Freelance filmmaker Emma Parker of Chickadee Films shares how being brave about her niche and talking about her values has helped her build a successful business working with her ideal clients. She also offers some tips for easy (& cheap) ways to get started using video in your own business.
What is your name & your business name?
Emma Parker of Chickadee Films.
What do you do for your clients?
I create videos and motion graphics for social & environmental impact companies. I jump on board as an additional arm to their content team so they can incorporate video into their media strategy. My expertise is creating the videos, not sales funnels or social media schedules, so I can take the creator aspect off the shoulders of the content team.
How long have you been freelancing? What were you doing before and what was your transition into freelancing like?
I started freelancing two and a half years ago. I had been out of college for a year and was working on getting my indie film company off the ground while living with my parents. I needed money coming in more regularly so I could continue to support my creative ambitions and you know, move out and pay my bills.
Freelancing offered the flexibility I needed to keep working on my creative projects, more financial opportunities than were available as a Midwest video creative, and I got to choose clients based on my values.
Starting out freelancing was difficult, especially initially when I didn’t have a lot of work. I learned that the key was to have set working hours and a schedule for sending out proposals. If I wasn’t working on client work or sending out proposals, I educated myself on skills for jobs I wanted to do and added the practice pieces to my portfolio.
I learned that the key was to have set working hours and a schedule for sending out proposals.
I was also lucky enough to be able to continue to live with family and work as a caregiver until I had regular income from freelancing.
I initially started freelancing on UpWork, which was a great way to build my portfolio, but later transitioned off the platform due to their restrictive policies.
What is your favourite part of being a freelancer/business owner?
Definitely being able to practice a craft I adore every day on my own schedule for clients that I admire. I’ve been editing videos for fun since I was a kid so I feel like a teenager who gets to make money doing what she loves.
How do you get most of your clients?
Most of my current clients are from my UpWork days, but I am transitioning off of the platform. I’m building a network through LinkedIn, attending webinars, and other online social impact communities. I’ve also found clients through cold pitching & my biggest client came from a post in a local business owners’ group on Facebook.
Is there something you know now that you wish you would have known when you were first starting out? And do you have one piece of advice for freelancers just getting their start?
I wish I had been braver about stating which companies I would and would not work with. I didn’t want to offend anyone so for the longest time I didn’t brand myself as someone who worked with impact companies, even as I refused jobs that didn’t align with my values. This ultimately led to me compromising and taking on some clients who weren’t the best fit. I’ve also found that my favorite clients were attracted to me because I mentioned how important working with impactful companies was during my onboarding process.
My one piece of advice is to get your time under control and realize rest is important. 40+ hours of work a week are not necessary to be successful and may hinder your creativity. I’ve found that my sweet spot is 4-6 hours a day of focused creative client work with no distractions (I hide my phone, lol) and 1-2 hours of admin type work (social media, email, networking, education, etc).
I used to dilly-dally during my work day and then push myself to edit videos into the night to meet deadlines. This led to low-quality work for my clients and burnout for me. There are a ton of great emerging studies about how trimming our work hours increases productivity and I’ve found it holds true in my case.
Your website very clearly speaks to your target audience. How did you choose your niche and how has your business changed since you niched down?
A lot of goods we consume are manufactured by individuals who cannot afford food, shelter, and clothing.
When I started freelancing it hit home that any work I did to promote brands would add to this problem if I didn’t pay attention to where the goods were being sourced. As I delved into the social entrepreneurship space I became really interested in how for-profits were lifting people out of poverty and making a positive impact on the planet while turning a profit.
We’ve especially seen this during covid as brands that take care of their workers and the planet are more resilient through shutdown. Building a sustainable economy in all senses of the word became a passion of mine.
As I’ve become braver about niche-ing down, I’ve really seen not only my clients responding in wonderful ways, but my network expand. It’s sometimes hard to network as a freelancer, but the more I talk about what I’m doing and how I feel, the more I discover other people who are doing the same things and feeling the way that I do. This has led to some really cool opportunities and increased confidence in my offerings.
What is your best tip for someone who wants to get started using video to promote their business?
My biggest tip is to have a solid content strategy in place before creating a video. There are a lot of great resources online about content strategy (The Freelance Hustle has some great articles 😉). Videos take a lot more time than most people expect, and it’s easy to get discouraged if you spend hours on something but no one sees it.
If you want less of a commitment, most channels are pushing live videos right now so that might be a great option for your business. You can answer FAQs about your business, talk about why you’re a great freelancer, or educate your audience. If you go live try asking your friends and family to watch your first couple of projects to build buzz and provide constructive feedback.
Also remember that you don’t need fancy tools to make videos. Your phone has a great camera and you can download Adobe’s basic editing software for free on mobile devices.
Most channels are pushing live videos right now so that might be a great option for your business. You can answer FAQs about your business, talk about why you’re a great freelancer, or educate your audience.
Do you have a resource or course you want to share that might help freelancers build a business like yours?
There are a lot of great communities right now pushing social entrepreneurship in the freelance space. Here are a couple of my favorites:
Wethos puts on amazing webinars that I’ve found really beneficial. They really encourage collaboration and connection. Join one and connect with the presenter on LinkedIn. This strategy has opened a lot of doors for me.
Ladies Get Paid is a great resource for professional women. Their Slack group is filled with socially-impactful jobs and contract gigs.
LinkedIn has some great community conversations around impactful work. Try searching under #socialimpact or #socialentrepreneurship and connecting with people who are doing what you want to do.
Anything else you want to share? What’s next on the horizon for you?
So I’m super excited about the next couple of months. After two years I’ve built up a stable enough client base to allow me to take two days off a week to work on the indie film side of my business.
This spring Chickadee Films will be releasing a web series produced entirely in lockdown. It’s uplifting and not pandemic-focused and geared towards Millenials and Gen Z-ers who like the finer things in life. You can follow my LinkedIn profile to learn more as production gears up.