Thursday, June 12, 2008

[B]Business Day Thursday - Nine Strategies For Quoting The Big Job

Good late afternoon again everybody,
It seems I'm starting to make a habit of the late posts. It's been a little crazy around here today and a phone call from one of our best clients meant putting the blog on hold till later this afternoon. Hey, the info is the same regardless of the time of day it's read, right? - so here goes.

I posted a few weeks ago about working on a very large portrait project for another one of my best and favorite clients. She asked that we measure several walls in her home, review the 11 years of photography I had done for the family, and extended family, including about 20 cousins.

We were to come up with all the images for the walls; some black and white, some color and all framed. Let me say here and now, it is a nice project. One of my readers commented as to how I would quote or bid something like this. Great question - give a read to my 9 strategies when quoting these kinds of projects.

Here we go...

1. Never get flustered with a request for something really way out of your normal comfort zone. Let the client know that you appreciate the invitation to be involved in the project and that you need to do a bit of homework to come up with an reasonable and accurate estimate. This kind of response gives you some breathing room so you can consider the ramifications of such a request. Again, never get "flustered" - buy time and get thinking.

2. Now about asking the most important question of the day. After your opening volley from the client and you, while maintaining your "cool", you are going to ask the single most important question of your caller. Nearly every caller wants to know how much something costs. That fine, but it is vitally important for you to know how much they want to spend. Knowing that and knowing that you have bought some time to get your homework done - about 24 hours - simply ask that most obvious question. Here it is, "Wow, this really sounds like an exciting project, what is your budget for something like this?"

That's it folks - the big payoff question. Here is why it is so important to ask. I have too many times given a price to a client in the early days of my business only to subsequently find out the the actual budget was substantially higher. I promise you, there will be many times when they will give you the magic number, and you will think, "Wow, I'm glad I kept my mouth shut - my first instinct was to quote something much lower."

3. You want to spend how much? When the budget amount sounds good to you, assure the client that after finishing your research for your quote, you feel confident that you can make it work for them. And then start smiling a big smile.

4. What about a low ball budget? If their budget amount is really way too low, you will need to educate them on the basics of what such a project entails - staff time to go through the archives - analog and digital, time to organize all the images, digital scans of the film images, additional Photoshop enhancement, acid-free mounting, custom sizing, preliminary layout planning, time to review the images, time to make the final selections, roughing in the first draft of the layout, finalizing the images and layout, cost of product, cost of custom framing, and final hanging of the finished project.

As you can see, there is a lot that goes into such a project. That's why making a knee-jerk reaction to the initial request is not a good idea. Secondly, when the client realizes their budget is too small, they may up the ante or scale back. Either way, you may still be in the running.

5. It's homework time. For all the things I mentioned above, start putting some numbers to the various aspects of the project's requirements - be realistic and thorough. Divide and conquer, break the project down into planning time, production time, and cost of goods sold. That should get you started.

6. Be prepared with Plan B and Plan C. As you see the numbers come together and they may be getting higher and higher, but you want the job, don't you? Don't let one large quote send the client running for the hills. Have your plan B and C organized too. Plan B and C are scaled back versions of Plan A. Hey, you're giving your client a choice just like Wendy's - you want a triple, double or single? This strategy will keep you in the ball game for these big projects and invites further discussion - ready, you are still in the running.

7. Offer the quote - plan A and do it in person. What's the response - did they fall off their chair? What are the talking points, are you in the ball park? If not, pull out plan B. Same procedure all over again. Still a no go - time for plan C. You know the rest.

8. Remember that quoting big projects is a process. Too many people think it's a quick quote, a yea or nay from the client, and that's that. Look for the subtleties within the project that can be reconfigured to accommodate the client's budget better. Go for the walnut frames instead of the expensive mahogany selection. If you have a client looking to spend a sizable amount of money, help them invest wisely so that it's a win-win for both of you.

9. Lessons I've learned - If you bid it cheaply to get the job and do, in fact, get it, just remember one of two things. Cheap clients recommend their cheap friends. Too bad for you. If you bid it solidly - it has good value for the client and reasonable profit margin for you. Remember this second piece of advice, rich clients recommend their rich friends. This may not be a very polished way of saying it, but it was advice given to me by a Cincinnati wedding photographer almost 30 years ago, and it has been one of the best pieces of business advice I have ever received.

This should give you some insight as to how I go about these kinds of requests. Coincidentally, Jim Talkington, blogged about a similar topic today over at ProPhotoLife. Give it a read right here. Wait, there's more - one of my favorite sites for solid practical information is Freelance Switch.com right here. This is a site not necessarily dedicated to photographers. It's dedicated to the more general group - Freelances. Any small business is a freelancer - that's why the site is such a great resource. Check it out.

Hey gang, that's it for today. Sorry for the really late, late post. And don't forget to visit tomorrow for Inspiration Friday - good stuff cookin'. See you then. Adios, David

3 comments:

  1. David,

    Like you I always ask for the budget. It's the one single most important thing to get cleared. If you're in the same league, no problem. If the client is way lower than you you either massage them and meet somewhere in the middle, or downright say that it can't be done at the price. If the client's budget is higher than what you expected, you've learned in important lesson: the job is worth what the client wants to pay, which is often more than you think.

    A rule that I adhere to when there are more bidders for a job: never be the least expensive. I mostly wind up as the most expensive, but as long as I follow up with good product and good service, it's not a problem.

    I wrote this along the same thread: "Why your images are worthless"

    Martin

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