Weeding out bad prospects
Do you folks have any techniques for weeding out "poor" prospective clients before you waste any time calling them or sending them a quote?
Yesterday, I had a call from an Ad agency looking to shoot a 40 second green screened talking head for their website. It would require hiring on-screen talent, renting a studio with a chromakey background, hiring a shooter, and I would direct.
I told the client it could run $2,500 which is cheap in my book. He said he has someone ready to do this for $500!!
Last week, I had a woman looking to shoot a b-roll package in a local school...half day shoot. I gave her a price of $1,100.
She told me she found a company to shoot for $50 per hour, which meant $200!!!
I'd like to be able to weed these kind of clients out upfront, so I don't need to play telephone tag until we can chat, or worse yet create a proposal. Also, my office staff use use some way of getting an idea as to the budget of a prospective client before they pass the info onto me. Any thoughts? How do you folks work this? Thanks
Why weed them out? They may just need to learn that quality work costs more. Maybe they'll hire someone else cheap for the present project, and come back to you for the next one, after they see what they get from your competitor.
Unfornately, this is a sign of the times when 3 chip cameras are relatively cheap and everyone and his or her brother or sister has a an NLE set up on their computer. The cost barriers to set up shop as a video production business have dropped considerably (unless you are talking HD.) This means more competition at cheaper prices, because their is always some newbie who either doesn't understand the true cost of running a business or is willing to shoot cheap just to get the experience. This also happened back when I shot 35mm and 16mm film, but to a much lesser degree probably because the barriers to market where much higher and anyone not charging enough went broke almost immediately.
When responding to prospects, I use some basic weeding techniques.
1) Understand who your client is and what you think they can spend: I always avoid public schools both elementary and high school unless you are dealing with the State or sometimes the District (if it's a large city for instance.) In general, however, you would be dealing with the PTA or some related organization who simply have no money and really do not require a high production value. For these types of clients, I have a few lower cost associates that I will send them to. Colleges and professional non-profits are a different story, and often have a budget to work with.
2) I know alot of people do not agree with this, but I will sometimes size up a client by asking what they have in mind and then throwing out an educated, often inflated, non-binding estimate verbally. I can generally gauge their seriousness by the reaction. Based on that, I will formalize the proposal process.
3) And finally, realize you are always going to have some work related to quotes and proposals that do not turn into jobs - it's part of your overhead and needs to be factored in when quoting prospects. To minimize this, you need to network with other businesses and start getting referrals which come with a certain level of trust.
Didn't mean to rattle on, but thats just some of the things I do.
The School B-roll I was referrin to was for a PR agency out of state, who wanted a broll package of a private school. No PTA Involved. I would think a PR agency would know about quality. NO?
P.R. firms are not ad agencies...they don't think like agencies and they don't spend on production - if they can get it free they'd do that. They'll spend a fortune on print and swag and dinners but nada on video - most P.R. people seem to think that they can use corporate handouts and file footage.
I had a query from outta state a few years ago that wanted a P.R. shoot of a sign they'd manufactured - about ten shots at three different times of the day. The price I set was 1,200 - they called back and said they'd get a "local" news crew to shoot it for 125. Ultimately, they used the news guy - he shot on a used tape and did it hand held.
They called three days later for the address to send the check and shot sheet.
All of the above responses are right on the money. Most people outside our business have no idea what we are worth. They do know that video is video and it's all the same. Yep, we all shoot on VHS. They think beta is the home format that lost. Why buy grip gear when all you really need is a news camera, black tripod, a big battery and a small light on top. No microphone is needed because there is one mounted right on top of the camera, right where it belongs.
When we get the inquiries, we first get a name, address and phone number. After they faint at the real price, we advise them that there are other sources that can match their budget. We refer them to recent grads of the local film/video school. We also, very politely, make sure that they have our contact info so that after they receive their footage, we would be happy to look at it and advise them on any problems that they may see or wonder about. When they bring the dark, shaky, out of focus footage, tell them it's actually pretty good for what they paid. Have a premo shot reel available nearby and show them the difference. Be as kind and professional as you can possibly be and never cut down the competition. Just say "Here is a sample of our typical work". Keep it brief. Don't say "What the hell did you expect for $125, you dumb shit". This may turn them away.
When these things come in to us, if it's gotten to the point that I mentioned above, I'll sometimes offer to do it right and actually subtract the amount that they paid Mr Shaky. But only if they feel like long term repeat clients. Be the hero. They need one right about now. Hold their hand. Give em a hug. Cash their check.
Frank Otto: "P.R. firms are not ad agencies"
Yes and many times ad agencies aren't ad agencies. The problem is almost anyone can call themselves anything and it's only by reputation or from working with them that you can ever know what their level of comprehension and professionalism is. I was saddled with a PR "pro" on a recent shoot who simply couldn't understand that she was off-camera and her stupid questions and comments were to be edited out. She constantly stepped on the end of every answer and piped in during the middle with "uh-huh" ,"I know what you mean", "that is so true" and so on. It was only after the third time that I pulled her aside that I think any of what I was saying sunk in. She didn't need to be told how television works -- she watches it all the time and she's a PR pro. Fortunately the client had hired me, NOT the PR firm, so I could be brief and blunt. The exact opposite of a selling situation.
Steve Wargo: "Be as kind and professional as you can possibly be and never cut down the competition."
Dead on advice, Steve. It's what I keep saying about being nurturing and helpful. Once they feel that you're on their side and they trust you, there's little need for selling, just more "education" on what their options are.
Getting back to Greg's original question, don't be afraid to bring up money as one of your earliest questions. Explain that you want to do this just to clear up any confusion and make sure that you're a good match for what they're trying to accomplish.
I sometimes tell this story to prospective clients that act timid about costs.
There's an old fashioned barbershop in my town, had a big line of cars parked outside, lot of customers for such a small place. I drove past the front and saw the sign they'd put up that brought in all the business:
"We fix $7 haircuts".
Thus endeth the lesson.
Well said Steve.