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Echoes from the Backyard: Asking the Right Questions
Posted Sep 23, 2005 Print Version     Page 1of 1

Not long ago, I had an interesting phone conversation with a young lady looking for some advice about starting up a wedding video business. Let's call her "Jane." Jane started right in asking about what cameras to buy, what editing system she should buy, what wireless microphones to buy . . . (Lectrosonics, of course.)

We had a pleasant conversation, burning up about an hour off the clock, in which I also learned that Jane did not have a business plan, had done zero market research, and had no formal artistic or technical training.

All this, and the one question Jane never asked was whether she should even start in this business.

I picked up the phone and called a friend of mine. We'll call him "John." John has a business that is in its tenth year. John has seen the industry for all its glory (and shame) in that time. John lives in a city that boasts a population of about 250,000. Approximately 15% of that quarter-million are university students, and 30% impoverished—in other words, nearly half are not, nor ever will be, his clientele.

"Out of that 250,000," John reports, "there are about 2,000 weddings, with 700 to 800 of those being the quickie, Justice of the Peace, low-budget variety. We've noticed a trend where only about 35% of all weddings are seeing any kind of videography, whether it be Uncle Charlie or professional," he continues. And it may go without saying that "Uncle Charlie" is the majority here.

"Only about one out of every ten qualified weddings here has a professional video," John goes on. "Roughly 150 per year. But here's the kicker: we have 26 professional videographers in town, and that's not including the fly-by-nights operating under the radar—at least three that I'm aware of."

So that's 150 potential jobs, serviced by 30-plus videographers. Or about five per videographer. Per year. With an average rate of just $900, John says. Not exactly a thriving market.

John's market is overly saturated. Survival is all but denied. There are too many videographers servicing too few clients. So what happens? It gets cut-throat. Videographers begin cutting prices and adding services, when most are already underpriced and cannot make a living at the rates they're charging to begin with.

"I just received our Yellow Pages for the year," John continues. "There are only two listings that were there ten years ago when I placed my first ad. The average lifespan of new video businesses here is only about two years."

Don't start by asking the wrong questions, as Jane did. Do your research. Drop a couple grand and place some "feeler" ads in local bridal publications (a lot cheaper than investing tens of thousands to go belly up in two years). Then spend the first six months to a year recording the statistics while being "unavailable" for whatever dates are inquired about. First, note the the number of calls you receive. (Be sure that you always answer as your business name.) Second, track how early people are planning in your area. Third, find out what their budget is. If people are expecting to pay $500, then plan on developing a taste for mustard sandwiches.

You should also try to determine ceremony and reception locations, as well as who their other vendors are. Keep a database and track all the responses. Try to pick out the trends. Network with the popular vendors and determine their stature in the industry. Low, median, high?

How do you accomplish all this while being "unavailable"? It's easy:

"ABC Studios. Can I help you?"

"I'm calling about a wedding video."

"Certainly. Can I ask your name?"

"It's Sue."

 "Hi Sue. My name is David. Sue, are you the bride?"

"No. It's my daughter." (Include this info in your database.)

"What's the date for the wedding?"

"June 16th of next year."

"Okay, June 16th. Let me pull up my calendar on the computer and see what our schedule looks like. Where are the ceremony and reception going to be?"

"First United and Elegant Events."

"Has the bride chosen a dress yet?"

"Yes. She got a beautiful gown from Dresses on the Dime."

"Is that the shop over on Main?"

"No. It's on First."

"Oh. I'm sorry, I'm not available on June 16th. I might be able to refer you to someone. Have you hired your photographer yet?"

"Yes. We went with Joe Smith Photo, but they don't offer video."

You now have enough information to get an idea of what their overall wedding budget is by knowing what venues and vendors they have already hired and what stature they cater to. Moving on . . .

"Here's the tough question; what's your budget for video?"

Point blank and direct. Don't be surprised to find out that their budget is ridiculously low. They may have no idea how much work actually is involved in creating a quality video. Refer them to the best videographer in town.

Now you have market research. Study it and then decide if this business is for you.

And as for Jane . . . she has the same zip code as John. Good luck, Jane.

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