Alright let's talk about billing. And invoicing, terms, late fees, and problems collecting. So, I think we pretty much agree on this. When to invoice. As a general rule you invoice at the end of the piece. And when I say the end of the piece, I mean the end of the piece. That means revisions, everything is done. If you invoice early, like you invoice at round one, the ability to get paid after revisions goes steadily down. At least in our industry. So if we initial billed and then bill for revisions later, we have a hard time collecting. So we tend to hold off. Now entertainment is a very fast paced business. It's one and done. You're done within 30 days as an average rule?
To be finished with a project? On large volume jobs, large volume jobs, we did CBS. That was 600 images? We billed at the end and that got difficult because you're carrying over money. And because it was a volume job, I was hiring out re-touchers that I had to pay for. So what we decided then is in future...
larger volume pieces, we're gonna bill halfway through. Halfway through completion. So that's something to consider.
And the completion, it's just as simple as calling up your contact and saying "Can I invoice now"?
So there's no guesswork to it. Your done, you printed, ta dah.
Now I do have a client, no name shall be named, that they're dreadful. They pay so slow. It's just painful. It's like four months to get paid. Drives me nuts. I love the creative director. I love him. Do anything for him. So I only work for them if they pay in advance. So I also bill in advance, and I literally will not start the project until the check comes. Because they'll say it's in the mail and it's not. So, check arrives, project gets started. Terms. You don't really get to decide your terms.
My terms, yeah.
Your companies decide your terms. You know this right? You can say it's a net 30. If they pay net 45, they pay net 45. And that's just the end of it. So how do you handle that? I like your method.
I throw a little extra on the bill for the wait time in.
Yes. Yes. Now what he does, he taught me that. I was like "Oh, that's interesting". I have a few clients that pay net 60 and net 90. Net 90. Can you imagine? I'm a nobody, I'm teeny, I'm little. Pay me, how hard is it? I don't ever add to the bill without telling whoever hired me that look, "Your company policy is this. "I'm adding an hour to the bill for the wait "time on the payment. Are you good with that"? And you don't line item it out as a wait fee. But you gotta clear it with who hires. You don't just stick extra hours on your bill. You gotta clear it. You can, but you won't get hired as often. It's not good policy. Late fees. My experience, I've never collected on a late fee. I've imposed some and I've never collected on them.
Not one. So I find that while you can do it-
We just don't have the leverage for it, man.
So it's kind of like billing after the fact. It doesn't happen. So late fees, you want to put them in on the billing so you've stated it that you have them. But let's be realistic, are you really gonna get it? Probably not. Problem collecting. This does happen now and again. You can put cease and desist letters out for, they can't show the artwork if they don't pay up. And you can occasionally get payment that way. Another thing you can consider is kind of like an offer and compromise. And that is you offer to take money off the bill for them to write you a check that day. I'll take 20% off the bill but you pay me today. Yeah? And then you-
You had someone you had trouble getting paid for. And you wouldn't release the high res art, or the layered art to them.
New Line Cinema. Oh!
Holy smokes. Can you tell that story?
I can sort of tell that story.
So I did, do you remember the Lord of the Rings trilogy? Okay, it's when it very first came out. Very, very, very first came out. And I did a bunch of work. And 360 days later I hadn't been paid. Well I started to work in house at an agency that did a lot of work for a movie studio that was connected to that. And the boss came in and he said "Hey, I got a call from this movie studio. "They want their files. "They want their stuff". And I was like "No sunshine. "Not until they pay me". And so he got my money for me. But I had to hold firm. Because you know, no, you're not gonna pay me, I'm not gonna give you your files. Just not gonna do it. You had another thing we talked about. Partial payments.
For collecting. You can ask. You'd say "Look, I understand you don't have "the 30 grand you owe me. "Can you pay me 5,000 today"? And then maybe another 5,000. You can start negotiating partial payments-
Another move on that is when the job is completed and you invoice them. I'll get a call from their money people and they'll go "How come this bill is this number"? I was like "Well, here's all the reasons. "Everyone said that was great up until you. "What's the problem"? And she was like "We don't have the budget. "Will you drop your invoice a certain amount"? I'm like, okay I want them as a client. I want them to call me back. I want some more jobs. What can I get out of this deal? I said "I'll drop it this much amount. "But instead of making me wait 60 days for the paycheck, can you put the check in the mail today, I get it by the weekend? She's like "That's perfectly acceptable. "I'll do that right now". So there's a little wiggle room there.
Yeah. And in addition to that I want to point out some differences in our billing. He works for big companies. I work more client direct. The people who are working on his jobs that hire him, have nothing to do with the money. Can you imagine? So Joe Blow calls him to, "Hey I want you to do a poster". And you're like "Hey Joe can you go call Wendy "in accounting and make sure I get paid. "And I'll be happy to start this next job for you". They're not connected. And that can be a little awkward.
