Hello! I ́m Alfonsina Sterling, co-founder at Indie Oven, a small video production studio based in Buenos Aires, where we create video content for different platforms. We are a small team of two 24/7, bringing up colleagues to help us with bigger projects and my main roles are Video Editing and Production.
We do Video Production from start to finish - going from the idea to the final video edited. And today Video Editing and Post Production are the most demanded.
We started offering general video services and with time started to productize them. In the beginning, we weren't aware of it but we started to discover different alternatives to offer our services in packs so people could combine them as needed.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
After finishing college I found myself with this Travolta feeling
I started working with some local production companies going from art assistant, video editor, and producer. Slowly realized I wasn't into working at an office and started freelancing.
From there - long story short, it all started in our living room. No office, no consultants, not broke but wasn´t the golden age either.
Think in the long-term and try to think about how your ideal business would look like in the future.
I got a call to do a music video I could ́t do alone. So talked to Nico and Ale - we did the video together and it was fun, we were happy with how it turned out and figured we could do more videos.
There was nothing to launch, we just started working on projects together and that's how Indie Oven started.
We created business cards, a website, Facebook, and twitter page and started telling people we were creating videos.
At that moment, we were a team of three. Two of us were freelancing and one had a full-time job. You can figure how much experimenting went into this.
We had no idea of how to get things started, we had no validation that this was going to work and no knowledge about running a business, and we needed to reach our target to make more music videos.
So we launched a contest for local indie bands and the prize was a Music Video done by us, all costs covered. They had to send us the track they wanted to have produced, we published them on our Facebook page and people voted.
The winner band was from another city, so besides the music video, it turned into a road trip and cost us a bit more than we expected. Our financial situation at that moment was not the brightest, but there was no way we were going to leave the band hanging. So we just did it gathering all the resources we had, talking to the band, proposing different options within our possibilities until it finally happened.
It was kind of bootstrapping and see what works and what doesn't.
Once the video was launched people got engaged and we started receiving requests not only from other bands that wanted to create videos but also from fashion designers and bigger companies. That was or validation.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
The ball started rolling and we kept working on new projects, but it was still a team of three with two freelancers and one full-timer. We had to take the next step and prepare for a transition. But we didn't, and things kept working the same because we just weren't making enough to make it work for all of us.
We started to think about other options to get noticed and start producing better content while also earning a better profit. That's when we started exporting our services on the internet.
Since I had the most ́free time due to my freelance-no freelance status, I started researching about working remotely and discovered a whole new world.
Our website was in Spanish, so it was our social media. The first thing we did was to update everything to be bilingual, update our portfolio and get ready for this new remote thing.
We found sites like Elance (now Upwork), People Per Hour, Freelancer, Fiverr that worked as a middle man, managing all administrative things, along with communication. However they had terrible reviews, people complaining and also people who loved them, and articles or blogs promising this was going to be the future of work. At that moment there wasn't that much-validated information about them. So at least I needed to understand how they work.
The only way to find out was - again, experimenting. So I created a profile on all of them, read the FAQ on each site, saw every possible tutorial, blogs, news articles, and get things going.
Alternatively, I also found other niche sites such as Tongal, Eyeka, Genero, Talent House, among others that were more design or creative centered and generally speaking had better feedback.
We signed up for all of them as well.
After a few days, we started to receive answers. We got our first job on Elance and things started to get real. Within a few weeks, we were working with people from around the globe using a mix of all of those platforms, Elance being our #1 at that time.
The fact that we were exporting our services also allowed us to earn in different currencies with better exchange than the Argentine peso.
That's when taxes come in, things got serious at that point.
We started doing all our accounting manually, on our own, which was a complete disaster. We needed an accountant to handle all of it. Problem solved. Another lesson learned.
So we started to invest in new equipment: Better computer, software upgrade, new cameras, lighting, and anything we needed to do the work.
We just couldn't believe how we started to have more remote work to do and less local projects. We had a few ongoing projects with monthly video requests and other recurrent clients with daily and weekly video production. At that moment we realized that we really didn't need to have lots of work, but instead focus on those that keep coming over and over again: around 3 to 5 recurrent clients.
Today we still have clients who we started to work with at that time. But there was one experience that taught us to be careful.
We had an ongoing project to create recipe videos for a media company, we started creating 3 videos per week and 5 months later we were producing 12 per week. We got busy. We couldn't do any other projects so we focused on 3 remote clients that at the moment were 90% of our earnings, being the rest local. To our surprise, our biggest client decided to keep the production in house and closed the contract.
It was great until it lasted, and made us realize that while having recurrent projects is a good idea, we need to have a backup. It hit us hard and put us back where we started: sending proposals, updating everything. One of my partners also moved to another city and started working on something else, so he left the Indie Oven. Now we were a team of 2. Was not the end of the world, but not going to lie - I went back into Travolta Mode. Luckily, it happened at the end of the year, vacations were just around the corner, so I was ready to start again.
With all this, we were still on a learning path about several aspects of working overseas such as contracts, project management, communication, pricing, invoicing, marketing, etc. And the biggest lesson was not to put all our eggs in one basket and diversify our income.
