Know Everything Before Giving a Quote

homer-dohHow much would you charge for a gig like this: a 2-3 minute montage with simple video transitions. Nothing fancy. A detailed script, all the photos and video will be provided.

Would you charge $150? $300? $500? I mean, look at it. It’s a piece of cake, right. You could even use a program like Animoto Pro to create it for you and not have to hardly do any work. So let’s say you decide to charge $300 and you send the client a contract and invoice which he signs and pays for immediately.  Easy money. Right?

So you send them your FTP link for the photos and videos and they tell you, “Well, you need to come to my office because the videos are all on BetaCam SP. Twenty tapes worth (about 16 hours). But I can upload some of the photos, about 2000 of them. The other 500 or so you’ll need to scan. When can you be here.”


You just charged $300 for the equivalent of what should be easily 15 to 20 times that based on the work involved.

No, this is not a real scenario. But early in my career I’ve made the terrible mistake of giving a quote before getting all the specs. Even if you don’t sign a contract and commit yourself, it’s never a good experience for a client when you come back and tell them you goofed and didn’t charge  enough.

Time, Talent and Intent

When providing a quote for your creative services, there three things you must keep in mind:

  1. Time. Perhaps the most important is time. How long will it take you to produce the project? How to prepare for it? How many hours will you spend with the client beforehand discussing it? How long will it take you to shoot it? To edit it? How many other “man-hours” will be involved (i.e. how much time from other people like crew members). My example above was largely based on the fact that the amount of time involved would be considerably more than originally planned.
  2. Talent. What value are you bringing to the table? Not just in your skillset in a particular area, but also in the equipment and resources you have. I will frequently base a quote on differently hourly rates for different projects based on what they are.  For instance, I charge more for shooting and editing than I do for scriptwriting. My hourly rate for consulting a client is different too. Some filmmakers will charge more per hour for a project shot on a RED cinema camera than the same project shot on a DSLR.
  3. Intent. This last one is primarily geared towards photographers and filmmakers who will produce a piece of work that in essence is licensed by the client. You see this particularly in commercial photography. A commercial photo shoot for internet-only use may cost considerably less than a print campaign for a major magazine. In the video world, a video you shoot for broadcast television may cost more than one intended for local cable TV. Whether or not the client gets the raw footage (or the digital negatives in the case of photographers) is also key. (See my blog post about why you can charge for raw footage and negatives).

It’s very important when running a business to charge an amount that covers costs and produces a profit. To do that, you need to know these three things. What over tips do you have about quoting jobs?

4 thoughts on “Know Everything Before Giving a Quote

  1. Oh man Ron everything you say is totally true, you absolutely need to know everything before even giving a ballpark. Many people who haven’t worked with a professional videographer or video company just get so suspicious when your response to “how much will this cost?” is “well it depends.” Not that everyone gets suspicious but it’s dangerous to give someone a quote on the spot. I really wish people would be more open about what their budget is and understood it’s not that we are trying waste their money, instead that we truly want to offer as much as possible within their budget.

    My brother used to sell appliances for department store and whenever a customer went up to him and said “I need to buy a washing machine” his first question was usually “what’s your budget or how much were you hoping to spend?” That was it, customer always answered without hesitation and he would show them the best washer he could within that price range. One time in my early years I had someone ask me how much would it cost to produce a cooking video and I just had a feeling I was going to spend a lot of time working on a proposal that she in the end was going to say “this is too much”. So instead I asked what her budget was and she hesitated, I gave her the washing machine example (I probably would never do that again at least using that specific example) and she said oh okay it’s $1500…which was two times bigger than what I assumed she had. So I try to figure out what people’s budgets are so I have real numbers to work with but of course many times they won’t share unless you can get them to understand you are truly on their side. Great blog Ron.

    1. Excellent point Maria about asking for a budget range first. I always try to do that. ESPECIALLY for jobs I know may tak half an afternoon to write a proposal. Don’t want to spend all that time for nothing. And you’re also right about client budgets sometimes being bigger than you may have imagined. It’s like in negotiating…it’s always best to let the other person give his or her number first.

      Thanks for the comment.

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