Five Mistakes Video Editors Make When Freelancing

Getting paid. We all like getting paid, right? As much as this is a good thing about making videos, this is the biggest area many freelancers fail in. We love doing the creative work, but getting those dollars to actually exchange hands? Sometimes it seems impossible. 

Does any of this sound familiar?

  • You have a finished project that you’re waiting for a client to get around paying for...and you’ve already emailed him six times over the past few months about it?
  • Your client keeps asking for more work to be done...yet the video clearly should have been finished by now?
  • Your project is taking three months longer to finish and would it be great to have a paycheck for it at some point?
  • You’re thinking about getting a part time job to cover the in-between paychecks?
  • Are you constantly digging for work in the same circle of friends and wondering why you can’t find another paying project?

This miserable life doesn’t have to be! 

While many of us want to work in a perfect world where people willingingly acknowledge value for value and will gladly pay for you for your services, our reality is that we live in a world where clients don’t always hold up their end of the bargain. Thankfully, there are a few simple tools you can use TODAY to stop the madness of unpaid work and move into a more sustainable income as a freelancer. 

Five Mistakes Video Editors (or any other media pro) Make When Freelancing

(And yes, I learned all these things from experience!):

Mistake 1: Not using a contract. 

Verbal agreements and a handshake are romantic. They point to a day and age when people did business as good human beings. But they have a serious flaw: both parties have to remember all the details. And like many politicians of late, it’s so easy to “have no memory of that.” This goes both ways, both for you and your client.

When verbal agreements break down, there is confusion, unmet expectations, and frequently, the loss of a client. Instead of the mess, use a contract to clarify the details of your project, how long you will work on the project, and how much you will get paid when it’s completed. My own contracts started as simple paragraphs with details, and over the years have expanded to include defined expectations for both parties, project timelines, agreed budgets, overage fees, sunset clauses, and payment schedules. And yes, I even use contracts when doing work for friends. There’s no reason to jeopardize a friendship just because one of us remembered something wrong.

While you can easily find contract examples online and reword them to suit your needs, this is a legal area and can benefit from the advice of a lawyer. For more ideas on things that should be in your contracts, I highly recommend you watch this excellent talk from CreativeMornings San Francisco: F*ck You Pay Me

Mistake 2: Not defining project expectations.

Are you on your third draft of your video and just now your client is saying, “After seeing this version, I think I’d rather make this two videos instead of one.” Or, is your client coming to you with revision after revision, just because she wants to see ten different fonts used for the end titles?

I don’t stand for this from my clients. So how do I stop the headache? With my contract.

In my contract, I clearly state what I’m being asked to do, what items I need from my client before I can begin, AND how many revisions they can be expected to have

By clearly defining what I’m expected to produce, both me and my clients are agreeing to what the outcomes of the project will be. This means no surprises. It also means that important pre-production work (like defining if the video is a stand-alone or part of a series) is done before I touch the project. This keeps me from wasting my time and it keeps my client from taking advantage of me.

By listing what items I need from my client, I’m also setting expectations about what I will NOT create. This keeps a client from thinking I’m going to create a new animation of their logo when they did not ask for it. It also ensures I have everything I need to complete my work before I begin.

Including an agreed number of revisions informs my clients that I want their input and feedback. However, I also need them to take it seriously and actually give feedback, because I’m not going to be making an unlimited amount of changes. My typical limit is three revisions, with the intent that each is getting closer and closer to the final product. 

This also instils a sense of trust between me and my client. I’m being hired for my expertise and my ability to execute their vision. By saying I can deliver that vision with only three revisions means I’m worth the payment I’m asking for.

Mistake 3: Not asking for a project deposit at the beginning of the work.

Do you really like working for six weeks on a project before seeing a dime? If this is you, STOP. There’s no need to survive on ramen until your big payday. In your new contract that we discussed above, also define a project deposit payment.

Project deposit payments give you a portion of the money for the project at the beginning, so you can eat healthy, pay the bills, and live in your house. Typically, this amount can be one-third to one-half the total project amount. In my contracts, I state that I will not begin work until the check has cleared in the bank. Talk about a motivator for my clients to pay me.

