Ever had a great-sounding video production gig lined up that totally backfired on you when you got to the price?
Don't worry my fellow microbudget filmmakers and video producers - this post is not a rehashing of the post on tirekickers. This post is rather about questions you need to ask a potential client up front - and fast.
Don't waste your time, your team's time, or their time preparing materials, finding out their problem, demo'ing a solution, and then have nothing to show for it. Don't be a sucker!
Stick around 'til after the show for a free bonus to prime you with EVEN MORE questions to ask your prospect.
1. Ask if they are the decision-maker.
I once prospected an architecture firm. I got the marketer to commit to a lunch. I got all the way through the first 7 or 8 steps of the sales process that Uncle G (Grant Cardone) outlined. I was doing good... or so I thought! He, the prospect, even agreed to a followup in a few days to close the deal and start working on their pain points (bad videos, sloppy editing, incomplete and cut by a non video guy but just a generic social media marketer).
Towards the end of the convo, I realized he was not the real decision maker. He was an influencer, no doubt, but I had been wasting time persuading the wrong person.
Still, I sent a video thank-you message afterward.
I followed up days later. Not yet he said. Sent another video or two and useful information some time later.
Weeks later, I stopped by in person and dropped off fresh-baked bread with a note that I'd LOAF to do their videos for them. I got the dreaded: "We'll let you know if we're interested."
I was a weak sauce salesman through and through, and if I could go back and watch a play-by-play of that sales process, I'd wince a time or two, and so would you.
The first big mistake was I DID NOT find the real decision-maker. I settled for a lunch date with a guy with zero buying power. 3 months and a lunch down the drain of effort. It was a mistake I didn't repeat.
I don't want you to repeat this rookie mistake either. Money can be regained; time cannot. These kinds of mistakes are beneficial, however, in this way: they are exceptional teachers, but you don't have to go to their schools to learn their wisdom. You can read this blog or watch its video.
Jeff Gitomer says in his little red book you shouldn't ask this question "Are you the decision-maker?" because they could lie.
But Grant Cardone is slinging more sales knowledge than Jeff these days, and I'm a fan of Uncle G, so ask away.
Or take Jeff's approach: ask how will the decision process work.
I wonder how Zig Ziglar would handle this question? I think I need to read some more Zig... you should too while you're at it.
Jake, I'm not in sales! I'm just a videographer/cinematographer/editor/grip/guy with a Movie Pass subscription.
First of all... Not true - if you want with your whole being to make films and tell visual stories of hope or some kernel of redeeming value, you will sell people on your vision, on funding your vision, on showing up on time, on delivering when they're dog-tired at 5 am, and so on so forth. You are in sales because everybody is in sales! That's Zig for you.
Secondly, Movie Pass will be like Napster or Pets.com soon enough.
2. Ask if they're the head-honcho for x-dollar projects
Want another classic "I-biffed-it" story?
This one's more recent. Being in Vegas, there is no shortage of (live) AV work, so I decided I'd flex my sales skills I'm acquiring every day and bid on a live gig in Tampa.
After all, whose grandparents don't live at least part time in Florida, AZ, or Las Vegas? I wanted an excuse to go visit Opa and Oma.
I had the right decision-maker. Check.
I didn't know how much to quote for this job. I had zero idea. I'm still learning how to pitch LIVE video jobs (we're talking a switcher, shader, camera ops, cabling, and so much more) as of this writing, and so I erroneously made my buddy waste precious mental energy and time coming up with a ballpark figure with me.
It turns out this prospect was fielding bids for a live video crew (with streaming, mind you) to work the weekend gig for about $1,500 all-in.
We're talking gear, manpower, and more across 2 days - live streaming by the way.
My jaw dropped. It was just so... what Craigslist producers say (look it up sometime on YouTube; it's full of colorful language, but its truth can't be overstated despite their best attempts).
But, it wasn't his fault he was looking to pay a penny or two on the dollar.
Nope, it was MY FAULT.
I should have qualified his project from the get-go, not waste an hour or two of my buddy's mental energy, or waste my time (or his) for that matter. It was 100% my fault. I knew better and didn't execute.
But Jake, how do you qualify the price if you don't know what to charge?
I pride myself on lickety-split quotes; I have a whole tool for that express purpose (see below - the RED font), but it's only for pre-recorded live action/animation, even with a crew, per diem, etc.
Live video production? 'Tis a whole 'nother story; I'm learning. I am, however, an ex-math teacher, and you don't have to be one to understand a floor or a minimum: quote a minimum for one factor you do know.
What I SHOULD HAVE DONE is qualify with a floor pricing:
Uncle Bob, are you the guy behind $5,000+ projects?
We needed 5 people on the gig. Excluding flight days, we would have needed, just for manpower (not gear), approx. $5,000 for 5 quality video techies across 2 days of all-day broadcasting.
Could it have been $6,000 just for manpower? Yeah, but the point is to give a floor price, a lower bound, a minimum for just one facet of the production - and then mention it's simply for manpower. Gear, flights, hotels, etc. will be tacked on later; you can even assure the prospect right now you want to be respectful of everyone's time. For example,
Uncle Bob, I want to be respectful of everyone's time; are you the guy behind $5,000+ projects?
Shoot, he might have gear and just need quality people, so err on that side of the equation and give a floor price that covers manpower and adds at least 10% profit just on wrangling people, if not more.
If he's fielding bids for the comically low $1,500, he'll lose his marbles here.
The point is to save both parties time. Get them qualified quickly and if they're not qualified, move along; they're not the droids you're looking for.
