Checklist: What You Must Ask a Client Before Giving a Price

Checklist: What You Must Ask a Client Before Giving a Price

It's a huge risk to not ask the right questions before giving a prospective client a price. Not only does it make you look like an amateur, but you could end up agreeing to a job which really isn't worth the time or money. Here's what you should be asking when someone wants to know how much it will cost to hire you.

You would not believe how often I get asked to give a price for work based on one sentence in an email. The sad thing is I know I'm not the only photographer who gets this. Can you imagine contacting a respected chef and saying: "Hey, I like your food, can you give me a price to cook for my whole family?" Without a few more ingredients it's impossible to know what exactly you're signing up for. Even if you're lucky enough to get a bit more than one sentence describing the job, there is always a real danger that something hasn't been mentioned that could dramatically alter the circumstances. The other issue with not asking questions is that if the person who is doing the hiring is speaking to other photographers and you're the only one not quizzing the client, you'll look like you don't know what you're doing or just don't care. Either way, it will probably result in not getting the job.

Here are the questions that I always have in my head when talking to a client about a job.

1. What Exactly Is Needed Image Wise?

This might seem like an obvious one but unless you know exactly what the client wants you could end up with a major headache further down the line.

What Is the Style of the Shoot?

First things first I'll ask what style they are looking for. Even though my work is dark and moody I still get asked to do the complete opposite at times. It's best not to take anything for granted at this stage so I'll get them to send over some examples of how they want their photoshoot to look. This serves a few purposes. First, it shows me roughly how they want the images to look stylistically. Second, it gives me a good indicator of the kit and team of people I'll need. And lastly, I get a few clues on the size of the budget they have.

Number of Final Shots Required?

This one might seem obvious, but you have to remember that the client may not have the same photographic vocabulary as you. The word "final" makes it clear that what is being talked about is the end product. Not only does this give you some clues on how long the shoot will take, but it is also crucial when working out the amount of retouch time needed. I recently had a fashion client say they wanted 15-20 shots when they actually meant 15-20 outfits. See how just one word can dramatically change everything? That half day you initially priced for has now become a full day and the 15-20 shots is actually 60-80 retouched images.

What Is the Intended Use for the Shots?

Regardless of the industry you work in, you should always be asking about usage. Not just because images for a worldwide ad campaign should be considerably more than a headshot for social media but also because the answer to this question will give you additional details about the job at hand.

There is always value to the images you create and depending on where and how they are being used you should be pricing accordingly. Clients really should be leading with this information but you'd be surprised how often they don't. Sometimes I think this is down to inexperience and other times it's down to them deliberately withholding this kind of information because they know it affects the price you quote, so make sure you ask.

Is Retouch Required?

As mentioned above, if a shot count balloons out of control then it not only affects the day of the shoot but also the number of hours you spend doing retouch. Some clients may have their own retoucher they like to use while others will expect you to do it. It's always best to clear this one up straight away as it really does affect the hours involved on a project. If they do happen to insist on someone else doing the retouch you should enquire who that person is as it could help you to understand what ballpark their budget is in.

When Are the Images Needed By?

Clients will always say they need the images urgently but pin them down to a date as it will stop them hounding you after a shoot. If their requirements mean you have to drop everything or pull a few all-nighters to deliver on time then you should be pricing accordingly. Asking when the images are needed by can sometimes lead to a client divulging more additional information about the shoot or the business/individual themselves. I had someone recently say they needed images urgently for a very prestigious trade show which not only let me know how tight their time frame was but also how important the images were to them and how much they were likely to pay.

What Specification Do You Need the Images to Be?

This is another way to get a better idea of the usage of the work. Also from a technical point of view, it can affect the equipment you may be using or need to be hiring. If the client needs 50-megapixel images and you only give them 20-megapixel images because you didn't have that conversation, then you really only have yourself to blame. Knowing exactly what the client needs up front also saves you having to reprocess images and waste valuable time sending them over again.

What Is the Best Way to Deliver the Final Images?

This one might seem trivial but it's well worth getting to know how the final images will be delivered. Lots of clients are happy with digital transfer these days but it's always worth checking they don't have any strange requirements. I have had to send a USB in the post a few times in the past. All these things take time and money and should be factored into the price you give.

2. Who Else Is Being Used on the Shoot?

The answers you get to this question can dramatically alter your impression of the budget your client has. The world is a small place and you may very well know some of the names they mention to you. Even if you don't, a quick Google could help reveal the ballpark your clients budget is.

Which Models Are Being Used?

Clients love to brag about the caliber of the model they are using so finding this out not only makes you look like you're interested in the shoot but it also helps you to understand their budget. Alternatively, if they tell you they are not bothering with models it's probably a good indicator they may be trying to minimize what they spend. There are legitimate reasons not to use a model in some circumstances but the client needs to know that this can affect the efficiency of a shoot. Knowing who you will be photographing beforehand can really change how you approach and price the job.

Who Are the Other Creatives Being Used?

