If you ask anyone to describe me (especially my colleagues or clients that I’ve produced shoots for), one thing they will all tell you is that I’m organized. When I head out of the office at the end of the day, my desk looks like an overhead shot from a Wes Anderson movie. Folders and post-it notes are aligned, and my pen, notepad and calculator are purposefully positioned next to each other. My orderly way of doing things extends to many aspects of my job, especially in the note-taking process when developing estimates.
Aside from determining creative and licensing fees, a lot of the skill required to create a proper estimate is about asking the right questions and having a method for taking notes. Large projects often require a handful of questions to be answered, while small projects may just need some points to be clarified. Either way, you want to be prepared for when you speak with a client by asking intelligent questions that will emphasize your ability to deliver the most cost efficient estimate based on their specific needs. I’ve developed the following worksheet that I use to write down my questions prior to hopping on the phone and to organize my thoughts as I compile an estimate:
The first page starts with basic contact information, and I’ll use this space to write down the name of the photographer, client and agency (when applicable) along with the name of the agency/client contact as well as the estimate’s due date.
The next section is all about the W’s: who, what, where, when and why. Some of these questions can be answered based on general correspondence with the client before the phone conversation, and some I might be able to answer on my own. Keep in mind that every project is different and some require additional information. I use the large blank section to write down extra project-specific questions. To be even more organized, I’ll often write down the information I already have and the questions I want to ask in blue ink, and record the answers in red ink. This may sound like overkill, but it keeps the information clear and easy to read afterward.
The last section is dedicated to licensing. On the most basic level, I always want to know how many images a client wants to license, how they plan on using them and for how long they want to use them for. Oftentimes the client’s requested use doesn’t match up with their intended use, and that’s the reason why I have two different sections to record this information. It’s common that a client will request unlimited use, but really they only intend on using the images on their website–that’s a huge difference. (You can read our pricing & negotiating articles for tips on reconciling this.)
The very last item on the sheet is a section to record a client’s budget (if they are willing to tell you this information). I placed it last because it’s always important to show enthusiasm for a project and talk about the creative approach before asking about money. However, I do always ask this question because it certainly impacts my approach to the estimate.
The second page of the worksheet helps me organize the estimate as I’m building it. It primarily acts as a list of production elements to think about to keep all of the major elements in mind. As I mentioned earlier, each shoot requires a different approach, but this list helps me consider every aspect from start to finish. Here is how it came in handy for a recent estimate I compiled:
This is an email I received from a client about a shoot:
As you see, the information is a bit vague. I wrote down all of my questions on the worksheet before I called the agency contact, and below is the filled out version after the phone call (blue ink shows my questions and missing info, and red ink shows the responses)
Once I had the information I needed, I used the second page of the worksheet to think through each line of the estimate. Here is what that looked like:
Here is the final estimate based on all of the above organized information:
To address the comments to this post, I’d like to note that the scope of the project changed from when I reached out to acquire information to the time the final estimate shown above was delivered. The following estimate was the original one I compiled based on the original description: