You receive a phone call from a prospective client asking you to “bid” on an upcoming photography project she has. It’s an opportunity to forge a new relationship with a new client and you really want the job. Here are three guidelines that have served me well, resulting in me being selected as the successful “bidder”:
1. Never, ever, give a “ballpark figure” for the project; you’ll surely overlook something if you provide an estimate on the spot. It’s just impossible to quickly throw together a figure while under the pressure of “I want an estimate now.” Instead, gather information by asking open-ended questions and let your caller know you’ll get back to her quickly with the estimate.
2. Always ask your counterpart in the negotiation what her budget for the project is. In most cases, they’ll tell you they haven’t set one. That’s fine, just gather more information – perhaps share some insight about how you would handle the project and offer some suggestions to help her out. Then a bit further along in the conversation, share the following: “I have to say Mary, your project is exactly the type of shoot we do all the time and I’d love to work with you on it. Tell me, where do I need to be on this project?”
That second question is essentially a repeat of the first, but you’ve asked it later in the conversation after you and she have gotten to know one another a bit more. I’ve had a high success rate in getting clients to answer my second iteration of the same question; especially if the discussion is moving along smoothly and the client is responding well to what I’ve said.
3. Third, and perhaps most important, you need to determine if the person with whom you’re speaking is the decision maker. A great, non-offensive way to do this is to ask “Mary, is there anyone else I might email a few samples of my work to?” If she offers up a name, it’s likely that person is in fact the person who will ultimately award the job. If possible, get that person in on the conversation. If you cannot, then be sure to give Mary “talking points” about your approach, your value and why you’re better than everyone else she’s calling. In other words, how do you differentiate yourself from everyone else? If you cannot differentiate yourself, why should she hire you?
After I’ve gathered all the information I need in order to put together the estimate, I’ll ask if an estimate by the end of the day is soon enough. You want your client to know that you are responsive and more than willing to work within their schedule if a faster turnaround is needed.