Thoughts on Setting up a Video Production Business (Part One)

This article is divided into two parts. It starts with simple ideas and rapidly moves into concrete steps and concepts that are anything but simple. I’ll stop one short of calling this article a ‘business workflow’.

Don’t let the size of the article fool you into believing ‘this is all there is.’ Reserve that thought for your bank account.

Justice

Plato defined justice as ‘each person doing his duty and not meddling in anybody else’s affairs’ (it’s a bit more complicated than that, I’m over-simplying it). In a free society, each person is free to choose his or her duty. Actually, it is no longer a duty anymore if this is the case.

We all like to believe the world and its opportunities are equal to us all:

Chessboard

But in reality, it’s more like this:

Chess Disaster

Not only is sometimes life unfair, it is downright ridiculous. Not only is your place always insecure, you don’t know how to get from A to B. Even if you happen to email a guy at B who claims to have got there from A, where you are, there is no way he or she can guarantee the same outcome for you.

A person’s job or business is anything that is legal and which will make money. If there’s no money, some might still call it a business, but that’s not the group this article is written for. So, what has this got to do with Plato?

Simply this: When you venture into a new business, you’re bound to step on someone’s toes. The more the competition, the greater the toes. Therefore, it is the height of stupidity to hope nobody will step on yours. Expect it at every turn, and you will then have a measure of the kind of person you will need to become.

There are laws in any land, and the person who plays legally does not necessarily have to play fair, as in ‘school-playground’ fair. It is your responsibility to do everything within your means to further your business, as long as you stay legal. Other than that, anything goes. If you don’t like that, no worries. We all have our principles. Just don’t expect everyone else to do the same. You’re not the only player.

If you like the mental image you have formed, if you like this idea of justice, and if you believe this can become your reality, step into shark-infested waters.

Stress

Imagine the most stressful moment of your life so far. Recall that moment. Could you have solved a math equation or played a game of chess or written a script during that crisis?

If you answered yes, you’re only kidding yourself. It takes a lifetime of wallowing in stress to do any of that. I believe, with my limited experience, that half of what you experienced at your most stressful moment is to be expected on a daily basis as a businessperson- on the good days. On the bad days, double that.

During these perpetual personal crises you are expected to perform the following tasks:

  • Find business
  • Sell your services
  • Do what you claim to do
  • Get paid
  • Set your business in order
  • Deal with idiots, including yourself

 
There are some techniques to help you deal with stress, but here’s the untold story: Nobody says you’ll be stress-free. To know whether these techniques have worked, you’ll have to stress-test yourself. Never kid yourself that you’ll be free of stress. Such a luxury isn’t available to a living organism whose days are numbered and whose kind are forever killing each other.

Dealing in the concrete

There’s motivation, and then there’s wishful thinking.

“I’m going to become the world champion” is a useless platitude, that if repeated everyday isn’t doing anything tangible towards fulfilling your goal. It’s like a fool repeating “I’m going to live forever” till he or she keels over.

I’m going to break this down according to military theory. There’s always two modes of action:

  • Strategy
  • Tactics

 
Strategy is your overall plan. Like in: I’m going to pitch to Mr. ABCD today, and then he’s going to say yes and ask me to shoot his video next week. I’m going to get the script written, assemble man and machine on the said day, and shoot Mr. ABCD (I know that didn’t come out right but I’m going with it). Then, I’m going to edit it and add some jazzy music to blow Mr. ABCD away. He’ll then rush eagerly to fetch his checkbook and sign over an amount far greater than what we agreed upon.

Tactics is what you do on the ground. Like in: I’m going to pitch to Mr. ABCD today…oops…Mr. ABCD is busy this week and can’t meet you. Would you care to leave your card, quote or brochure? What you do next is tactics. It’s the thing you can’t always predict, but must still do to stay in the game.

You need both. You need the plan, and you need the concrete steps to accomplish that plan. Only indulging in strategy is wishful thinking. Only thinking of tactics is a horse being ridden by a rich person.

I’m all for motivation. You must have hope, and a certain level of optimism. But not to the point of only being good with strategy and screwing up on tactics. Anybody can make grand plans, but few can accomplish them. Even the seemingly simple task of frying an egg has been botched half the time over the ages.

The point of all this is: Try to bring ideas, thoughts and hopes down to actionable steps. And when I mean step, I don’t mean: “I’m going to write the best script tomorrow.” That’s not an actionable step, it’s a questionable misstep. You would do better to just “get an acceptable script done and revise it a couple of times by the end of the day tomorrow.”

