Once you've made the decision to get involved in online video, and picked the video style that you think fits both your personality and your goals, it's time to start thinking about production.  And in online video production, there are really only two choices:  self-produce, or hire a professional.  This third edition of our Online Video Marketing Basics series will examine the pros and cons of both choices, to help you determine which one is the best choice for your situation.

Right off the bat, I think it's only fair to tell you that I think you should hire a professional.  It's not that I don't think you're capable of creating a great online video by yourself.  After all, plenty of regular anonymous nobodies have done it before you, and many of them have had success.  But your pluck, energy, and willpower will never stand up to the raw talent and experience professional filmmakers bring to the table.  But that's just my opinion.  There are a lot of factors that go into a decision like this, and finished video quality is actually only one of them.

So let's break down each choice—video self production or professional production—by the respective pros and cons:



Online Video Marketing Basics Part 3   Self Produce or Hire A Professional? budget 200x248 Lower Cost. The single most common reason that companies and individuals decide to self-produce their online video is budget.  Compare the bottom line cost of hiring a professional against the bottom line cost of pulling out your Flip camera, filming yourself, and then editing the result with YouTube's free video editor… and you're making the accountant's job very easy.  When cost is the most important factor in your decision, this seems like a no-brainer.

It can be significantly less expensive to make your own videos than to pay someone to do it for you.  I could list hundreds of tiny reasons why this is so, but the long and short of it is that professional video production companies charge for their services.  I would argue that they are generally worth it, but that's not the point we're discussing right now.  There is no denying the cost.  And a lot of businesses simply can't afford it.  The choice is made for them by the annual shrinking of their marketing budgets in a recession.

It's cheaper to do almost anything yourself than to hire a professional.  I could hire a tax professional to compile my tax return, or I could save all that money and just do my taxes myself.  I could hire a professional to build my new backyard deck, or get some lumber and start hammering on my own.  In terms of pure dollars spent, it's almost always cheaper to do it yourself.  But there may be other "costs.”

Again, money is not the only consideration in this decision, but it's an important one that, for many, can't be overlooked.

Creative Control.  When you self-produce your online videos, you have 100% of the creative control.  You might think that you have that same level of control even when you've hired a professional.  And while you most certainly have the final say in those situations, you have to realize that a professional is always going to bring their own experience, expertise, and ideas to the table (and you would be wise to listen to them in most cases).  When you roll the opinions and suggestions of professionals into your original seed of an idea, that idea often morphs and changes.  It's usually for the better, but it's still worth pointing out that hiring video production professionals is almost certainly going to see you yielding some level of creative control as you put that trust in the professional.

Online Video Marketing Basics Part 3   Self Produce or Hire A Professional? camera2 200x133 Low Production Values. You might be thinking that low production values belongs in the "cons" list and not the "pros" list.  Rest assured, it's on the cons list as well.  But it's here as a possible positive for one big reason:  in viral video, sometimes you want to have low production values.  Maybe you're trying to trick the viewer into believing your big marketing push is actually a series of harmless user-created videos.  Maybe you're doing some guerrilla-style marketing.  Maybe you're faking something, and lower production values help you hide your special effects tactics a bit more.

Don't just assume that every video you create needs to have top-level production values.  Not everything that goes viral is slick and full of pristine CGI.  In fact, a large portion of today's viral hits are shot by amateurs (and tend to look like they were shot by amateurs as well).


Low Production Values.  When you self-produce, you can count on your video looking self-produced.  Professional, high-quality camera work and editing almost always looks better, and today's savvy viewers can probably tell it apart subconsciously.  If you want your video to have the best production values possible, you simply cannot choose to do it yourself… unless you just happen to also be an expert in video production.

But if your business or personal endeavor is not related to video production services, then you definitely won't do as good a job self-producing as a professional firm can do.  Period.  It's not even really up for discussion.

Of course, production values may not matter for your viral video effort—in fact, some efforts specifically call for a video that looks self-produced.

