Negotiating and Talking Money with Clients
This is an important concept, and I kinda touched on it a little bit, about the idea of being uncomfortable, or being in a situation that you don't wanna be in, or you feel you're being taken advantage of. But, the first one you wanna remember, is if you don't think the job is worth your time, no matter who the client is, put that out of your head, who the client is. If you really feel that this is an abuse of your time, walk away. You'll get more respect for it. And maybe they'll come back again at another time, and they will hire you. But if you come into a situation, knowing you're at a huge disadvantage, and you're being taken advantage of, you'll never be taken seriously as a professional. You have to assert yourself professionally if you wanna be treated with respect. And a producer friend of me told me this when I first got in the business, and I got offered to do some ad work, and I threw crazy numbers at people, on purpose. Because, they were trying to get me to do something t...
hat needed, they needed me. They needed somebody that did what I did, and they wanted me to do it for a very cheap price. And I said, "Nope, I won't do it for that." I said, "I'll do it for this." And I threw a monster number at them, 'cause it was advertising work. And all of a sudden, the whole tone of the conversation changed, even though there was still a negotiation to be had, but it was clear I wasn't gonna be a pushover, so they knew that they had to deal with me like a professional. So it was, "Oh you wanna go here? "Well then I'm gonna go up here." Because I'll ultimately, we both wanna be here, right? And that's really what negotiation is about. And if you're not, they're not willing to push and pull with you, and this goes in any situation, right? You're buying a house, you're buying a car. If you come at, if somebody comes at you with a hard number and says, "That's it. "We're done, this is what I can pay, "and I don't wanna pay any more and that's it." Well, then we're not negotiating. Then this whole thing that we've been talking about is out the window, because now it's just, I'm dictating then. I'm dictating to you what I wanna pay. And you know what? For most of us, that doesn't really work. You have to be willing to recognize when you're being dictated to. And if you don't, you're gonna be at a disadvantage, and you're gonna be taken advantage of as an artist. And that's not fair. So, be aware. I think, one of the other times you should think about walking away from the situation is when you feel that the only reason they're hiring you is because of cost. When they're not looking at you as an artist, they're looking at you as the cheapest option. That's a time to walk away from a situation too, because you're not being respected, and you get the sense that that's exactly what's happening, is that, "This job is out of my league." And this is where it happens a lot. "This job is pretty much out of my league. "This client is not somebody who would normally "hire somebody like me, but they're offering me the job "at this kinda price over here." And that's not usually what that kinda work costs, and you know, you see it, it's plain as day, and this is what the branded content thing happens, a lot. You'll get a mass marketing, a big multinational company offering a photography who's never done an advertising campaign before, a certain amount of money to do social media stuff, and you know you're gettin' hosed. You know, you really know it. And you gotta say, "Man, as much as I'd love that "on my portfolio, I gotta walk on this one." And maybe not. Maybe it's just worth it to have it in your portfolio, because it will jump you to the next level, but the problem is a lot of times when you do that work, they keep coming back at that price. And then you're really, then it's not worth it anymore, right? That's when you walk away. Just like, do it once, get it on your website. "Look I shot for Coca Cola, woo hoo." Right? And then, the next time they come back at you with that price, you're like, "Yeah man, I can't do that. "If you want me to continue to do this, "it's gonna be this price." You know? And that takes, it takes guts man, it really does. It takes guts to stand up to people like this in negotiations, but, they don't expect anything less of you. Trust me, they don't. They expect you to push back. Yes.
Do you do most of your negotiations through email, like so you have something to track, or do you do it all on the phone?
I don't put things in writing, because that can, I don't wanna be misinterpreted, and I don't want to write things, something the wrong way, and I also don't wanna box myself in. So, until, if it's in writing, it is in such detail, that there is no room for error. There's no room for, so, but most of the time those discussions happen on the phone. And now, at the highest levels, they happen with my agent, so I don't have to do them. But like even when I'm negotiating with a client on my own, I prefer to talk on the phone, because I feel like, email, so much gets lost in email, to tone, and that really matters when you're negotiating with people about you're saying, "I want this, and I want that." It's really hard to soften the tone to the point where maybe it doesn't offend somebody, but when you talk to somebody in person, you're able to modify your speech in ways where you can be very forceful about what you want without sounding hard.
So how many of your questions do you have answered though, before you have that conversation?
Oh I can get a few of those questions answered on email, those things, but that's not technically money negotiation. That's more like getting to money negotiation. We're actually talking about what's leading me to build a price. So that's where all that is, sure. We talked about exposure as payment already, and I just, I'm a reminder that that's part of this whole when we gotta walk away situation.
I was wondering, in your line of work, do your clients usually require a retainer, or do you require a retainer, or do you take payment in full before you do the job?
Depends on the client, but never, very rarely payment in full before. That's very rare. A lot of times half beforehand, on a bigger project, especially when there's a lot of expenses up front, like a cookbook. I would definitely take half up front. For magazine work, no. For advertising work, yes. So it sort of just depends, and a lot of that times, it really is dictated by how much the production's gonna cost, and if you actually have to lay money out as a production company to facilitate. And then you have kill fees, where if you, if they kill the project, they still owe you a certain amount of money, so that you don't lose money on production. So it's all of those things. I didn't really discuss kill fees, but they're good to build in to your contracts when you're working with clients, and basically what it says is that if you cancel this project before it's completed, you need to, you owe me X amount. And it's usually a percentage of what you think you're gonna put up front to make the project happen. So, 20, 30% kill fee, something like that. I mean, you can probably research, in different venues, what that might be, what might be appropriate for you. I mean you don't wanna come across as being too forceful on things like that, but it's important to at least be aware that, if you have a sense that the project might not go through, and you're putting money up front, you need to talk about that with your client. Not always the case, but when it does happen, it's good to protect yourself. So, one of the other reasons to walk away from a client at this, in these negotiation stages is when it's pretty clear they're unrealistic about what they want, and they're not really movable or willing to learn, when you're starting to talk about how many things they want photographed, or how many different variations, or how fast they want their pictures, or how much they wanna spend on production, and they clearly don't have any concept of what we do. It's time to tell them, "You know what, "maybe I'm not the photographer for you." You know, "I'm sorry, I'm booked that day." Whatever might, whatever excuse you need to make to back out of that arrangement. The other way to do that, honestly, and it's something I've done in the past, is you price yourself in a way that they can't possibly hire you, and that saves face too for everybody. So, there's ways to handle those situations where you're clearly dealing with an unknowledgeable client, but you don't wanna embarrass them, so you just price yourself in a way that makes it impossible for them to hire you. And clearly, if they just said, "Oh yeah, I could do that." Well then you have all the money at your disposal, and you can fix all the problems, because money fixes the problems in these situations, so, right. And then, you gotta go with your gut, right? So much of what we do is instinctual as artists anyway, but if you enter into a situation, and you just got a bad feeling, and you're just like, "I don't, "I can't put my finger on it, but it doesn't feel right." Well, when you feel that way, trust your instincts and walk away. Because you know something's wrong, and you may not have the experience to put your finger on it, but you just trust your gut. Don't ever doubt it. If you walk into a situation, and you feel like, "Something is wrong here, and this is not gonna go well." You don't have to give an excuse, just walk away. "Hey, sorry I'm booked." It's the best one, because then everybody thinks you're busy, and that's great, 'cause you want people to think you're busy. So even, so you never have to tell people why you're backin' out of a job, but you price yourself high, you say you're booked, you don't know that the scope of the job is something you can do at this point, you know. All of those things is a way to extricate yourself from those situations without embarrassing yourself or the client. Because you never know, that client may swing back around at some point, be a little bit more knowledgeable, or have a little bit more respect for your situation, and then you're dealing with them on a level playing field.
When you ask a client their budget, and they tell you their, and they happen to tell you their budget, what process do you go through to evaluate? Do you sort of say, "Okay, "here's what I can give you for that?"
