Assess Your Skills. Sit down with a sheet of paper and start a two-column list of your strengths and weaknesses. The last time I did this, "camera work" and "procrastination" were two of my biggest weaknesses, while "scripting" and "editing" were on the other side of the sheet. When you're doing this, take a wide view. Video is a very broad field; you need technical knowledge, practical skills, and creative and artistic thinking. No, think even wider than video—what about related fields? What have you done lately to improve your audio skills? Can you compose your own musical scores? Do you want to? Is it time to look into digital photography as a natural extension of your video interests? Web design, anyone?
Of course, any of these areas can become a specialty, something that you study and learn in-depth—and you should have depth in some areas. But more and more, we're expected to be generalists, especially if we are running a small one- or two-person business.
Assess Your Business. When was the last time you overhauled your business plan? You should update it at least once a year, and pull it out and re-read it every three or four months. I generally take a good look at mine right after tax time. Did you meet your goals last year? If not, what were the roadblocks? What can you do to fix those, and what can you do to position your business to meet the goals for the coming year? Are there any new trends in the industry as a whole, or in your local market, that you should be taking advantage of? Any new services that you want to add to your lineup?
Once you've looked at where you and your business stand, you'll have a much better idea of where you want to go—and how you need to grow. The next step is to look for ways to get there.
Learn from the Masters. The good news is that there have never been so many resources available to help you. There are magazines like EventDV. There are professional organizations like WEVA and the 4EVER Group, who offer seminars, conventions, and instructional materials.
Many other talented teachers market their products via their own websites. Whether it's direct or via one of the organizations, for the price of a few DVDs you can get lessons from some of the best videographers working in the event field today—people like Randy Stubbs, Mark and Trisha Von Lanken, or Luisa Winters, to name just a few. There are websites with reference material, articles, and discussion forums. Some are very specific, like the manufacturers' forums for products like Canopus EDIUS or Pinnacle/Avid Liquid Edition. Some are more general in nature, like Video University or Creative COW.
There are books, more of them every week. Again, some are product-specific, like a book of Photoshop tutorials. Others cover topics that range from how 3D rendering really works to how to make a bride look her best on camera. While Amazon may be the place to look for the widest selection and the latest titles, don't overlook the possibilities of your local library. Many of the library's books will not reflect the latest equipment trends, but despite today's rapid pace of change, there are still many things that remain constant. Books on basics like lighting and framing can be found at the library, as well as many texts that touch on the business side of your operation—topics like financing, sales techniques, and marketing.
There are formal courses offered through community colleges, as well as more extensive programs of study leading to certificates or degrees from colleges, universities, or film schools. While a degree in cinematography is probably overkill for most wedding and event videographers, many of us may have our sights on something more down the road. If you'd like to take a course in video production, but don't have the time or money to actually go to a school, there are web-based, self-paced courses of study as well.
And let's not forget sources of learning closer to home! There are many local videography clubs and associations. Even if your local group doesn't put on formal seminars, there is a lot to be learned by just going to meetings and talking with your colleagues. This sort of networking also can open up opportunities for you to partner with others on jobs you might not have heard of otherwise.
One source of learning is as close as your own camcorder. When was the last time you simply went out to the local park or mall with your camera and tried to get some really different images, experimented with seldom-used controls, or looked for unusual camera angles? Or how about a powerful tool to learn storytelling and editing . . . the television commercial; when was the last time you recorded a commercial, and then dissected it frame by frame?
Of course, all this takes time, money, or both. Every year, when you review your business plan, you should set aside some of each for continuing education. Especially these days, when "Uncle Charlie" may have a good camcorder, a fast computer, and a DVD burner, a new or improved skill may be worth more than a new piece of gear. Equipment becomes obsolete quickly. Knowledge, skill, and experience are less tangible, but they last a lot longer.