Interview with Ashton Tan, Lead Videographer at Mindful Productions
Ashton is a freelance videographer based in Singapore and has been running his photography and film company, Mindful Products since 2012. He has shot more than 100 wedding videos till date and regularly gets new clients via word-of-mouth and his website.
1. What made you decide to get into your current line of work?
Ever since my days studying in a Polytechnic, I’ve been captivated by the film industry. Sadly, it was not the most practical pursuit for a Diploma graduate. Many of my friends decided to get a regular job and I was left wondering what should I do after National Service.
My first foray into videography was when I helped out at a non-profit organization to help the less fortunate. It was the turning-point that piqued my interest in the topic and I was toying with the idea of starting my own videography company.
3 years into my work with the non-profit, a friend of mine asked me: “You can be doing so much more on your own, why are you still there?”
At that moment I made an impulsive decision to resign – without any savings or a plan of what was next.
2. Did you face hardships before starting?
Everyday, I’d sit at Starbucks with my notebook. It was one of the lowest periods in my life but also a defining one. I was broke, unsure and I was really having second thoughts about this whole entrepreneurship thing.
After weeks of brooding, it finally came to me. I decided that I’d focus on a specific area of photography and videography – Weddings. It was an area I was passionate about because it brought smiles to people’s faces. It was also lucrative.
Getting into the wedding industry was hard. I had no experience and no mentor to offer guidance. A couple of challenges I had were:
a) I had to learn the hard way that people weren’t going to take a risk on a young videography freelancer without a strong portfolio.
Fortunately, I got to know a makeup artist who generously referred a few opportunities to me when I first got into it. That really set the foundation for all the other engagements I got after that. Some things might seem to happen by chance, but we can’t wait for them to just ‘happen’, we need to be constantly visible and looking.
Till date, I’ve had the opportunity to work on more than 100 videos for different clients and it would not have happened if I had just sat and waited for deals to fall into my lap.
b) You will meet all kinds of people, good ones and bad. There were instances where a middle-man or agency re-selling my services would make really huge margins from my work and stinge on my fees at the end of it.
If you’re new, you can’t be too trusting, but if you find someone you trust and you happen to work well with them, always collaborate. You’ll grow much faster together that way.
3. What would you say was your greatest difficulty getting into it? Are there any misconceptions people have about your line of work?
Personally, my greatest difficulty was getting confident enough to believe that I could deliver quality work. When I was starting, the first people to reject my ideas and career choice were my parents. Needless to say it was a huge blow to me, but I became even more determined to convince them otherwise.
A lot of my friends have the assumption that freelancing or starting a business is easy and relaxing. When on the contrary, it’s tougher than anything I’ve ever had to go through. There will be days where you struggle, where you’ll feel that all is hopeless and that you will never be certain of what comes next.
My belief is that you need to be ready when the opportunities come – thankfully it did for me. The nature of my job requires me to work when people are resting or celebrating over the weekends. When you run your own thing, there are no fixed hours, but that just means that you’ll need to be working your ass off overtime, most of the time.
You need to keep aiming to be the best in your space because there will always be someone who’s more hungry than you.
4. How are you marketing your business/getting clients?
Marketing is a broad aspect. I would say the most genuine form of marketing is “word of mouth”. That’s all that I relied on when I started.
I had no budget for marketing and all I could do was to constantly be on the lookout for people I could add value to. It might be an answer you get a lot, but the truth is that if you build strong relationships with your clients and associates, when you ask for a warm referral, it will make all the difference.
If you’re not in a sunset industry and you have those relationships, you will never go hungry.
5. List two lessons that has served you well so far since you started the business?
The first lesson for me is that you have you maintain your professionalism consistently regardless of how bad you might feel. As a service provider, you are entitled to drop your client (depending on your terms), but if you choose to deliver, you have to deliver to the best of your abilities.
I’ve had clients that have given me a tough time, sometimes due to reasons not within their control. I’ve stuck by my principle to never falter on quality and it has paid dividends many times over. The tougher clients would lament to me about previous freelancers that have failed to deliver and they suddenly become a raving fan.
Second lesson is to trust your gut and don’t be enticed by greed. I’ve come across clients that had numerous red flags and yet I took the project because I needed the money. These engagements haunted me later on when the client either tries to enforce unfair contract terms or ask for more work than initially agreed upon. As a freelancer or business owner, you’ll have to be firm and reject the ‘energy vampires’ in the form of clients and associates that you’ll come across.
It’s not worth making that bit of money but selling your soul in exchange. Once you start getting the right clients, you’ll realize that it’s so much more satisfying to help them and they are usually willing to pay what you ask for.
If you say yes to the right people and no to the wrong ones, you’ll have a much better chance of succeeding.
7. If you had to offer a piece of advice to someone that had zero experience or connections getting into the business, what would you say?
Your drive needs to be strong – to the point, it almost becomes an obsession. You need to love what you do and always seek to get better. If not, you will not be able to sustain your business.
You will face hardships and many will object to your success or you trying to live your dream, don’t let them stop you if you know that it’s worth the try. At the same time, don’t be fool-hardy and take constructive advice. Say ‘yes’ more in the early days and say ‘no’ more often than usual as you start to get more work. Aim to serve only the clients that let you do your best work for them.
8. What have you started trying this year that has been working well for your business?
I wouldn’t say it’s something ‘new’, but I’ve been regularly updating my portfolio website and consistently sought to exceed client expectations. The result of that is that clients always refer me to their friends when the time comes and they’ll have a hub of videos as proof of the quality of my work.
I’d encourage every freelancer to put effort into it just once and reap the results from a web presence for many engagements ahead.
9. What is one book you would recommend that every new business owner or freelancer be reading?
The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau was pretty good. Even if you’re not building a tech startup it really offered a good foundation and advice on how to get clients and ace negotiations.
10. What are some tools that you feel everyone should know about?
WordPress – I created my website using a paid theme. Total cost to build it was just shy of $100 but it’s already brought me a lot of business.
Facebook Pages – It might go without saying, but if you can build a community that enjoys your brand and your service, it really helps with social proof.
11. How can people connect with you?
This interview is part of our Expert Interview series where we endeavor to interview entrepreneurs or successful freelancers with interesting and useful stories/lessons on starting and running a business.