Estimating and Negotiating: Where am I Going Wrong?
Question: I have put in bid after bid. It always ends up with me not getting the job, though the art buyers tell me my numbers are solid. Is it my numbers? Is it that I am not established enough? What is wrong with my estimates? Is it my negotiating?
The best way to answer this question is to address the possible scenarios that can prevent a photographer from landing an assignment, along with important points to consider when communicating with your client and structuring your estimate.
Ask About Their Budget
By the time clients have asked you for an estimate, they more than likely have a budget range in mind based on their previous experiences and budget restrictions. Asking for an upfront budget gives you a good starting point in structuring your estimate. If the client doesn’t have a budget for a given project or is not willing to provide it, you will have to provide an estimate and express your willingness to negotiate. It has been my experience that almost every estimate goes through a negotiation process before it is awarded.
Analyze Your Contact With the Client
If you have not had a conference call with the art director or art buyer after the estimate request, it’s safe to assume that you’re not the first choice for the assignment. It’s likely your client has a mandate to provide three bids to satisfy an independent cost consultant. Provide an accurate estimate, as you may be considered for future projects, but don’t spend an inordinate amount of time analyzing why you didn’t get the project.
If you have spoken with the art director and art buyer, have you:
- Demonstrated a willingness to be open to feedback?
- Offered multiple solutions on how they can achieve their goals? Examples might be hiring local assistants and talent when shooting on location, or suggesting a studio with digital capabilities to lower post-production costs.
- Provided a treatment to show the client what you specifically can bring to the project, to distinguish yourself from other bidders? There are a lot of resources available for creating treatments.
- Established a trust factor with the client? Have you demonstrated a clear understanding of what the client needs to achieve, and clearly articulated how you will execute the shoot – within budget and on schedule?
- Have you asked the right questions? Have you seen a swipe or comp of the proposed creative? Do you have a clear understanding of exactly what is expected of you? Of course, questions will come up during the conference call, but you should have as much information as possible before you get on the phone with the client.
- Have you enlisted the help of a producer? I have found it very helpful to have a producer on the conference call with the art director or art buyer. They will invariably think of things you have not thought of and offer solutions to provide cost-effective and logistical ideas for executing the shoot smoothly.
- Have you demonstrated excitement about the project and your willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done?
Creating the Estimate
During a conference call, it’s helpful for the photographer to have a production checklist ready to jot down notes they can recall later when providing the estimate.
Some photographers ask clients who they are bidding against in order to get a better understanding of how they should structure their bid, but as a general rule I have found that most clients are not going to answer this question. It creates an awkward situation for those involved in the bidding process.
In reality, knowing your competitors should not influence how you structure your bid. At worst, this can backfire and undermine the client’s confidence in your estimating abilities. There is also the unspoken concern that you might contact the other photographers. It’s fair to ask them to reveal the name of a competitor after the job is awarded, but don’t demand this information.
It’s assumed that once you’re creating the estimate, you have all the information you need to provide a competitive estimate, including final usage, distribution and the time period of the license, in addition to all the specific production requirements.
I don’t like to bundle day fees and usage because if the usage changes, it’s not clear how this is reflected in your fees and you don’t have guidelines to justify increases or decreases in cost. If a producer is involved, I prefer to incorporate his or her costs into one estimate to make things easier for the art buyer, and to remain responsible for and aware of the breakdown of line-item costs.
Have an Estimating Template
As there is, to date, no universal estimating form, it’s perfectly acceptable to have your own estimating template.
It is important to note, however, that you should follow industry-accepted standards and guidelines when creating your estimate. In broad strokes, you need to have a summary of the project along with a specific breakdown of costs and standard licensing terms and conditions.
If you don’t have an existing template, Blink Bid can provide you with the software you need to create an estimate along with standard usage terms and conditions. You can modify any of the information and tailor it to the specific needs of the client. This is a widely accepted estimating program that allows you to structure your bid without neglecting line-item costs.
Am I Established Enough?
It’s fair to assume a client that’s contacted you for an estimate has vetted you and is confident that you’re a good creative choice with the necessary experience. However, reinforcing your experience relevant to the assignment is always a positive.
Ask clients when they will be making a decision and follow up based on those guidelines. If they don’t have a definitive schedule, a follow-up call or email within a week is acceptable. I believe graciousness is always appreciated, so if you don’t get the project, thank them for considering you and express your willingness to participate in future projects.
John Berthot has over 15 years of photography experience, and an MFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts. Among other positions, he has been a Photographer's Agent at Stockland Martel and an Advertising Director at Magnum Photos. He has been a creative consultant for the last two years, founding Focus in 2009. He brings his extensive experience in assisting photographers on all aspects of commercial, editorial and fine art photography. FOCUS
1. Understand Your Value When Negotiating Fees
2. The Photographer’s Rules of Thumb for Successful Negotiating
3. Creative Collision: How Clients Wish You Would Estimate