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Taking Care of Business
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Old November 10th, 2008, 09:52 AM   #1
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Working For Free

After reading another closed post here's some advice from an old video guy;

When you work for free that's what your work is worth - nothing.

I cannot think of one single example in my 25 year video career where someone said; "This will be great exposure for you!" or "Do this project for free this time and we'll bring you more work when the project takes off." and either of these things actually happened.

These are the great lies of business and television. If you work for exposure or for free you devalue your work and the work of the rest of us who actually try to make a living in this business. No matter what the level of your experience (or inexperience) you should receive some compensation for your efforts and have some sort of written agreement in place.
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Old November 10th, 2008, 10:55 AM   #2
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I've written my thoughts on this many times over the years, but one more time...

There's a big difference between working for a client for free and working for a producer for free. I agree, I've never got a single cent of business from working for a client for free. Ever.... except more requests to do more projects for free. ANd they WILL get mad when you tell them you have to charge them... and then they will go find someone else who will do it for free, because you've already proven to them that you can.

However, when I got out of school, I spent more than a year working mostly for free for other video producers. Almost all the work I currently do comes from the people I met in those years. I still work for free on projects that I think have good network potential.

Having said that, I should also point out that I've worked for enough idiots over the years that I can usually spot the time wasters pretty quickly. This is a critical skill to have if you want to be in the video production world.
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Old November 10th, 2008, 11:41 AM   #3
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Work is the operative word here. If you are "working" you need to know your cost of doing business (CODB) and even though that camcorder you may have may be paid for you still have rent, insurance (you do have insurance?), gas, heat, etc. No one asks an employee at a company to "work" for free, it'll look good on your resume. And don't fall for the BS that if you do this one for free, or little pay, we'll be sure to send you all the paying work when that happens. Clients love this trap!!!

They won't do it. They'll get the "pro" who knows how to run the biz and won't take less for their services.

If you do the "work" for free, than why not just call it an expensive hobby and not work for those people and "work" for yourself on a short film, promotion, whatever, that will help you down the line. Or learn a new "trick" that would make your services more valuable.

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Old November 10th, 2008, 12:19 PM   #4
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I have offered "shooting for free" to make a demo for corporate video. It was strictly "interviews" and "demo/training videos" which has to take less than 3 hours to shoot and less than 5 min output, only digital format, no DVD, no fancy edit, just simple edit. If they want more, they would have to pay for the extra.
The purpose of my offer was for me to have examples of what I am capable of as for the corporate videos (of course, bunch of unknown bands called me and asked if I can shoot their concert or make music videos for free, though I CLEARLY stated that it's for corporate / non-profit group).
I have to break into the corporate video field and it's not easy, rather impossible to get a job without anything to show to clients. So I offered some small business and non-profit group that I would work with them for a small project.
Is this a bad idea? Is my work really worth nothing? I don't know. I don't think my work worth nothing, and for the long run, I think having some footage on my own will help me get started with my new production. Honestly, I am getting some wedding booking for next year, but no corporate job yet since I opened (which is 3 months ago). Well, there have been several calls asking price and some demo, but always turned down at demo part. My budget has been running out quick and I needed to some 'exposure..'
Am I going right direction? OR like Rick said, I should never do something like that?
Thank you, and this forum and everyone who gives out advice is always truly appreciated.

JJ
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Old November 10th, 2008, 12:40 PM   #5
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A good number of years ago when my wife was still working, I produced a freebie on the work her office did (Technical Writing) for a corporate meeting. There was never any talk of a fee. It did, however, turn into 3 paying projects later for their sales department.

I have never had a client ask for a freebie, and these days do very little video work outside the day job (government video) except for my own private projects.
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Old November 10th, 2008, 12:58 PM   #6
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I think that if you are just breaking into the business, it is ok to do a free gig or two. I'm relatively new to the TV/Video production market (I graduated college last year) and I've done some free work for a producer and she in turn has given me some contacts where she works that are looking to hire. It's a lot easier to get work if the company knows you or someone recommends you from within the company. It's all about networking. If you do free work for the right people, then they owe you a favor. Just remember to reciprocate when you get in that position. Good luck.
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Old November 10th, 2008, 01:09 PM   #7
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When starting out I believe doing work for free is a great way to begin. You are being paid: you are getting experience and that is your reward.

I personally do extra free work for clients when I want to try something new and need a demo to sell the service later. They have no idea of the value of the extra service, unless I tell them, but I don't care.

On the other hand I normally do not ever do free work for friends and relatives except for soon I will do a shoot for a very close childhood friend who has sent me a paying customer once. He needs a training video. His long-time business is close to going under, and I couldn't have it on my conscience that I didn't try to help him out.
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Old November 10th, 2008, 01:23 PM   #8
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In my opinion as a fairly new videographer. working for free as a new videographer is an apprenticeship, you are actually trading time for a learning experience. for an established videographer to work for free in hopes of gaining future work at regular prices is... well..
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Old November 10th, 2008, 01:51 PM   #9
 
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Two thoughts:

1. Doing a project for a non-profit (at no fee) you should still get an "in kind" receipt, which will help come tax time. Therefore, your work has "value" which you kindly contributed to the organization (as opposed to a cash contribution).

