with those people.
Do you excel at working in fast-paced environments, collaborating with large teams, for big corporate clients? Or are you most enthusiastic about working with artists? Nonprofits? Small businesses?
Do you love working with small-scale entrepreneurs and startups, with modest budgets and the challenge of producing a compelling, quality video with fewer resources?
Again, this one takes time; it will take time to identify who you like working for and collaborating with and who you do not and then, even longer, to build up a portfolio of great videos for your target client. But build your company around serving a clientele that you love working with and you’ll only set yourself up for future happiness and fulfillment.
4) If you don’t understand the concept, move on.
Listen to your gut on this one. It’s always great to stretch yourself to represent new ideas and products, but know the difference between that twinge of doubt surrounding your capabilities as a filmmaker and a huge red flag and warning bell blaring at you that there is no way can represent this idea or product because the client can not explain it to you in a way you can understand. Or you have no experience marketing to their target audience.
As videographers, we will each have different storytelling strengths and varying abilities to understand different concepts. If you’ve asked all the right questions and you still have no idea how to create an effective visual narrative for a client’s product, idea or story, then simply move on.
5) Establish company policies and be transparent about them up front.
Are you offering refunds? Have you specifically outlined in your contract what happens in the event a client wants to abort contract midway through the project, or if the final video file is delivered after the specified delivery date? How many rounds of editing revisions and script revisions are included?
The more clearly you can articulate your company’s policies and the more transparent you are about them from the beginning, the smoother your relationship with the client will go. At Ripples Edge Media, we are particularly adamant about not incentivizing the economic devaluation of production artists’ services. For this reason, we ask for what we are worth and never accept compensation below a fair market price.
Additionally, we’ve recently made it a company policy that if we are being financially compensated for a project, then everyone involved is also compensated. The last thing you want to do as a videographer is build a reputation for yourself on asking for free actors and models.
We, of course, do personal creative projects and nonprofit videos on a pro bono basis occasionally, but doing videography for profit, at a substandard pay rate is not something any freelancer should be endorsing if they truly care about the future sustainability of the market they are in.
6) Protect yourself – legally and emotionally.
First, let’s touch on how to protect yourself legally as a freelance videographer. If you can, start doing business under a brand or name you’ve developed and form an LLC; this offers you an elevated level of legal protection in the event that a client is dissatisfied with your work. Carefully stipulating contract details is also really important here.
Most importantly, do not, under any circumstances, tolerate abuse – as a freelancer, we have less protection than standard employees within a company. It is s never okay for a client to verbally demean or threaten you, no matter the circumstances or how unhappy they are with something you’ve produced for them. In the face of a client blowup, remain calm, know your rights and do not be afraid to come back to the contract terms and provide a detailed hours sheet that accounts for all your work on the project.
Second, let’s talk about the need to build a separation between your sense of self and your work. From time to time, you will have failed projects and client miscommunications. As videographers, most of us consider ourselves artists, and it’s hard to not let your personal self-esteem and sense of self-worth erode in the face of a project meltdown. It really is essential though to build some kind of support system and emotional safety buffer between who you are as a person and the work you are doing; just because one project goes awry, it doesn’t mean you are a terrible person. A little bit of a thick skin in these situations really does go a long way.
7) Own your mistakes, take the lesson, then let it go.
Seriously, no one is perfect! You won’t get every project right. Even for us, most of the time our projects turn out great; but occasionally, we to, experience failures. If a client ends up dissatisfied with their end video, our policy is to free them of their obligation to pay us the final 25% deposit.
It’s important to put your failures in perspective with your successes; if your ratio of failures to successes continually tips the scale to the success side, then you’re doing just fine.
As a freelancer, as an artist, you will occasionally (okay, let’s be honest – often!) feel like you’re ungracefully stumbling around in the dark. In the long run, perseverance is what separates the winners from the losers, so keep at it and stoke that tiny flickering light you’ve sparked into a roaring fire.
8) Be an expert that knows experts.
If you make time for regular introspection and self-assessment, you’ll know your strengths and limitations as a filmmaker. The next step is to build up a network of great people refer good work out to. The wisest freelancers I meet are the ones that acknowledge they still have a lot to learn and are continually learning, taking courses, and going to networking events. Know what you are good at, know the others in your area of specialization that are good and what they specializes in and cross-refer; that’s just good business!
9) Come from a place of wanting to help.
You know what your best chance is to make the sale with a client? Simple: come from a place of wanting to help and be an active listener.
Spend time up front to understand the problems and needs of a particular client and their audience. Talk in-depth with them and meet in person if you can – if you can’t, then take their calls with genuine care.
The days of going all gangbusters and pitching sh*t Tony Robbins style are long gone. All a prospective client wants to feel is that you authentically want to help them and can help them. If you don’t care about them or their product, well, then, you’re working with the wrong people and in the wrong niche – loop back to points 2 and 3 of this article before you pass go.
At Ripples Edge Media, we typically build in at least 2 weeks worth of pre-production storyboarding and scripting, including phone sessions and in person meetings – sometimes with up to 7 rounds of revisions before even thinking of undertaking crowdfunding video production. Some of our Kickstarter video projects are more improvisational style, but we typically get much higher quality result and stories by thinking carefully through every aspect up front. This process begins with an in-depth 3 page questionnaire we’ve developed for all prospective fundraising clients.
Care about your client, their mission or product, listen and respond – that’s my best recipe for successful, and effective, client communications.
10) Stop cold-calling and start inbound marketing.
Okay, okay, I know it’s a tall order to be a great videographer, editor, salesperson and marketer all at the same time, but stick with me on this one… Starting out as a freelance videographer, if you are constantly chasing leads through Craigslist and cold calling companies to see if they need videos, you are wasting so much of your valuable time and creative energy! Set yourself up with a website (at least!) and some kind of specialization that elevates you above mediocrity and makes you unique.
Learn about SEO and social media marketing and implement strategies that will generate inbound leads directly to you. You should not have to go chasing after clients, they should come knocking at your door because you’ve created an inbound marketing funnel online that directs them to you when they search for a video solution for their particular niche. This is one of the most common issues I see with freelancers (or all genres actually) – they are wickedly talented artists, but poor inbound marketers.
And when you do finally scale and get to the point where you no longer have to juggle all these balls yourself, you will be able to hire the most effective SEO, social media and content developers out there for your company because you have done all those tasks yourself and know what to look for and what constitutes the good work from the bad.
Of all these insights, I can’t stress enough the importance of listening to your clients, but gently challenging them to re-structure their narratives to better convey their message for their particular target audience.
The projects that turn out the worst have always been the ones where I have taken the easy route and verbatim created the video that the client has asked me to. It is your job as the consultant to not only create the piece, but keep an eye to the broader vision and messaging.
Through this process, please, just be kind, gentle and patient with yourself as you determine the types of people you want to work with and the area you want to focus and specialize in. You don’t find out what you’re good and bad at without trying – so take it all in stride.
You’ll get to the point in your career as a filmmaker where you have to start thinking about what you are putting your name to and how that represents the type of work your company does and specializes in. Again, I know how hard it is to turn work away – but the ultimate goal should be to create work that people look at and recognize as your style and signature.
Never stop creating; reach for the stars; collaborate with peers; always make time for personal projects and gather a team around you that complements the areas in which you are weak.
Are you persistent?
Well, then you’ll get there –
and I hope to run into you someday in person along the journey!