We’ve all been there. Trying to interpret what a client needs from an email that says “Hey we love your work, how much is your day rate?” We all have different types of clients. Editorial, advertising, corporate, and some businesses who handle all creative in house. Most of the clients I work with now are very good at giving me as much information up front to help me provide the best, most accurate estimate. However, there are still plenty of times that the clients really don’t understand this process. It’s our job, even if we aren’t being paid for it yet, to help educate them and hopefully make their next experience better for everyone.
Here’s how it goes. We sit there, putting an estimate together for a potential client who doesn’t give you any creative direction, budget range or scope. They don’t tell you much of anything because often they don’t know themselves and it’s really hard to guess what a client needs. You already know what they expect. They expect their finished products to rival that of a million-dollar campaign but don’t have a budget for that or the true understanding of what it takes to pull off “just a couple of photos.” They have no concept of creative fees, expenses or image licensing, but that’s another story.
Here’s how I’ve helped my clients navigate this process and in turn helped myself provide better estimates. There’s no guarantee I’ll get any job, but I feel better about the process afterwards knowing I had all the information and presented an accurate estimate of what the project would cost for me to do it.
Next, itemize all of your expenses. Any costs that you have to pay for to accomplish the job go here. Gear, assistants, permits, location fees, hair and makeup, styling, studio rental, scout day, travel days, props, producer, grip etc. These add up. Here’s where having all the information helps you plan for these expenses. I bill for the use of my own gear. It cost me thousands and I would have to rent gear if I hadn’t already purchased it. This is an industry standard practice I have no hesitation recommending. I itemize this expense so the client can see it.
The last area I bill for is usage. This is a confusing but really simple (I know) component. The easiest way I describe it to clients who do not grasp it is this: I create the content (intellectual property) and then based on the value (how many images, where it will be used and for how long) I license the use of the images. When dealing with smaller/emerging businesses you will generally be more flexible with the licensing. I would discourage, however, any scenario that you give any client everything or sign a work for hire. I’ve done it occasionally, I hate doing it and it’s rarely equitable. If your client says they need “5-6 photos for the website” be sure to get that in the agreement for 5-6 photos delivered. They often think they need the 5-6 but expect the full set. That makes their request more valuable because you’re now providing more images. Be CLEAR what you will deliver. Once you have the quantity, determine how they will use the images. Most businesses don’t really know. I traditionally give them pretty generous use for a decent amount of time, typically I’ll give a smaller business unlimited use for 2 years. Most small to mid sized businesses don’t have the budgets to bill for every type of use. Some of my peers will want to scream at me here but clients already not used to this process will balk if they feel you are taking advantage of them. It’s not because you are, it’s just that they don’t understand it and don’t have the budgets like the larger organizations. It’s a dance and if you need help there are professional estimators out there who can help.
Jason Myers is an award winning commercial advertising and editorial photographer based in Nashville, Tennessee.
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