Case Study: How Brian turned a hobby into a business — and almost doubled his rates

November 17th, 2011 - 17 Comments

The most dependable way to earn more money is to provide more value to your customers. That’s obvious.

And the most dependable way to provide more value to your customers is to listen to them and take the time to really understand what they want and need…then give it to them. That’s also obvious.

So why do so few people actually take the time to do it?

It’s because researching your customers isn’t as sexy or fun as creating products or strategizing your pricing. It involves talking to REAL PEOPLE. It also involves admitting that you might be wrong about your customers and the best way to find out is to shut up and listen.

If you can’t get into your customers’ heads, chances are your products and strategies will fail. Why shoot yourself in the foot before you’re even up and running?

Today, a story about one of my students, Brian, who did it right.

He’s building his business slowly, minimizing his risk and taking the time to talk to his customers and other professionals in his industry along the way. His results speak for themselves…he’s almost doubled his rates.

Here’s how he did it.

Step 1: Proving the idea

Halfway through film school, Brian realized that while he loved filmmaking, he had no idea how to turn his hobby into a business. He learned a lot about the technical and artistic aspects of filmmaking, but not much about how to actually make money from those skills.

Brian didn’t want to drop out, so he decided to try Earn1K, my course on earning more on the side, he was curious.

By the third week of Earn1K, Brian had niched his business idea down to high-end wedding videos and set two goals:

  1. Book three weddings and have one of them be from a couple he didn’t know.
  2. Earn enough to pay for a camera (about $1,200).

He started telling everyone he knew about his new wedding video business. “At the beginning, I was pretty much giving the videos away. One was free. A couple were $450. By the end of the first season, clients were paying $1,000 for each video. I saw that I was giving people valuable material. They weren’t paying just to help me out. That meant a lot. They really wanted what I was offering.”

Brian minimized his risk by proving the validity of his idea before investing a lot of money in it. He shot his first three weddings with rented or borrowed cameras. He didn’t print business cards or put up a website.

“Why have business cards if no one wants to know who I am?” Brian reasoned. “Same with a website. No one was looking for me. I needed to get people’s attention first. Then I could think about that stuff.”

Brian booked six clients by the end of the first summer. Three of them were people he didn’t know. He bought his camera and started planning for the next year’s wedding season.

“This is what people pay money for!” he said. “I could learn a lot of the pieces of this from scattered blogs, but not from a single, trusted source. You know it’s grounded in data and real conversations with people. And Earn1K is all cohesive and ordered so that it’s actionable. It’s realistic and doable.”

Step 2: Understanding his customers

“Everything about video is considering your audience. Whether it’s corporate video or fundraising or weddings, it all hinges on understanding who is watching it and what it’s going to take to communicate with them well. And that comes from really understanding your ideal client profile.”

He used the 37-minute video and worksheet on defining your ideal client profile from Earn1K to focus on his ideal client.

“That’s the lesson that got me thinking about who my customers were and what they really wanted. I started talking with customers, talking with wedding photographers, researching other videographers. I did this when I started and between seasons. My product has definitely changed over the last year thanks to that lesson.”

Brian found his best customers were almost always 25 or older. Any younger and they’d be more focused on price than quality. They were usually young professionals who had been working for a couple years. “I’ve also noticed it’s usually the bride’s parents who are paying, so I’m now trying to learn more about them and where they are in their life. I’m focused on the couple, but I want to give them enough material to sell me to their parents.”

Wedding photographers have also been helpful in teaching Brian about his customers and market. “Not only do they know the business, but they’ve been great sources for referrals. Brides look for photographers early and video late in the process, so having that connection is huge.”

Brian’s also learned a lot about his ideal customers and the market from studying his competition. “A lot of the choices I saw videographers making seemed foolish. Like charging by the hour and listing all of the equipment. My clients don’t care how many microphones I’m using. They trust me to deliver a quality work of art, and they want me to be generous with my hours and equipment. Not constantly try to upsell them.”

How has knowing his ideal client profile helped Brian?

Getting into his customers’ heads has helped him deliver better videos and earn stronger referrals. While he’s only booked one more wedding than last year, his price per wedding has gone way up. Couples can purchase a short form video for around $1,250. A long-form for $2,250. Or get both for over $3,000. He’s also started adding same day editing so the wedding party can view their video during their reception. His clients love it.

As his reputation grows, he’s already booked two weddings for next season and is pursuing leads for several off-season weddings. Best of all, he loves what he does.

Working on happily ever after…

Brian isn’t a full-time wedding videographer yet. He still paints houses part-time to help pay the bills, but he isn’t worried about that.

“From all the wedding photographers I’ve talked to, it can take three to six years to go full-time. So I’m in good shape for how I’m growing.”

With two seasons under his belt, Brian has a better sense of how many weddings he’ll need to book each year to make the business sustainable. “Nobody else is a full-time wedding videographer in my area. There’s some people doing commercial and real estate video. But for now I’m sticking with weddings and doing it better than anyone else. My clients appreciate that, and it makes it simpler for me.”

Instead of diluting his niche, Brian is expanding his geographical market. Seattle is just an hour and a half away. If he can break in there, he knows he’ll be able to go full-time. All he needs to do is connect with a few wedding photographers and start reaching out to couples who meet his ideal client profile…

Total earned using Earn1K: $15,653
Houry rate: Before Earn1K = $15; After Earn1K = $25
What would you be doing without Earn1K: “I was going to try start this business with or without Earn1K, but without it I’d still be floundering for lack of confidence, clarity of who my customer is, and growing but ever so slowly.”
What would you tell others considering joining this course: “I read heaps of blogs but I craved structure and I needed an authoritative voice among the well wishers and the vague suggestions. Your dedication to data forced me to rethink my strategies from the ground up and I’m super grateful for that. Earn1K set me on course for success.”

Who is your ideal client?

I devote multiple modules in Earn1K to really defining your ideal client and defining what they want and need. But you don’t need all of that to start today. Sign-up for Insider’s List today and I’ll give you FREE access to a ton of money-making resources — including another case study about someone who also kickstarted their business with free work — as well as my Ideal Client Profile worksheet.

PS — I need your help. My friend Amit Gupta (@superamit) was diagnosed with Leukemia and is trying to find a bone marrow match. Time is running out — he has less than 13 days left to find a match. I swabbed my cheek 2 weeks ago and it took 5 minutes. Will you help? Click here: http://t.co/mztEwzGQ

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17 Comments

 

Comments

  1. Just joined the registry and ordered my free swab kit. Will spread the word.

    This case study is awesome. I know so many people who would love the idea of having the video played at the reception–unique and smart benefit.

  2. I’m genuinely sorry to hear about your friend. I hope word spreads quickly, thanks for telling us about him.

    I love when you feature creative professionals, it’s actually pretty rare to find this kind of content. I’m in the process of offering a writing and/or social media service through my husband’s one-man company (he’s a freelancer too). We always had a vague idea of what the service would be, but lately it’s really taken shape. My next step is finding a guinea pig to try it out on.

  3. Hoping for the best for Amit!

    Showing the ceremony video at the reception is a terrific idea! Inevitably there’s always a few guests who miss the ceremony completely, especially if it’s short and sweet. :)

  4. Sorry to hear about your friend. Hope it goes well for him.

    Loved this case study. There are so many data-driven insights that Brian found and used to build his business. I especially like this one, “Brides look for photographers early and video late in the process..”. There must be so many videographers out there who don’t know this and continue to pitch to brides too early in the process and lose out.

  5. I’ve been registered with Be the Match for 5 years now, but, I’m not South Asian so there’s a near zero chance I’ll be the right match for Amit. I work with a lot of Indians though, so, I’ll see if I can get any of them to register.

    I agree with Arti – Brian was using a lot of actual data (rather than feelings and his thoughts on how things should be) to build his business. It’s not surprising at all that his calculated efforts are being met with success.

  6. I’m not South Asian, but I joined the bone marrow registry last month.

  7. Two things…

    Amit Gupta, good thoughts going your way my man, I hope everything turns out alright.

    Second, this was an awesome case study, I probably relate to it more because I have a friend pursuing the exact same thing.

    Loved the bit about understanding your customers, for a while, that was the hardest part for me (I do WordPress sites for small businesses), as I was chasing the wrong type of customer and spending way too much time on it.

    I’ll also attest to the power of referrals, they can literally create a new opportunity for business, with just a mere mention. Always take care of your customers and never be afraid to ask those you know if they’d mine sending people your way if they know someone that needs quality work done in your field.

  8. Great case study. It’s a good example of how simple it can be to start a business, and how it’s more important to be good than complicated.

  9. [...] Case Study: How Brian turned a hobby into a business — and almost doubled his rates “The most dependable way to earn more money is to provide more value to your customers. That’s obvious. And the most dependable way to provide more value to your customers is to listen to them and take the time to really understand what they want and need…then give it to them. That’s also obvious. So why do so few people actually take the time to do it?” I Will Teach You to Be Rich [...]

  10. Very inspirational! I really related to holding back on the website and the business cards concept. Why spend the money upfront on something that isn’t truly essential to the start of your business? I think people really believe that having a website and business cards are the first step. This is not always the case.

  11. Brian case is exclusive not for the main streets the truth is that 9 in ten 10 that try turning their hobbies into business fails. It after all a hobby

  12. Love the photo! Yes I agree that providing the right service to your customers is always a surefire way to get the best results, and I think that understanding what they want is essential. I like using surveys on my blogs to get a straw poll of thoughts and feelings.

  13. It never ceases to amaze me that people struggle to listen to their loyal customers, but instead try to delivery products that they think customers will like. Taking time to actually listen to what the consumer needs are is an essential tool

  14. That’s a great case study! Many persons should take example before starting their own business and quickly declare bankruptcy for lack of skills and knowledge! It’s never easy and such a example and tips are always welcome!

  15. [...] Case Study: Monetizing a Hobby OfflineCase Study: How Brian turned a hobby into a business — and almost doubled his ratesA Case Study: Monetizing a Hobby OfflineCase Study: How Brian turned a hobby into a [...]

  16. Ramit,

    Thanks for sharing this case study. It’s a great example of blending one’s skills, talents and interests with a good business idea. I have a question for you: how do you advise your clients when they have more than one good idea? How do you choose which direction from a business standpoint?

    • There is an entire process we developed to (1) come up with many ideas, then (2) systematically eliminate the bad ones and test the good ones. I cover that process in detail in Earn1K.