Every Sunday I send an article to mine Newsletter Subscribers who provide advice and insight into the business and craft of micro-budget filmmaking. For the most part, these articles are never shared on my main blog, but every now and then I break away from tradition and share an article here for those who may have missed it.
The article I share today was published in my weekly micro budget newsletter last week. It's about building and shaping your optimal career. It was inspired by conversations with countless filmmakers who are plagued by the same problem. They work longer and harder each year, but cannot increase their income over time.
Filmmakers encounter this problem when accepting the wrong kind of projects or underestimating their own time and skills. If this seems familiar to you, this article is for you.
So without further ado –
How to stop the underage for your filmmaking services …
When it comes to pricing, filmmakers fall into two camps:
1. Those who charge the full price for their work and increase the income every year.
2. Those who constantly discount their prices until they no longer earn a living wage.
Unfortunately, most filmmakers fall into the latter camp.
What distinguishes those who live well from their work is rarely talent or even skill. This is a difference in pricing and customer selection.
I know countless filmmakers who are really talented but who have difficulty paying the bills month after month with their freelance work.
On the other hand, I know a lot of filmmakers who may have less natural creative skills but are financially successful – less hours working on really important projects and measurably increasing their earnings.
This dichotomy exists in almost every creative (or freelance) industry …
When I was looking for photographers for my wedding a few years ago, almost everyone I spoke to gave me a similar price.
And almost everyone was willing to lower that price just because I asked them because they feared they would lose the job to someone else if they didn't.
But a photographer I spoke to was very different. He sent me his quote (which was at least three times the price of everyone else) and very politely outlined his terms, which were fair – but rigid.
For example, most of the other photographers I spoke to had the option of adding a second photographer or assistant. This photographer gave you no option at all. He would not work without his assistant and only accept jobs that paid him the full price so that he could take them with him.
This philosophy permeated everything he did – from pricing (which was not negotiable) to his post-production services, which had a very clearly defined revision process and an end date.
Ultimately, we were not coordinated. His prices were too high for my blood and because I didn't feel that his work was no stronger than the photographers who charge three times less than him, I decided to work with someone else …
Just because I didn't work with him doesn't mean that his approach was less effective. In fact, the fact that I said "no" to him is exactly what he wanted.
He had clearly made the decision that he would only accept jobs that paid him very well, and he would not compromise here.
Even if that meant that he would only work one weekend a month (while other wedding photographers work every weekend), that was fine – because he set his services high enough to make it sustainable.
His job was to sort out people like me who weren't willing to pay a premium for his services so he could find the people who were able to pay top dollars.
While other photographers were willing to negotiate their prices and bid against each other, he just said, take it or leave it.
Although most people (including myself) say "no thanks" when they hear his prices, some people just say "yes".
These are people who really feel more comfortable paying a premium for service work and who appreciate the structure of the work under stricter guidelines. And these types of customers are optimal for obvious reasons.
They are ready to work on your terms, pay your prices without fighting you, and offer you better material for your portfolio (since you are almost certain to invest in other areas of your event or production).
While most photographers cut their prices to fight for jobs with clients who don't want to work on their terms, this photographer completely avoids the problem.
He works fewer hours than she does, earns a lot more money, and has higher quality customers (and recommendations) to show off. Not because he's more talented, but simply because he has defined the types of jobs he wants to take on and refuses to settle for less.
How you decide to evaluate your services and select your customers determines your career. This applies regardless of whether you work as a freelancer or run your own production company.
You don't have to wait to have the perfect portfolio for a bigger job or to ask for more. It's okay if customers reject you. As I demonstrated in the example above, this is part of the process.
Your primary goal should be to create a customer list that really serves your purposes. It's fun to work with these few people who are willing to pay you what you're worth, who you enjoy working with, and whose projects can help you find more work of the same kind.
If you accept any job that comes without a system, you will never get there. Either you have to say "No" on bad occasions, or you don't have to make it easy for less than ideal prospects to say "No" to you.
As long as you have set some basic guidelines that determine how much you are willing to work and at what cost, you can achieve this.
Wouldn't you like a customer to pay $ 10,000 / month for a working day instead of juggling 10 lower quality customers for less money? I would definitely do it.
And I'm sure that most creative freelancers and entrepreneurs would agree. But so few people are able to reach this level. Not because they're not good enough, but because they're afraid to ask for more.
Declining work can be frightening if you don't have much else on your plate. I definitely understand that and am not saying that this path is easy.
However, if you are ready to create some basic rules for yourself and only take on projects that absolutely meet your minimum criteria for payment and quality of work, you will start to attract customers who can change your career.
99% of your potential customers do not match your vision of the "ideal customer". That is why it is your job to find the 1% and offer them the best possible service.
This is the first step on a path that can lead us to better customers and ultimately more income through fewer working hours.
We can all make the decision today to calculate what we are worth and only work with customers who really appreciate what we do. It takes a lot of willpower to put this into practice, but I promise you it's worth it.
That`s it for today …
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Noam Kroll is an award-winning filmmaker from Los Angeles and founder of the boutique production house Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television and in various publications around the world. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!