Caution bad client ahead

Caution: bad client ahead

Customers often think they are the ones choosing their vendors, but any company owner also knows that they must choose their clients as well – or things won’t go well with their company.

Tonight, Saturday evening, I get a call out of the blue from someone who found my video production company through the web. No big red flags there as I put considerable effort into being findable on the web. What stood out though was the fact they were calling on a Saturday night. Most business owners I know are not making business calls Saturday nights.

My mistake – hopefully I’m wrong later – but I picked up the call.

Words to the wise: when the first thing someone asks for is your price, that’s usually a bad sign. Particularly when someone is asking for the cost for you to do a project that is inherently custom – a “1 minute and a half second” (said that a few times… Is that 60.5 or 90 seconds?)

Another flag: hyperbole. “If you succeed on this shoot and we win, you will have more business than you can shake a stick at”.

Sure. Tell me more. What company are you talking about? What are you looking to create? Is this something like you’ve seen in my work before or what particularly about my work makes you want to pick me now?

Turns out they are creating a video for some competition at a large vehicle corporate competition and “if we win then…” Lots more business….

FYI: rarely ever do “big wins” come back to benefit the small freelancers that gave away their income to make the small, cut throat, creative projects happen. More often than not, after a “big win”, corporate demands their own creative team with agencies. Those freelancers – those contractors that worked for less than their expenses (ie. Paid for your production in sweat equity) never see that big win.

Next flag: define what you are looking for! When you are going out for dinner, you don’t just call up a restaurant and ask them for a price of something amazing for dinner. You don’t tell them “you are up against 20 other businesses” when you ask for the quote. If you need a price – you ask for something specific and define what you need.

Telling me you want something that WILL WIN and be amazing… That’s great, but sounds pricy. Let’s brainstorm cool ways to blow the competition out of the waterĀ  – drones, giant crane shots, awesome locations, special lighting and shooting right at sunrise, extra talent and perhaps specialty Slomo cameras. All those things don’t come cheap but would be amazing.

Oh, now I find out you think it will just take 3 hours Monday morning? Like – two days from now? And you’re a 3 hour round trip? And I will need an assistant?

How did you come up with just 3 hours of shooting including talking and all footage?
What about editing? What about making it amazing and “all or nothing” of winning the competition?

Oh, wait – what are the shots? Do you have a script written?

Yes, script mostly done and 6 shots planned out.

Here’s where I jump in for the second time -“I’m not trying to be cryptic or difficult to get a price from – but I need to have a better idea of what you are looking to create and what that all is going to involve if we really want to create something amazing. Whether that means a full day shoot, location permits, actors, etc”. I need to know where you are at in the planning process and what work you still need or will need done and how long that will take. A giant shoot will cost much different than a solo 2 hour shoot with one camera person”.


We will talk tomorrow morning (before noon) to discuss the actual script and ideas.

Note to self:
While trying to not get sucked up into the excitement and urgency, perhaps its great to dive into the excitement and connect at that level. Then after making that connection and stepping back and starting back at square #1.

This situation reminded me of what Joshua on Radical Personal Finance says about suggesting answers to questions people ask. Without knowing their goals and values – your suggestions may be completely misaligned with their actual goals. While you may suggest the right 401k plan is based on returns, if you fail to address their other financial issues they could retire with a good 401k but nothing else in place… (ie. They might not be able to retire).

By me asking for specifics about the shoot (how many people, how long, do you have a script), I may be completely missing the purpose of the shoot. If I were to back up to the beginning, we could arrive at their best solution much faster.

So what questions SHOULD you ask someone inquiring for video production?

  1. How did you hear of me and my work
  2. What particular film of mine did you connect with or would you like to emulate?
  3. Describe your business for me and why you want to create a video.
  4. What makes you want to have me as your filmmaker?
  5. Who do you want to watch this video?
  6. Why would they want to watch this video?
  7. At the end of this project, what type of outcome would you consider our efforts to be a success?
  8. What do you have in mind creatively as we get started?
  9. Do you have talent (people) and the locations necessary or will that be part of the production budget?
  10. Will this be a partial day, full day, or multi-day production?
  11. Is this a 1 person, 2 person or entire crew production?
  12. Will wardrobe, makeup, craft services be provided or even required?
  13. Will this be aired on TV, a feature film, or the web?
  14. Are you looking for union or non-union crew?
  15. Are you looking for any specialty shots? (Aerial, super slow motion, crane, dolly shots, etc…)
  16. Will client provide a hard drive for footage delivery at the shoot, or will shipping / ftp uploading be necessary?
  17. Who is doing preproduction / script writing? Who is responsible for this?
  18. Who is coordinating locations / talent / waivers? Is client providing waivers or are we using our standard waivers?
  19. Being a last minute shoot, and a significant drive, how is payment to be provided?
  20. Does client have any special needs or requirements not already addressed?
These are all questions about the shoot day and nothing about editing, revisions, music licensing, distribution, etc.

Getting any custom service done can be challenging to get a quote – but it makes sense once you understand the different options involved. Its like shopping for a used car. You have an infinite number of variables on what’s a “good” or “bad” deal. How old, how many miles, truck/car/van/convertible, 2/4 doors, import or domestic, etc. The shape of the vehicle also makes it difficult to determine value beyond that. To just ask someone “can you help me find a good vehicle” is far too open ended.

My goal and job as a professional video producer is to connect and produce quality films that meet my clients needs – but I need to know what their needs are before having a solution and price.

One size fits all:
A work around the numerous options is to out together “packages”. Much like car manufacturer’s have levels of trim.

I have a predetermined package that includes a very base level of production at a set price. If you need more, you can pay more. If you qualify and need just what’s in the base package, then great! Simple conversation, easy transaction and project.

If you want something way more elaborate and custom with a variety of special requests, then there is an option for that – and a price.

To get “a price” however, you need to share those details. Otherwise, caution bad client ahead!