Bidding on a project is an art form. And believe me when I say that it’s something I still struggle with every time it comes up. Certainly there are some clients who will find a $10,000 project to be a bargain and clients who can only dream of affording $1,000 for their next video project. Much of it boils down to confidence – your confidence and the confidence the client has in you.
Here’s a tip I’ve been starting to employ. There are a lot of rate calculators out there that factor in your office and living expenses. But if you bid on projects based solely on your hourly rates, you could be setting yourself up for trouble if you’ll be using your own gear.
Instead of just using a working rate when bidding on a project, consider incorporating “rental fees” on all the gear that you bring that to the project. Figure out much you need to make on this project and then add rental fees for every piece of gear you own that you’ll be using.
To determine the rental fee, find a local rental company and use their rates (add a little extra for incidental expenses). Samy’s Camera in LA and surrounding areas is an excellent starting point as they have an online catalog and carry all cameras from DSLRs up to full sized RED ONE as well as a large selection of grip and lighting equipment (make sure you include those as well). AbelCine is another example. You can also pull figures from sites like LensRental.com and BorrowLenses.com - just make sure you include the cost for enough days to cover the job as well as the shipping of the rentals back to their rental house.
If you think this is just padding the bottom line, it’s not. If it’s gear that you invested it – you should be making money off of it!
But adding these costs to your bid has another important benefit – insurance. Say you have a big corporate video to shoot but your camera dies right before the shoot date? If you included the cost of a camera rental in your bid, you will have enough in your invoice to cover the rental of a replacement camera. Yes your profit margin will be slimmer, but if the unthinkable happens then you won’t have to eat the cost of a rental.
You don’t need to itemize these costs on your bid, although you can if the client requests it. Being able to list off all these equipment required will demonstrate that you know what your doing and that the client isn’t paying for some bum with a Barbie Video Girl Camera. Even if you’re bringing some DIY gear to the shoot – include some sort of fee (perhaps the cost to replace the DIY supplies). Don’t make outrageous claims like charging the rental fee a full sized Steadicam for a DIY handheld camera stabalizer, but do include a small material fee for it.
Now I’m not saying you absolutely have to do this for every single project you take on. The luxury of owning gear is being able to use it for whatever and whenever. And there are times when you’ll take a simple job for some cash to live another day. But if you are getting involved in a rather large and complicated project, you really need to consider the rental costs of your gear if anything just as a backup plan.
Most importantly – this approach separates you “the Professional” from you “the Gear”. A bid should represent your worth as well as the worth of the gear being used – after all, these tools are major investments. Sometimes clients can think of you as nothing more than a camera and that thought process can rub off especially in this hyper-marketed camera environment. As cameras become cheaper and more prevalent we need to think of the equipment more as a commodity rather than a point of entry into the professional market place. Ultimately, it really is going to come down to your skills, experience and professionalism (I’m finding that I’m getting called on more often to do it right after they’ve tried to do it themselves and wonder why it doesn’t look good).
I still struggle with coming up for figures for bids but this little technique helps. If there’s one lesson I’ve learned over and over again, it’s this: When you undercut the market, you’re really undercutting yourself.