How to Start a Production Company in the 2020s
Ready to go your own way? Here’s the best way to build a successful video production company in the 2020s.
A lot of people start their journey into the the film and video industry the same way — they put boots on the ground and get out there and start working for themselves. If that’s your plan, good news: It will work for a while. But after you’ve nickel-and-dimed your way through a few small projects and mom-and-pop clients, eventually you’re going to want more. And that means you’re going to need to put together a real team, settle on a name, and open up your own production company.
Easier said than done, right? Especially in this new, modern era of video that’s defined by a sense that everything’s changing by the day. And while there will always be a need for a standard corporate talking-head video here or an informational explainer animation there, the needs of clients are overwhelmingly shifting toward social and mobile-friendly content.
So, for those looking to make the plunge and invest in themselves and their new own brand, here are 10 steps you can take to build your own production company in the 2020s (and beyond).
1) Do Your Market Research
Starting a video production company might seem like a dive-in-head-first proposition, but you absolutely must do your research beforehand. If you look across the industry, you’ll see that many small video production companies actually (and wisely) focus on more specific needs rather than operating as a catch-all “video production company.” What are your skills, preferences, and — most importantly — what are potential clients in your area looking for?
For the 2020s, many clients are looking away from “video production companies” in favor of more holistic advertising, web design, and SEO companies that include video as part of their multi-platform marketing offering. Talk to potential clients early, network with others, and search around online into what other companies are offering and how they’re offering it.
2) Create a Business Plan
From there, it’s helpful to put your plan down on paper. It’s always been a good practice, but today a solid business plan is crucial. First of all, it helps you keep your structure and numbers all nice and neat and together. Maybe more importantly, it gives you something to show potential investors, advisors, and even clients in the earliest days of your operation. If people are going to put their trust in you and your company in any capacity, they’re going to want to see proof that you’ve done the work and have a plan that makes sense. Plain and simple.
3) Put Together Your Team
While it’s not a necessity to have partners or a team when you’re just starting off (because you can do business as a sole proprietor — more on that below), I gotta admit that working with friends is always better than working alone. Plus, there are going to be projects that you need at least a few people to help out on. The question becomes — do you hire freelancers to help, or are they business partners or employees?
That question will be answered with a quick look at your business plan and finances. No matter what shape your team takes, just be sure to surround yourself with people you respect, trust, and count on. Your financial livelihood will be in their hands as much as it’s in your own.
4) Decide What Type of Company You’ll Be (LLC)
When choosing what type of company you should be, you have some important structure and tax-based decisions to make that will play into how you classify yourself. Here are your options (with some links that lead to more info).
Sole Proprietorship: “A sole proprietorship is the simplest and most common structure chosen to start a business. It is an unincorporated business owned and run by one individual with no distinction between the business and you, the owner.”
LLC (Limited Liability Company): “A limited liability company is a hybrid type of legal structure that provides the limited liability features of a corporation and the tax efficiencies and operational flexibility of a partnership. The “owners” of an LLC are referred to as “members.” Depending on the state, the members can consist of a single individual (one owner), two or more individuals, corporations or other LLCs.”
Cooperative: “A cooperative is a business or organization owned by and operated for the benefit of those using its services. Profits and earnings generated by the cooperative are distributed among the members, also known as user-owners.”
C Corp (Corporation): “A corporation (sometimes referred to as a C corporation) is an independent legal entity owned by shareholders. This means that the corporation itself, not the shareholders that own it, is held legally liable for the actions and debts the business incurs.”
S Corp (Corporation): “An S corporation (sometimes referred to as an S Corp) is a special type of corporation created through an IRS tax election. An eligible domestic corporation can avoid double taxation (once to the corporation and again to the shareholders) by electing to be treated as an S corporation.”
Partnership: “A partnership is a single business where two or more people share ownership. Each partner contributes to all aspects of the business, including money, property, labor or skill. In return, each partner shares in the profits and losses of the business.”
5) Find Your Niche
Here’s another solid move for new video production companies in 2020: Find a niche to exist in and push into it hard. For example, if you’ve worked a lot in documentary filmmaking, then you might consider branding your company as a documentary-focused production company. Further than that, you can use your documentary expertise to sell yourself as a niche-expert in branded documentary content, a new video style that’s become popular with clients over the last few years.
Whatever niche you decide, it’s important to focus on your target audience early on, and then show that focus in everything from your company name and branding to how you set up your clients and teams.
6) Choose a Solid (and Searchable) Name
When it’s time to name your company, the world is really your oyster. Be creative and have fun with it, for sure, but keep a few rules and guidelines in mind. First, and most obviously, you have to find a new and unique name that hasn’t been used before and doesn’t violate any copyrights. To make sure your ideas are legal, check them against the National Business Register (where you can also check domains, LLCs, and trade marks).
When brainstorming names, try to keep them simple and searchable, as that will play a huge part in your success. A good search-friendly name is short and simple and also (ideally) features a keyword that clients will be looking for. Additionally, consider using the name of your city or region, especially if your focus is local. That’s a great way to make sure your company pops up in relevant searches for your area.
7) Create Your Website and Online Presence
A solid website and a strong online presence are vital to a video production company’s success in the 2020s. Luckily, these things are wildly within reach, thanks to some great breakthroughs in web services. Check out Wix or SquareSpace for simple, dynamic web designs that are easy to use and customize. If you know a bit about web design, a platform like WordPress can help you achieve more sophisticated results.
It’ll take a bit of work to build up and activate your online audience, so start cultivating your web presence early with platforms like Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and Instagram. You don’t need to spend all day on them (unless you can have a dedicated social media manager), but updating them weekly (if not daily) with your latest work, company updates, and commentary on industry trends should keep you in front of clients new and old.
8) Find a CPA and Set Up Your Bookkeeping
Also, before you finalize any filings, hirings, or client contracts, please take this advice: Talk to a CPA or lawyer/legal advisor to make sure everything is properly squared away. Plenty of businesses run off the cuff in the beginning, thinking they’ll just “figure it out later,” but that attitude can lead to big trouble down the line. A CPA will help you set up your financial records and bookkeeping so you can ideally account for every cent in and every cent out. This will make it immensely easier when it’s time to do things like file your taxes, take out loans, pay your employees/contractors, and send your client invoices.
9) Build Up Your Client Network
The most important step of the process for, you know, actually making money with your new production company is finding clients! You can read up much more on some tricks and techniques for landing new clients here, but, rest assured — nothing will serve you better than steady networking and delivering solid work. Once you have those very first clients, leverage them early. They’ll often be your best allies in building up your client network.
10) Focus on the Future and Beyond
Finally, as you get ready to launch your new video production company, remember that we’re all in the same boat, watching the industry shift in bold new ways. Just a couple of decades ago, video production companies were shooting analogue tape and working heavy in video-post and transfer. Now the industry is moving toward smaller digital productions, social media content, and mobile innovations.
For more video production tips, tricks and advice, check out some more articles below: