How Remote Editors Build Successful External Client Relationships
I’ve been working from home as a freelance editor for years—way before COVID made it the cool thing to do. Over that time I’ve worked hard and made the great connections that move my career along.
If I’m being honest, much of my work has little to do with what’s happening inside the NLE. You’ve likely heard that as a freelancer, you need to treat yourself like a business. But while managing your books and paying your taxes is certainly crucial, it’s just as important to spend time on the people-side of the business.
So let’s take a look at actionable things you can do right now that will help make you successful when working with agencies and studios all over the map.
The usual caveats apply here—this article does not constitute financial advice, I am not a financial advisor, and I recommend using local professionals when making decisions that can affect your income.
Before starting any outreach, take the time you need to get the administrative side of your creative career in order. For me, admin for a freelance business consists of setting rates, managing cash flow, paying taxes, establishing easy ways to (eventually) be paid, and creating a website.
“This is never a one-size-fits-all scenario.”
Once you’ve got these in order, you can decide the best approach to land your next gig. This is never a one-size-fits-all scenario. So form an attack plan of mutual introductions, cold calls and emails, and perhaps even a little paid advertising to get your name out there.
Rates are a scary thing. To me, there are few things more nerve-wracking than having to place a literal dollar value on the services you offer. How do you know if you’re too high or too low? Is the rate per week or per day? Do you bill for an 8- or 10-hour day? Obviously, there are a lot of unknowns.
Rates change based on services, experience, location, client, and (my favorite) the pain-in-the-ass factor.
Groups like the Blue Collar Post Collective are doing their best to democratize rates thanks to a yearly rate survey, and philosophies abound on how to set a good rate for yourself. We’ll not be going down that rabbit hole, here. The takeaway here is that you need a set rate before you start prospecting. That said, for more job opportunities, always be open to negotiation.
Time for money talk. You need to have cash flow and a basic understanding of taxes prior to picking up clients. Otherwise, you’ll be scrambling to give them the invoices and other information they may need to get you paid. It’s not a good look.
I’m not here to recommend a specific finance package, but Quickbooks, Freshbooks, Wave, and real-live accountants are great resources for the individual freelancer. (There’s also an interesting new service in the southern hemisphere called Hnry, which boldly claims to take the tax headache out of the freelance equation.)
In that same realm, it’s wise to have multiple ways set up to accept and record payments from clients, like checks, ACH, Zelle, PayPal, and Venmo—some of which can be integrated into the invoicing component of your chosen accounts solution.
Put your best foot forward
Your website can often be the first point of contact between you and a new client, so it needs to shine and a Vimeo page won’t cut it. Fortunately, sites like Wix and Squarespace make it easy for anyone to create a beautiful site that can display a portfolio, provide info about yourself, and offer simple ways to contact you.
To take this further, you should look at your website as though it’s already solving a problem for a potential client. Do everything you can to show a client that you’re the solution they need.
This is as easy as having a well-written “About Me” page that chronicles your experience solving the problems that your ideal client constantly faces, with a curated “Portfolio” page to back it up. Examples of solved problems can be things like navigating revisions, managing deliverable lists, and balancing the needs of project stakeholders, just to name a few.
Also, consider an email address that matches your site’s URL to add that final layer of professional polish.
Grow your network
The phrase “cold calling” may be outdated (to some), but the concept remains the same. Sending cold emails to prospective clients is one of the easiest ways to introduce yourself to new people. Just remember that the same people you’re interested in connecting with (directors, producers, owners), are being simultaneously pinged by a swarm of voices other than yours.
So put some effort into making that email shine. (No one explains this better than Zack Arnold (ACE) from Optimize Yourself.)
“Do your homework on who you’re contacting so you can add a personal touch.”
On the most basic level, you should avoid copy/paste templates and craft a quality subject line that provides value (more on value in a moment). Do your homework on who you’re contacting so you can add a personal touch.
Keep it short and skimmable, and craft your message so that it’s easy to respond to. (Maybe consider including a bias to action.) Make sure it offers some value to the reader. This can be as simple as giving a specific compliment to work of theirs you admire—which adds a personal touch and value in the same message.