Yeah, I think that's really, that's a great situation, when they actually are honest with you about what they wanna spend, and then you can clearly say to them, "Okay, I know what I can give you for that price." And then you can custom tailor what you feel is appropriate for the price that they wanna spend. That works, because they really is clearly the give and take that you wanna have with a client. It's no, there's no game playing going on. There's no gamesmanship. Especially if that number is a number you think you can work with. Now, if the number is not a number you think you can work with, then that's easy negotiation. It's just like, "I'm sorry, but I don't think we can "work this out for that price. "But what we can do for that price is this." And always having that plan B in your pocket, to tell them what you can do for the price they have, especially if they throw a number at you. Once a number comes out at you, you have a lot to work with. You can say, and you can start doing those calculations in your head. "I know what my stylist is gonna cost. "I know what my studio is gonna cost. "I know how much props gonna cost. "I know how much money I can make on the back end of this. "Okay, good we can do that. "We can do that at this rate. "We can do this many dishes." You know, that's one of the classic ways to cut down on one of these things is convince people they don't need that much imagery. You don't need 20, you need 10. You don't need 50, you need 30. And then all of a sudden you start to, and when you have a justification for that in the conversation, and say, "Look, "we're shooting a book about popsicles. "How many shots do you really think we're gonna get "that are different from one another?" Right? "We got the orange one, we got the blue one, "we got the red, white, and blue one, "we got the one that's kinda shaped like a dinosaur. "How many really think we're gonna get? "Do we really need every one in the book?" And then they think about it, and they're like, "Yeah, really." I said, "Yeah, because you don't wanna be redundant. "You got three that are, you got strawberry, "you got cherry, and you got raspberry, and they're all red. "Why do we need three red popsicles?" And this, I made that up at the top of my head, because it just, exactly like every negotiation I've ever had. Because it's like, how many plates of pasta do you need? How many salads do you need? And when I work with a cookbook client who's new at this, I say, "Okay, before we even come up with a price, "send me your shot list. "What do you wanna shoot?" And they send me all the recipes, and I go through it page by page. I look through the whole cookbook, and I say, "Okay, I want five desserts, "I want five mains, I want five of this and five of that." And I go through everything that they have represented in the cookbook. So where they had 20 in each category, I have three to five. Because I'm like, "This is the most visual. "This is redundant." And all of a sudden it gets boiled down to something that's really workable for everybody, and then they're very grateful for you being on their team. Because now you've basically done so much homework in boiling it down into something that they can work with. And I know we're talking a lot about cookbook negotiations, and that's gonna, we're gonna culminate with some cookbook talk, but I feel like that's the thing that so many of you end up experiencing right now, because it's, whether it be e-books, or online, or self-publishing, there's so many different ways that people are publishing cookbooks, and they need you. They need you to know how to do this for them, so it's important.
Great, question number two was, who is cooking? You ask the client, "Who is cooking?" Client comes and says, "Okay, my uncle Vito is the best chef."
Okay. Do we care about what it tastes like, or do we care about what it looks like. That's the question I ask next. Uncle Vito may be the greatest chef in the history of the world, but can Uncle Vito make it look great? So I think, once you say, "But I would love to have Uncle Vito there, "to work with my stylist, "because I would really love the way, "love to see how he makes it look, "what's unique about the way he does it. "But my stylist is gonna help him "plate that food for camera." And that's that negotiation. That's how it becomes, "I care about your needs. "I really want to taste Uncle Vito's food, "but we really wanna make a great cookbook for you." Or, "We really wanna make good article for you."
When you're negotiating with your clients, and you come to the question, whether it's more proper for you to utilize a production company or build the own, build the crew for yourself.
How do you approach that question, and what indicators are you looking at to determine that from your client?
Well, I mean, clearly the amount of money that the client wants to spend on the job, and how much you feel that the way the production is gonna proceed, how, on what level they wanna interact with you. I mean, if there's a big advertising gig, it has to be done with a production company. There's no question. It just has to be done that way. But as we scale down slightly, and I've had these situations where I have jobs that just don't fit in my studio. Right, we're just on the edge of that where there are just too many people or it's just, just slightly too big to produce in my studio. That negotiation then becomes about, "Look, I really wanna shoot this for you in my space, "but my space can only accommodate X amount of people, "so we can't empty out your office into my studio "so everybody can sit on their laptop all day "while we're shooting." Which is a lot of times what happens, right? You get smaller production companies, or smaller advertising agencies, and everybody wants to be on the shoot, but it's not practical. Especially when you don't wanna spend 3,000 a day on studio expenses, right? When you wanna pair that down and work with this, a photographer who has their own space, then you have to have concessions as to, alright how many people can we have on the set? And I've had that conversation a number of times. I can work with no more than five people in my space when I'm with my team. And they say yea or nay. And I have, I'll put up a monitor, and I'll make space for people to sit and look and watch, and be like a real photo shoot in a bigger space, but that has to be scaled down to accommodate my needs as well, because I can't work in that environment if there are 90 people and there's nowhere to move or put anything down, or it's just not practical. So, I think clearly it's the scale of what the client expects. The client expects dog and pony show, give 'em a dog and pony show. Client wants to scale back, and save a little bit of money, and they're not as concerned about that, because this is a longterm client, and they're comfortable with them, and nobody's gonna think anything of it, then you can scale it back and work with your own production team.