The goal as a promotional filmmaker is to make a living. But that involves the somewhat awkward and definitely scary decision of deciding how much to charge a client. This week, we look at this question and some factors to consider when deciding how much to charge.

STUDENT: How do you know what to charge a client for a production?

JOHN-CLAY: Knowing how to charge a client…It’s difficult to know. I recommend, when starting out, be willing to do projects for free or really cheap. If you are renting equipment, it’s fair to ask them to cover your hard costs but you yourself may not make a lot of money on it until you have projects to show. Grow your business that way – that is how I started out.

Once you are growing the business and when you start buying equipment, I recommend writing out budgets and figure out how much it costs your business to run each year. If you’re subscribing to Vimeo Plus, you need to pay for that. If you are going to buy a camera every few years, how much does that break down into each year? If you are going to subscribe to Adobe CC, that costs per month. Figure out what you need and figure out your hard costs. If you are living at home with your parents, you don’t have a lot of living expenses. That allows you to charge less. As you grow in that, eventually you want to raise those prices because when you move out, you don’t want to suddenly double all your prices and scare all your clients!

Starting off, I did stuff really cheap – $100 – $200 for filming a whole conference and making DVD’s. My goal was to not be out any money. I may not make any money, but I didn’t want to be losing money. Consider those types of things when you are looking to charge.

I don’t generally charge per hour, I charge per project. But I figure the project based on how many hours I think it will take. So, if you say you want me to edit a video, and I figure it will take two days, at 8 hours a day, I charge two days. If I go over two days, that’s kind of my fault and if I get it done faster than two days, I’ve made more money. I try to be honest with that. And that just comes from experience, I’ve missed so many guesses on budget early on. You start figuring out how long things are going to take, and I still miss it once in a while but I’ve gotten a lot better. You can also see what others are charging to do similar types of work at your experience level.

Count your business costs, count your personal costs, and increase what you charge as you gain experience.

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