I made $222,351 last year with my video camera. Here's why I'm selling it.

I’ve been a full time freelance videographer since 2013. I’ve consistently billed around $150-$250k every year since 2014.

90% of my clients are repeat clients, the rest are referrals. I really like working with most of them. Living and working in Washington, DC means I work with people and organizations doing really important work - especially in the education field. I spend $0 on ads and marketing.

But each year running my one-man production company has been less fun.

I’m tired of shaking the client tree.
I’m tired of trading my time for money, then having to spend it on equipment.
I’m tired of taking shitty projects just because I need the money.

There are a few problems with traditional video production:

  • Filming is time consuming, tedious and can’t be outsourced
  • People are now able to film themselves effectively with phones and Zoom
  • Projects are one-off
  • Coronavirus

I’ll talk a little bit about how I got to this point, then I’ll share what I’m working on and how I plan to quit filming by the end of the 2020.

September 2019 - The Cringey Political Shoot

I got a tip about a 50th anniversary gala video for a fringe right wing organization that no one has heard of. I was desperate for money and knew I could do this in my sleep so I reached out and shared some examples of similar videos I’d made. Turns out the scale of this project was about 6x bigger than I had envisioned - they wanted a long documentary about their organization’s history instead of what I assumed was a 3-5 minute highlight piece.

I brought in some help on the narrative and editing site. We put together a proposal with a $30k budget and won the job.

By declining the editing I felt like I was putting my foot down and saying “I won’t do this.” Of course that still means I was on set, interviewing the homophobes and gun nuts spewing conspiracies about the Clinton administration and talking about how Donald Trump is greatest human being to walk the Earth.

December 2019 - Planning My Escape

After this project, I knew I had to make a change. I turned 34 in December and I said to myself “No more filming by the time I turn 40.” I thought it would be my 5 year plan… turns out it’s my 5 month plan! More on that later.

January 2020 - The Productized Service Book

Jared Gold is one of my favorite people to be around. We think very similarly about life and business and he’s always a blast to get lunch with.

He talked about building his productized service (done for you Squarespace websites) and some resources that have helped him like the Productized Service Book. Here’s how author Robin Vander Heyden defines a productized service:

  1. Defined offer: What you will sell, for how much, in how much time
  2. Defined delivery : How you will deliver, following which procedures or using which templates, and what are your internal processes to ensure the delivery is consistent.

I’ve been thinking about “what can I sell as a product” for about a decade. But I’m not a writer or developer. I can’t make Final Cut plugins. I never had any good ideas for products and always ended up at the same place thinking “What I do is custom for every client. How could I POSSIBLY do anything less?”

But I started getting smart around 2017-18 when I launched my first productized offering - Social Video Studio. The original version looked like this:

  1. Defined offer - 1, 3, or 5 videos created from existing content like footage, photos, infographics, etc. Price ranged from $600 for single video to $1800 for a 5 video package.
  2. Defined Delivery - I handled footage and photo-based stuff myself. I outsourced the animation. Videos were capped at 60 seconds and most were delivered in square dimensions to optimize for social media.

March 2020 - Social Video Studio Unlimited Subscription

Using what I learned from the PS Book, I tweaked the offer to an unlimited monthly subscription. I upgraded my site to handle ecommerce subscriptions. I hired someone to make a logo and brand design.

And at some point during all of this, COVID hit. All my video shoots were cancelled. I needed to replace my lost income. This was the perfect time to focus on Social Video Studio.

From the PS book I found the Productize Community Facebook group and Tyler Gillespie. I joined Tyler’s mastermind group. Within 30 minutes of our first coaching call we both realized that I’m in the wrong business.

“Tell me more about this Zoom stuff,” he said.

“Well people keep sending me Zoom videos to turn into social videos,” I said.

“What if you just focus on that?” he said.

Whoa… that changed everything.

#June 2020 - Edit Video Calls

Following Tyler’s roadmap and with feedback from the mastermind group I launched Edit Video Calls. At Edit Video Calls we take Zoom recordings and hunt for useful and sharable clips. Then we turn these moments into 1-3 minute social media videos, training videos, and testimonial videos.

I hit $1500 within the first 2 weeks and have 6 clients already.

July 2020 and beyond

I strongly believe that the future of freelancing is in productized services. Here are a few closing thoughts on this new way of doing business and why I’m so gung-ho about it:

  • Lower cost means lower risk. Lower risk means clients that were on the fence about a $5k project will be more likely to buy a $500 productized solution.
  • Eliminate proposals and negotiations. I’ve spent hours writing a proposal, then more hours negotiating over phone and email…only to be told “we’re going with a different vendor.” Screw that!
  • Ecommerce is soooo much more satisfying than invoicing. Getting a Stripe notification that says someone bought something is an amazing feeling and better than getting a check in the mail weeks after you sent the invoice.
    _ Scalability and outsourcing I already have 3 people working on Edit Video Calls and plan to add 2-3 more contractors ASAP. Because my traditional video projects were so unique, I had a hard time outsourcing the work. My outsource-first approach is a total shift and something I’m getting better at. Also scalability ultimately means helping more people make videos which is super important to me.
  • Predictable and repeatable business One of the benchmarks of a successful productized business is that you’re doing repeatable services. When I get hired to do a $5k-$10k brand story video, it’s a one time investment in videos will be used for 2-4 years. With a productized service, I get paid at the beginning of the month and I deliver videos weekly. Now that I know my monthly revenue, I can plan and allocate resources better than with traditional freelancing.

But the most important thing is I’m creating an asset. A productized service is a business that I own, that ultimately shouldn’t require my involvement at all. It’s not an exchange of my time for money. Who knows? It’s also an exciting opportunity to do something new!

I plan to write one or two posts a week about what I’m working on, what I’m learning, and how business is going. Sign up for my infrequent newsletter or follow me on Twitter.