This project deposit also does three important things: 

  1. You get paid earlier. (YAY!)
  2. Your client has a reason to trust you to complete your work. (he’s already paid for part of it!)
  3. And if your client takes the finished product and runs without paying the rest, you at least have something of your work paid for.

Even if the final project goes over the estimated budget, you should still have a portion of your work paid for at the beginning of the project.

Mistake 4: Not vetting a client.

Sometimes, the promise of getting paid at some point in the future is just too much to resist a project. Especially when you’re starting out, or going through a lean period between jobs, the thought of finally working on something makes us too eager to jump in. And that’s when the crap hits the fan.

Every client is different. Not only are there different project needs, but there’s also different personalities. To be a successful freelancer, you must make sure your skills and talents match the needs of the project, and that you can get along with your client. Because some people and projects aren’t just suited for each other.

Make a point of meeting a potential client, either over coffee or over the phone. Ensure that you can deliver what they need. Be honest here, both to your potential client and to yourself. If they’re asking for 5 minutes of heavy graphic animation work and you know you’re only good at making simple titles, don’t lie about what you can do. Likewise, if you can sense that this client might be more pushy that you prefer to work with, ask yourself if the money is worth the personal space invasion. 

While we all have to sometimes do work that we have to do to get by, there’s no reason to unnecessarily put yourself in a meat-grinder. Vet your clients and make sure you both are a good fit for each other. 

Along this same line, network and keep a circle of friends who do what you do, and who do what you don’t do. You might not fit this specific project, but a client will be more likely to return to you when you’ve passed her off to another, quality-producing media pro. It also promotes goodwill and generosity in what is typically a cutthroat world. Be one of the gracious few. You will stand out.

Mistake 5: Not asking for referrals and recommendations.

You’re freelancing and you’re sort of starting to make it. However, are your paychecks are coming from the same three to four companies? While it might be enough right now, what happens if one suddenly doesn’t need you? Be a wise freelancer and don’t put all your eggs in one client basket. 

After you’ve completed your project for your client, ask them for two things. These two items are CRUCIAL to building a successful career freelancing: 

  1. A note of feedback and recommendation you can share with other potential clients
  2. Any contact he may know that might also need your services.

The first item gives you credibility in the community. When another potential client is looking for your services, a happy and glowing review will give her the confidence to trust you and your work. These can be gathered and posted online on your portfolio, your client can write it on your Facebook Page or on your Google Card. The more of these you have, the better your services look to other companies and individuals.

The second item puts you in contact with new businesses and companies in your area. While they might not need your services now, you will be on their radar. Enquiring every few months about their needs can help put you in line to accept their next project. Remember, your goal is to be courteous and gracious, providing your services to help them. 

BONUS MISTAKE: Not valuing your services and skills enough.

This one saddens me every time I see it. And it’s not because I feel like you’re undercutting me in the market. It’s that you think so little of yourself.

As a creative professional, you are offering your unique skills, talents, and imagination to the world. This is PRICELESS. Only you can make the art that you do. Only you can see the story that particular way. While some of what you do is controlled by software and buttons that anybody can learn how to manipulate, only YOU can do it the way you do.

Your clients should be paying you for that. They should be paying you for the use of your imagination, skills and talents. THIS IS WORTH something! So don’t give your skills away for a pittance. Your work is worth your wages.

If you’re unsure of what you’re worth, Google similar services in your area. What are they charging? Do they charge by the hour? By the day? Try to find the bottom range and the highest range. Then, take a look at the quality of work those people make in comparison to yours. Can you charge the higher end? Are your services quality enough to demand that price? It’s okay to not charge the highest price. But don’t sell yourself short. 

Sometimes as artists, we’re too close to our work and think we can’t make a single piece of good work. If this is you, ask a trusted friend their opinion of your work versus those in your community, and ask them to evaluate if your worth is on par. After doing your research, set your prices accordingly--whether you think you’re worth that or not! You may lose a client or two after doing this, but your next clients will be better.

Selling yourself and your skills for less than your worth is fastest way to failing as a freelancer. You fail not only your clients, but you also fail yourself. Believe in your work, and in what you’re worth.