But you have to (mumbles). Alright, so enough about that. I'm gonna tell you that for my accounting, I do accounting software. It's web based software. It makes billing faster. It's easier for the clients to track, especially when there's a disconnect between the person who's hiring you and the person who's paying for the job. More importantly, my favorite thing is I know when they've looked at it. Every time the client logs in, I get told that the client looked at this bill. So I can kind of estimate, "Oh they're looking at it. "Oh they looked at it again. "Oh I think I'm gonna get a check soon". Also, I know if they haven't looked at it, I'm not seeing nothing. And that I need to make some phone calls. So I find this for tracking really, really easier. And my accountant now seems to like me. Can you imagine before? Not so pretty. This is my method. I'm not necessarily prescribing to this particular brand. I happen to love it. But I like a web based accounting. It also takes credit card payments and PayPal payments. And oddly enough, that's happening more and more frequently for me, even for mid sized companies. Which is interesting. And I get paid faster that way. And then you have a whole different shabang.
You don't do illustrated invoices.
Not anymore, no.
Not anymore. She was the one that recommended to me. She was like "We're visual people. Give them a visual invoice". I was like "That's a good idea". And implemented it immediately. As it evolves, what is also good is opportunity to tell them what you told them again. So when they get an invoice that's kinda chewy, that's where I put in, "Yeah, but don't you remember "you wanted me for one picture "but you had all these breakouts. "I'll have pictures for all those breakouts. "Don't you remember we did 20 different little ads for that. "You'll get my invoice with the big bad number. "And then 20 little thumbnails coming out". Another thing would be if it's a revision heavy job. I will take screen grabs of those JPEGs I got with all the revisions to them. The revisions are the illustrative part to the invoice. And they're like "Oh yeah, we did have him "doing a lot of extra work on that. "So I guess that bottom line is appropriate". Another thing I'll show is when they have call outs. When the photography needs a lot of cleanup, I'll document that too. That goes on the invoice. So they're like "Well there's only six shots. "Why is the invoice so high"? I was like "Yeah, but here's what you called out. "You wanted this swapped out. "You didn't wash down the table. "You had glints on everything. "You had highlights where didn't want to". And you can show them where their money was spent very easily. And this really helps getting paid. I don't think I would ever not do it.
Here's why this works for his job flow versus mine. The people who are paying him have no idea what it entailed to make the job. They're so far removed from the food chain. So you're heading them off at the pass, really aren't you?
You're letting accounting know my gosh, cause if we do our job right you can't tell how complicated, they don't know there were 75 strips in accounting for his jobs. So that's why this works. Also I think this is a good point to bring up since we're nearing the end of this section. Kind of a touchy subject about rates and income equality. And billing and that sort of thing. So I want to sort of talk about how women in our industry, as a general rule, get paid less than men in retouching. And I will tell you on my personal level, it's due to me. It's because I do not ask for as much money. So one of the reasons Simon does these illustrated invoices is he does high ticket bills. His bills are hefty. And he proves it and shows it. So his market is leaning towards this. I tend to be someone who goes for volume. So I will price lower so I can get more volume. He'll price higher and take less volume. And there's kind of, I hope I'm not speaking for you too much, but that it's kind of a level of personal comfortability.
I kind of worry. Is everything paid, do I have money in the bank? I've got my kids fed. And I'm not as comfortable. He's more comfortable taking risks, so he'll say "I'm charging double. "And if I don't work this week"-
15 years ago when I started my company I had an hourly rate. And when the folks called and they were like "Can you take less than that?" I was like "No, I will not take less than that. "That's my rate and if you're not gonna give "me the job because of that, "I'm gonna use that time to play with my sons". And that has been my decision maker ever since then. So I know what I'm worth. I know, if you guys didn't budget it, then it's not a good fit this time. But if you want the good work, if you want me to work on this one, then this is what it's gonna cost. And if not good luck. I'll give you phone numbers. That's another thing. Here's phone numbers of up and coming folks. Give them a call, they'll do it for you. But my time is valuable. If I give it to you I want pay for it. If you're not gonna take it then I'm gonna spend it with my kids. Something equally as valuable to me.
And I'll tell you something, we ride pretty close to the same income level. Isn't that interesting? So at the end of the year when our accountants are doing our money, we're pretty close. But it's a level of risk taking. What do you feel comfortable? When I feel very uncomfortable about my financial status, I go south. I get really jittery, I don't feel good. I'm a parent, I gotta take care of my kid. I feel like I need to emotionally be available for him. So for me, frankly, I'm willing to work a little more to know that I'm good. And he's a little more free spirit. "Eh, I'll make my rent. "It's good". So you just need to find your way. And I will say that I really enjoy how much you are pushing me. He will push me to estimate higher. I'm like (gasps).
"But I might not get it. "That's part of it".
Yeah. So take it with a grain of salt, but I think it's worth discussing.
You're talking about, instead of giving your hourly rate, you ask to do a project. So do you have like a template that you give them to, when they want to give you the project, tell you what they want? So it's laid out so you guys are both speaking the same language so to speak. And then do you give an estimate? Cause I was listening to a lot of "surprised at the "end when they see the invoice". Was there an estimate involved then after they get that?
