One of the hardest parts of making it as a video editor is determining how much to charge for your services. No matter how much time you spend perfecting your craft, it’s tough finding that sweet spot of getting paid fairly and winning work.
The three principles I’ll share in this article changed the way I approach setting video editing rates with my clients. These tips are flexible enough to apply to most freelancers in the creative industry, so stay tuned even if video editing isn’t your forte.
The Three Principles for Excellence in Billing
Principle 1: If you aren’t told “no” occasionally, you aren’t charging enough
The number one reason video editors are afraid to aim high with a rate they can command, is they fear losing out on work. This is a self-limiting belief that will ultimately lead you to make less money, be overworked and undervalued.
No one likes rejection when it comes to bidding on a video editing job. But you have to remember that your time is limited. Every time you accept work at a rate lower than your skills are worth, you could be passing up a client you would rather work with and will pay you a fair rate.
It’s ok to get turned down occasionally because your rates are too high. You are not for everyone. If you always try to compete on cost, you’ll attract clients for whom finding the cheapest labor is the primary concern. Ask yourself: is that really who you want to work for?
In general, the video editors I know set the bar too low. At the beginning of your video editing career or when you first start freelancing, you might be inclined to accept every client that comes knocking. But over time, you want to value up your client base and aim for higher rates. As you improve your craft or acquire new skills, you can work with clients at a premium rate.
Principle 2: If you don’t know how long your work takes, you’re flying blind
Many video editing clients prefer flat-rate billing on projects. It helps them keep their budget manageable and predictable. So when they send you a brief and proposal, how do you know what to bid?
Tracking the time I spend on projects is crucial. Every project is different, but learning how long it takes you to complete certain aspects of the work will help you estimate for future jobs. I use an app called Toggl and record the time I spend on each project. That helps me know what to quote when I receive similar project requests.
Even though clients often ask for flat rate project quotes, tracking your hours will help ensure that you don’t underbill. You don’t want to end up charging for a 10-hour project as if it will take only three hours.
It can be a challenge to provide accurate flat rate quotes for projects. Issues like projects growing in scope, indecisive clients or unforeseen technical problems can certainly pop up, but the first step to mitigating misquoting is having a solid grasp how much time your work takes.
Principle 3: Help your clients understand your rates
The worst case scenario when you rely on freelance income is getting into a billing dispute with a client that ties up your funds. Often times, the confusion is over the rate that a client thought they would be paying, versus what you had actually quoted.
Clear communication is so important. Once you’ve established your standard rates, the first order of business is to inform your regular clients and have them confirm so that everyone is on the same page. It can also be helpful to explain why you are charging a specific rate — whether it be helping them to understand the market value or clarifying the full range of services you are covering.
Revisiting your rates with clients over time is ok. Maybe you cut them a deal on the first project to establish a relationship, or perhaps you have worked together for years and the services you’re providing them today are more advanced. As a freelancer, it’s easy for one month to roll into the next, and suddenly several years are chained together with no change in what you’re charging. All the while, the cost of living and the cost of operating your business are ticking up. I revisit my rates with clients annually to ensure I am accurately valuing my work overtime, and my clients are not caught off guard.
Steps Toward Setting Your Video Editing Rates
Now that we’ve laid the groundwork with a few billing principles let’s look at the steps you can take to set your freelance video editing rates.
1. Assess your personal finances
Before you set your video editing rates, it’s important to take a look at your personal financial situation.
When you rely on freelance work to pay the bills, it’s crucial you know how much money you need to maintain your lifestyle. If you don’t know how much it costs to support yourself, how can you set an earnings target?
A simple exercise is to list out your monthly expenses. Divide your expenses into non-controllable (rent, insurance, taxes) versus your controllable expenses (dining out, entertainment.)
At the end of this exercise, you’ll know about how much you need to make to stay afloat each month. Dividing that amount by the number of hours you can tangibly work in a month will help you establish an earnings baseline that will pay those bills.
2. Know the market value of your skills
All of the questions we have as video editors have likely been answered by others on the same path. Research and talk to others in your field to find out what the going rate for video editing services are.
Talking finances with your peers can be a bit awkward. But the truth is when you talk about rates, everyone benefits. Collectively, you ensure that no one is being grossly underpaid, and you understand what’s fair value in the market. Take the lead on this discussion and set the tone, reminding your friends that you can all benefit when you compare rates.
You can research rates online and seek advice shared on forums and in discussion groups. But if your clients are local to you, it’s crucial to understand your local market. There might be general average rates, but they will certainly vary in different areas. A video editor based in San Francisco will charge a higher rate than one based in Nashville.
3. Communicate your rates to clients
Once you’ve set your rates, you need to tell your clients. Going back to the three principles I mentioned earlier, communicating the rates you set can’t be skipped.
This is especially important if you’re billing your clients hourly. Giving them your hourly rate plus an accurate estimate of the billable hours for each project will help you avoid a lot of headaches and potential billing disputes.
Setting video editing rates can be intimidating and daunting. You don’t want to set your prices so high that you miss out on work, but to earn a good living as a video editor you need to know your worth. After all, not everyone can do what you can! Keep these three principles in mind, and you’ll be on your way to becoming that boss editor you always dreamed of being.