How to create a semi-professional instructional video for under $50

Shane Labs May 28, 2014 6

In my previous post, I talked about how not everyone is going to understand your software intuitively, and that instructional videos are needed to get people started. But have you seen how much it costs to make a video? Videos are expensive!

I just found this article (How much does an explainer video cost), which states that most videos will not only run you between $1,500 and $15,000, but they’ll also take you about 6 weeks to get done. Yikes!

Creating affordable videos

There has to be a more affordable alternative than the thousand dollar options above. And there are – but you have to be careful. There’s a fine line between making a video that’s semi-professional, and making one that looks like it was created in your mom’s basement.

There are services out there that allows you to make a custom explainer video (such as Powtoon), but I haven’t tried them yet. They look great, and in the future I plan to give it a shot (although I worry they’re a bit limiting), but for now let’s discuss making a video mostly from scratch.

The super cheap option: Do everything yourself: $0

It is possible for you to do everything yourself, without spending a dime. Here’s how to do it:

1) Write a script.

What do you want to show people how to do? Write notes that you can follow as you show people how to do it on screen. It’s important to start off with a reminder of why they’re watching the video. Show them the end result of the feature first, to get them excited about watching the next few minutes, which may be boring.

2) Record your screen

The only video you’re going to be making is of your screen, while you use your side project. Screen recorders are pretty simple to use, and there’s a free one for windows called CamStudio.

You’ll have to set to record audio from your mic as you demo your product.

The tough part about this is twofold: 1) I hate my voice (yes, I realize almost everyone hates their own voice). If I hate my voice, I’m going to cringe every time I watch that video, and if that’s the case I’m not going to be sharing it. I need to be proud of everything I create, and excited to have people watch my videos! 2) It’s hard to command the screen and speak at the same time. I’m no good at multi-tasking.

Note that CamStudio only records what you see on your screen in real time. If you desire fancy fade in effects, titles, etc., then you’ll have to shell out some money for a more professional video editing program. I’ve used Camtasia before, and it’s been pretty good. They offer a free trial, but when that runs out it’s $300.

3) Upload to YouTube and embed

That’s it – after you’ve made your video just put it on the web with YouTube. Be sure to pick a nice keyword rich title and description, and also consider transcribing it so it’s more search-engine friendly. Then just get the embed code under the ‘Share’ tab and stick it on your site.

The end result

Check out the first video I ever made using this approach. It’s embarrassing, right? Notice the squeal in the first 5 seconds?

That was horrible, but I’m sure you can do better than me.

There’s also another option to consider: borrow a voice.

The better option: Borrow a voice: $50

I felt that the audio in the video above is what made it seem so amateur. But how can you get the quality of a professional mic, a sound proof room, and a soothing voice without breaking the bank? Hire a voice over artist.

Finding a voice-over artist

I had found a video that someone on Reddit had made, and I liked it a lot. I sent the creator a message to ask who he used for a voice-over, and he pointed me to PeoplePerHour. It’s a simple site like Fiverr where people post gigs they can do for you, but it’s for work that’s a little more professional. I found quite a few voice-over artists on there, and ended up buying a gig of a 500 word voice-over for $35.

Creating the video

The rest of the process is pretty similar, you still record your own screen and write your own script, you just have someone else do the audio. I do recommend timing the script yourself to add little notes on where the voice-over artist should pause. Then you’ll be able to record your screen with the audio playing and guiding you what to do (no more multi-tasking!).

The only other thing you need to do which can be a little difficult is to combine the video with the audio. I ended up using Windows Live Movie Maker (which comes free with Windows). Simply choose your video, then choose your audio soundtrack. Export and done! If that’s over your head,  I also saw some gigs on the Fiverr where people will edit a video for you for $5, which could accomplish this merging for you.

The end result

I feel like this video is sooooo much better. Check it out:

It’s nice to have something I’m proud of, instead of that embarrassing first take.

Your turn

Hopefully this has given you some ideas and options for creating a semi-professional video that doesn’t cost $1,000. It will take a bit of your time, but shouldn’t use up 6 weeks like the alternatives.

Have you created a video before? Post a link to your video in the comments – I’d love to see them!


  1. paul June 1, 2014 at 8:25 am - Reply

    Great post. Obvious question… who is the voiceover you choose on pph?

  2. Tosto June 5, 2014 at 6:59 am - Reply

    I actually enjoy product videos done by founders or employees as long as the sound isn’t horrible. It’s more interesting for me when the narrator has a familiarity and enthusiasm fire the product, which you don’t get with most narrators. A decent mic can be had for under $50.

  3. Michael June 5, 2014 at 7:00 am - Reply

    People think that all they have to do is get a “decent mic” and they’re all set. Nothing could be further from the truth. Room ambience and even the table you sit at can all make any professional recording sound like crap.
    Give me a cheap microphone and a quality studio over an expensive microphone and your kitchen table anytime.
    (I’m a former broadcast engineer with 10 years experience and now consult with theatre companies on the side.)

  4. Kuex June 5, 2014 at 7:02 am - Reply

    Buying a decent microphone and doing it yourself is an option. But the service offered by a pro voice actor is not just a clear voice and a decent mic. They have probably spend a lot of time configuring and optimizing their setup. And the post important part is that they have trained their voice and the way the speak. I can imagine there is also some psychology involved regarding how to reach the audience using and emphasizing certain words and tone.
    Doing it yourself, apart from investing in hardware and learning how to set it up properly, requires that you train fluent and clear speaking. You might have to do it over and over many times until there is enough confidence in your voice. So the investment is more than just a mic.
    The downside of a pro voice over is that it can sound too “marketingy” and not sound genuine and thus turn people off. It can quickly sound like one of those “How I lost 1000 pounds in 15 days – just buy my eBook” or “How I make $200 in 1 hour doing nothing” scam videos. It depends on the video content whether a certain marketing flair is appropriate.
    But I think for technical stuff and ideas, genuineness and authenticity are very welcome factors. So unless your voice really sucks, and you’re planning on doing it frequently it is probably worth practicing the necessary confidence in your voice and training speech.
    I actually prefer the version with your own voice. Your voice doesn’t sound bad. It’s just that we rarely hear our own voices recorded and when we do, we always think it sucks. But your version sounds like you’re showing how the thing works that you’ve built, and that you too think it’s awesome.
    The pro-voice version on the other hand sounds a bit like an ad and I’m not sure whether the guy speaking actually means what he says or whether he just wants to sell it to me now — “and if I order right now I will get a pack of over 1000 mouse cursors for FREE”.
    I was surprised though that it’s cost only $35. For that price and if you don’t plan on doing it frequently it sure is worth it. I guess voice actor rates can range from almost nothing to immense sums. If you want Morgan Freeman to narrate your video you can probably add couple zeros.

  5. UxExpert June 5, 2014 at 7:03 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing this write up. I’ve got to say I liked the version where you were speaking better. The voice actor sounded like a radio advert. I tuned him out straight away!

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