Bidding Jobs Requires a Big CheckList!

I recently got a phone call from an ad agency asking me to bid on a job for a multi-state  utility company.  We were being asked to do an ad campaign that would consist of five print images that would be used in direct mail, statement stuffers, newspaper and city lifestyle magazines, as well as their website.  There would be one person in each set up as well as photoshop prop additions.  

The lazy way to bid a job like this is to go all “day rate” on them and then do a rough assessment of expenses.  This would be a wonderful way to leave some fee on the table while creating a lot of accounting bad blood when you realize that you’ve left a lot of stuff out of your bid that someone has to end up paying for.

The smart way to go would be to provide an estimate that starts with a description of just how you’ll tackle each part of the job.  If you have to write out how you’ll shoot it you do two things:  you assess every step and every piece of material you’ll need to create, make or buy.  And secondly, you’ll show the client just how thorough and thoughtful you were when considering their project.  If you are bidding against other people you might well teach you client why you are more valuable that the competition.  If your competitor leaves an important and expensive article out of the bid the bad surprise hits the client when they least expect it and can least correct it.….right in the middle of the project.

By describing your methodology in a step by step method you’ll create your own master check list.

For this project we needed to cast five people in very specific demographics.  This is not something you want to do over the phone.  We called a meeting and the creative team sat together with the ad comps and a source books full of people photos.  We also brought our laptops so we could go to model agency sites and have a shared conversation about specific types and even specific models.  By the time we left the meeting we’d already reached a consensus about four of the five models.  

One of the account executives was kind enough to remind me to include meeting time in the bid.  She needn’t have mentioned it because that line item is at the top of my checklist.

Here’s a breakdown of my process and a rough checklist.  Yours will vary depending on the kind of shoots you do and how complex they are.

Creative fee:  This is what you charge to show up and actually think about the shoot, in the moment.  This is what you charge to bring to bear all you’ve learned in XX years of doing the business.

Usage fees:  This is a fee additional to the creative fee and is based on how many different media the images will be used in and for how long.  See David MacTavish’s book, Pricing Photography, or Craddock Software’s, FotoQuote, to see how to price each individual media use.  This is where your profit lies.

Casting fees:  You or a casting director will have to communicate with agents, agencies, and individuals to gather the talent you’ll want to use.  Make sure you charge for it because putting schedules together is long and frustrating.  If clients want to do a casting call with photos you’ll want to charge for the day(s) involved.  I can get a casting director for about $800 a day.  I’ll charge more if I handle it myself.

Who will pay for the models?  I’d rather have the client contract with the talents so that I don’t need to have the liability for payment if the client bonks.  If I have to include models in my bid I’ll make sure that there is a mark up of their fee to cover my exposure.

Meetings:  Ad Agencies can “meeting” you to death.  Each time the ad campaign changes direction they’ll want to meet with you.  Sometimes for hours!  Make sure you include meeting time in your fees.  They’ll respect your time and not waste it if they have to pay for it.

Locations:  Someone will have to find the five different locations we'll use, contact the owners of the locations and negotiate with them to use the spaces.  A location scout will probably have a whole catalog of locations which will be a good starting point for the selection process.  You might need to constantly remind the client that there isn't a giant resource of ready locations.  You might need to manage their expectations.  

Production scheduling is really part of bidding:  You'll need to know how you'll get from one location to the next, where your make up person will set up and who will bring props and also food and coffee to keep the production rolling….If you map it all out at the outset you'll find glitches that may cost you time and money when you get the green light to go ahead.

Assistant(s):  I've gone both ways.  I've done the one man show and I've done the entourage and I find the best way for me to do a shoot like this is to have a really, really good first assistant who can also produce.  They can help handle casting, propping in addition to the work that they do on the working set.  The best assistants are bulletproof and unflappable.  The worst are chatty, disorganized and needy.  If we're doing equipment intensive shoots outdoors it's good to build in a second assistant to help anchor scrims and keep softboxes from being blown over.  More than two assistants is more than I can generally handle.