These are excellent questions. So first of all you're genius about the template. And I'll be making one by the end of the week. It never even occurred to me to give a client a questionnaire. I'm not sure they'd fill it out, but it's a great idea. Even if it's just a few base questions. So no, generally what I get is, I get either a sample of what it's going to be. Did they call me before the job was shot? Or are they calling me after the job was shot? Those are two different estimating processes. Of it's after I get the actual shot, or a sample of it. And I definitely estimate the job, I'm client direct. More client direct. He tends to work for agencies, agencies don't ask for estimates for entertainment. The job, come on in. And he's hourly because of that. Does that make sense? And what was the other thing about? Do you find that you are informing your clients more about the process since you've been getting asked to reduce your bills at the end?
Yeah. I try to keep them in the know, explain to them as it's progressing. For up until five years ago my clients didn't care. It was huge corporations. And they knew what my hourly rate, and they would just write checks. Everything was fine. But now, when I'm working with smaller boutiques they are on a budget. And they ask questions every time they get in invoice. Instead of giving them a surprise at the end, it's good to keep them abreast of the situation and what that total is becoming. It never hurts. It's just good practice. It's been working out good for me.
Yeah, when you get the fourth set of revisions you go "Great, you know we're at ten hours right?" And then what did we say before, ask and form a document. You document that, you document that you let them know at ten hour mark. "Hey just letting you know we're at 12 hours". "Hey just letting you know we're at 25 hours". So does that answer your question? Excellent. I'm making that template though. That was good thinking.
How long does it take you to create your estimate? What's the turn around time on that conversation?
Do you see the pain in my face? Estimating sucks. It just sucks. Because it's time in and you might not get the job. In all honesty, it really depends on the job. If it's a catalog shoot and I have an idea, then it's really numbers and I can do it in about five or ten minutes. If it's a one sheet or a composite build, and I'm really curious how you do this, I want the comp file. I want to look at their layers. Because Lord have mercy, sometimes how it's built will double the time. How would you answer that? How much time for estimating?
For estimating, I do it pretty quickly. Because I got my initial gut reaction to it. And that comes a lot with experience too. Now if it's from a client I've never worked with, then it's a little different. It's a little "Okay, let's look at this with the magnifying glass". But if it's someone I know and I know how they build, who their art directors are stuff I've got a good idea. If it's something new, that's when I go "Let's pick this apart a little tighter". And I'll go through it. And then I'm lucky enough to have across the room, the fair miss Lisa Carney. And then so I'll have a number and like "Hey, what would you charge for this?" And she'll come back and it's pretty cotton picking close. So then you know if you have a gut reaction to that, I have a gut reaction. It's good. And then ship it off. So I try to get, and the other thing is if you can get it to them quickly they always appreciate that. So you can't sit on it for two days. You can't wait until tomorrow. Say "Send it to me and I'll have it in two hours. "I'll give it to you after lunch".
I want to circle back. So when you were talking about the estimating and the template. Do you have a template? So I will often do an estimate on what they have given me. Like great for this. And then I follow up with a "So by the way, "is there gonna be a new horizontal? "Is there gonna be", but that's after the initial. That's a secondary estimate that comes after the initial "Just take a look at this".
If you're talking business and sales, and what should the expected closed ratio be for somebody that's just getting started?
Like what times do we get the job that we're bidding on?
How many times you estimate versus how many times you estimate and get the business?
I would say about 90%. So what does that mean? And when you're beginning you should not expect that at all. I think it's because we've been doing this a long time. So folks know us. And if you go to our website we've got a body of work that's pretty long. So chances are if someone's coming to us, they're already in the ball field and they know we're in the ball field. So we're already apples to apples, if you were. When you're new, that's when it's tough. I don't often get the larger volume work. Those I don't close because I won't come in on the price point they want. So I get those probably 10%. And that's fine. That's fine for me.
And Lisa and I have been doing this long enough and have enough client base to where we gotta turn down work sometimes. And that's between the two of us with our friends. Sometimes you get these hot spots during the year and everyone's phone's ringing off the hook. So you take the big one, you take the medium one, you line up some stuff. "Hey can you work on the weekend for that?" "Yeah". You call up your buddy and say "Can I get you a dozen of these. "Get them back to me in a week". "Can you guys do some masking for me?" And even with all of that shimmying and shaking, here comes another call. And I'm like "Ugh. Lisa do you want it?" "No". Then we're busy. She's booked up. I'm booked up. All my friends are booked up. So it's a good spot to be in. So, you make it hay when the sun shines and you put that away. So when you miss out on those 10% you didn't close it's not that big a hit. And you know you're doing good. So you're justified. You've done the right thing. It didn't work out through no fault of your own. You're not what they wanted.
We're gonna talk about later, by the way, expanding your network so that you don't have to turn down jobs. I outsource jobs all the time. Because if you say no too many times to the phone call, they don't call you anymore. So we're gonna be talking about that later in the session. About how to outsource and expand your network.