Use your network
Even the best email can’t compete with an introduction by a mutual acquaintance. LinkedIn was essentially built on this networking model. A referral email from a connection that your prospect already knows and trusts gives you immediate credibility. This greatly increases the chances of starting a conversation that may eventually lead to meaningful work.
After being introduced, don’t sit back and wait on your prospect to start the conversation. As soon as you can, briefly thank your friend for the connection and then craft an initial greeting to your prospect that provides value to them and is easy to respond to.
Cast a wider net
But both email and introductions require a direct connection to your prospective client. If that’s not an available option, then paid advertising can be useful in growing your network.
Cast a wide net and you’ll get more fish. Some will be keepers and others you’ll have to toss back, but perhaps the greatest benefit is that advertising passively works for you while you’re actively doing your day job.
Google Ads and sites like ProductionHUB are perfect options for advertising the video services you provide because the ads are only shown to people already looking for the work you do.
The downside, of course, is that paid advertising comes with a financial cost. But if it lands you just one or two new good clients, then it’ll pay for itself in a short term. And in the long term, you may have found a relationship that will last for years.
Now that your freelance engine is humming along and you’ve landed yourself in the remote editing chair, it’s time to think about the presumptions your clients will have of you. Below are five things to consider, but ultimately the list boils down to this: as a remote freelancer, you’re here to solve problems, not create them.
Get tooled up
You’re responsible for your own computer(s), software, and other equipment needed to do the job. If your home editing suite consists of a dated laptop, janky earbuds, and slow internet, then don’t pitch yourself for editing a brand film shot on 8K RED files. It’ll be a miserable experience for you and will likely lead to a lot of client frustration.
“The more NLEs you’re comfortable with, the more hireable you are.”
Speaking of the client, it helps to know which NLE each of your clients is editing in. The more NLEs you’re comfortable with, the more hireable you are, but you need to keep those licenses current. DaVinci Resolve Studio and Final Cut Pro X are still offered for an (astonishing) one-time fee, while Adobe Premiere Pro and Avid Media Composer both have month-to-month membership options for when it doesn’t make sense to license an entire year.
Invest in yourself
Remember that you’re a business and businesses have operating expenses. Budgets will vary from person to person, but investing in good hardware, software, and training that will make you more efficient and reliable are necessary operating expenses.
Current hardware is a must, but doesn’t necessarily mean the newest and most expensive. It’s up to you to take stock of how well your machine handles the work that’s being thrown at it. If your workstation begins to interfere with deliveries or causes client relationships to suffer, it’s past time for an upgrade—if not the entire machine, then at least a new component that will bring you the speed you need, like high speed dedicated storage.
Better yet, put yourself on a cycle so that your machine is upgraded every two to three years, or whenever makes the most sense for your wallet. It’s definitely worth talking to a financial professional about this, as there may be tax considerations attached to certain purchases where you operate.
Beyond purchasing or licensing NLE software, don’t be afraid to seek out additional help from third-party plugins. Plugins are developed by end-users that need a faster or easier way of doing something and many are invaluable to an efficient workflow. I personally can’t work without the sorcery that Knights of the Editing Table have cooked up, but the best plugins truly depend on an individual editor’s preferences.
Other great places to start looking are Red Giant, Boris FX, and Tool Farm. That said, be careful not to fall into the trap of trying to fix everything with a plugin. In the end, you still need to be good at your craft.
Training can be a divisive topic. I’m not suggesting that you sign up to every zero-to-hero course that pops up on your social media feed, but you should invest in quality training that helps elevate your career.
Maybe that’s writing or directing courses to help your storytelling abilities. Maybe it’s a color correction or motion graphics course so that you can increase the services you offer. It’s up to you. The point is to never get too comfortable with where you’re at because the industry is constantly evolving. Stay on top of the latest tech and techniques to keep yourself in demand.
Establish a workflow
Getting a grasp on workflows is something that’s hard to come by in the remote world. I encourage young editors to take jobs inside agencies and studios so they get a true taste of how a professional workflow operates before turning freelance. Once a freelancer though, it is still important to practice a consistent workflow of your own. This consistency is one of the many little things that help an editor cut proficiently.
Familiarizing yourself with a variety of workflows is also beneficial because as a freelancer, you need to be able to adapt to the workflow of the agency or studio that you’re working with.