Make up:  Be sure to budget a make-up artist for every shooting day that has human talent in it.  I work in a lot of high temperature locations and find that having someone there to powder shiny faces saves me tons of time in post processing.

Craft Service:  Craft service means food.  Everything from coffee and protein in the morning to lunch to M&M's in the afternoon.  A shoot runs on food.  If clients are there the food has to be a number of cuts above McD's or Costco snack mix.  On big shoots craft service is a full time job.  You might even consider hiring a service.

Props:  This project called for many domestic props like, a bathrobe, bath mats, towels, a washer and dryer, the right clothes, a step ladder (but just the right kind…..) and a lot more.  And here's the deal:  An art director wants choices available at the shoot.  Three different bathrobes in various shades of blue.  Just the right coffee cup for a kitchen shot.  This must be budgeted because it can be wildly time consuming.  I did a shoot recently that called for just the right set of wrenches.  Took half a day to find this $75 prop…….

Also include time for prop returns.  I don't really need three extra sets of bath mats…..

Rentals:  When you sit down and think through the job be sure to keep in mind that you might need to rent specialized pieces of gear that you don't own.  This could include foggers, giant scrims, grip trucks, generators, additional lighting, perhaps even an RV in which to do make up and wardrobe changes for clients.  Rentals should not come out of your pockets.  Understanding the availability of rentals also expands your vision for what the job could be!!!!

Archiving, editing and post-production:  Most photographers lose their collective shirts because they give away one of the most time intensive parts of the shoot process.  Everything that happens after the actually shooting!  When you get back you'll need to dump all the raw files onto your computer.  And then you'll need to put them on two different backup sources as well.  Then you'll need to edit down the images into a manageable number for the clients.  When you've narrowed down an edit you'll need to get the color and exposure into the ballpark and convert your files to jpegs for client selection.  These will either go on a web gallery you'll create or on a disk you'll deliver.  One the client has chosen their favorites you'll need to go back and do a very careful conversion for each file and then retouch and prepare them in a format the client can use.  Tiffs for print and Jpegs for electronic.

Organization:  You'll need to keep track of all the model releases, property releases, agreements and contracts.  You'll need to provide the client with a final contract that makes sense.  And this take time to.  Time that you should put in your bid somewhere.  

Always resisting the temptation to cut costs because at some point you'll end up doing parts of the project for free.  And why you'd want to provide free work and free intellectual properties to profitably multinational corporations is beyond me………You are in business.  You should be making a profit.  The more complex the shoot, the bigger the pay off for the client, the more your should take home at the end.

If you want to know more about the biz of photography you could do worse than getting my third book:  Commercial Photography Handbook

yes,   this one:  

Good luck on your next bid or estimate.


Matt Beaty said...

Great Post! I've never thought about half those things - which makes sense because I've never done any big shoots, but I plan to in the future!

kirk tuck said...

I have two checklists: One is a bidding/estimating checklist to help jog my memory and make sure I don't leave out something smart or expensive. The other is a packing checklist to reference before I head out the door. If I follow that list I don't leave behind the one linch pin that holds all the other stuff together.

stockshop said...

Excellent suggestions and the check list is a photographer's best friend. Our assignment division has one they use to bid jobs such as these.

mike wilson said...

Great list, Kirk. This is SO incredibly helpful to those of us starting out.

I really appreciate this blog not only for the wonderful photos and insight into your SHOOTING, but also posts like this that help with getting the business savvy down.

Philip said...

I'm still grappling a little with pricing. If I were taking photos of a small local business that were to be used on their web page - how might I approach pricing?

Chris said...

Great post Kirk!!! This is why I believe, contrary to the comments on your previous blog, that a seminar on the business of photography is greatly needed and would be greatly appreciated.

Jon Yoder said...

Good things to think about. Although I don't really plan on having projects this large, it's neat to see some of the behind-the-scenes workings of a pro. :)