12 Tips On How To Work From Home As A Freelance Video Editor

12 Tips On How To Work From Home As A Freelance Video Editor

While sharing drinks with a friend, he started inquiring as to how I’m able to supplement my income with video editing projects. The more we talked, the more I realized that a lot of people have the ability and skill to do it, but they don’t understand the small things that can make or break being successful at it. In this post, I’ll share what I’ve learned about being a freelance editor.

You don’t need that much gear.

Working from home, the local coffee shop, or while traveling around the country means going light. A powerful laptop that’s loaded with editing software, hard drive of footage, and a decent pair of headphones is really all you need. Having a desk with extra monitors, full keyboard+mouse, giant speakers, USB hubs and all that are great, but nonessential.

For what gear you do need, consider yourself lucky you live in 2014.

10 years ago, decent quality video formats were still being captured onto tape and other propietary systems, requiring control decks and capture cards that were more expensive than my truck. These days I’m able to edit for agencies who appreciate the all-digital workflow as much as I do. Sure, they sometimes shoot on DSLRs, but I regularly get footage shot on BMCCs, mid to high-end Sony systems, Canon C-Series, and more. All media ends up on a hard drive which is easier for them, and keeps it easy (and cheap!) for me.

Far from a slick post-house setup, but very affordable and comfortable for long days of editing. In the end, the client doesn't care about how nice your editing system is, only whether or not your work is good.

Feel like splurging? Ok, here’s a list of items that I use daily in my home office. It does make the experience nicer and bit more efficient, so I’ve built this up over time.

Apple Macbook Pro with maxed out RAM and an OWC SSD Startup Disk
Sony MDR 7506 Headphones
DisplayPort to VGA Adapter (for external monitor 1)
Diamond USB to VGA Adapter (for external monitor 2)
OWC Mercury Elite Pro Mini External Hard Drives
Logitech MediaPlay Wireless Mouse
Altec Lansing Speakers

Look to your peers and collaborators for projects to get started on.

If you don’t have a workflow or clients nailed down, start by editing a few simple projects for people you have worked with in the past. Do a behind-the-scenes edit, or volunteer to do a promo of some kind for them. (Bonus tip: Do it for someone who has a large social media following so it gets a lot of extra traffic, and potential referrals!) Editing a few spec projects will make you go through all the paces involved, and you’ll start to refine your workflow while building your editing portfolio. Which leads me to the obvious…

Have a solid editing reel or examples of work, online and ready to show.

When soliciting for work, you’ll need to provide proof of skill. Either a couple of good, short edits you’ve worked on, or a compilation reel of sections of different editing projects. It helps to have a few different finished video edits to show off, but the trick is to send the edit that will be most like what your potential client is wanting you to do for them.

Get your storage in check.

After my first few jobs I realized that I wanted local storage for not only my media and my backups, but I wanted to backup client drives as well. I mean, what if when I shipped the drive back the Fedex package was lost or damaged? I decided to buy into a storage system that met my needs, and I've been using these drives for years. The OWC Elite Pro (minis) hard drives are small, can be bus powered, aesthetically match my Apple products, and out of about 20-30 drives I've purchased for myself, clients, and friends, I've never had a single one go bad. I cannot recommend them enough.

OWC drives stacked up on my desk for show.

My archive OWC drives get stored in a small hard case and tucked away for protection!

Ready to work? Contact your peers (again) and take to the internets!

Much of my work has come from other video producers or repeat clients, where I edited a project once for them, possibly at their location, and was able to continue to work with them even after moving across the country. It was as easy as letting them know that I had the capabilities to work from home and that I could upload edits for them. All they need to do is Fedex me a drive and I’ll do the rest (more or less!)

Producers I’ve worked for have referred me to others, so I’ve added a couple clients from word-of-mouth alone. Besides the aforementioned, resources like Mandy.com, the Creative Cow Job Search, ProductionHub, and even sometimes Craigslist have yeilded projects. Facebook has become another way I’ve found work as well, by adding myself to groups related to video or photography, and joining conversations when I saw an opportunity to network and offer my services.

Have a file sharing service ready to use.

Working remotely, I’ll often get sent a hard drive with footage. In the following week that I’m editing, inevitably there will be some still photos, graphics, or other files I need to get from the producer. Good producers will usually have a file transfer service set up, but you might need to offer a solution as well if they don’t. Google Drive or Box.com have worked well for me in the past. They are free and get the job done. If you have your own FTP server for your website you can use that, and there are also services like Nimia.com that offer file transfers and chat capabilities, in addition to other features.

Work fast. I repeat, work fast.

Producers have plenty of options for video editors, and for them to work with someone remotely you have to make it as easy as possible for them, and provide a quick turnaround. This can mean working through the night to get a rough cut to them the next morning. I’m 2 hours behind the east coast, so I’m either up late the first night or up early the next morning to bang out a rough cut before the following work day is done for my clients. I’d wager that this is one of the reasons I get repeat business.

On any given day, I'll have a mish-mash of project hard drives for freelance projects.

Track your time.

If billing by the hour and not the project, I use a timer on my phone as a sort of digital punchclock. There are several apps for both your desktop and smartphone that can do this, so there’s no reason you can’t track your time. You will bill accurately, but also get a great idea of how long it takes you to do edits, which will help you to quote jobs better in the future.

The stock "Clock" app on the iPhone has a stopwatch that is a simple solution to tracking time.

Utilize exports or renders to take breaks.

