As the resident equipment nerd and Technology Editor for ProductionHUB, I am constantly on the lookout for the coolest, newest gear. It just might be the best part of my job here. Working on getting the new equipment you want into the workflow equipment on a regular basis will require good record keeping, and some thoughtful analysis of where you are right now with your business (and where you want to get to).
Speaking from experience, there are a lot of different models for doing this, but the trick is not to overthink it, which is so much easier said than done. Getting some of the building blocks put together will help you get a clearer picture of the budgeting process. One last thing—this modeling applies to companies big or small and whether you have been doing productions forever or it’s day one.
Taking Inventory Times Two
Nobody said the budgeting process was going to be exciting, but in my opinion this really is the first step. If you have been doing this on a regular basis, you are already ahead of the game. Companies of all sizes take stock of what they have on hand and what they should be planning for well ahead of time. This can be done on a yearly or even monthly basis, depending on how much equipment you have. It's easy to get away from doing this especially when you are in the midst of production and making your living. The last inventory I did was a real eye opener.
I added a couple of audio mixers, mic stands, mics, xlrs, filters, batteries, and some software that I had totally forgotten about. It was more than I thought because it was stuff that I needed to get but didn’t do a good job planning for—hence the need to do (and keep) an accurate inventory.
The second part of doing a real inventory goes back to our introduction. This past year has taught a lot of people that the status quo just won’t do. You can—and should—take a long hard look of what your gear is, but where is your head at?
Old or legacy gear can be great until you need it to do something it can’t. I should know, I have enough of it! There is tons of new gear coming out all of the time, but you need to look at the types of productions you are working on in currently and what you want to be doing a year from now and beyond. This holds true especially if you are in a growth mode, and who isn’t? Physical inventory is important for sure, but in reality you can’t plan for the new stuff until you take stock of your own mindset first.
The Process of Budgeting
Here is one of many examples I have seen on the first pass in outlining a process of budgeting for new gear so I don’t miss anything. It's pretty basic and pared down for sure, but say after you have done your inventories, you decided based on business projections that you are going to buy that new camera. Fantastic. Now how are you going to pay for it? Let’s do a little math and also look at what might be some hidden costs.
Potential Cost Breakdown
As you can see, buying the camera is the easy part but all of the “other” stuff might catch you off guard and easily push you away from the purchase. Again, how will you pay for it? Financing is always an option if you can swing it. There are always some good deals if you are willing to do a little homework.
The other way I have seen is to bury the cost of new gear into one production, and let production pay for it.
The economies of scale will dictate what you or your company can afford versus what you want to buy. Of course I would want to buy it all, don’t you? I should note that if it is just you doing this the only person you have to answer to you—and maybe your banker. If it is a larger production house or station the budgeting process is exhaustive and pretty intense.
You better have all your ducks and justifications in a row or you will get booted out of the room before you ever get going. Companies won’t care that the lens fell off or that your software won’t upgrade. Just know that going in, you and your creative ego will be so much better for it.
Budgeting for the Unexpected
It is a well known fact that gear will fail you at the worst of times. It usually happens in the middle of a live shoot, right? Been there, done that. This is where a new gear budget plan comes into play. First, it is really expensive stuff. As a sole owner/op you have invested in some good production insurance that covers that kind of stuff. But what if you just haven’t gotten around to it yet? You can plan for gear failures but it takes discipline.
Here is another smart example. I have a very good production friend—we'll call him by his nickname, Jiminy. Recently, Jiminy had a catastrophic fail when his 12-year-old MacBook Pro decided to stop working mid edit. Jiminy knew it was going to happen someday, just not the when. But here is where his saving for production gear was literally his saving grace. Jiminy plans for gear to fail.
On every production he calculates his rate and puts a certain amount aside for just this reason. That money sits there until he needs it. So in this example, Jiminy not only was able to replace the MacBook Pro with a new Mac Mini with the latest M1 chip, but was also able to upgrade to a better and faster solution at the same time.
He lost one day in the edit. Not great, but better than cancelling. He told me he had such a good piece of mind knowing he could do that and not worry about it or having to dip into his personal money. Lesson: Always budget for the unexpected.
Leap of Faith
There are no certainties in all of this. Each of us either by ourselves or with help from others has to make the final decision. But I wanted to leave you with some points to ponder when buying gear:
- Repair or replace? What is your ROI?
- Does the gear you want to buy “fit” what you are doing production-wise?
- Can your business hold up with a big purchase?
- Are you buying on new gear ego or brand appeal alone?
- How long will it take to not only pay for the new gear but to also make money?
- Get help and ask a ton of questions, it’s your money.
- Distributors and other professionals are a great source of information.
- Look to ProductionHUB for tons of good info on gear!
Good luck with that new camera!