Don't send this bitmoji, as tempted as you might be. I did this ONCE and the prospect let me know I was unprofessional. She was right, but she'll also remember my name from here on out. But don't follow my example with an ill-timed bitmoji; it is unprofessional, and we're called to serve others, not laugh in their faces when they want to undercut a business with a 90% discount.
When I have my head on straight, I typically give them a range. The guys at HubSpot advise against this. They think you should say a firm price point AND what that firm price point includes.
In our line of work, that could look like this:
- 1 camera
- 1 sound operator
- 3-hour shoot
- two revisions
- music that is free to use in commercial projects
- a ham sammich
- cloud storage
- a thumb drive with your completed video
- no actors
- no voiceover
- no locations (other than yours)
- no scripting (your team handles the script)
- no visual fx (for example, no green-screening)
- some typography
- 5 edited still photos of your new location
- bonus: 30 keywords your competition isn't leveraging - .pdf bonus
- 50% payment to book our pre-production meeting and the remaining 50% is due with your final deliverable
Or if it's animated project, it could look like this:
- no voiceover
- Developer is not developing the script but will assist in crafting the language
- Buyer will issue "storyboards" which can be dictated (see the attachment example) or roughly drawn with simple (even über simple) illustrations
- two revisions (1st, 2nd, and final draft)
- three-week turnaround if Buyer stays in the communication loop from the time of signing and consideration
- use of music that is licensed in perpetuity from our library - no copyright infringements, ever
- HD video playable anywhere, online, externally, or internally - even broadcast mediums
- Indefinite access to web-ready and high-quality video files - hosted in the cloud
- no DVDs, Blu-Rays, or physical media
- 16:9 widescreen
- customer service
→ available every day but Saturday & Tuesday, 8a - 5p PST
→ Office line (call/text): 702-JakeTFG
Back on track.
I combine sections 1. and 2. into one question:
Are you the one who leads $3,000 - $5,000 projects like this or are there others you'd like to get involved too?
You can phrase it multiple ways, but scope out their personality first before you call them:
- the head honcho
- the big kahuna
- the top dawg
- the guy in charge
- el capitan
Instead of "leads $3,000 projects" you can say:
- oversees video projects
- leads video projects
- is in charge of videos
- runs these kinds of projects
- manages video projects
- any variation of this with a dollar amount or range
The sky is the limit. Vary it up, be tactful, and ask the bloomin' question.
How do you know your range? Generally, a prospect will give some information, and if you've been in this business any length of time, you'll start to develop an intuition for pricing. If not, head on over to the post on quoting your clients to learn more about pricing strategies, and if you need more, there's always my worksheet to crunch numbers for you.
3. Ask if they're okay with remote work/an out-of-towner
Some people are fiercely loyal to their town, and they want their money to be reinvested locally. I can understand that, and I'm grateful for that mindset; otherwise, we'd lose out on a lot more jobs than we do to the guys on the other side of the world who will work for pennies on the dollar.
Back to Tampa, there was another gig I bidded on. This one was for a single person and not a crew. I was jonesing to go see the grandparents, so it made sense to try.
But after a fruitful conversation, the guy decided he didn't want to work with an out-of-towner, even if I footed the bill and worked as a local (so airfare, per diem are out the window). I volunteered that much.
He wouldn't budge.
I tried him from my second number with a creative folllowup.
I used my name again; I wasn't trying to be sneaky, but I also know multiple emails and phone numbers can help. Uncle G will call a prospect back, for example, and leave an immediate 2nd voicemail from a cell phone after he's already tapped his office landline. It's about coverage, creativity, and persistence.
The man was interested and completely spaced on who I was (again, I identified myself) - but he qualified me very quickly:
Are you in Tampa?
Thereafter, he made sure all of his jobs explicitly stated something to the effect of a bolded, all-caps NO OUT-OF-TOWNERS; IN-STATE ONLY.
Now, this question about location won't always apply, but it's a huge qualifier for any animated work. Ditto if your neighboring state has a gig, and you can easily drive over and visit/crash with Uncle Bob.
Don't wait until you're halfway through talking to your crew, finding out the client's venue, and burning precious man-hours.
Pro-tip: set up a Google Voice number in the nearest film mecca if you can work as a local and don't mind footing the bill for your own travel.
For example, I live in Las Vegas, so for LA (about 5 hours down the road) work, I don't want to pitch with my Las Vegas number. I should use an LA number when I'm making calls, sending texts, or sharing my contact information.
Sections 1 through 3 shouldn't take more than one minute. Talk about a time-saver!
4. Other questions
Here are a few of my favorites:
- Why me? There are oodles of video producers in my town; you can almost throw a brick and hit one without trying.
- Why now?
- What will this video do for you?
- (If they are the proxy and not the check-writer... i.e. not the real decision-maker) What does your leadership want to know, and I know you'll be talking with them, so that when you go to them, all of their questions can be answered?
- What will your leadership team want to know?
- What does your leadership want to know before they even look at a proposal?
The guys at Hubspot have oooooodles more you can pick and choose from.
Are you ready to quit losing precious time with tirekickers, unqualified buyers, and the über price-sensitive?
I've got a bonus set of questions for you to mine valuable information from your prospects once you've qualified them. Repeating: they are not necessarily qualifying questions; most of them are not, but they are powerful in their own right and belong in your sales at various points. Here's a companion, introductory list of questions should you need them.
Your info won't be farmed out or sold or repurposed in any way - I send emails roughly once a week and sometimes share an occasional offer that will help you in your filmmaking journey!