Mistakes.  When you self-produce, you're going to make mistakes.  This is a tack-on point to the first one.  You'll chop too much on an edit, or record the audio levels too low... or some similar mistake.  One of the reasons people hire professional firms is that they've repeated the video-creation process enough times to have it down to a science… they've practiced the tasks so often that they simply don't make many mistakes.  Beginners, however—regardless of what craft we're discussing—are going to make a lot of mistakes… and that leads to something even worse:

Online Video Marketing Basics Part 3   Self Produce or Hire A Professional? clock2 200x133 Wasted Time.  When you make mistakes as your own video producer, that costs you time.  Think about everything you don't know about video production, from lighting to lenses to blocking and framing.  You'll be using trial and error in making several of these decisions, and you'll make many more mistakes than you realize.

ALSO ►  How Setting the Video Production Bar Low Can Lead to Higher Viewer Engagement

Every decision you make will cost you most time than it would a professional.  What kind of camera should you use?  Don't know?  Maybe you can do some online research and read some reviews to find out which camera is best?  Of course you can… but it'll waste four hours of your life. Each mistake costs you precious time, but it also costs you money—every wasted hour you spend on video production is an hour you're not billing your customers for.

Hiring A Professional


Online Video Marketing Basics Part 3   Self Produce or Hire A Professional? lighting 200x132 High Production Values. Professional video production firms have some huge benefits to offer you in the area of production values.  First, they have better equipment.  Most full-time video production houses have top-of-the-line cameras, lighting equipment, and editing capabilities.  When you self-produce, you're sacrificing the quality production values that high-end equipment brings with it.  The second major benefit professional production companies offer in the realm of production values is related to their experience.  While you've been building your business or personal reputation for several years, they've been making videos.  They know more than you ever could, and that insider's expertise leads directly to a finished product of noticeably higher quality.

Minimal Wasted Time/Effort. That experience also helps trim wasted time and effort that naturally comes from trial and error.  For instance, before self-producing a video, you might comparatively shop video cameras online, reading reviews and gathering data to help make your choice.  But the professional firm already knows what the best cameras are, and what the strengths and shortcomings are to every possible piece of equipment your video requires.  What takes you hours or days to research could be answered in seconds by a seasoned vet.

Added Value/Services. Most professional video production firms offer a wide variety of ancillary services such as scripting, casting, and marketing.  Those that don't offer such services usually at least have solid relationships with vendors who do, and can facilitate a smooth transition from script to filming or from production to marketing.

If you self-produce, you have to either do all the scripting and marketing yourself as well, or at least go out and shop for such vendors on your own.  Obviously this can add tremendous time to your overall project, further removing you from your day-to-day core operations.  Instead of selling more widgets, you're spending all your time creating YouTube accounts and researching the use of social media in video marketing.

Online Video Marketing Basics Part 3   Self Produce or Hire A Professional? clapper 200x200 Creative Collaboration. Video production firms make videos for a living.  They've seen more than you ever will.  Much like a graphic designer seeks inspiration from other graphic designs, video firms pay attention to what they're peers and competitors are doing.  They know what's working online.  Almost every video company I've worked with in the past has a creative team ready to jump into the brainstorming session with you, pooling the ideas that spring from their experience with the root concept you developed.  In most cases, listening to this kind of collaborative advice will result in a better overall product.


Cost. Quality video production services aren't cheap.  If I were to throw out some numbers I've seen, many of you would quit reading this article right here and simply decide to self-produce.  The truth is that it's hard to give a ballpark number on this sort of thing, since every video requires a different mix of services.  Just know that it can get expensive.  And there's a reason for that… it's usually worth it.  If you were to create a video yourself, and then hire a video production house to create the same video, and then you played them side by side… one would look like a Hollywood feature and the other like a weekly winner from America's Funniest Home Videos.  Like a lot of expensive things, high-end video production is worth every penny you spend on it, assuming you have the pennies to spare.

Lack of Creative Control.  Quite a few video production companies will have strong opinions on the creative side of your project.  Some might suggest changes, additions, or even rewrites of the script.  You are the customer, and as such you will always have the final say, but a lot of energy and time can be lost in discussing and debating the creative elements of an online video.  You might even begin to feel like you're being asked to abandon your original idea completely.  While the advice of experienced professionals will be, more often than not, worth the taking, it's something that a lot of you would probably rather skip altogether.


