This post was written by Frank Meo, Founder of The Photo Closer and photo rep and consultant for over 25 years. The Photo Closer helps photographers estimate and negotiate bids, brainstorm ways to reach their goals, and ultimately win more jobs.
It’s your lucky day. In your inbox sits an email with the subject line “Job Estimate”. You did it. You got the opportunity to bid for a job.
Those few minutes of elation quickly fade, though, when you start thinking of the brass tacks. How am I going to win this one? What will it take this time? First off, breathe. Congratulate yourself. You did something right to get to this point, whether it was a stellar meeting, a portfolio review or an email promo…or maybe all of the above. Nowadays breaking through the clutter is no easy feat.
Now it’s time to get down to business. But, the “business” is way more than the numbers. Winning a job is also about the intangibles. Here’s what I mean:
1. Be yourself. Be decent. Be a straight shooter. Be respectful. Show your passion. Respond to emails quickly, say thank you, follow-up. Do what you say you’ll do. You know, that “be a good human” stuff. It works.
2. Don’t get lost in the numbers. This is the biggest hurdle. You don’t want to be the cheapest. I’ll repeat that: you don’t want to just low ball the job to get it. This hurts everyone in our business, and it kills your future with the client. You’ll always be thought of as “the cheap photographer”.
What you need to realize, for the most part, is that everyone’s numbers for the “guts” of an estimate are similar. For things like equipment and location rentals, stylists, assistants, etc. Where things get hairy are in creative and usage fees.
My rule is, charge for what you think is fair to you. If when you put your head on the pillow at night and your head isn’t spinning, then all is fine. But don’t make yourself crazy because this is not the determining factor of whether you’ll get the job or not.
Disclaimer: I totally understand the financial and creative pressures that photographers are dealing with today. Something those realities become insurmountable. It just shouldn’t be your go-to.
3. Separate yourself from the crowd. This is the most crucial point, and something I like to call “creative separation.” How do you separate yourself from the competition? Why and for what reason should the client decide to shoot with you? If you’re working on and submitting an estimate and you can’t answer those questions, then you, my friend, won’t win the bid.
With the competition and quality level of photographers being so high, ad agencies and clients are thinking: which photographer is more in sync with our product? Who truly understands our consumer?
The task for photographers is to find ways to outthink the competition and convey a deep rooted understanding of the clients product. This must be conveyed in your conversations, creative brief and your estimate.
4. Connect with the client. This is the sole space where jobs are won and lost. Here’s the reality for you: The Ad Agency, your client, sits in a conference room with their client. The client says to the Ad Agency folks, “Who’s your first choice to shoot for us?” You need an advocate (a friend) in that room at that very moment.
If in that conference room you have an advocate and you’re the high bid, the Ad Agency will fight for you. If money becomes the overriding issue, better still, your advocate will say — with conviction — to the client: “let me negotiate with them, the rep / photographer is really great; I’m sure they’ll work with us!” Done. The job is yours.
So this connecting piece is key to the process. In your phone calls, emails, creative brief, texts conversations with clients or potential clients, you must breach the divide that is simply you, “the photographer” and them, “the client”. Think of this connecting as a first date and you want a second and a third. Find something you have in common. Be personal (just not too personal). Get to know them. People work with other people they like. Simple as that.
Next up soon: some case studies that show how to bring this all to life.
About Frank Meo: For 25+ years, Frank has repped photographers from around the world. Over time, he’s successfully negotiated and estimated thousands of projects. Frank has represented and advocated for top commercial photographers, world-renowned photojournalists and nurtured emerging talent. He founded thephotocloser.com eight years ago to help more photographers get hired. Connect with Frank directly: firstname.lastname@example.org