Turning the work you do on a personal project into something that makes you money isn't a new idea (just ask stock shooters.) However, the forethought required to concept a personally fulfilling shoot or production that will also have the chance to generate some income can be tricky to figure out. This past weekend I had three shoots, and they were all because of one personal project I created a month ago. And I actually planned for this to happen.
I'll share my story for how I converted a personal project into paid work and future clients, and then I'll add some thoughts as to how you might be able to do the same.
As mentioned in an earlier post, I relocated to a place where I had no contacts and no jobs. I've been trying to network and find businesses that I want to work with, but that has taken me the better part of a year. With this abundance of free time, I've been able to produce videos that were personally rewarding, helped me keep my skills sharp, and all the while gave me more media to add to my portfolio. When doing personal projects I find it pivotal to multipurpose the work being done– so while shooting clips of mountain bikers for example, I'll make a point to use gear that I might be testing...
Reviews for Fstoppers
As a writer for Fstoppers, I'm lucky enough to get gear to review. With enough free time and an interesting enough product, I'll even do video reviews. Recently I had a Panasonic GH4 to review. Instead of shooting myself talking to the camera about what I did and didn't like, I decided that I should produce a video with the camera instead, and analyze it in the written post. This would be no small task, so I had several goals in mind that would make this project worth my time.
1. The video needs to push the limits of the camera (to form an opinion for the review)
2. The video should get me to outdoor areas I haven't yet explored (the personally rewarding part)
3. The video should give me a handful of clips for my portfolio
4. Use the final video to get work locally
I do get paid (a fraction of a percent of what it would have actually cost to make this video) a smal amount for these reviews, but I definitely didn't get to keep the camera. Making a video review was completely my decision, and no one forced me to do it but myself. Therefore, I consider it to be a personal project.
My Diabolical Plan Takes Shape
The kind of work I want to do lies in outdoor adventure. There are no shortage of places to do that where I live, however there are a shortage of companies that need video/stills of those activities. When I first moved here, I identified who those businesses were, and looked at the visual media they had on their websites. It wasn't very good. Reaching out directly to offer my services didn't do anything, as I recieved little to no communication back from these prospects. I decided that with this GH4 review video, I wanted make a piece that showcased the areas and activities that are in line with what these businesses want to promote. Once finished, I planned to send them all a link to the video. Once the line was baited and I had I nibble, I planned to reel them in.
Within a week of circulating the video, I had a meeting with the local tourism department of one county, and was placed on the vendor list for another county for when they send out RFPs. I also was contacted to submit quotes for a few other businesses I was hoping to get work for, and I even got calls from businesses I hadn't heard of, wanting to know my rates.
Licensing My Personal Project
Upon meeting with the local tourism department, I discovered that they were launching a brand new website within the next month, and wanted to display the GH4 video. Since the video belonged to me and no one else, and I had done my due diligence to get releases from all of the people who appeared in it, I owned it outright and was able to license the video to them for a nice little sum. Think of it like when you license the use of a photo to a client; it carried very specific terms about the usage. I had never considered licensing videos before, as usually I'm providing complete production services and the client generally owns the final edited video... but this was definitely not the case here.
This opened my eyes to the possibility of producing work that achieved personal goals, but if done right, could also be sold in the future.
Here's another example:
Again, I needed to review some gear for Fstoppers (Strahlen LED lights) but I needed a project to use them on. I had previously identified a farm-to-table restaurant that I wanted to know more about, so they were my primary target. A few phone calls and I got myself access and releases to shoot in the restaurant for a day. Not only was able to test the lights for my review, and profile a business that I actually had a personal interest in, but the final video could potentially be of interest to the restaurant and the city. Several months later I was indeed able to license this video to the tourism department.
That GH4 video not only made me some money from the licensing, but the people who purchased it now have me booked for about 10 shoots over the next 2 months. I am lucky because while this is a small town and there isn't much work, there also isn't much competition. There is no one within a few hundred miles that has the skill and gear that I bring to the table, so I'm able to provide a service that no one else can. That's business 101 right there, and now that people locally are starting to find out about me, I should be able to snag more gigs.
The key to getting these clients was that I actually had to show them what I could do for them– simply telling them that I lived here and promoting my portfolio wasn't enough. It wasn't until I took it upon myself to create a video that I hoped would wow them into hiring me. It's funny how that even in small communities that don't have much extra money to go around, when they really want something, they are able to find the funds to afford it.
My advice if you want to do the same
This might not work for everyone– each market and locality will be different so YMMV. But here's what I would do:
1. Make sure you have the time to do a personal project, and do it right. If you're going to succeed at making it a portfolio-worthy piece and snag some new clients, you will want to put just as much, if not more, time and effort into it as you would a high-paid project.
2. Write down your goals, and then develop a couple concepts that would achieve them. I listed my goals for the GH4 video above. I came up with 2-3 concepts and noodled on them for a few days until I settled on one that I felt would be the most successful, and easiest to produce. For you, this means brainstorming ideas for the content you want to shoot, what makes it unique, what secondary goals will the project accomplish, and researching potential clients who might want to license the work, or be inspired to hire you as a direct result.
3. Execute. Make sure you get releases! When having friends be on camera, do little things that will help you later, like asking them to not wear gear with large logos. Get music that has a license that will allow you to sell your finished work if needed, without having to buy a new license.
4. Make it damn good, then promote it with a plan. Post it online, but lock out the embed feature (something you can do with Vimeo Plus) – people can and will post your work without giving you notice. The point is simply this– if someone sells ads or is promoting a product or service on a website that your video is embedded on, you should be getting money for that. Period. Have a list of emails for the clients you're going to reach out to, and do so with a simple and professional note. Follow up in person or with a phone call.
5. Get meetings, get work, get ready to give estimates. I was asked by at least 4 businesses what my rates were, and how much it cost to make that GH4 video. I sat down and figured all my rates for each shoot, editing time, and other costs.
If you struggle making invoices, contracts, or other video business documents, help yourself to some free templates I posted here a long time ago.
Like I said, the idea of selling personal work of work isn't new, but the method described above was completely premeditated– and led to both a big contract, and the licensing of previously made projects– so I hope some folks might find it helpful when deciding on their next personal piece.
Have any of you successfully licensed video? Was that one of your goals when producing the work inititally, or did it happen by chance? Has that changed the way you approach personal projects since then?