There are really only three instances when choosing to self-produce is the best choice:

  1. When you actually have some video production expertise or talent yourself (or on your staff), or…
  2. When your budget simply leaves no room to hire a professional, or…
  3. The goals of your video actually require it to appear self-produced.

Outside of those three reasons, I would advise almost anyone to look for a professional.  There are fewer risks, and the potential for huge upside.  And if you value your time, then self-producing can often end up costing you more than paying even high-dollar video production firms to handle the project.  But I know that reason number two above is going to put a ton of you in the self-production column, just by virtue of today's economy.

Because we have a wide variety of readers, many of whom are either business owners or marketing consultants, we'll focus the next few articles in this series on self-producing—though we will also include an article about shopping for and hiring a professional video production firm.  I hope you're finding this series helpful and insightful as you contemplate your own video strategies.  It is my sincere hope that, even if the entire series is not relevant to you, there is at least one article that speaks directly to your current situation.

Stay on the lookout for Part 4 of our Online Video Basics series, Choosing The Right Equipment For The Production Of Your Video.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=766529790 Eddy Woj

    Excellent explanation...

  • Randy Floyd

    Unless you are a professional you should always hire a professional when needing video. One thing that will surprise you is the professional will always exceed your expectations. They will think of things you could never even dream of. When it really counts...hire a pro.

    • Justin Flory

      If this resonates with you, professional video is what I do :) Contact me via Facebook if you have video capture needs.

  • Adam

    Companies like Nike hire the best agency who hires the best director and then the best crew and so on. In the end you get an awesome video. It is like cooking, with the best Cook and with the right ingredients you get great food!

    Someone with no video experience let alone no creative experience should stay far away from creating a marketing video themselves. Video is like drumming, it is easy to do badly. Just turn on the camera and guess what, you are making bad video!! I'm not writing this to be mean, but 99% of the time customer's creative input is horrible and mundane.

    So if you hire a company to make a video for you, tell them what points need to be in marketing piece. Tell them who you are trying to reach. And remember test your video on your target audience, not your wife's uncle Bucky who worked in TV in the 80s.

    Personally I have over years experience, so what do I know? This is your first video, sure lets do it your way....

    My tip is: Find a video that you like and hire that company to make your video, then you know what you are getting and they can be creative and please you.

  • treepodia

    As much as I enjoyed the article I can't help but thinking the presentation of only two options for production is a tad simplistic. Especially when both the methods covered are very costly in either cash , effort or both, not to mention that neither option can be scaled. Both are OK for doing no more than a few tens of videos at the most (& these are extreme cases of brands that have decided to make video a prime marketing like Blendtec with their famous 'will it blend' videos).

    I can think of at least two more options for video, both of which can be scaled, & are employed by top retail brands:

    1. Crowdsourcing video - Brands employing this tactic offer incentives & prizes to customers & members of the public in exchange for getting brand centric video spots from them. This is usually done as part of a particular promotion although un-boxing & videoed product reviews are becoming more common as well. Crowdsourcing also has high PR value - it usually makes for interesting stories that are easy to pitch to the media for extra coverage.

    2. Automated video - Without a shadow of a doubt this is the fastest, easiest & least expensive way to create a large volumes of video & follow the ROI for it. Automated video company's like our own use an ecommerce sites' existing photos, product reviews & description texts to generate short product centric video clips which we then embed in the ecommerce website & monitor for conversions. Since the process is automated we can afford to create a few version of video for each product & the a/b test to see which one gives the best results. We've actually tested automated videos against high grade production videos on occasion & proven that automated video provides better ROI.

    To test your own intuitions about automated video & video ROI visit http://blog.treepodia.com/2010/07/ecommerce-video-ab-testing-test-your-intuitions


  • http://www.socialcubix.com/connect-social-plugins Facebook Connect Integration

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  • SWFL-OnlineVideo

    Thanks Jeremy and friends. Not all professionally produced video is expensive, but it's not free. Neither are the cameras, lights and software need to produce a quality video. Yes sometimes a personal camera will do the job, however if you are trying to promote your website, your unique product or service - first impressions count. There are tons of crummy websites and videos. To make a great first impression that grabs the visitors attention and keeps their interest long enough to purchase your product or service using professional services is a good investment. Shop around, smaller video production companies can provide professional service at a reasonable fee.