2. If you worked for free for the last client (excluding the above example), and I'm the next client, why should I pay for your work?
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Old November 10th, 2008, 02:48 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jay Gladwell View Post
Two thoughts:

2. If you worked for free for the last client (excluding the above example), and I'm the next client, why should I pay for your work?
I would not tell my client that I worked with the other guy for free (for confidentiality of my other client) and that's why I set up first 5 callers only limit which will exipre end of this month, so no one comes up to me and ask "yeh, I am interested in that ad you posted 6 months ago about free shooting and stuff...)
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Old November 10th, 2008, 02:52 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jay Gladwell View Post
1. Doing a project for a non-profit (at no fee) you should still get an "in kind" receipt, which will help come tax time. Therefore, your work has "value" which you kindly contributed to the organization (as opposed to a cash contribution).
Not sure how US tax law works on this but in Canada, you are then required to claim the "in kind" "revenue" as income, and then deduct it later so you're no further ahead than just doing it for free in the first place.

Have I ever done anything for free? Yes: for existing clients (value added as well as "let me try this out...") and for not-for-profit charities that I would support monetarily if not for my "in kind" donation. Not meaning to ruffle feathers but my belief is that doing something for free for someone whom you don't have an existing business or personal relationship with is either:
a) a waste of your time because the "client" would NEVER PAY for it in the first place; or
b) stealing paying work from someone else.

Edit: I DO believe that offering up your services as an apprentice while learning one's trade is acceptable, as long as you get credit and the ability to show off some of your hard work in future. I apprenticed under my mentor for a couple of months before I was offered a paying gig with him, and ultimately ran his business for a year after he passed away suddenly.
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Old November 11th, 2008, 10:01 AM   #12
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90% of my business is in the IT industry - that's where I came from, that's what I understand (not a software geek so much as an ability to tell technical stories visually).

When I first started out in video production I needed a showreel so I did a few projects in exchange for the privilege of having access to a real live business, with real people, telling real stories about real products and solutions. Those videos got shown at exhibitions, conferences, websites etc and part of the deal was that I could promote my website at the end of each video.

That was seven years ago. Since then I have not spent one penny on advertising or promotion - everything has been word of mouth springing from those two initial lucky breaks, with the first paying jobs coming within a few weeks. Now I have what I believe to be a pretty good client base (there's a list at my website) and despite some scarily quiet periods I'm making a very good living. In fact, I think I have sent my showreel out maybe three or four times only!

Would I have built this business without doing those freebies? I guess. But this gave me the flying start I needed and gave me a lot of exposure and credibility early on that would have perhaps taken longer to build if I had gone out with a 'fake' showreel.

I'm not convinced that doing a few jobs for free or very cheap when you're starting out is such a crime. Just make sure you are getting something out of it - exposure, a demo reel, a reference customer, a kind word on your website, a link here and there, your phone number/email at the end of the video.

A couple of other things I have learned over the years:

1. Working in the IT industry I have access to businesses that get software and equipment at cost or that get rid of demo gear after a few months. Where a client's budget might not stretch, I am always happy to consider the equivalent in goods. I have kept my Adobe software legal and current as a result (saving me 000's). Likewise I don't believe I have ever paid anything more than than dealer prices on pretty much any other software I use. I have had several laptops, processors, memory sticks, disks etc for free in exchange for a reduced price video. I ALWAYS come out better in those deals than if I had taken the cash and bought through normal channels. Of course if I was working in the wedding industry it might be different ("I'll make the film in exchange for half an hour with your bride". Hmmm . . .)

2. When a client says "do the first one at a huge discount and we'll pay full price for future videos", suggest to them that you'll do THIS one at full price and the second one at discount.
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Old November 11th, 2008, 10:08 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian Stark View Post
Of course if I was working in the wedding industry it might be different ("I'll make the film in exchange for half an hour with your bride". Hmmm . . .)

2. When a client says "do the first one at a huge discount and we'll pay full price for future videos", suggest to them that you'll do THIS one at full price and the second one at discount.
I couldn't agree with you more on last two point. Doesn't half an hour seem too short for a great wedding movie?
I will be gone to Milwaukee WI for a couple freebie for private art school (non-profit) and non-profit group that helps kids to get out of drug usage. They have some idea but not really... I am gonna help them how they can tell their story more effectively with my tools and set up shooting schedule for next a couple of weeks.

JJ
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Old November 11th, 2008, 10:57 AM   #14
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Doing freebies at the start of your career can be useful if you can spot the rip off merchants, but at the other end of your working life the 'giving something back' reflex comes into play too. I work for greatly reduced rates (just money for petrol, really) for a charity for sick kids. Does the charity good, I hope and makes me feel good as well.

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Old November 11th, 2008, 02:59 PM   #15
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I met an old musician friend recently who I know has talent and 'could' be heading places.
It didn't take long for the conversation to lead to us talking about a music video.
This is an area I would love to break into.
To put a long story short, on the day i was supposed to travel accross the country to shoot some footage at a gig they were playing I rang them to clarify a few details.
Basically I needed my petrol and accomodation plus food and tapes covered.

At the very mention of the small amount of money I required there was slight hesitation detected so I decided not to waste my time.

I figured one would need to invest a lot of time and energy into this project to ultimately get paid. They, as a band would need to succeed, and i would need to make this happen.

Maybe they will succeed and i'll be watching them next year on MTV but I have decided that I don't care. And i genuinely wish them the best of luck.
Meanwhile I wont step outside the door with my camera unless Im guaranteed a profit.
Although that could change when my next quiet period collides with what I (and i mean MYSELF alone) recognise as a worthwhile opportunity, we'll see.
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