Similar to which models are being used, what stylists, art director, or hair and makeup artist being used can change everything. If the client is open to suggestions I would much prefer to use the creatives I know and trust. If they don't see the importance of hiring such people, again it's a good indicator of how much they are willing to spend.

3. Where Will the Shoot Take Place?

As crazy as it sounds, sometimes a client might not initially tell you where the shoot will happen or leave things pretty vague. Obviously this is a problem as it can dramatically alter how much time and effort will be going into the shoot. If the location is outdoors I would also ask if they have a wet weather plan in place as you need to be prepared for all eventualities.

If the location is some amazing old building it's always worth asking if you have access to electricity, and even in more modern places being able to plug into the mains shouldn't be taken for granted. Electricity can be easily overlooked by a client but will dramatically affect how the photographer works and what kit they need to bring along. If things like generators need to be hired then obviously they need to be factored into your price.

The last thing I would ask regarding the location of a shoot is if we actually have permits to shoot there. Clients may think you can get away without such things, but it's really not worth the risk. It's also a good indicator of the kind of person and the budget you're working with if they are happy to break the rules. I was once on a job at an airport where I was told we had permission to shoot there. Not long after we started we were joined by the airport police who made us stop shooting. Turns out the client had once had flying lessons there and presumed that gave him access all areas!

4. Can I Just Ask?

Last but not least here are a few general questions I will always ask before I give a price to a client.

Is My Own Kit Needed?

Sometimes you may be hired to shoot in a studio where they already have their own equipment set up. Finding out if it will be your kit or theirs used on the job should affect how much you charge.

What Are Your Payment Terms?

Getting confirmation in black and white when you will be paid will not only give you something to quote to a client when they are late to pay, but it will also save a lot of time chasing them. If they are a little vague about payment terms it might also suggest you may have trouble getting paid after the job. If you get any bad vibes surrounding the answers you get it might be a sign they may not be worth working for.

Have They Done This Kind of Shoot Before?

This is a good question to ask as it can help indicate what sort of budget and overall expectations they have. Clients will be more likely to open up about a previous shoot than the current one they want you to price for. The information they tell you can help you form a better picture of the situation as a whole. At the very least it will give you some reassurance they have some experience when it comes to organizing a photoshoot.

How Did You Find Me?

This one isn't just for an ego boost but is a great way to work out what marketing you are doing is actually working. Where they found you can also be a good indicator what ballpark their budget may be. If you were recommended to them by a mutual friend you can reach out to that person for additional information which will help you better understand who you will be working for.
 
So there you have it, a whole bunch of questions you should really be trying to get the answers to before giving a price out. Depending on your industry there may be a few areas not covered above but I hope the list is a good starting point for you to build your own checklist. The main thing I wanted to stress was that the more information you can arm yourself with at the beginning the better prepared you'll be to give an accurate price and be more likely to actually get the job.

Any questions you think I missed off the list? Do you have any horror stories of questions you wish you'd asked before you quoted a job? Leave a message below I'd love to hear them.

Log in or register to post comments

26 Comments

Robert Bell's picture

Perfect timing, thanks for this.

Paul Adshead's picture

You're very welcome Robert, I only take 5% commission on any extra jobs you get as a result... ; )

William Howell's picture

Yep, perfect timing, got a shoot for a LuLaRoe retailer.

Don't you get paid right after the shoot, (I'm talking like next day), and does one not get a deposit upfront? I'm new to this line of work, I was in construction for thirty years and I most always got a deposit.

Paul Adshead's picture

Hey William, in my experience the fashion world can be anywhere from 30,60 or even 90 days AFTER you send in your invoice. That's not to say you can't be paid sooner, just you need to have that conversation with the client.

A deposit makes total sense but it doesn't tend to happen as often in the photographic industries I work in.
(I guess weddings etc do)

If I'm writing an estimate for a big job (esp. when I have to hire kit/people) I will write on the bottom:
"50% of rate is required upfront to initiate this estimate".

All the best on your shoot! Let me know if you have any more questions...

Mark James's picture

My invoices all state 30 days from receiving the invoice, which is delivered with the edited product. This works well for most established businesses. Shoots for people, like prom, family, wedding requires a 50% deposit with the balance due on delivery. This has worked very well for me, but some large clients can take over the 30 days, but if they are a regular customer, I just roll with it.

Paul Adshead's picture

Sounds likes a great payment policy you have there Mark, I find the bigger the client the worse they are to pay. Like you say if they are regular then you do kinda have to roll with it....

Great article.
We always get inquiries that ask "What is your rate for X?"
I have found that more than half actually don't have answers to the questions because they are inexperienced and haven't thought out the scope of their project.

One has to accept that they are not actual clients of anyone other than the equally clueless photographer who will blurt out a price.

Paul Adshead's picture

Same here Mark! I also get "How much is it per picture?"

The right questions really do help to filter out bad clients. Swanky websites and inflated social media can make anyone look like a million dollars, you always need to dig deeper...

Rob Waller's picture

Great article. Now I just need to get the clients to read it so they can appreciate why I'm asking so many questions and how important the questions are to the quote!