    • Tim

      There are tons of bloggers and online businesses creating great videos using camcorders that you could easily buy to use for family and business purposes.

      Photo lights are cheap too, software is completely irrelevant, you wont see any difference onscreen between a film edited on free imovie or an Avid. It's just cuts. (bad transitions and FX no thanks) And you can easily get graphics made via elance.

      I'm with @jules

  • http://greengorillamedical.com/ GreenGorillaVideo

    Good article. I think most businesses should consider hiring an affordable pro if at all possible. I've seen way to many bad videos to ever believe that a poorly shot and edited video is going to represent a business well. I think it hurts more than helps when it comes to sales.

  • GreenGorillavideo

    Good article. I think most businesses should consider hiring an affordable pro if at all possible. I've seen way to many bad videos to ever believe that a poorly shot and edited video is going to represent a business well. I think it hurts more than helps when it comes to sales.

    • Bronte

      Thats true.......all pro's are not same, some are so called guru's which have no knowledge or very less knowledge on these video subjects..................clients always willing to pay more and promptly if you show them results and be honest with them

  • http://www.ShopWatchBuy.com Ken Price

    Excellent post Jeremy! Two points I'd like to add:

    1. Level of Granularity

    When considering the production methods, what is you subject matter. For example, if it's a high-level video about your business, something that's "evergreen", seeking out a professional is a good option.

    However, if you're doing something more atomic, like a product video for a single SKU, then using a pro - even at a discount - won't scale. This makes it time to break out TheFlip.

    Zappos is an interesting study here. They're doing so many that they've set up production studios in-house. So the product video are both self-produced and professional.

    2. Splitting the difference

    There are services out there, Animoto in particular, that can help you self-produce. Upload pictures, clips, etc and they automatically assemble them.

    Granted, it's dependent on the quality of the pics & clips you upload, but the quality of transitions, music, etc... is good.

    Look forward to your next post in the series

  • http://www.labgrab.com labgrab

    I just hosted a webinar and one of the topics covered was in house vs agency. I think story boarding and outlining the project tightly is the best way to control cost. That doesn't mean either side has to agree exactly on the creative aspects, but length, content, on camera or post production elements can all be well defined.

    Bottom line is "are you making videos?" I have seen many an internal project start with a bang and fizzle out. With the pro you will have a complete marketing piece.

  • Jules

    Not so sure about this...

    Web video is a broad term that should be part of the marketing mix of a broad range of companies who have the nerve to experiment without being out off by a price tag before they get started.

    So take Gary Vee and Wine Library TV, he would never have got off the ground had he brought in independent production people, to help with the idea, budget, shoot and edit... imagine costing a 52 week a year show , under lights and the show is shot sometimes on the road! Would never have happened.

    Take a small online baby boutique they want to shoot baby tip videos and reality style behind the scenes of new stock arriving to give their site a face (there's a free idea for you) ..they can't possibly bring in a production crew each time? Every week?

    But taking a diy approach they could have regular weekly content that connects with their customers and end up with bloggers using it on their sites.

    and that's exactly the kind of output you need to make a mark with web video in the social media space. In many cases one expensive glossy video will sit on your homepage (and most production companies make the same old staid advertising style of video) and do very little for the business.

    And DIY quality can be good. To think that creative business people can't be good at video does them a disservice. Business people are often creative, and think about the tonne of businesses in the creative arts who have a great eye for video.

    It's about talent, I have trained philosophy students who have never used a camera to shoot broadcast TV quality footage. A percentage of people have the talent to produce good videos and they'll enjoy it and expand their skills. But absolutely, its' not for everyone.

