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Project quoting

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Project quoting
on Apr 21, 2006 at 4:31:26 pm

I'm in an awkward spot as the sole "creative" entity within an engineering dominant company who is challenging my approach of quoting creative (mostly motion graphics) projects.

My approach has always been a final figure price for the project based on the number of hours I estimate to complete the project at a pre-determined hourly rate. I take into consideration variables such as what the client can provide (logos, photos etc) versus what we have to provide. I emphasize anything beyond our "standard package" is extra (such as producing video footage - and all that is included in doing such).

The powers-that-be are pushing a straight "just bill your time as you work on the project" approach, similar to attorney fees, without providing a completion estimate. While this approach can probably work for some projects I don't think it fits what we do at all.

We have two types of clients; about 10% are on a monthly account (retainer approach) which we allow X hours of design time each month, the other 90% are completely spec jobs which are never the same. Our client list is small right now but its potential is showing signs of a near explosion this year and I/we really need to be prepared in this regard.

I just don't see how a client would agree to the "attorney fees" approach for mograph work. I think that might completely stall our client list expansion. Am I looking at this the wrong way, folks?

Does anyone have any feedback or references for the "best" or "recommended" method of quoting such projects? I could really use a little "reliable source" ammo for my next powwow with the big wigs. It's quite difficult to persuade engineers, these engineers anyway, in any direction other than the one they're already heading in their minds without more "evidence".

Thanks! I really appreciate anyone's help on this.


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mark Suszko
Re: Project quoting
on Apr 21, 2006 at 10:03:37 pm

It's really hard for creatives to have their skills and time appreciated by non-creatives. I have had scripts where I research and think about the thing for days, but clients look at the time It took to write out the script onto paper and say "but that only took you five minutes, how can it be any good?".

There's a story, perhaps apocryphal, about the commerial design artist that did the new logo when The Traveller's insurance and Citibank merged into CiTi. She looked at the Traveller's famous red umbrella, and the custom font of the Citibank logo, and quickly sketched out a freehand brush stroke arc of red paint that curved over the citi type to imply the traveller umbrella. It was a perfect visual fusion of two iconic identities - you "got it" instantly.

The clients balked, saying "that took you like five minutes to come up with, hardly deserves this huge fee".

She answered back (supposedly): "No; it took fifteen years to come up with that." Meaning all her years of studies, practice, and experience were brought to the task at hand. It took fifteen years to make the artist that could MAKE that litle perfect squiggly line, to think of and execute it that fast and perfectly.

Engineers HATE this story. Until you tell it in the version about the steam engineer who bills a big amount for knowing exactly where to make one little whack with a hammer to get the engine going again. "Took me years to learn and to know exactly WHERE to hit it", goes that punchline.

To your client:

Sounds like they want to be billed straight-time instead of cost-plus. Cost-plus has a bad reputation for overruns in our business, often well earned, because it rewards waste. I wouldn't go that way either.

Certainly you would be making a bad business move to quote up-front a fixed, lump-sum fee for any project. That locks you into a maximum billing amount even if they throw a lot of changes or other unanticipated events at you. That road leads to madness and bankruptcy.

From what you've written, I gather you are currently making a best-guess good-faith estimate, then billing for actual straight time spent, and they are asking you to not bother to make the estimate any more? That's neither good business nor good engineering practice.

I would at least want you to run a clock on the project. Lawyers have software that runs in the background of their computers, so it's very easy with one hotkey to log even short things like a phone call or looking up a chapter in the Uniform Code book. Or even just sitting and thinking while doodling out possible design ideas. Hit the total hotkey, you get a complete breakdown of hours spent per project and on what aspect of it. You have a metric there, a gauge.

My guess is there is some other issue going on we don't know about, and it's psychological, not financial. My intuition about it is, it has to do with that topic of how much they bring to the party versus what work you have to do on it, in those areas you mentioned, like, is a logo supplied or do you have to create it, etc. They perhaps don't like the variables you bring in when you make subjective decisions about how hard it will be to execute a particular deliverable. Engineering types like the OBJECTIVE certainty and predictability of known quantities and few variables. "Gut feelings", even if based on experience, make them nervous.

In this case, just increase your hourly rate to compensate for the times you get ugly surprises, and bill that flat hourly rate every time. That is way preferable to setting a fixed cost basis. That just make YOU hold the bag for the variables, instead of THEM.

I have a variation of this situation hit me every time my wife calls me when I'm working late on an edit at the shop. I tell her in all honesty I "feel", based on 20 years of experience, like it "should" take another hour. It almost never takes so short a time however, because something else invariably comes up. A computer crashes, a last-minute typo is found and must be fixed, something needs another tweak... She has therefore come up with her own correction factor to my standard estimate.

"Honey, I just have to lay in the end credits and make a dub, should be home by six, easy".

"Ok, then I'll plan on seeing you at nine-thirty".

Damn if she isn't right most of the time. :-)

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