The Gadget Bag: Recession-era Revenue Ideas
Posted May 3, 2009

I keep hearing about fellow video professionals—especially those who specialize in weddings—lamenting the decreases in their business. Economic downturns do affect everyone, but all that is required to survive and even prosper is a willingness to do two things: diversify, and keep a keen eye out for opportunities.

Pay attention to the news reports beyond the doom and gloom, to what some are doing to weather the recession. With less money to spend, people are finding ways to stretch their money. For example, repairs are becoming more common than buying new.

Recently, I saw a news story about how the economy has revived some almost-extinct businesses. This particular story was about a cobbler who has seen a marked increase in his business repairing shoes. Seems that people are finding out that repairing those favorite shoes is much cheaper than buying a new pair (we of the silver set already knew this, but most of the good cobblers have retired or gone out of business). This particular gentleman went from a 5-day work week (about 6-8 hours a day) to a 6.5-day week of 8-10 hours a day and hired an additional person to help. Most of his newfound business is coming from 30-somethings that didn't even know that shoe repairs existed but have found that pounding the pavement looking for jobs has taken its toll on their shoe leather. They've found that repair is the viable alternative to replacing (at about 25%-35% the price of a new pair). A good cobbler is an artist able to a turn a 2-year-old pair of shoes into a pair that looks brand-new!

Auto repair facilities are also doing increased business these days, at the same time that new cars are just sitting on car lots. With the housing market turned on its ear and bank lending being almost nonexistent, home repair is also seeing an increase, though somewhat less noticeably.

Getting Repairs on the Air
So just what does this have to do with us? Producing promotions for these repair businesses is one way. These businesses now have the money to advertise. Local TV stations are hurting and have lowered rates for ad time, and there is always cable advertising. Produce an ad that promotes the advantage of repair over replacement. This can benefit not only the auto and shoe repair industry, but clothing repair (tailors), home repair, alternative heating (pellet/wood stoves), insulation/replacement window companies, or basically any business that will ultimately save their customers money. Build on the "repair is cheaper than replace" theme, and point out that "using this service will save you money in the long run."

If you have a talent for web design, creating or upgrading websites for these businesses is another way to increase your livelihood. There are hosting companies, such as HostGator.com, that have reseller programs that allow you to open accounts and resell website space to your clients at a profit. Even the basic programs will allow small websites at a reasonably low cost.

Conversions and Transfers
Other income streams include tape-to-DVD conversions and transfers. Play the "obsolete" card-e.g., "DTV has made analog TV obsolete, and DVDs have made videotape a thing of the past." Plus, you can throw in something like "time will erase your videotapes."

Many people do not know that magnetic tape (including audiotape) will lose its content by just sitting. Have them dig out an old videotape and watch it. Chances are that the picture will be of lower quality than they remember. Offer packaged deals, such as 25% off quantities of 10 or more. Look into advertising in local/weekly newspapers (put in a coupon). Their advertising rates are inexpensive, and by advertising in a local paper, you are promoting the "neighborhood business" concept.

What should you charge for transfers? A national drugstore chain advertises a 2-hour DVD for $29.95 (with no quantity discount). I charge $20 for a single transfer (VHS-to-DVD for up to 2 hours of footage). Other formats are $5 more. This is because I have several VHS-to-DVD machines that will automatically perform the transfer without any intervention. Anything else requires "baby-sitting" and a system reconfiguration.

I get a couple of calls each week asking if I convert tape to DVD, even though my phone book ad and website lists that service. I'm also finding out that there are businesses that have libraries of VHS tapes that could/should be converted. (I was recently contacted by a statewide bar association inquiring about converting its entire library!)

Renew Contacts with Old Clients
Review your past client list or database. (Don't have one? Use that extra downtime to create one.) Consider a mailing (or emailing) to let everyone know that you're now providing transfer services or any other consumer services that you may offer. I've been surprised at how many regular customers and clients don't know what services I offer, even though I've been advertising them for years!

Traditional mailings can be expensive and will become more so. When corresponding with clients-past and current-make sure that you start requiring an email address as part of their contact information. Doing so can eliminate some of the expense of snail mail for contracts, notices, offers, sales, etc. If your ISP or host limits your email numbers (mine limits to 500 per hour), send your emails in batches, or try a service such as

Constant Contact (www.constantcontact.com) or VerticalResponse (www.verticalresponse.com). But keep in mind that these services will add another monthly expense and are only needed if you have several thousand names in your list.

Offer Budget Wedding Services
Another idea to increase your bottom line comes from several comments that I have noticed on a couple of forums. It's an idea that some may consider taboo, especially high-end wedding video producers who focus on artistry. Try offering wedding "mini" packages for reduced rates. Some people have been doing this for years and have been chastised for disservice to the professional wedding community. I say that desperate times call for desperate measures, and providing a simple, low-cost product to a market that wants it is no crime.

What I do take issue with is giving away everything on your list of services for less than your monthly electric bill. In other words, give the client exactly what he or she pays for, but eliminate the frills and high artistry.

There may still be a few couples that have the financial backing to enjoy all of your talents, but in these times, waiting for that type of clientele could force you to rethink your whole existence. By providing good-quality footage within a limited acquisition window and solid, quick-turn editing for a fee that reflects your efforts, you can probably get some of that much-needed added income and provide a respectable service for a different clientele.

Back in the days when I produced wedding videos, the biggest expense was the editing, which in some cases took 30-plus hours. I know I'm preaching to the choir here, so just bear with me. If you take the type of editing practices that are standard for events such as stage productions and use them in a "mini" wedding production, then you could actually make money by getting $600-$800 per wedding (depending on your locale).

If you charge $2,500 for a wedding and spent 8 hours shooting on the day of the wedding and 30 hours editing the footage, your income would be about $65 per hour. Downsizing it to a 4-hour shoot and a 4-hour edit at a price tag of $600 (don't laugh yet) would net you an hourly wage of $75 per hour. What's more, you can do more of this type of wedding (not to mention other projects) because you're not going to be locked in your editing suite poring over a single wedding.

If you don't think that you can edit a wedding in 4 hours, you should know that it is possible once you do a few and preplan your shots. This used to be called shooting-to-edit, and it only makes sense in this case. Most couples will be more receptive to a wedding video that is affordable to them than to something that you consider a piece of art that they can't afford.

Just remember to use high-quality practices (never cut corners there), as your name will be going on the DVD, and your reputation is at stake, no matter how you price your work on a given job.

Ed Wardyga (wardyga at kvimedia.com), owner of Keepsake Video and KVI Media in Rhode Island, has been producing event video since 1989, specializing in stage productions. He runs the website www.theGadgetBag.net and is the recipient of the WEVA Walter Bennett Service to Industry Award.