Estimating, along with cold-calling, is probably one of my most difficult tasks as a photographic businessperson. There are so many variables that can potentially come into play that it can be downright maddening. Add to that the fact that sometimes clients feel an estimate is a bit more fluid than is reality, and it can become a nightmare trying to juggle client expectations with the original budget while not undercutting yourself or upsetting them by having to change it.
The best way to eliminate a lot of that hassle is by thoroughly feeling out what the client’s needs, expectations, and usage of the final product will be. Photographer and mentor J.P. Morgan of The Slanted Lens gives us some pointers on gathering the information that we need.
Mr. Morgan breaks things down into eight simple steps:
- Ask questions that show the client you are not only interested in their project but that you are an interesting person with whom to work.
- Determine the client’s budget.
- Determine usage of the final image/video/etc.
- Find out what other creative pros you are bidding or competing against.
- If this is a new client, ask how they found out about you.
- Are there any specific images within your portfolio that really captured their attention and inspired them to contact you?
- Who are the members of their creative team that you will be working with? Who is the final decision-maker?
- Find out everything you can about the approach they want for getting the final images.
All of this is critical for not only gaining a full understanding of the project but also for eliminating the guesswork from your job when estimating.
However, sometimes even asking all the right questions isn’t enough. Several months ago I was contacted by an existing client about doing a video shoot showcasing the manufacturing process of one of their product lines. We discussed all the details for the project, pulled together an estimate, and sent it to them. We were going to be shooting the entire project over one to two days, getting all the footage we needed without having to incur additional cost for breaking up the shoot. Then, before the project commences, I learn that we are going to have to break the shoot up across several days or perhaps a week or two to coincide with production schedules. This changed everything, particularly on the gear side where I was suddenly looking at having to ship stuff in for several shoots. In the end, everything worked out fine, the client was happy, and I was happy, but even when asking the right questions, sometimes a curveball still comes across the plate.