I do this all the time. I’ll work until I hit a natural pause, either from rendering, exporting, or transferring files. While these run, I’ll eat, take the dog out, or in the case of exporting a long edit, I’ll set it up to run overnight. This way I’m not wasting time during business hours, when I could be doing more work.

Label, organize, and make it dummy-proof.

If you’re a good editor, chances are you do this already. On the hard drive your client sends you, create a folder labeled with your name and the project name. Inside it, subfolders separating music, graphics, project files, and everything else, will help keep things clean and organized for the guy who opens this up on the client end. I’ve been on conference calls with clients in the past because I didn’t label folders properly and it made me look bad when they couldn’t find a particular file. Lesson learned!

Utilize Vimeo for rough cuts and even final cuts.

With a Vimeo Plus account, I’m able to upload videos and password protect them. I’ll do this for rough cuts on the projects I’m editing. Vimeo is a very accessible place to watch videos from, and my clients can even download the file if they need to. Updating the video on vimeo with a new edit version takes just a click.

I like to maintain a collection of projects I’ve edited on my Vimeo page, so once the final has been approved and posted by my client, I’ll share it myself. It’s already on my account, so I just change it from private to public and I’m done.

Bonus: Working from home is not all peaches and cream.

The Oatmeal created a comic that displays the pros and cons quite well.

If you'd prefer to pass along the responsibility of editing to someone else, you might want to consider outsourcing your video editing.

Mike Wilkinson's picture

Mike Wilkinson is an award-winning video director with his company Wilkinson Visual, currently based out of Lexington, Kentucky. Mike has been working in production for over 10 years as a shooter, editor, and producer. His passion lies in outdoor adventures, documentary filmmaking, photography, and locally-sourced food and beer.

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Laptops now are a godsend. We finally live in an era where our laptops can give our desktop rigs a run for their money with little drop off in performance. Haswell i7 processors, DDR3 memory speeds, and SATA6 coupled with 7200rpm disc drives and SSD's make everything so much faster. It blows me away when I think about how far we've come with technology and how much more energy efficient and powerful it's still becoming.

Working remote is easier than it's every been. Thanks for the article and sharing your insights!

Do you find USB 3.0 to be fast enough for video editing? I like the look of those drives, and the setup you have seems nice. But I would worry about editing from small externals using usb...

Yes. It is fast enough. I edit on PC with Premiere Pro short films, commercials and even long films like weddings with multicams etc and it is fine. :)

It does depend a little on what you are editing, if it is h.264 dslr footage by all means you can edit usb3.0, some of the larger codecs may encounter problems especially if you are read/ writing to a usb3.0 drive that doesn't have its own power supply.

I get USB 2/3, Firewire 800, and Thunderbolt. I can deal with codecs up to about 50mbps without much issue. I can always set my canvas playback to 50% if it's struggling. I haven't needed to do it lately, but I have done a batch process of big files into proxy files for quick editing, but that's going old school ;-)

Great advice Mike. I would also add 2 points which I find are critical - first, use a tablet (or tablet and mouse) to break up the risk of repetitive strain injury. It won't avoid it altogether but on longer projects, a tablet can be much better (at least in my experience).

Also, back up your project files to the cloud - especially on longer projects. If you spend some time on a project file only to have it get corrupted or damaged in some way, it can be a pain to back up. Auto saving project files is great, unless you have a hardware issue with the computer. You want to make the entire project as replaceable as possible should your laptop/desktop die overnight, and the cloud is a great way to back things up, especially as even large project files are relatively small in size. That way if you have a mirror drive with all the media, you're fully covered should the hardware go down.

Just my 2 pennies worth :) Nice article though!

when you say tablet, do you mean a Wacom type tablet to use a pen to do the editing? Also, since you mention a body health related tip, standing up while working has helped keep me from hunching and straining my back. Walter Murch also likes to stand, as he says editing video is like a dance.

Hi Reid, yes exactly. I use a small Wacom tablet for editing these days, but will occasionally still use a mouse or even the touch pad if on a plane/traveling/very confined space etc.

Thanks, you are the second video editor to recommend a tablet as a mouse input device. I will definitely get one soon.

i freelance for a few different places and sometimes i'll get a vegas project with cuts that the record label specifically wanted. Because of that, i had to get proficient in vegas since i couldn't edit in premiere (my love). So i would add, learn all the major nle's (premier, fcp, vegas). You'll expand your potential work exponentially.

As a remote editor getting feedback from the client is one of the most difficult things to do. And the whole change this at some timecode mark or minutes and seconds is an annoying thing for clients to do. I recently found http://wipster.com and it has changed my life!!! Clients can comment and annotate directly on the video inline and it even creates a todo list for me as the editor! I thought this might help others out there :)

Please do not use hard drives for backup. Hard drives will fail. If you cannot afford a tape solution then make sure you have multiple backups. If you do use hard drives you should run each drive at least once a month. An Internet backup(Cloud) is a good idea but not very practical for large video files.

One of my jobs is IT Consultant so I have extensive experience in backing up clients and servers.

Good Cutting,

Hi Mike,
Thanks for the wonderful article.
I have Apple MacBook Pro, Intel Core i5. What else do i need to start off? Please guide me through this journey. Thanks.

About how much total money do you think would be necessary to start out as a free-lance vid editor?
So far my list is:
(NOTE: I already have speakers, a monitor, and a mouse and keyboard)
Macbook Pro 13" $1500
Headphones $100
Hard Drives $400 (to start)
Final Cut Pro $300
After Effects $240 (first year)
Cloud Storage $4/month (One-drive 200GB)
Any other Subscriptions or Pro Accounts for Services I Might Need: $200 (first year)