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Freelance Video: Managing Client Expectations

Rebecca Case

Freelance video pros need to set clear client expectations around timelines, budgets, and production value… and then get it all in writing.

Most of your clients will not have an intimate knowledge of video production or what it takes to create the images in their heads.

Now that the tools for capturing video are more accessible than ever, non-professionals are making a lot of assumptions about your work based on their ability to pull out their iPhone.

Whether you’re working with an aspiring artist wanting a music video or a large corporate client needing a video training series, to some degree, you’ll need to educate them on the process and the resources needed to get them to their desired goal — and that’s usually not a cell phone video.

Creative Plan

Creative Team
Working out the creative plan. Image from Red Lemon Club.

When you go in to talk to them about their project, be prepared to ask a lot of questions so you can understand their vision and advise accordingly. They need to tell you where will the video go, what the desired length is, and who the target audience is. You’ll also want to ask what the goals of the video are (to educate, entertain, excite?), the tone of the video, and what the core messaging needs to be.

Kimbe MacMaster, with Vidyard, notes that all the stakeholders in any given project need to be on the same page if they want to be successful and even supplies a template for questions.

Lay everything out ahead of time in a creative brief, send it to everyone who will be involved in the project and allow at least one meeting for walking through the brief and answering any related questions.

Service Agreement: What is It?

Production Agreement

An example of a standard video production agreement. Image from Nimia

The point in the process in which most of the expectation management takes place is in the crafting of the service agreement. After the client agrees to move forward with you on the project, you’ll want to create a service agreement that, among other things, outlines the scope of the project, an engagement summary, and all the defined deliverables.  

Video marketplace, Nimia, offers an example of a standard video production agreement (partially pictured above) that you can use as a resource for creating your own.

Service Agreement: What’s Covered?

1. Project Scope

Project scope will include hiring talent, music selection or production, and a tentative production schedule. Examples of deadlines to include in this phase are script delivery, shoot date(s), and delivery of first and final drafts. To emphasize that the agreed-to deadlines are dependent on both you, the producer, and them, the client, you can use language like this:

Any delays caused by the client including cancelled meetings, delays on creative feedback or direction, and especially delays from the final decision-makers, will cause delays to the final deliverable. Changes to the estimated project schedule may affect pricing.

Here’s a quick tutorial/reminder about all the things to consider when managing the scope of your project: 

2. Engagement Summary

The engagement summary should state both what you’re going to do and what they’re going to do. This is where you protect yourself with limits on changes and revisions. For example:

This proposal includes two rounds of revisions for the concept and script and two rounds of revisions for the final draft of the video.

3. Defined Deliverables

Defined deliverables will be items like a storyboard, a script and, of course, the video. Include the formats expected for each deliverable and how it will be provided to them.

4. The Fee

Of course, note the fee for the project and when you’ll expect payment. For example:

Client will be invoiced 50% of the project total at the start of the engagement. The remaining 50% will be invoiced when the final video is approved.

Look at examples online and talk to your friends in the industry about what they put in their service agreements. Yours doesn’t need to look like it was written by an attorney, but it does need outline clear expectations on both sides. Don’t do any further work on the project until you get a signed copy back from them. No matter how well you know or trust the client, you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you wish you had something in writing and you don’t.

Post-Production

The part of the process clients seem to have the hardest time wrapping their head around is post-production. They know the footage has been shot, but they don’t understand the bandwidth needed to process that footage, cut it, color it, add effects, and render it.

I tell clients that for every hour we shoot on set, we’ll need 10 hours to process it (give or take). This isn’t always the case, and you can use your best judgement on what that number will be for your project. Just know that providing that expectation can help you get the time you need to get the footage where it needs to be for client approval.

Chris Potter, co-founder of ScreenLight, reinforces that open communication and setting expectations will save time during video review. He also notes in 9 Ways to Improve Client Communication During Video Review that using your agreed-upon deadlines is another tool to help keep client revision under control.

Creative review is a form of negotiation, and one thing that helps keep a negotiation moving forward is a deadline. A deadline can help force prioritization decisions. Anything can be done with enough time. But chances are, neither you nor your client has that luxury.

Assuming you’ve talked to them about their vision in the creative planning phrase, and received concept and script approval from them, there shouldn’t be too many surprises at this point. Doing more on the front-end will allow you to shoot for the edit and save time (and stress) in post.

Above all else, try to be transparent about the process and stay in contact throughout. As you reach milestones in the production timeline, reach out and let them know what’s going on. Your client will enjoy seeing what happens “behind-the-scenes” and you can demonstrate your expertise.

Communicating with them will help build trust that will make them appreciate you and your work and could lead to more projects in the future. Interested in some more “client relations” tips? Check out these articles from PremiumBeat:

Got any tips on setting expectations with clients? Let us know your methods in the comments below!

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