How to Better Manage Video Clients
After you start putting your work out there, more people will see it, and the clients will start pouring in organically. This is what happened to me, and I didn't feel very prepared. The business side of being in the creative field is the part that no one signs up for, but it's inevitable that you will need to learn it. It takes time, experience, and a lot of mistakes to figure out how to work with people and their expectations. Here are some tips and common themes I see when having to handle these situations.
Draft an air-tight contract
The underlining theme of these tips is to have a well-worded contract for all of your projects that you can always refer back to if things go awry. This helps outline expectations for video shoots, and keeps all parts of the process in check, like the scope of work, the deliverables, the cost, and everything in between. Contracts are the only way to make the expectations crystal clear and set up any rules, boundaries, and restrictions involved with the shoot and post-production.
Contracts are the only ways to make the expectations crystal clear and set up any rules, boundaries, and restrictions involved with the shoot and post-production.
You can find some contract templates online with a Google search, but I used the contract template inside of Jakob Owen's Complete Video & Business Guide ($20, got it for $10 with a 50% off sale he had, INVALUABLE info in this thing). It helped me immensely with drafting the contract I now use for every job. Be sure to outline everything from costs and upfront deposits, production day logistics, editing terms, revisions, video deliverables, project files, copyright, and whatever else needs to be made clear from the beginning.
When a client wants something added for free
Your Scope of Work (SOW) is everything (which is laid out in your contract, right?). This is a situation that can be avoided by having direct conversations in pre-production. Make sure everything is properly communicated before shooting and editing, the script and deliverables are locked in place, and all limitations and boundaries are clear from day one. If you see a potential problem that could come up during editing, then put that out on the table before actually getting to that point.
Does someone want more videos to be created outside of the original scope of work that was agreed upon? What about asking if a 60-second spot can be turned into a 3-minute company overview? Make sure they know that it can be done, but because it's out of scope, it will be an additional cost for the required extra editing time. It's like asking a home contractor to dig out an inground pool after they just finished building you a new patio. It's quite a reach outside of the initial agreement in the contract, and it's also just a pretty crazy thing of someone to ask.
It's hard for some people to fully understand that since a video is not as tangible as a home renovation, but the comparison is not far off in my mind. Most people will be understanding if something is mentioned beforehand, but they will not be happy if you spring something unexpected on them.
Make sure everything is properly communicated before shooting and editing, and all limitations and boundaries are clear from the get-go.
When a client wants more revisions
Once a client is ready to sign on to a project and you start talking about project details, be sure to let them know about the number of revisions allowed. The industry standard, to my knowledge, is two revisions, and additional costs if there are more than that. Two revisions should be plenty if the project was laid out well in pre-production, but if they need more than that, then it needs to cost extra!
This is good practice because it makes it clear from the get-go that the client needs to take reviewing the video deliverables seriously. Before I knew about the importance of outlining revisions in my contracts, I was in situations where I was sometimes re-editing videos two to three times over because so many changes were coming in at different times from the client-side. A marketing manager would look it over, provide revisions, then I'd make them and return the video, and it would get approved! Whew, one and done! ....Until a week passes and the sales team finds out about it and has a flood of new revisions for me. And then I'd make those revisions, it gets approved and goes live, but then someone in leadership finally stumbles upon the video and wants to put their stamp on it, and it's a nightmare-ish cycle that you never want to be in.
And if you are questioning this method and telling yourself right now that "the client is always right, just put your head down and do the third round of revisions, you complainer!", then you need to put yourself in the situation for a minute. Editing takes time, usually hours, and sometimes making just one simple revision, like having to change the graphics, could domino into having to make 10+ revisions throughout the entire video. Or if they want a clip added or extended, then you have to make the music track longer and still time up perfectly. Then there is re-exporting and re-uploading, all taking time that you are not being paid for because it's outside of the original scope of work. The bottom line is that it's essentially having to work overtime at your job and getting zero compensation for it, all because there wasn't clear communication from the beginning.
I obviously have some strong opinions on this subject, so here's the wrap up: By stating that there is a two revision maximum in your contract, this will put pressure on the client to gather everyone involved on their side, go over the video as a team, talk it through, and make one list of revisions for you to go back and edit with (and hopefully you are using the service Frame.io for the edits, which is a lifesaver). Following this method will save time, money, stress, years of your life, etc., and most importantly, make sure that you don't get taken advantage of!
When a client asks you to hand over project files
Short answer: DON'T DO THIS, EVER (unless the client is willing to pay you a project handover fee)!
It's inevitable that a client is going to ask you for all of the working files after a project is delivered. But why would you want to do that if handing over the project files means the client has everything they need to repurpose a project and will never need you to work for them again? This could prevent you from possible future work if they can just use your master files to reuse for any videos down the road. For every video you produce, the client should only be paying for the final deliverables, not the project files.
Two great comparisons of this situation in different fields of work would be:
1. Going out to eat at a restaurant, finishing your amazing meal, then walking into the kitchen and asking the chef for the recipe, along with all the kitchen utensils they used to create the dish.
2. Getting maintenance completed on your car at an auto shop, and once the job is totally complete, asking the mechanic to take home all the tools they used, along with free unlimited oil and tire rotations for life. Might as well slap them across the face too while you're at it.
For every video you produce, the client should only be paying for the final deliverables, not the project files.
More reasons this is a bad idea is if you used any plug-ins, After Effects scripts, or fonts, then those won't work properly when the project is opened unless they are on the client's system. It would essentially break a project the second they open it. Also, legally speaking, if any stock video or photo was used, then they are usually considered one-time use, and the client should be re-purchasing those stock assets for each additional project they are used in. And finally, if the project is large, which most video projects are, then it's just a pain to have to transfer gigs worth of files over the internet, or heaven forbid have to go buy a new hard drive to put the files on and ship out.
The only exception for sending a client your working files is if they are willing to pay for a project hand over fee, which industry-standard says should be 3x the cost of the project. That might sound like an insane amount, but if a client plans on repurposing your work in-house, then that would cover the cost of having those videos edited by you anyway.
It's best to avoid any unexpected confrontations and just ask in the initial talks if they want the project files or not!
When a client takes too long to pay
I add a clause in my contracts that states they must pay within 15 days of the final deliverable, which is also known as Net 15 Terms. This is a courteous way of making it clear that they shouldn't wait very long to pay the remaining balance of the project. If they do wait longer than anticipated, then you can politely refer back to this clause in the contract, and it will usually light a little fire under them. This method works for me with the smaller scale clients I have, but if it is a larger client or corporation, then you may have to make your payment terms longer, like Net 30 or Net 60. This is not a guaranteed strategy, and I have never run into serious problems with a client not paying, but being persistent in a respectable manner has worked for me.
Don't bite off more than you can chew
It's okay to be a yes person and challenge yourself to experiment with different types of clients and projects, but unless you know you can handle it and deliver quality work, don't overbook yourself, or accept a project that could be too far out of your wheelhouse. The last thing you want is to look incapable in front of a client, because once that happens, it will be hard to form a relationship and make them a recurring customer. So be sensible with your time and workload, and maintain projects that are both challenging and help you learn, balanced with realistic expectations that align with your skillset.
Again, if there is only one takeaway after reading this, it should be to make sure your contract is tight and lays out every single aspect of the project as clearly as possible. Each client is going to be its own beast, with some being more challenging than others, but that's okay and even expected. It's a big part of your job to curb and meet the agreed-upon expectations, but to also be upfront about every aspect of the project before agreeing to anything. Even with a great contract, there may be some tough conversations to be had along the way, but with confidence and politeness, you should be able to resolve anything that comes your way!
With all of this being said, I am still learning and growing with each project and client I work with, so if you have a different opinion or style for how you handle these situations, please reach out and let me know at email@example.com, I would love to hear from you!
If you want to connect, here are my social handles:
Portfolio Site - www.jhmotion.com
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