  • http://www.reelseo.com/author/grantastic/ Grant Crowell

    Actually I wouldn't consider a "CON" for self-production to be that it's a waste of our time. Yes, its not being good with time when we have other responsibilities with a project that require our actual professional expertise (like online marketing or doing clear client tasks they hired us for). However, I believe any online marketer involved with video should take the time to learn the production aspects of online video. Take some training classes, read some books, actually buy a camcorder and learn to shoot and edit video that's "business quality." Then, if you have a little budget (or a good colleague), have a professional videographer comment on your work and offer you tips. The goal is to have at least some hands-on experience with video production, you will be in a better position to communicate with and work with the full-time professionals.

    So what should be included here? PRIORITY. There are a few jobs I have clients where its budgeted for the time for me to train myself on a video software editing program, learn their camcorder, practice with basic lighting – so I can learn. It's cheaper for the client and still up to their expectations, and I become more valuable to them in the future.

  • http://www.captionworld.co.uk Mike

    Another great post Jeremy

    Years ago when the Internet started with website building. The general thought was "I can do that", or I can get the kids to do it for me. Today many companies hire a professional or employ their own team.
    The obvious reason an amateurish website can do a great deal of damage to a perfectly good business. its better not to have one at all. The same goes for a Video advertisement.

    Most businesses will frown at the thought of paying a professional.

    Like they did in the early days of Website building. In my opinion Video advertising is the next big step. But then its up to the Jo public in the World if they find the Video promotion good enough to buy from.

    I put together a video slide show from a bunch of photographs for "Holiday apartments in Newquay" With transitions, background music, voice overs, and Closed captions. The view counts are growing steady by the day, and well placed in Google.

    But is the Video presentation good enough to make the viewer compelled to go to the main website? True most view just for entertainment, But then why are they searching for "Newquay Holiday Apartments"? You would think they wanted a Holiday in Newquay. Is it early days yet for my Video Promos to produce customers or do I need to tweek the Video production in some way?

    Your suggestions and opinions would be great. And most beneficial to all ReelSEO Readers as well.

    It would also be great if we could have a list of success stories here for us to learn from.

    Keep up the great work at REELSEO.


    Regards Mike

    • Jules


      when we say 'online video marketing for business' its' a broad term, let's not assume only medium size or big companies with big marketing budgets.

      businesses could include

      a one man band offering social media consultation, wit his site as the hub
      a couple selling gardening products online, based at home

      so these people can still be very creative with making their own videos, especially when they are in start up phase. They need to get in the video game but they aren't going to outsource.

      So in the first case shooting their own interviews at events and conferences to gain content for their site and featuring people in their target market would work well. They are never going to start hiring crew for this.

      In the second case, getting personal and shooting the uses for the various gardening products they sell, or giving simple gardening tip work make the site sticky. The buyers would feel they get to know the couple and trust them. If they waited until they had a big turnover to afford an ongoing set of videos costing 1000's from a production company it would be an unecessary delay to their marketing efforts.

      Fact is that if bloggers using home kit (check out the quality of ijustine.com who uses simple camcorders and kit) can get a tonne of views, businesses who create their own videos can get a piece of the action too.

      I looked at your video, my observations

      1. It bubbles along but I think its' 30 secs too long to hold attention. A few less words and editing the script would work

      2. Think its' best to stick to one transition style, there are too many different types (spin, slide, clock etc) Get distracting.

      3. More generally I can see if you are limited to just having stills not filming then its' tough. The video are very ad style and a mimic of travel shopping channels like Thomas Cook. I don't find this style particularly appealing. Its' functional but not sure it's any better than a brochure.
      I would take a new editorial spin on.

      PM me if you want some ideas.


  • matthewdibble

    Great stuff, Jeremy.
    From what I've experienced w/ my customers, people are open to paying, if I'm honest with them. I love your approach of "you don't always *want* to pay."
    I also can't understate the importance of Creative Collaboration. Most of us consider ourselves thought leaders in this industry (if you're truly passionate about it) and that experience is the most valuable thing many of us bring to the table.

    • Steve

      I think same as if work is delivered on time and your are honest about the results or tactics with your clients, they are good payers
      another thing which i noted is clients communication and timely reports as promised which make clients happy for long run and repeated business.