How to Start Your Career as a Freelance Video Editor

How to Start Your Career as a Freelance Video Editor

If you have the desire to pursue a video editing career, but don’t want to tie yourself down to working for only one business or studio, then you may want to become a freelance video editor.

Becoming a freelance video editor will enable you to work on a multitude of clients with a lot of variety in the projects you’re working on. Wouldn’t it be great to work on an interview one day and a short film the next, rather than only working on one type of content?

Find out more about starting your career in videography below. Cover photo by: William Bayreuther

Step Zero: Decide if It’s for You

Before making the first move toward becoming a freelance video editor, really ask yourself if the freelance life is the life for you. A normal full-time job gives you guaranteed hours, predictable pay, health benefits (maybe), and social interaction with coworkers.

Freelancing is unpredictable. And it can be very stressful when you don’t know how many days it will be until the next paid project comes in. While a regular full-time job is low risk but with a predictable reward, freelancing is high-risk with the potential for a large reward, but also no reward at all.

Freelancing also means that you are your own boss. No one is going to drop a list of tasks into your lap every week. You need to be the one getting new clients and working on projects. If you can’t stick to a schedule or hit deadlines yourself, then you will struggle as a freelancer. It requires a lot of discipline, every single day.

If you think you can handle that, then let’s move on to step one!

Step One: Learn and Practice

video editing premiere pro timeline on monitor

In order to make it as a professional video editor, you really need to be good at what you do. Get familiar with the editing software you’ve chosen to use, and always be willing to learn more. Work on projects that will never be published, just to learn how to do a new technique. If you don’t have anything to edit, try filming a fake commercial for an object in your house, or record yourself playing a video game and try to make it exciting to watch.

If you don’t know how to edit at a fairly advanced level, it will be difficult for you to find clients. But you’ll also need to prove that you know what you’re doing. Choose some of the best projects that you worked on for practice. Then upload them to a portfolio or keep a private portfolio to share with prospective clients.

But how do you get those prospective clients?

Step Two: Get the Hardware You Need

hand holding 14 terrabyte hard drive

Whoa, hold on there. You’re not quite ready for clients yet. Before getting out there and landing clients, you’ll need to make sure that you actually have the hardware to do the work. If your editing computer is always crashing while editing, your projects will be late and the average amount of money you can make per hour will go down.

Here are the things you should aim for:

  • Enough CPU and RAM capability to handle complex timelines without crashing
  • Enough CPU or GPU rendering capability to export videos in a reasonable amount of time
  • Plenty of hard drive space or cloud storage to safely store client footage and projects
  • Enough hard drive space or cloud storage to archive old client projects just in case future edits are needed

If your computer can’t handle it, then you should check out our article about how to build a 4K video editing PC for under $1000!

For some more tips and first-hand knowledge, check out interview with full-time filmmaker and video editor, Kyle Loftus of Kal Visuals!

The Kyle Loftus Interview 1 - FilterGrade

Step Three: Find Your First Client

close up of two people shaking hands

Finding your first client can sometimes be the hardest part, but it is the most important. The first client you get will legitimize you as a professional editor. You can say the sentence “I’ve done work for XYZ Company” to future prospective clients. That is a lot more compelling than saying you have no experience. So that being said, the first client is one of the hardest to land. You might need to settle for a lower rate than what you want or take a project that you’re not particularly excited about. You can look at unique places for gigs. Local high school sports teams, college clubs, small local businesses, and of course friends and family can all be great places to find your first editing jobs.

Of course, to really jump-start your freelancing career, you should join a freelancing job site such as Fiverr or Upwork. These websites will open up a world of potential clients, but it’s not a guarantee. These websites are very competitive, meaning there could be dozens or hundreds of other freelancers applying to the same job. Your rating on these sites is also key, and a few bad reviews can set you back a lot.

If all else fails, just start contacting people and asking them. Identify YouTube creators that are growing and may be interested in hiring an editor. Find Twitch streamers who may want to create YouTube content from their streams. Look out for businesses with outdated instructional videos or advertisements. Cold calling or cold emailing can be scary, but you might contact someone at just the right time.

If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll find a client online or through personal connections that need you for a long term project.

Step Four: Go Full-Time

The ultimate joy for any freelancer is to be able to quit their day job and freelance full-time. You’ll be able to do this once you’re making a comfortable amount of money freelancing and have a steady flow of work. It can be risky to take this leap. So try to make sure that you have plenty of long-term clients set up before quitting.

One you go full-time, there are a lot of things to consider. Your taxes will no longer be based on a W-2, and instead, you’ll receive 1099 forms and file self-employment taxes. You will need to pay attention to where you’re receiving money from, because it will come from many sources. Some smaller jobs may not give you a tax form, meaning you’ll need to keep closer track of your income. You will also need to invest more heavily in your own workspace. Without an employer to provide supplies and hardware for you, you’ll need to spend your own money upgrading your editing computer, buying a comfortable office chair, and getting new editing tools.

You should also have several important systems in place so that the business runs smoothly. Editing is one thing, but you need to have a good business sense as well.

  • Paperwork: It’s important that you have a standard method of invoicing, deciding rates, accepting payment, and enforcing deadlines. A good contract can protect you from an unscrupulous client.
  • Project Management: If you’re juggling multiple projects at once, it’s useful to use a project management tool such as Trello or Asana. With these tools, you can keep track of your status and deadlines in an organized fashion.

Step Five: Building the Business

businesspeople working in office

Once you’re established, making money, and growing as a freelance video editor, you might want to take your business to the next level. Eventually, you will reach a point when the work on your table is too much for you to handle alone.

The first step is to rely on stock footage, templates, and copyright-free content when you can. This will save you a ton of time over working from scratch.

When you’re really drowning in work, you might consider hiring staff. This could include a secondary editor that can handle the simpler projects, or it could include a videographer you can call on to record footage out in the world when you need it. Eventually, you might not even be doing much editing at all, and spend your days pitching to new clients and managing your growing team…

That’s all a long way away, but one can dream!

Becoming a freelance video editor can be a rewarding and enjoyable career path, but it will also be incredibly stressful. It’s not for everyone, but you will be able to take joy in being your own boss and doing something you’re good at.

Read next: How to Create a Freelance Schedule/Plan

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