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Shooting non-repeatable events: weddings, recitals, plays, performances...


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Old July 28th, 2008, 02:51 PM   #1
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When to pull the triger and go full time?

So, I'm debating really really hard on whether or not to quit my "day job" and focus on my business full time. I've been doing Weddings and Event videos part-time for the past two years - doing about 10-15 weddings a summer while working a 40 hour a week job (doing Web design). I typically turn away about as many jobs as I take, frankly because I don't have the time to do them.

I've never had a complaint in my two plus years, and my clients typically love my work - I'm cheap (I probably could go up in price a little bit) and I stay all night for my clients. I also constantly try and learn new things, from a new shooting technique to getting better with AfterEffects.

So, I have the desire, have the knowledge, and basically have the equipment (Canon XL2, two Sennheiser wireless lapel mics, IRiver, backup camera, etc). I of course am always looking a new toys to get (I really like the Sony Z7U cameras!), so I'm always looking for new gear that might also help the quality of my videos.

Thing is - I'm scared. I guess I'm looking for some advice from some of you that have made the jump to do weddings/event videos full time to get your thoughts. When did you know it was "Time" to just go out on your own and take the plunge?

Feel free to go through my website (which is being redesigned!) - http://www.lakotadenproductions.com/WeddingVideo.htm and tell me what you think.

Any advice would be appreciated!

Thanks
Ryan
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Old July 28th, 2008, 03:05 PM   #2
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From reading your post, here's my recommendations:

1) Keep working the 9-5 as long as you can to build up enough cash to buy the gear you want before going full time. It's always best when starting out to keep your expenses as low as you can and funnel the extra money into advertising. Gear can make your work look nicer, but if nobody knows about you and your wonderful gear you wont last long.

2) While you have the fallback of the 9-5, raise your prices and monitor your bookings. If your bookings don't slide too badly after the price increase, then you might have a viable shot at making this work full time.

3) Run the numbers again and again to make sure you're not about to completely screw yourself. Factor in everything you can possibly think of as expenses and then add 20% to that number. If you can still make a decent salary after expenses and tax, then you're in good shape to give it a go.

4) Be prepared to freak the heck out if you do go full time. Suddenly not having the security of a 9-5 and being solely responsible for your own income is scary for a while. You eventually get use to the idea, but I'm not going to sit here and say it's not scary.

5) Remember that I don't really know what I'm talking about and therefore my opinion on the matter may be taken with a grain of salt.
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Old July 28th, 2008, 03:21 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ryan DesRoches View Post

Feel free to go through my website (which is being redesigned!) - http://www.lakotadenproductions.com/WeddingVideo.htm and tell me what you think.

Any advice would be appreciated!

Thanks
Ryan
Hey Ryan, I like the picture of the lcd, but I would think about what those who do not understand cameras might think. The small lcd might give a wrong impression. You could switch it out with a nice screenshot of your editing monitor or something.

I liked your packages layout. I'll be interested to know how your demo request vs booking works out. I shove my stuff online to save postage, that and connecting with my clients important to me.

I'm not a big fan of raised buttons, although, I hack on my site constantly.


I applaud you for taking control of your site, it is an extension of who you are.
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Old July 28th, 2008, 03:25 PM   #4
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Ryan,
When to go full time is a question that only you can answer but Ethan brings up some valid points to consider.
Gear is costly and constantly changing, so that's a never ending chunk of money but it's a part of the business. Advertising costs, office expenses (even if working from home in a dedicated office space-I've been doing that for 37 years abd it never ceases to amaze me what the office expenses can be). Losing that steady 9-5 paycheck can be a real blow to ones financial and mental well being. You need to be able to live from what you make as a fulltime videographer and only you know whether you can or not. Working FT for yourself can be fun, exciting and profitable BUT there are 2 things you need to be to be sucessful at it. The first is laser like dedication and comittment to running your business and the 2nd is to be a better business businessman than a videographer. What I mean by that is anyone can learn how to operate a camera and edit (well MOST anyone..) but to get the work and be PROFITABLE (if you aren't profitable then it's a hobby and you can't pay your bills with a hobby) you need to be a better businessman than the next guy. Today anyone with a handycam is a "videographer" and believe me they are out there. Their mantra is "6 munths ago I culdn't spel videagrapher now I are one".
You have lots of things to consider but you have some time to do so. Don't rush in but remember that when you think about things the blood rushes to your head and you get cold feet.
Good luck,
Don
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Old July 28th, 2008, 03:51 PM   #5
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Excellent advice so far. I would also recommend sitting down and doing the fundamental pro & con list. You're giving up a guaranteed steady paycheck but also are you giving up benefits, insurance, etc?

Is the area you live in saturated with wedding videographers? Too much competition could be a factor. Is there a niche in your area you could capitlize on? (legal videos, real estate, etc). Will you need to advertise to increase business?

Something I considered too was a bounce back plan. If it was apparent my own full time business wasn't going to cut it, could I get right back into a 9-5 gig quickly with my skills and available jobs in my area?
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Old July 28th, 2008, 04:55 PM   #6
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Hey Ryan,
I read your post with a very familiar feeling. I made the jump from a 40+ hr a week job about a year ago and here are my reasons why I did it then.
#1 I had zero debt except my mortgage so living was cheap. All I needed to get through the month was my mortgage payment plus expenses.
#2 I had money in the bank plus an emergency fund (3-6 months of expenses). That replaces the security your job used to provide.
#3 I had enough business booked thorugh the end of the year that living through next 3 or 4 months was gauranteed.
#4 My job was miserable and getting worse every day. I was a manager for a software company and on call 24/7 plus shooting 25+ weddings per year.

