We all know sound is important, right? Footage often arrives from production MOS, or without…
So, you’ve found your first client, congratulations! After all that hard work and grind, someone wants to hire you.
But, wait…how much should you charge for your work? Too much, and your client might go somewhere else, too little, and you’ll be missing out.
Let’s discuss the elephant in the room – money.
Some editors earn $20 per hour. On the other hand, high end professional film editors working in Hollywood could earn all the way up to $10,000 a week and beyond. So, what should you charge?
In short, pay is dependent on several factors.
The Client’s Budget
What type of project would you be working on? Is it an Indie film, marketing content for a small startup, or a project for an affluent company or posthouse? You can reasonably expect the budget to scale by the size of the project and the size of the company hiring you.
The quality and worth of the product should also be considered. The client’s budget reflects the quality of work they want you to deliver, and the worth of the product to themselves. The more important the job, the more they will be willing to pay.
What do people charge in your area? In New York, Los Angeles or London for instance, there are a larger number of companies or post-production houses with high end budgets.
A New York based company is used to paying New York wages. Even if you are working remotely, you can benefit from the increased pay, so always keep that in mind when crafting your quote.
The Scale Of The Job
Some jobs are simple, others are complex and carry more responsibility. You’ll want to ask yourself questions like these:
- What are you getting hired to do? Creating sizzle reels for a business’ social media account likely won’t be viewed the same as cutting a long form documentary. Consider how many other editors could do that same job or if you have the expertise and resume that would be harder for a client to find.
- Is the job simple, or does it require you to make creative decisions? Your rate should reflect not only the time the job takes, but also the complexity of the tasks you are being asked to carry out. An assistant assembling a rough cut is very different from being responsible for the final edit or creative direction.
- How long will the project take? If a client buys your time in bulk (i.e., a month-long booking) it’s reasonable to expect the rate might be lower due to unforeseen downtime. If the client is booking you for a day, or by the hour, you can expect to charge to a higher rate due to the intermittent nature of the work.
- Will you be responsible for managing others? If the project requires you to bring in help for things like VFX, color, sound etc. you’ll want to make sure you factor in the time it takes for scheduling, communication and other administrative tasks.
What You Bring To The Table
Think about the different qualities that you have as an editor.
For example, experience. have you been an editor for years? Or are you just starting out? Some might see value in age, thinking that means solid creative judgement and reliability. Others may see value in youth, reasoning you will be fast and knowledgeable about current trends and tools.
Always be mindful of what your history brings to the table, regardless of how long you have been working. If you don’t need the project as a resume builder, be firm about your rates!
What’s your reputation? Are you an unknown variable for the client? If so, they may not risk as high of amount paying you.
Also consider the skillset that you bring to the table. Are your abilities fine-tuned or is getting the job done a slow ride? Clients should pay for results, and that isn’t always dependent on time. If it takes you all day to do a job that someone else could do in half a day to the same standard, that’s not the client’s fault.
Just because you can do something fast doesn’t mean it needs to be cheap. In both instances the finished video is the same, so it should cost the same.
Example Pay Scenarios
Now that we’ve gone through some of the many factors to consider in terms of compensation, let’s take a look at a few different scenarios:
Jane has been hired for social media cutdowns.
Her client only has 20,000 followers, which will negatively affect what the videos are worth to the client. There’s not a guaranteed return on investment for the client, so they are willing to pay $60 per 60s video.
It might not seem like a lot, but in this scenario the rate is fair considering the client’s circumstances. Time will be a big factor for Jane – if she can edit each video in 2 hours, she is making 30 dollars an hour.
If Jane can secure a number of clients like this and get even faster, this is a great way to build a revenue stream and resume.
Yoshi is an assistant editor on a project for a large post house in Los Angeles. In LA, production companies are used to paying $50 to $100/hour for a Union Editor, depending on their classification.
With this type of job, even if you are not in the Union, but you’re in a similarly large market, you can reasonably expect similar compensation.
In this case, the market is dictating Yoshi’s rates. Of course he will have needed the reputation and skillset to be able to secure and keep a job like this, but there’s not much of a question about what his work is worth.
Penelope is the go-to freelance editor for a medium-sized corporation. She’s been editing all their communications for a couple of years. These videos yield a clear return on investment for the company and help them to land large contracts.
They appreciate Penelope’s reliability and excellent communication. They are happy to continue to pay her $600 per day fee because she consistently delivers good results every time they turn to her.
In this scenario, it’s likely that Penelope did not start earning $600 per day. But by having a client who’s projects directly translate to dollars, she’s been able to secure a stable source of revenue along with increasing rates that likely won’t incur much pushback.
Hopefully now you can see the many different ways each job and all of its intricacies can affect your income.
An honest estimation of your worth, what you bring to the table and your employers needs is critical.
How Much Do You NEED To Earn?
You’ll want to figure this out by tallying up your housing expenses, food, clothes, utilities, equipment, subscriptions etc. This might be a good opportunity to identify some areas where you’re spending too much!
You might find it easiest to figure out your monthly expenses, then just multiply that number by 12 to get your total annual expenses.
Remember, you can’t demand more than you or the job is worth. However, knowing your needs might dictate what markets you choose to pursue work in.
Let’s take a look at one example:
Geoff knows he needs to be earning around $100,000 each year to take care of his family and bills. To reach that target, what should he earn weekly?
100,000 ÷ 52 weeks in a year = 1923.07 (Approximately $1900 p/ week)
1900 ÷ 40 hours per week = 47.50 (Approximately $50 p/ hour)
50 x 8 hours per day = 400 ($400 p/day)
400 x 5 = 2000 (Working 5 days a week at $400 p/day gets you $2000 p/week, which equals $104,000 p/ year)
That’s a perfect scenario if you are consistently working five days a week with a job that hits your minimum rate.
We’ve put together a spreadsheet to help you calculate your rates!
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Your Minimum Rate
Why do we say ‘the minimum’? Remember that when you work for yourself, you don’t get paid vacation time, health insurance, or an office to work in! That means you need to earn extra to cover these costs, as well as periods when work might be slow.
Also, what about work-related costs, such as the equipment you need to edit with? These overheads should be included in your rates. In reality, $400 p/day ($50 p/hour) isn’t reaching your $100,000 gross salary goal.
What now? Does that mean all that number crunching we just did goes out the window? No, not at all. As a rule of thumb, you should add about 20% on top of your baseline rate to cover all these eventualities and costs. In Geoff’s example, that means $400 p/day becomes $480 p/day. $50 p/hour becomes $60 p/hour.
Now Geoff’s needs might not be yours, and his monetary requirements may change over time too – that’s okay! The formula remains the same, just input your relevant numbers.
What Type Of Jobs Should You Take?
You now know the quantity of jobs you need to take on.
For example, say you want to earn $1500 p/ week. If a client hires you at $600 p/day for a 3 day project, you will already earn $1800 that week just from one job. Sorted.
So maybe you take on fewer jobs at a higher rate, or more jobs on a lower rate. Are there other reasons you may accept a job on a lower rate?
Well, maybe when you are starting out and trying to build a client base, you do this to attract new customers:
- You could consider it as a cost of marketing. This is how new customers get an opportunity to know you and learn why they should hire you
- They can see that your skill is valuable and want to hire you again
- Also, they may conclude you are worth paying more
- Or you do this just to get experience, which in time, will increase your rate
Of course, don’t take a hit that will negatively impact your life and well-being. It’s a bad way to begin a career!
In summary – pay is dependant on skill, market, and the job.
- There are a wide range of earning possibilities available
- You need to assess your value based on the skills and abilities you bring to a job
- Know what you need to earn to formulate your rates.
After that, you can use your discernment to know what kind of work and how much work you want or need to take on.
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