Once we felt confident enough we were able to go back to take more complex projects involving full video production, which was our original intention.
We started reaching out to people directly, agencies, companies on LinkedIn, any anyone we considered we could be a good fit in terms of video production.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today we have a mix of everything, we still use platforms such as Upwork and Fiverr, while also receiving requests on our website.
We are aware that there are mixed feelings regarding them, but now I see: You need to find out what tools work for you and make the most out of them.
One of the things we did to fight this was research, research, and research. We are exporting our services in a very competitive market. We had to do everything possible to have our portfolio look great (still working on it every day) and also find pricing that works for us.
All research was focused to find out what other video production companies were doing, what their online presence was, what budget they handled, what type of projects they did and what type of clients they had. We analyzed all this and started to compare it with our possibilities and the way we were managing things remotely.
We discovered a pattern on the requests and created some sort of menu for people to choose from. It also helps us stay organized and focused on doing what we wanted by working on projects where both parties can grow - our client and us.
Here is when Fiverr comes in. One of the things we didn't like at the beginning was the reputation the site had in terms of quality and pricing, but the way it works and the format they were proposing was interesting. It was e-commerce for services and matched what we were starting to do which was productizing our video services.
We decided to give it to try while staying true to our goal which was enhancing our portfolio while growing our business. We set up the Gigs with a price that worked for us, completely ignoring the $5 standard. There was just no way we could offer anything at that price, and the worst thing that could happen was that we simply didn't get any requests.
Within a few days, people started placing orders, and with each, we did our best to make great content - this allowed up to scale up our prices gradually. Every time we were busy with a lot of work, we updated or portfolio and adjusted the prices accordingly to keep on the good work while again - investing in software, a better computer, better management.
Almost 2 years later they launched Fiverr Pro, we applied and got accepted. Around the same time Fiverr reached out with a collaboration a project for Gillette Venus to create a short video ad, along with other 9 directors - each one created one video under the topic of Female Presence in the Media.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Since it all started without planning, we were some kind of team of freelancers working together and gradually ended up being a business. So most of the things learned from trial and error.
One of the most important things we learned was how important communication is. Being upfront and honest with the client from the beginning about everything is key. We ended up creating several templates for questions we usually had about projects and created one per service. So when we have a new project onboarding we go and check everything we need to know is in the brief and if it's not, we simply ask.
One of the most challenging parts, when we started working online, was finances. We needed and wanted to make it work, but had zero knowledge of what was going on in the rest of the world in terms of production costs.
We started pricing by matching what works or is fair within the Argentinian Market, but we soon realized it had a different perception working with people from around the world - we were getting into an international market and had to find a balance. What looked cheap to some markets, was expensive for others. We needed to find pricing that was competitive, balanced and that matched what we had to offer.
It helped us a lot to understand our expenses, possibilities, and needs to standardize our base costs per project.
One of the best decisions we made was to start saying No more often. Being realistic, we can not be a good fit for every project out there. But we can make sure that any project we join gets the best of us.
This gave us more room to work with better projects, things that we felt connected to. Instead of expending a lot of time working or finding new work, we used that time to get better at what we do and do our best on each new one. It's like a domino effect, the better we work, the happier the client, and new projects come up. It's simple and seems obvious, but took us a few years to realize that is not about quantity but quality.
In terms or long terms plan and organization, we also noticed a pattern between work gaps. And since we are working overseas, holidays, vacation times vary from place to place. For example, our summer might be winter vacations for some of our clients - or when a fiscal year ends for some countries it is the work peak season for others. We started to understand this and try to find ways to manage what we can ́t control, by understanding it and knowing ahead of time what to expect, so we can use it that time for something else: upgrades, new skill learning, starting a new personal project or simply go on vacation.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We have different tools for everything:
General Marketing and Online presence: Social Media Ads (Instagram, Facebook, Brandzooka), Networking on FB, LinkedIn groups, Reddit.
Feedback and Review: Frame.io
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
There ́s a lot of info out there!
Books: The Freelance Manifesto by Joey Korenman, I mean — thanks for writing this. There is a lot about freelancing out there but this one is about freelancing on post, especially as motiongrapher.
Podcasts: The Motion Hatch always has interesting industry guests, Pat Flynn ́s podcast is a huge database of shared knowledge from people of working on different business. Ukramedia also have amazing guests to learn from with a great interviewer always asking the right questions
I've also been following Starter Story, a great knowledge source from personal experience in different industries as well.
Frame.io has a great blog with useful information related to Video Production/Post-Production.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Plan ahead if you can. Think of the long-term and try to think about how your ideal business would look like in the future.
Also think about you, not only your career but personally - how you see yourself in the future. I know it sounds corny or cliche, but speaking from my experience - we started thinking ´´Hey, let's see how this goes ́ ́ and from there a big learning path started and a lot of things we didn't expect happened. After that, planning helped us gain control of what we do along with trying to stay up to date with everything. How are we doing business, what's new around there that can help us scale up, what are our clients saying.
Just keep track of your process and start evaluating what's working, what's not, what can be improved. We try to do this every month.
Where can we go to learn more?
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