Paul Adshead's picture

haha thanks Rob!

The way I tackle the "why are you interrogating me?" response from a client is by saying:

"...by answering my questions I can work out the best possible price for you. You wouldn't want to be charged for items you don't need right?"

If it sounds like I'm trying to save them money they usually cooperate. If they don't, it might be time to move onto the next client. These questions really do help you to pick up early warning signs and filter out the bad clients...

Cool logo btw!

Hi Paul, thanks for this article. Great timing for me as well - I made up my own list of questions to ask a client but this went into details I hadn't even thought about. Very helpful, thank you!

Paul Adshead's picture

You're very welcome Michael! It's crazy how just one insignificant question can open up a can of worms about a job... All the best with your estimate!

This might not be related to pricing so much, but one thing I thought of that relates to image usage is the copyright/exclusivity issue. I'm assuming the client will want a contract drawn up to say the images won't be used for other purposes, but would you also need to ask if you can use the images for your own portfolio?

Paul Adshead's picture

Image rights etc is most definitely related to pricing but it's a topic which really needs an article in its own right. (I do plan to write one soon!)

Attached to my estimate is also two pages of T & C's which state that unless explicitly stated the copyright of the images belongs to me and I can use them as I wish. That is the case regardless as you as the photographer own the rights to the images you take.

You really are just giving them a licence to use the images in what ever
format/territory/duration they state and pay for.

If someone wants a FULL BUYOUT of the images, so they own the copyright and/or have exclusive use of the images then they can, but they better have deep pockets...

Paul Adshead's picture

Sometimes a client might embargo the images so you can't use them before they have used them themselves (which is more than understandable).

After they have gone live that embargo has lifted and you can then post them wherever you like...

Cheers Paul, thanks for the replies. Really appreciate your time.

Paul Adshead's picture

You're very welcome!

Paul Adshead wrote, “If someone wants a FULL BUYOUT of the images, so they own the copyright and/or have exclusive use of the images then they can, but they better have deep pockets...”

“Buy-Out” is a vague & poor licensing term; it can have different meanings to different parties. Best practice is to use exact terms when communicating with clients and drafting agreements.

According to UsePlus.org, http://www.useplus.com/useplus/glossary_term.asp?pggl=1&tmid=10600000,
Buy-Out is “an imprecise term used to describe acquisition of broad usage rights to a work, sometimes in a particular market or medium. Buy-Out is a slang term, often misinterpreted as a transfer of copyright ownership of a work from the copyright holder to the client or client's agent…”

If a buy-out means granting unlimited rights, then write the license as unlimited use (for a limited time-frame, territory, media, etc.). If a buy-out will provide the client with all rights, copyright interest/title, and ownership, use “copyright transfer.” In the US, creatives who ‘transfer their copyrights to clients (vs. sign “work-for-hire” agreements), can re-capture those copyrights in 35-years

Paul Adshead's picture

My comment was conversational and the phrase was used to summarize an umbrella term.

"Full buy-out" is actually still used in the circles I work in but I appreciate it could have some ambiguity.

Thanks for the links!

All this can come into conflict when you and your client are suing each other because of ambiguity over assignment and/or licensing terms—being specific mitigates misunderstandings.

Using correct photography industry terms, provides guidance to new photographers entering the market.

Could you outline how/when you go about laying out all these questions? Is this something you send in an email or discuss in a single conversation over the phone/in person?

Paul Adshead's picture

Personally I like to do things over the phone or in person but in reality, email is preferred by busy clients.

I wouldn't suggest sending 15 questions in one go as you'll find they only answer a few or just get overwhelmed. It's more of a merry dance between you and the client, the initial email exchange may be something like this:

Client: Hey we have this amazing new clothing range we'd love you to shoot it.

Photographer: Hey thanks for reaching out, What exactly do you need shooting? models or products, on location or in a studio?

Client: Models, we have this cool location in an old fun fair. How much do you charge?

Photographer: Oh that sounds amazing, who else is working on the shoot? How many final shots are needed? NOTE: (ignore their question about a rate till you have more info)

Client: We have this amazing model from New York, you may have seen her on [terrible tv show]. We need 20-30 shots...

(Continue the back and forth)
-------------------

Already you are starting to build up a picture of the shoot, each previous set of answer from the client will inform you more. ALWAYS hold off on a rate until you have enough answers to clearly see what the job entails.

Animo Events's picture

Yup, potential clients need to answer these questions for each project... I have experienced "Reputed" clients trying to weasel out of even a low cost music background which they confirmed they will pay for...

Paul Adshead's picture

sorry to hear that, that's why I will get them to confirm everything in an email so they can't! They still will try!

get a an advance to cover you expenses, It will often take 3--90 days to get your money from an agency. You want to make sure you get an advance before the shoot to cover your expenses. Things like assistants, stylist, studio rental, gear rental, etc.....

Paul Adshead's picture

I hear you Doug!

Advances vary from industry to industry but it's much easier to get one if you have that conversation early on.

One to add to the list above for sure...