How Do You Succeed Running A Color Grading Business?

May 7, 2022

The team is joined by our newest Contributor, Zeb Chadfield, answering business-related questions on being a colorist and getting paid.


Office Hours Conference Call: April 26, 2022

Mixing Light Contributors Katie Hinsen, and Josh Bowdach join host Patrick Inhofer in welcoming our newest Contributor, Zeb Chadfield in this live conference call format. We took a series of questions from Mixing Light member Tony Salgado about how to run to color grading business our our ‘best practices’.

But first, we started the conversation by sharing things we’ve learned recently with DaVinci Resolve 18 being at the top of everyone’s mind. Today, the questions we answered included:

  • What one thing did our Contributors find interesting about NAB 2022 or Resolve 18 Public Beta?
  • Do our Contributors have specific requirements for clients when delivering a color grading job?
  • What are our terms of payment? Do we ask for up-front payments?
  • How do we determine our hourly rates? (Hint: There’s an Insight on that)
  • Do we budget for our hardware investments?

Table of Contents

(timestamps in bold are member questions)

00:00 – Introduction

01:05 – Katie: Current supply chain shortages for displays and its impact on purchasing decisions

02:30 – Baylor University is showing a new color space demonstration and how it might be used

5:19 – Cullen: The one new Resolve 18 feature that grabbed his attention

6:28 – Jason: His one new Resolve 18 feature that has him very excited

09:24 – Mixing Light’s newest Contributor, Zeb Chadfield, makes his first appearance and talks about Resolve 18’s new database structure

11:25 – Patrick: The one new feature in Resolve 18 that caught his attention

13:07 – Do you specify your deliverables to your clients? If so, what happens if they don’t deliver it that way?

14:30 – Zeb introduces himself and his company, The Finish Line, to Mixing Light – and balancing work with life

15:55 – Getting involved with the client as early as possible and how Zeb specifies jobs should be handed over for finishing

17:22 – Katie: Be specific on your turnover needs and make sure the costs for not following your workflow are well defined

20:00 – Zeb: The advantages of billing by the hour

20:25 – Cullen: Deliverable discussions are part of overall client discussions, negotiations, and collaboration

22:50 – Jason: The essential need for small businesses to put your deliverables in writing, under a contract, as a way of properly guiding clients

25:00 – Patrick: Getting an actual signature from the client and the details to include on the contract

27:00 – Katie: Client reluctance to sign a proposal is a red flag

27:30 – Tony S: His solution as a DIT for eliminating confusion after he hands off hard drives to smooth post-production and finishing

30:25 – Katie: Why onboarding forms for new clients never work and direct discussions are essentials

33:18 – Terms of payment: How much do you ask for up front and at the end of the job?

42:30 – Tony S: Your clients are often still learning and you need to educate them

44:15 – Zeb: Understanding that our investment in a project is minuscule compared to our client’s investment

45:22 – How do you determine your hourly rate?

45:40 – Katie: Overview of the Insight she wrote on determining your hourly rate

47:23 – The two big mistakes that creatives make when it comes to setting their rate and running their business

50:30 – What about taking ‘passion projects’ or ‘free’ jobs?

52:10 – Katie: Integrating low-budget projects into your marketing plan and how to quote it

52:58 – How do you budget for investment in physical gear?

55:14 – Zeb: Low budget clients as an opportunity for a facility to give experience to trainees

55:46 – Conclusion and final thoughts

Mentioned in this Insight

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Homepage Forums How Do You Succeed Running A Color Grading Business?

  • Just finished listening to this ep. Well worth the time, some great comments. Been in business for … many years now … and wow, Katie especially nailed a LOT of things about running a business versus have a side-hustle masquerading as a business. Zeb also add some high-q comments …



  • Remco Hekker

    Great call, you guys! It’s really nice listening to people, in the same industry, about this stuff. As apposed to the general business advisor that doesn’t know the industry.

    I catch myself sometimes thinking that things (business culture) are different here in my country. But when I hear that you have encountered some of the same problems I come across, I think perhaps it is time for me to help move that culture forwards.

    Thanks for the insight!

  • Remco Hekker

    I forgot to ask:

    Do you guys bill separately for your time and for your equipment/suite? Is that included in your hourly rate? Thanks

    • Always a single cost for us hourly kit+talent as one. In the past we had separate costs and clients would start trying to be shifty around how they were using us to try and get a better deal in the end or they will see the room/kit costs as something they can try and invest in themselves to then just pay talent rate and you get stuck working on a crap poorly maintained system if you take the work. All together is the winner from my experiences.

      • Remco Hekker

        Thanks Zeb! That helps.

    • Patrick Inhofer

      Same here as Zeb. Unless you’re a colorist quoting a freelance job where you’re working at someone else’s location and on their kit, then it’s all one package.

      • Remco Hekker

        Thanks Pat.
        I’m asking because I’m currently working from two different locations.
        I can grade from my home office which I’m in the process of upgrading to a respectable grading-suite.
        Clients can come by, we can do remote sessions or I can work independent with some feedback sessions.

        But there are also clients that prefer to be present the entire time and don’t want to travel to my place of business. (about 90 minutes one-way). For those clients I usually rent an empty, mid-grey, light controlled, edit suite and setup a workstation over there.

        You can imagine the variable costs per day are much higher on location.
        I make between 52% and 76% profit working on location as apposed 92%-96% working from my home office.
        I’m now trying to decide if I should:
        A: Just keep eating the costs since it’s somewhat my problem.
        B: Keep my hourly rate the same and quote different prices for the suite.
        C: Offer a lower hourly for remote/home office work. (In actuality I would be raising my prices for on location work ;-))

        I’m just not in a position to turn down that location work all together.
        I’m interested to hear if there are any other members who’re in between locations.

        • We pass the extra costs to be in a costly location on so there is a financial incentive for them to work with us remotely and if they do want to be in a specific space or location then they pay for the costs so in the end profit in both situations comes out in the same place roughly.

          • Patrick Inhofer

            Precisely, Zeb. I’ll add: You can also include your travel time at your rate (or maybe a discount off your rate, so they’re sharing in that additional cost as well).

            The rationale for all of this is the concept of ‘opportunity cost’. If you don’t bill extra to recoup these additional expenses then you’re potentially turning away work at your full rate with your full margin working within your grading suite. And if you’re losing money working with them, you’re not likely to be in the best state of mind to do your best work and why would you (and they) want to work under those conditions?

            But if they’re willing to pay the extra expenses for their convenience, then you’ll be in a good state of mind to do your best work.

            I’ve explicitly used this rationale with clients and it’s worked well. Sometimes they decide not to work with me because they’re more concerned about money than my talent or getting my best work – so, in my book, that decision on their end turns out to be a win-win.

            But it took guts and a belief in myself the first few times I executed this strategy. It worked so well that it’s now second nature for me to think this way.

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