Start a Business Shooting TV Commercials for Local Businesses

If  you, like most people these days, have access to cable television, then you have likely seen no shortage of local advertising spots on most of the cable channels. There are, essentially, three various ways that a local business can produce such a television commercial. The first way is that they could do it entirely and completely for themselves. We have all, doubtless, seen such commercials. They usually play very late at night and are not difficult to spot. They reek of being “amateur” in their production quality, and they imply that the business is also “amateur” in its nature as well. Producing a TV spot using this method is the cheapest way to go for small, local businesses. However, it’s certainly not the most desirable way to go. The second way is that they could have a local cable or local television station produce the spot for them. Many such stations will offer to let a potential advertiser use their equipment, staff, and production know-how to produce a television spot if they’re entering into an advertising contract with them to buy commercial time on their station. This method can also, however, produce results which look fairly amateurish — though, usually not as bad as with the first method mentioned above. The third method which might be employed is to procure the services of a third party provider to do the production who specializes in producing television commercial spots. This, of course, is where you would come in.

If you have just some skill with video production, you could easily produce excellent, short-length television commercials for local businesses at very attractive prices. If you also possess some marketing skills, you’re in an even better position. But, being a marketing wiz is certainly not an absolute requirement in order to be successful with this business. Provided that you can answer the “four-W” questions — who, what, where, why — the commercial TV spots you produce will be valuable to prospective clients.

In the old days, there was a real impediment to producing commercial TV spots for local businesses — video producers, such as yourself, would almost always be required to use three-quarter inch broadcast format video tape in order to be compatible with professional television broadcast standards. That sort of video tape was entirely incompatible with home video equipment — even the higher end consumer grade equipment.  And, video cameras and editing equipment capable of working with such a format was exceedingly expensive — far out of the price range that most individual people could afford, and generally only owned by professional production houses.

Such is not the case today, however. With modern digital media, full HD quality video-cameras are available at prices that are not out of reach of many individuals. And, the video you shoot can be edited on a home computer with relatively inexpensive software. In fact, if you’ve read this far into the article, that probably means that you very likely already have an interest in videography and are trying to learn ways to put your skills to use in making money. If that’s the case, then the odds are good that you very well might already own most, if not all, of the equipment necessary to produce high-quality commercial television spots for local businesses. If, however, you don’t, there’s no need to worry. You might not necessarily need such equipment.

Many cable television stations currently have what is known as a “public access” channel.  The public access channel is designed to let individuals from the community produce their very own television shows. You can contact your local cable company to find out if they too have a public access channel that serves your area. If they do — and most do — you should be able to easily rent time from them to use their professional equipment. Their rental fees are usually set-up with serving the community in mind, so they are, in most cases, relatively inexpensive. And, this can be exceptionally handy if you need to edit your video and don’t own the necessary equipment or software yourself. The station will most certainly possess the necessary equipment required to make your video look top-notch. Most of these cable stations will also offer short courses on how to use their equipment — and very often at no charge.

When you’ve found out what you need, and if such a service is available in your area from local cable companies or television stations, you can begin marketing your service directly to small businesses in your area. Some decent prospects are restaurants, car dealers, all kinds of small retail outlets such as book sellers and computer dealers. In election years local politicians running for office also make great potential clients. Your video production, offered at a reasonable price, should act as a strong enticement to prospective customers. Most people who lack experience in the field view television advertisement as something that’s relatively unattainable. They believe it offers very strong potential for advertising results — they want to be on TV. But, they don’t really understand what goes into getting a television commercial produced and aired. They think it’s much too complicated and expensive, and only a viable option for big businesses. This is where you can enlighten them. Let them know you can get a professional looking spot produced for them and ready for airing on local TV, quote them your production price, and they’ll likely be astounded! In almost every case, they’ll very likely have been under the assumption that the production of a television commercial spot for their business would have been much, much more than the price you quote.

The majority of commercials you’re likely to produce will be from thirty-seconds to a minute in length, and most will be shot at the customer’s place of business.  If the customer provides the written copy for the dialog that will appear in the commercial, your only job will be to direct the production and tend to the equipment. Rehearse the script with the on screen talent who will be performing it, and make sure that the reading will fit the required time while not sounding hurried and unnatural.

What you want to aim for is a quite relaxed and very natural sounding performance — unless, however, the production specifically calls for something else — like, for example, the spot you’re producing happens to be for one of those excited, “crazy” used car dealers or discount electronics stores. Most importantly, be sure that the copy being read covers the “four-Ws”! You want it to clearly state who the advertiser is, what it is that they do, where they are located, and why people would want to give them their business. If you fully and clearly cover the “four-Ws” in your commercial production, you will have produced an effective commercial television spot.