In business, concrete is your friend. Sand isn’t.

Remember Sherlock Holmes

Ever heard this before?

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

Sherlock Holmes

But there’s a corollary: You must first get everything lined up. If you miss something, you might only be left with the impossible.

Let me give you an enlighten-ingly crappy example: Say you want to buy a car, and it costs $30,000. You tell yourself: I’ll save up $30,000, and then I’ll buy my car. The day comes when that money reflects in your account, and off you go to the dealer. By the end of the day, your account no longer reflects that amount.

Oh Mr. Sherlock, did you consider and budget for the following?

  • Fuel
  • Traffic violations
  • Accidents
  • Insurance
  • Registration
  • Servicing
  • Oil and lubricants
  • Batteries
  • Spare parts
  • Wheels
  • Tools
  • Interiors and upholstery
  • Steering wheel wrap
  • Mats
  • Tinted windows
  • Stereo system
  • Air freshner and refills
  • Baby seat
  • Cushions
  • Stickers
  • Trinkets
  • Mobile phone or tablet holder
  • Parking charges
  • Towing charges
  • Maintenance
  • Washing and cleaning
  • Painting
  • Theft
  • Resale value and depreciation

 
Over a three year period, you have spent considerably more than you have budgeted. The worst ‘offender’ on this incomplete list (I’m pretty sure I’ve missed some items) is the actual price of the car, which has depreciated by roughly 30% the moment you buy it.

The point I’m trying to make is: There are always hidden variables. We are human, and it is impossible to find all of them. Sure, if your sole purpose in life is to buy and justify the expense of a car, you might (might) make a good job of it. For those running a business (even if you’re not), every thing you buy comes with hidden expenses.

Even a movie goes with popcorn, and sometimes a theater makes more money on the popcorn than the movie. The video business runs the same way. You are offering a product (a video) that will be used in conjunction with other things. Your gear and your line of work comes with hidden expenses, all of which involves you losing money. Find them, and list them out so you’ll never forget them.

Don’t take any situation for granted where money leaves your hands. It’s all about the money. That’s why it’s called a business, and not a charity or a hobby or a sport. If the numbers aren’t all there, you can bet it’ll come out of your bottom line.

broadcast camera

Which video business?

I’ve written this article for the video production business because that’s what I’m into. However, the ideas here are easily applicable to running a post production house, a VFX facility, a freelancing career or even a burger joint.

You still have to do everything any business does on a daily basis. It’s only those who have never been in business who think different businesses are…different. Why do you think businessmen hang out together, even when they’re not talking business? The realities of doing a business are somewhat similar to the realities of being in the army or being a doctor or a policeman, etc. All of these jobs are stressful, and more often than not these guys and gals hang out with the same kind.

Businesspersons also have a different definition of what constitutes ‘value’ than most lay people who just do jobs. The lay people just go out and buy a car, and don’t think too far ahead or too deeply. A businessman is forced to. Every businessperson starts as a lay person, and their growth and development as a businessperson is rarely smooth or painless.

This is what I mean when I say all businesses are the same, and business people share the same kinds of pain.

To recap, here’s how you get started, transforming yourself from mere mortal to rich mortal:

  • In business, anything that is legal and increases profits is fair, whether you like it or not.
  • Regular stress is the first payment you’ll get for getting into business. It’ll change you as a human being.
  • You’ll start dealing in concrete steps, and become calculating. Non-business folk will no longer completely understand you.
  • You’ll always be thinking of money, even when you’re not.

 
In Part Two we’ll look at some concrete steps you can take to setting up a video production business.

 

Important Disclaimer:

The ideas, thoughts, suggestions, information and advice given in this article shouldn’t be interpreted as legal or business advice or be considered as a substitute for legal counsel from a qualified lawyer or attorney. These are just some of my experiences and ideas, and my video production business isn’t successful yet, so don’t assume I’m right. I’m never right, even on my best day.

Secondly, there’s no way most of what I’m about to say is purely original. It’s a mixture of common sense, educated guesses, bits and pieces I’ve picked up from books, ‘authorities’, ‘gurus’ and whoever else happened to come along my way. Who knows? I might come back to this very text a few years either having forgotten my own advice or shaking my head in disbelief at how wrong I was in writing it.

Please, only look for ideas here. If you want advice, find somebody successful.

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