Some may rely on Frame.io while others may prefer remotely-directed edits. Depending on a project’s budget you as the editor could be on the hook for the final color and audio mix or could be sending it to professional colorists and mixers. So understanding how to properly prep a project for color, audio, and VFX are just some of the variety of workflows you should be comfortable with.
Set your availability
One of the most important qualities a director or producer looks for in their remote editor is availability and responsiveness. When you’re on the job, you need to be as easily accessible, as much as possible.
Nobody likes working with a person that they can never get hold of. Learn to juggle emails, Slack messages, texts, phone calls, and Zoom meetings because a mixture of all of those methods will be what every shop is going to use.
Set expectations early, especially with new clients. Find out what their communication preferences are, and how they prefer to communicate with their freelancers. This also provides a good opportunity to set some boundaries, if you feel like they’re needed.
Being 100 percent available all of the time obviously sounds ideal for clients, but it’s important to consider your home and family life. If you’re not willing to be available before or after a certain time of day due to family obligations or time zone differences, then have that discussion at the project’s kickoff, not when things are hitting the fan two days before final delivery.
Open lines of communication
We editors tend to like our dark windowless spaces with vibrant glowing monitors. As a freelancer though, it’s best not to disappear into a dark hole. Producers and directors often respect an editor’s need to camp out and work through an edit, but they don’t like being left out of the loop.
A simple tip I like for longer projects, where there may be multiple days before a cut is dropped into Frame.io for review, is to send brief status updates to the producer. First thing in the morning, I send an easy-to-skim email that says what I accomplished the day before and what my plans are for that day. This short message helps to keep everyone on the same page and avoid potential creative interruptions throughout the day.
“It’s been my experience though that more communication is appreciated, so long as it isn’t bothersome.”
In the same vein as availability, establish how much communication your project lead wants from you. It’s been my experience though that more communication is appreciated, so long as it isn’t bothersome.
For example, a director might want to know how an edit is coming along, but what they don’t want is an update every time you hit a snag. Sure, problems arise when editing, but the EP doesn’t need to be notified every single time a boom can be seen in the shot.
Keep in mind that, again, you were contracted to be a problem solver. Solve the dilemmas you can and, for issues you need to bring to the producer, have possible solutions lined up.
On the personal side, life happens, and hopefully your client will respect that. Doctors, dentists, children, worldwide pandemics—all of these have the potential to derail a productive day of work. Call them out as early as you can so your client has time to prepare for your absence, if necessary, and be upfront about how you plan to make up any missed time.
Rounding out what will make you an all-star freelance editor is the people factor. How do you perceive the clients you’re working with and how do they perceive you? The nuggets of advice below should help take you from just another editor to a client’s go-to editor.
Manage your relationships
Working with various agencies and studios will expose you to a multitude of personalities. The way you work with a director will not be the same as how you work with a producer, and I can all but guarantee it’s not how you’ll work with the end client.
What’s important to understand is exactly who you’re working for. A producer will typically be focused on the budget, while the director will want to push the creative envelope as far as it can go. The end client is always a wild card. Some go with the flow, some follow the director’s lead, some follow the money, and still others march to the beat of their own out-of-sync drum. It’s your job to make them all happy. Easy, right?
Make your client’s life easy
This is as close as I get to spouting sage advice, so soak it up. No matter how eccentric your client may turn out to be, you should be doing everything you can to make their life easy. The less they have to worry about because you’re handling it, the better.
“No matter how eccentric your client may turn out to be, you should be doing everything you can to make their life easy.”
On top of that, if you make them look good to their client, boss, investors, etc, you’ll be setting yourself up for repeat work.
Don’t be a jerk
I’ll close with a point that shouldn’t need to be made, but alas, here we are. No one likes working with someone with an attitude, whether it’s bad or just conceited. As author Jon Acuff puts it, “Pretend you live in a small town.”
You may be the quickest, most creative, divinely-gifted editor to place their fingers on a keyboard, but if you’re too full of yourself to respect the people you’re working with, your chances of being hired shrink dramatically.
You as the remote freelancer are entering another team’s domain and it’s up to you to figure out the team dynamics. Ultimately though, stick to the golden rule and you’ll be fine. Be nice to others and they’ll typically be nice to you.