Also, be very sure that your advertiser is quite satisfied with the final result. Successful business people put effort into making and maintaining business contacts and relationships. Local business people know other local business people. If you provide a business with a quality television commercial at a reasonable price, word WILL get around. They’ll tell their contacts about you. Their contacts will see their commercial and ask them how and where they had it done. If you provide a good product at a fair price, you will drum up future word-of-mouth business. If your customers are not happy with the result, word of that will get around in the same way. And, when trying to entice future customers, you may commonly find yourself in situations where your reputation of providing a sub-par product has preceded you, and the customers are not interested.

After you shoot your video, you’ll need to edit it. If you’re not experienced in this, and you’ve gone the route of using the services of your local cable company, you very well might be able to ask for assistance from someone at the cable station. Very often, if you’re renting their facilities, they’ll usually try to lend a hand and make their knowledge, expertise and experience available to you. Once you’re done editing the video, you should make an appointment to review it with your customer. If you’ve presented your customer’s business in a good light, your video is of at least a fairly reasonable production quality, and you’ve addressed the “four-W” questions in your video, your customer will more than likely be overjoyed with the result. If they’re not, discuss what it is they’re not happy with and, if they have legitimate criticisms, schedule a re-shoot to fix whatever may be lacking.

If you’ve never shot a television commercial spot before, the first couple of times you do it, you may feel nervous and anxious and as if you’re flying by the seat of your pants. This is normal, of course. But, it’s really not that big of a deal. Simply relax, employ good common sense, and remember that what you’re trying to achieve is simply to persuade the viewer that it’s a good idea to choose your client’s business. That’s all. It’s not “rocket-surgery”. Keep focused on that goal and you’ll do fine.

Expect to spend at least a couple of hours or more during the shoot for a thirty-second to one-minute spot, in order to get enough takes down for editing. You’ll want to get at least four or five good, usable takes. This way, if you find any poor sections during editing (and you’re almost certain to find at least a couple that you didn’t notice at the time of shooting) you can replace the bad section of any takes you like by editing in that section from a better take.

You should be able to entirely shoot and fully edit a thirty-second to one-minute spot in a single day. The first couple that you try might take a little longer; that’s fine. Don’t worry about it. It’s much more preferable to take your time while learning and becoming familiar with the process than it is to rush through the production and end up with a poor result that the client will likely not be happy with. If you can, try to write a couple of simple commercials for fake businesses, and recruit a relative or friend to act in your commercial. Do a few practice runs shooting a couple of these bogus commercials. If you find you’re not good at writing commercials, you can simply copy the dialog from a commercial you see on TV and attempt to recreate it.

Due to the fact that your overhead and start-up costs will be quite low (if renting instead of purchasing whatever equipment you don’t already have), it shouldn’t be difficult to undercut the competition in your area. In a good sized city or town, you should be able to charge anywhere from between five-hundred to one-thousand dollars per production for spots running from thirty-seconds to a minute, and still be able to undercut your competition by a fair margin. If you find yourself hired to produce longer spots, the prices you can charge become more negotiable. Your prices might also vary somewhat from project to project, depending on a number of factors — Will a script be provided? Or, will you have to write the script yourself? Or, will you need to hire someone to do that? Is the project unique in such a way that it will require you to rent extra equipment? Or, hire special talent or assistants who possess specific skills? And, on and on. Most jobs will be very straight forward. But, you may run into such special circumstances. In such situations it will be up to you whether you want to take the job or not, and, if you do, what your costs will be and how you’ll negotiate your fee. Thirty-minute or longer “infomercials” have become quite popular and desirable for a number of advertisers, and, if you wish, you can treat them as a goal to shoot for in the future as you develop your skill and experience. Being hired to produce such projects can be extremely lucrative.

If you’re interested in starting out in this business, you should begin right away by watching commercials and really paying attention to them. Make mental notes regarding how the advertiser is being presented in the spot, and just what message the commercial spot puts forward. Decide if you think the commercial you’ve just watched was a successful one. If so, ask yourself why. If not, same question. Study the commercials you see on television. Pay attention to commercials from both small-time and big-time businesses. Try to figure out what the best elements are in each of the commercials you view, and think about how you might go about incorporating those elements into your own commercial shoots.


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