Full time is not the dreamlike fairy land I had assumed it would be, but I would not go back to work for all the money in the world. There's alot to be said about driving your own boat. As far as prices go, if you are booking well now, you may want to hold the course. Just be careful not to burn yourself to a crisp. There is a sweet spot in every market, so go find yours. Also, try to diversify. Don't be caught up in being Speilberg on every wedding, that isn't what its about. Manage your time. Most of all be passionate about what you're doing, and the work will come to you. I never stop working. Ever. I can't tear myself away from it. It ths most exhilerating and exhausting and frustrating and frightening and awesome experience I've ever been through. Amazing. So have your ducks in a row before you do it, but do it.
Bill
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Old July 28th, 2008, 05:13 PM   #7
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I had money in the bank plus an emergency fund (3-6 months of expenses). That replaces the security your job used to provide.
Sounds like someone is a Dave Ramsey devotee. But it's another bit of good advice even if you're not going full time for yourself tomorrow.
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Old July 28th, 2008, 05:32 PM   #8
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Bingo! Intensity works...
Bill
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Old July 28th, 2008, 08:41 PM   #9
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Like that of a gazelle perhaps? :)

Great thread!
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Old July 28th, 2008, 10:14 PM   #10
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m it. It ths most exhilerating and exhausting and frustrating and frightening and awesome experience I've ever been through. Amazing. So have your ducks in a row before you do it, but do it.
Bill
What an inspiring post! Thank you, Bill.
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Old July 28th, 2008, 10:21 PM   #11
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Thanks Vito.
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Old July 29th, 2008, 06:05 AM   #12
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Hey Ryan,

I can only re-iterate what some of the other guys have said - they've given you some top notch advice.

Here's my experience ... My leap into full-time video production came after almost 10 years as a IT Administrator at a private school. For the last 6 months of the job I dropped back to part-time in order to see how feasible it might be turning my video production hobby into an on-going concern. 4 days a week working at the school then 1 day a week plus weekends and all my spare time on the video business.

For that period of time, I made it my goal to only live off my video production income - my IT income went into a separate bank account and couldn't be touched. I was on about $50k/year and during my six months trial my video production income matched my IT income. It was then that I felt comfortable taking the plunge. I only wish that I'd seen Bill Grant's advice to you.

First 3 months .... nothing - almost no income at all. Ate into all my savings just staying afloat ... but then things picked up. That was 2.5 years ago and things are still going strong. My wife now runs her own photography business full-time (we got married 3 days after I quit my job) and we've just started our third business.

Here's some quick dot point advice for you:

- Develop a business plan ... failing to plan is planning to fail
- Get a mentor or two - preferably a successful business-person that has been there done that ... and can look at your business and be brutally honest about it
- Realise that you'll spend 80% of your time running the business and 20% of your time shooting, editing etc ...
- Read, read, read - business books, marketing books ... learn as much as you can to become a successful businessman
- Find your target market ... you don't need to be all things to all people
- Find time to keep improving your craft
- Book-keeping and record-keeping - stay on top of it
- Cashflow is king - monitor your cashflow religiously

Working for yourself isn't the utopia that it seems from the other side of the fence - but there's no way I'd go back to 9 to 5. No way in the world. It is one of the best things you can ever do ... providing you do it right.

Looking at your prices, my thoughts are that you're giving away the farm with your bottom package - and your top package is way to cheap for everything that is included in it. I'd take a good look at your pricing ... I can't see how you could sustain things without cloning yourself or something ;)

Anyway, don't hesitate to shoot me an e-mail via the forum if you want to discuss things further.

Cheers,

Matthew.
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Old July 29th, 2008, 08:59 AM   #13
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Matthew Rocking the advice!
READ READ READ the average millionaire reads 1 non-fiction book a month.
Here are some titles...
*****The E-Myth****** so important for our business because we are the epitomy of the technician small business owner
Guerilla Marketing
QBQ (question behind the question)
The Millionaire next door
Good to Great
Who Moved my Cheese?

READ that's great advice
Also find local business networking groups like BNI or you local Chamber of Commerce. They can get your business in front of more people that have money. Dont' be afraid to try new things. Quitting the job is the scariest part, nothing is scarier than the plunge. I have gotten alot of coporate jobs from just calling people and saying "Hey have you ever considered using video to promote _______?" Just because I had an idea and followed up on it. Again, good luck.
Bill
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Old July 29th, 2008, 09:27 AM   #14
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Thanks guys for all the advice.

The good news is that the market isn't that saturated in Central Mass where I am located, (It is in Boston) - so I do have that going for me.

A Business plan is something that I'm working on now, to really try to focus in on what I'm trying to achieve. I also should try an up my savings up more, to try and get a good war chest going before I do anything else.

Thanks for all the help guys!
Ryan
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Old July 29th, 2008, 10:27 AM   #15
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Also keep in mind that the current slow-down in the economy may last a while and is likely to slow spending on video production for some, while full-time jobs are getting harder to find if you decided to go back to that. And compare the total amount you make from having two sources of income to how much you could make from just doing videos, plus as others noted factor in all costs like buying your own insurance. And if you aren't being totally honest yet with the IRS and local governments about your video income be sure to factor that into the equation, since self-employment taxes can devour almost 50% of your profit in some states.

If a lot of your business is from weddings I'd suggest upgrading to HD cameras before you go full-time, since that's becoming valuable to more and more couples. The XL2 is a fine camera, but it won't help you when someone asks, "do you shoot in HD"? You might consider switching to the Canon XH-A1 so you can keep your current batteries, plus the placement of controls will be more familiar to you than on the Sony cameras (but the Z7U is a popular one for weddings).

Good luck with your decision. I've been trying to go full-time for about a year now and haven't quite got things going, so it's back to a day job for me...
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