Clients arrive at your doorstep in unexpected ways—when you’re just starting out, the variance is even greater. The professionalism of your clients, the types of products, and the trajectory of the process varies wildly. As a new company, that’s a good thing. You need to develop your approach to working with clients, as well as define your strengths and weaknesses. But the arrival-- and sometimes departure-- of clients can be mystifying and stressful. We expect the process to unfold a certain way, and it often doesn't.
So as a part of this series I’ll present a few of my early client journeys in time-condensed form, from initial contact to conclusion.
If you’ve been following these posts, you’ll notice that I’ve already included a couple client journeys: my first “client” was imaginary… a promotional video for Schools for Africa that still features prominently in my portfolio. My second client was a pro bono piece for a non-profit.
Day 94: An ad popped up on Craigslist looking for an actor for a 2-minute investor pitch for a boutique shopping service, but also stating that if the actor knew a videographer they might be interested in hiring them. I thought that was odd. It just that kind of odd fruit, though, that can act as stepping stone to someplace interesting. So I sent the poster an email. They were offering the actor almost nothing, well below what I would deem acceptable for a commercial shoot, so I made a ridiculously low offer: I’d film it for $150. Based on the ad-- and the time allotted for the actor-- I reckoned the filming would be about 2 hours. She responded enthusiastically (or perhaps “emphatically” is more accurate... in a blizzard of CAPITALIZED words). She had an editor in India already; she just needed a videographer... followed by a ton of questions, ideas, and odd thoughts. And then she asked if I’d lower my price since she had an editor. Two hours of filming for under $150 was, of course, ridiculous. So I said, sure, I’d do it for $100. She booked.
Day 98: My client may be flighty, but she moves fast. She booked an office space in an hourly office building. She wanted to check it out beforehand, so I agreed to meet her there. Some of you dear readers may, at this point, be calculating my diminishing hourly rate on this project. A hundred dollars for two shooting hours. Add two hours for prep and travel and that’s $25 an hour. That might not be such a bad rate if you've got a steady 40-hour a week job, but as a consultant it's about one-third of what it should be. Now this pre meeting and I'm down to about $17/hour. Add the time it will take to cull the video and match up the audio and I’m closer to $10/hour. The minimum wage consultant.
I could search for corners to cut on this project, but I believe it’s important to commit fully to whatever job is in front of you. It’s no good if the client is unhappy because you were trying to maintain your financial/time boundaries; and you’re really not doing yourself any favors either. Because you can’t do your best work that way. The final product won’t add to your resume, create a faithful client, land a new one, or push the boundaries of your skill level. As long as your client is not consciously taking advantage of you, give it 100% and let the hours be damned.
The rented office was tiny. It was a good thing we scoped it out ahead of time, otherwise we would have spent half of our time trying to reconfigure the tiny space. The walk-thru also informed my equipment choices. There was room enough for only one light. We’d have to balance it against the window light. I’d also bring a scrim sheet to soften the window if needed. I’d boom the sound from a stand, and wedge myself in the corner to get the widest angle.
We sat down for coffee afterwards to discuss the video and get on the same page. She was immensely grateful for my commitment, and said she’d pay my original fee. I guess I’m back up to $15/hour. Woohoo.
Day 99: I spent a couple of hours with the 2-page script today. It was basically two dense chunks of monologue. She decided that she wanted two actors to read it-- which I thought was a good thing-- but it didn’t become a dialogue just because the lines were divided between them. They were sharing a presentation. Set in an office, with little back and forth between the characters, and no physical actions beyond found a few places where it moving closer would clarify and intensify the message. I also marked the “beats” in the script. In acting, a spoken beat essentially is a fully expressed thought. You can also have silent beats between to mark transitions.
Day 100: Shooting day. I arrived early and found the actors already in the office. We chatted a bit as I set up. The client arrived about 10 minutes late. Filming was by most measures a bit rough. The actors had had relatively little time to learn the script, so we stopped and started constantly. The client wasn’t exactly directing and had very little knowledge of how the pieces would fit together in the editing. I did my best to shoot for where I would put the cuts, and occasionally interjected direction. But squished in the corner, managing lights, sound, and camera, and with limited knowledge of the script myself, there was only so much I could do in terms of directing the actors for tone and pacing. It became clear that most of the cuts would be to cover mistakes. We went over our 2-hour time slot by about 20 minutes, but everyone finished happy.
Day 121: The client, pleased with how we worked together, booked me for another shoot on a similar project, this time a line of boutique coat hangers for luxury hotels. My $100/day project became a $300 project. Lessons learned? If you have time, go for the odd projects (they're often really fun). Once you commit to a price, don't hold back-- commit 100% to the work, even if the hours run over. Scope out your locations even when your under a time/budget crunch.