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The Main Event: Breaking the Buffet Habit
Posted Apr 24, 2007 Print Version     Page 1of 1

A key to success for any business is to pre-define what you will provide when a client retains your services. You must identify what your package includes: how many locations, videographers, hours of coverage, and hours of editing are covered; the length of edit; plus the number of toasts, speeches, and live performances, and how long each will be. In other words, you must determine in advance how much of your time you will sell to the client.
 In traveling throughout the nation and meeting many fellow videographers, I have learned that most understand the broad part of this concept but not the heart of it. They will determine that they are going to film the reception, but without noting for how long, or how many hours they will spend editing it. If the reception is longer, they just stay, or if additional things happen that were not covered, they cover it, and worse, add it to their editing without charging for it. In other words, they treat the reception like a buffet: One price includes all no matter how many trips they make through the line for food.
 The problem with the buffet concept with wedding videography is that you do not control the environment or the items on the menu. The reception is not at the same time or location every time, nor are the clients' plans the same each time. Thus, you do not control the costs of your gamble.

Anyone who cooks understands that the buffet concept is based on the fact that the cost per serving goes down as you cook more. As an industry, we tend to spend only about 25% of our time in production and 75% of our time in postproduction. So if we spend any additional time in filming, we will spend even more in editing—the opposite of the buffet concept.

As artists, we also have a battle to fight between creativity and profit. If we are as creative as we want to be, then we take too long and lose money. I recently met a part-time videographer at our local association who described to me what he did and what he charged. Then, without waiting for a response, he said, "I know guys like you hate guys like me because we undercut you so badly." I replied, "No, I feel sorry for companies like yours because you fail. You cannot survive in the long run." In 23 years I have seen so many come and go. In our 10-year-old local association we have no one who was there even five years ago; most who were there even two years ago have vanished. Two of our past four presidents have left the business.

Nine out of 10 small businesses fail in their first year, and of the remaining 10%, nine out of 10 will fail in the next few years. Our industry must gain the respect of our potential clients and other professions in order to survive. This can only be accomplished when enough of us succeed at making this our profession rather than our hobby or an extra source of income, and do what's necessary to make our businesses profitable.

Profitability begins with the wedding day, and how you define the limitations of your basic services and then make provisions for expanding them. I begin by having the client pre-approve additional videography after X hours at a cost of $Y per hour. Explain to the client that you want them to enjoy the day and not worry if they get behind schedule, and that you will be there even if things get off track. Usually they approve us to stay until a particular event (like the bride and groom leaving) takes place, rather than a set time. Occasionally a client will still insist on having us check with them before overtime begins. Virtually all of these clients will still have us stay; they just feel the need to be in control. Extra videography can also mean extra opportunities to profit from what we can create in post (more on this in my next column).

Occasionally, you may also choose do something extra on spec, with the hope that you can sell it later, such as using an additional camera or staying longer. This can be a dangerous gamble, so use some real intelligence before you do this. What follows are some rules that I have found to work after much trial and error.

  • First, do not gamble with more than 10-20% of the client's total bill. They will not respond well to huge increases to what they pre-approved.
  • Second, know your client's budget and their purchase actions. If they were really tight when they booked you, they will probably continue to be so.
  • Third, consider how they've responded to your professional suggestions up to this point.
  • Fourth, make sure you really have something good to show for your gamble and their extra cost.
  • Fifth, do not cause concern to clients on the spot. I prefer to let them know in advance that I am doing this at no obligation to them. I just feel it needs to be done and they can worry about whether or not they want it later. If you do not do this the client can become alarmed on their wedding day, which is not a good thing and will backfire on you.
  • Sixth, have them pay for as much as possible before the wedding. The first question they will ask you is how much any new feature will cose. And the second question will be how much do they already owe. If they owe a lot, the answer will be no.

Finally, stand by your work. If they want it, sell it to them, and—more importantly—if they do not want it, do not give it to them. Take it out and accept a loss on this gamble. When you give work away for free it just comes back to haunt you, as these clients or their friends come back to you and expect the same thing again.

Mike Nelson is owner of award-winning Salt Lake City-based Remember When Videos, a WEVA MPV-certified videographer, author of multiple training DVDs including Bridal Elegance and 40 Creative Wedding Videos, and founder and past president of the Utah Professional Videographers Association.

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