Velvet Pig

Into Year 4

Alan Parry

A No Bullsh#t Look Back At Starting And Running A Small Video Production Company

About 4 years ago I registered Velvet Pig Ltd with Companies house.

Like every wannabe business owner I thought I knew better. That the way things were being done were stupid. Outdated. That we could do it better.

And well, I was half right.

Granted. Covid-19 more than anything else, had proven that businesses didn’t need an office. Even the creative world which was so reliant on collaboration demonstrated it was able to adapt to remote only work. Ok fine, shoots are a little trickier without a studio space of your own but plenty of production companies are in that situation… and its not as if my arse could afford to fund a studio in London anyway.

Especially when I’d just quit my job.

Money is by far the driving factor as a small business owner. I’m sure you’d love to hear another creative preach that the craft, freedom and all the other romantic ideals are what drive me but the reality is those things don’t put food on my table or the tables of anyone I’m now responsible for paying.

Fortunately with such low overheads and a decent portfolio of work the first year was relatively smooth sailing. With a long term project for a Fintech even providing enough extra cash to fund a spec project at the start of the second year.

The spec project was something I’d long advised my previous boss to do. My theory went that nobody was going to pay us to do work we couldn’t show we’d already done. They might entertain the idea if we seriously under bid the competition but then we’d have next to no budget to get the thing made and inevitably we’d under deliver. Instead, what if we took the hit, called in a few favours, put a bit of money behind our team and gave them a chance to make something they were excited about and that our potential clients could get excited about.

In the end my boss never went for it. But with a bit of extra cash in the Velvet Pig account and a few ideas floating around… it was time to put my money where my mouth was and go for it.

Every Step Of The Game would be the video we created, calling in favours from my rugby club as well as some local opposition to fill out our cast of players and kits.

Unfortunately whilst we could get some leeway on rates for kit the studio, lights and fake grass would add up to a fair lump of cash… that did give me pause for thought… after all I also had my eye on a new motorcycle, or more practically, another full time employee.

With the money committed I would enlist some former colleagues for their advice and given my experience as a creative and a rugby player I opted to direct the film myself. In hindsight, the final product might have been even better if I’d found a suitable director but the project was as much about myself and the rest of the team experimenting and growing as it was proving we could create this type of content.

Anyway, to cut it short, the shoot went well, post production commenced and passed. The video got some good feedback and even showcased in one or two places and as Louis joined the team full time as Creative Director we began shopping ourselves about amongst teams, clubs and organisations that might have an interest.

Nibbles… but nothing yet.

Oh well, we had other work to be getting on with and with that keeping us busy we figured we’d be able to fund another spec project soon, maybe from a slightly different approach or with some high speed cameras… we kept our crews and suppliers happy with quick payments on invoices and kept our clients happy enough to keep coming back.

As our second year chugged by, we got closer to Christmas, and anyone who runs a video agency knows that Christmas is pretty dead for the industry on both sides…. or at least for everyone I’ve spoken to. But with looking to get their content created in advance you get the chance to build up that cushion to tide you over.

I’ve described the stress of running Velvet Pig as a constant low level hum. Even when things are going well (Which they fortunately have been for the last 12 months) there’s always something that needs your attention, a voice wondering if you’re doing enough networking or outreach, a little anxiety about what works in the pipeline… how long the war chest you’ve built up would last if the worst should happen.

And as anyone who has ever met me will tell you, I always have a plan. And so far the plan was going well. We had more than enough work lined up to see us out for the year and give us a cushion to ride through the quiet months we could see coming.

And then a lettuce tanked the economy.

We lost work that equated to 2-3 months operating costs in the space of a week. More followed as all of our other clients were tightening their belts.

And unfortunately for me I’d just booked a trip to Japan with my partner to go see her family for Christmas / New Year.

Fun Times.

I’d be lying if I said the next few months passed quickly. Initially we were frustrated but optimistic that more work would turn up. We reached out to a few repeat clients and kept on with the outreach but… well… nothing did turn up.

Eventually myself and Louis decided that we’d have to take a pay cut, if we paid ourselves at all. With the hope that we could limp through till the New Year when things might start to pick up again.

By the time I was in Japan celebrating new years I knew I wasn’t being paid that month. I had a small emergency fund to cover essentials for a while but the discussion around winding things up before completely running out of money were well underway.

We hadn’t exactly been paying ourselves a huge salary. We’d bootstrapped the company off of my savings and initial freelance and first year success. So the prospect of being rid of the stress and responsibilities, making more money and doing half the work… well… there was definitely some appeal.

And then, out of the blue we were contacted through the website. Someone had seen the spec piece and got in touch. They had budget and wanted a video shot in the new year. A shoot with a rugby player no less.

I signed the contract on behalf of Velvet Pig from my future in-laws living room in semi-rural Japan.  Sure we weren’t completely out of the woods yet…. but we’d proven a point, if only to ourselves. We could do this.

The following 12 months would see a mini boom for Velvet Pig with a whole host of sports content. This new client would come back for more, as would other former clients as they loosened the purse strings again. What's more we were able to focus on the sports content we wanted to create more of.

In the space of 12 months we went from not being able to pay ourselves to working on projects that involved international rugby players, Formula 1, Moto GP, The Isle of Man TT and a whole bunch of other projects that kept us busy.

We were even able to bump up pay to try and help combat the seemingly never ending inflation.

So yeah, year 3 was fucking awesome. With weddings, moves and more employees planned for year 4, lets hope we can keep it going.

I’d be lying if I said the next few months passed quickly. Initially we were frustrated but optimistic that more work would turn up.

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