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Upskilling during COVID-19 with Fresh Cut Video

Fresh Cut Video, a small business added live streaming to its service offering during COVID-19 and has seen great success as a result of the pivot.

9 min read

Harry Pill is the Founder of Fresh Cut Video, a video production agency based in Oxford with global reach. During COVID-19 he added live streaming to his service offering, which has allowed him to upskill, grow and share his knowledge at a time when many video production companies were hit hard by the pandemic.

Fresh Cut Video has been nominated as one of the Most Adaptive Small Businesses of 2020 by QuickBooks UK.

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Harry! Can you tell us a little about what your business does?

Fresh Cut Video handles anything to do with video production, including corporate promos, adverts, event videos, photography, project management and crewing for jobs. I help run one of the largest Facebook groups for freelance video production crew in the UK (there are around 60,000 members), so I’m able to compose a team of specialists to suit any project.  

My day-to-day mainly consists of going out on shoots and then editing the footage. Our client base is very wide, so each project could be very different: from days filming reality TV stars for Mecca Bingo, to creating service promos for the University of Oxford and the Saïd Business School, to filming Formula-1 racing in Barcelona - that’s where I was earlier this year before the coronavirus hit.

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Tell us a bit about your journey into entrepreneurship.

I always knew that I wanted to work for myself. When I was young I found authority figures hard to deal with - school was quite a challenge for me. I knew that I wanted to be my own boss, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do for a living.

“My passion for videography developed at university. For me it’s less about the art of filmmaking and more about the business case for it.” 

My job gives me the opportunity to go to so many interesting places and work with a vast range of different people and businesses. 

During uni I got a job at a production company, and after that I took the plunge and went freelance. I started out filming nightclub videos around Oxford, which in turn led to referrals and allowed me to build up a client base.

A real milestone for me was the Virgin Experiences Christmas campaign that I worked on a few years ago. I hired around 30 people for this production, and realised that it was probably about time that I created a company. Although I registered the company in 2016, it has basically laid dormant until now, as client work has always taken priority over business admin. I finally had time to launch the Fresh Cut Video website properly during COVID, as the lull in business at the start of lockdown gave me the chance to revisit it. 

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2020 has been quite the year. How have you adapted your product offering to this year’s changing circumstances?

Our offering has traditionally been onsite video services for SMEs and large corporate organisations – video promos, event coverage and everything in between. Things were going really well, but in March 2020 the ball stopped rolling and our April, May and beyond suddenly went from the busiest period on record to nothing. 

“There was one day when we lost about £40k of business in a three-minute phone call, and that’s when I realised that I’d need to do something if I wanted to keep this ship sailing.”  

Outside of work I am quite an avid gamer - I play competitive games online and consequently know a thing or two about live streaming games. It turns out that not much changes in order to go from streaming games to streaming video - result! After a bit of reading online, I quickly concluded that Fresh Cut Video was going to move into live streaming, ASAP. 

I spent the next week rigorously learning about the latest streaming equipment before investing in the parts to make my very own custom live streaming box.  

Meanwhile, I got the word out to my clients that I was going to be offering live streaming services, both on location and remotely. The first company to take up the live streaming was none other than QuickBooks! It just so happened that they had started to think about streaming too and were internally developing the show ‘Ask the Expert’ when I got in touch. Months later we’ve surpassed 150 episodes and the now award-winning show has had over 1 million views! Big shout out to Kwai and Ebba for their hard work on this. 

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I’m not the only one from the video scene moving into streaming, a huge proportion of video companies are currently developing and deploying their streaming services. This struck me as another opportunity: consulting. 

"Having made the pivot myself, invested in the kit and stress tested it for every eventuality I could think of, I was in a prime position to help other businesses do the same.” 

I have just finished a 10-day live stream gig yesterday for a music festival where I was brought in to support another video company in delivering the services. It was their first big live job, and just like me they’d had to quickly pivot and begin offering a brand-new service at a premium level from day one. They did a fantastic job, it was a pleasure for me to see them grow their confidence over the 10 days and step in to troubleshoot when problems cropped up.

How have you managed to resize your business according to changing demand?

I’ve been very careful about the resizing of my company. I don’t want to expand too quickly and then find out that all the work has dried up as things return to normal. 

“By pacing myself and my company and only upsizing as I can prove there is the long term revenue stream I feel I’m safeguarding for the future.” 

Until recently Fresh Cut Video has just been me. I have an immensely talented pool of freelancers I use to crew my jobs, from producers and editors to cameramen and animators. In September, thanks to the live streaming success and other clients starting to resume their video commissioning after lockdown, I hired my first employee. I am currently interviewing for another. I’m deeply proud to be able to offer jobs in a climate like the one we’ve found ourselves in, and I attribute this success to moving fast and staying agile. 

What are your top tips for managing your business finances in 2020?

Pacing is the way I like to look at this. I’ve needed to invest both in new equipment and in people: recruiting, training and path planning. And while I’m not adverse to risk, I like to make sure that I’ve guaranteed as far as possible that I’m only doing so in a way that will continue at a steady pace that I can adapt to. 

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Managing business finances has always been fun and games for me – especially given my obsession with having the latest and greatest camera and computer equipment. I’m my own worst enemy in that regard! Luckily for me, there’s QuickBooks. Being able to run reports and see deep meaningful figures at the drop of a hat has really helped me to start planning ahead, and as I continue to grow Fresh Cut Video, I know these abilities are going to become more and more vital. 

“I’ve seen far too many people get carried away with expansion and investment, leaving nothing in the rainy day fund. That won’t be happening to me!” 

Who are the people, products and practices that have helped you cope with the uncertainty this year?

Firstly I’ve got a great client base, who for the best part were very open to my ideas, and went through the COVID journey with me. 

“My clients and I all learned and adapted together, me devising new strategies and services, and them having enough trust to see that what I was doing for them was the right way to go.” 

I am heading off to a business school tomorrow to place robotic cameras into a lecture hall in order to capture footage of classes without me being in the room – a means of video capture we’d never have even considered a year ago!

Information, and having it early, has also been a significant factor in my success here. When lockdown happened and the government announcements began, there was so much information coming out that it was hard to keep track of what was relevant to me. QuickBooks’ response to COVID-19 was to create an entire section of their website dedicated to digesting this information and delivering it in a way that was clear and understandable to small business owners. I benefited from two government schemes that I may not have even looked into had I not been for QuickBooks.

What inspiring or encouraging words would you send to your fellow entrepreneurs?

It’s easy to panic - especially at times like we’ve just seen, and when you’re on a journey that’s not over. 

“To other small business owners like me, I’d just like to say that when times do get tough, a little belief, lateral vision and hard work can overcome most things.” 

If you’re currently stuck and not sure what to do, look at other businesses in your sector who are coping and see how you can pivot like they have, but better. If any video freelancers, small production companies or anyone else for that matter are reading this and want to chat, you can reach me via email at harry@freshcutvideo.co.uk.

At QuickBooks we are immensely proud of the fortitude and ingenuity of UK small businesses and sole traders, and we love hearing about how our tools have helped them to navigate 2020. For more inspiring stories from small business owners like Harry, discover the Quickbooks blog. This interview has been edited for clarity.