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Should I charge clients for meetings

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clyde villegas
Should I charge clients for meetings
on Jun 22, 2008 at 6:57:05 am

I have this client who always wants me to come to their office to talk things that can be discussed over the phone. To talk to this and that person when I can simply give them a call. It's costing me time (and a few bucks for parking fees, gas, and food).

Should I charge them for meetings so that they will only call me when discussing important things (or things that cannot be discussed over the phone)? Can I include in my contract that an "x number of meetings are free and subsequent ones shall be billed?" Thanks and God bless.


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Steve Wargo
Re: Should I charge clients for meetings
on Jun 22, 2008 at 7:44:33 am

With us, it depends on the annual revenue that the client pays. If it's the type of client that always needs us to trim the fat, we start by conducting most business with them through e-mail. In our billing structure, we have a line item for "administrative". We throw in a 30 minute consultation for jobs over a grand or so. Our top clients get the platinum treatment. These are the guys that NEVER ask for a price ahead of time unless they have to arrange a mortgage to pay us. Then, we figure something out on paper. We're in the middle of a rather large job right now that we never met the client till the first shoot day.

And on really large quotes that take days to figure out, we charge the afore mentioned admin charge. At the end of the job, we normally roll it into the price somewhere.

A few years ago, we did an estimate on how many hours had been spent on client meetings over jobs that we never got and it was shocking. We know that quite often, we are called in to give someone a price and all they're really looking for is to check to see if their regular vendor is being fair on price. These guys are a form of "grinder".

Steve Wargo
Tempe, Arizona
It's a dry heat!

Sony HDCAM F-900 & HDW-2000/1 deck
5 Final Cut (not quite PRO) systems
Sony HVR-M25 HDV deck
2-Sony EX-1 HD .


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Mike Cohen
Re: Should I charge clients for meetings
on Jun 22, 2008 at 10:13:54 am

We add a project management fee of 25% of the total budget - this covers some overages as well as meetings, phone time and "non-billable" time. Of course if a client is known to be "needy" then raise your PM fee.

Mike


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walter biscardi
Re: Should I charge clients for meetings
on Jun 22, 2008 at 1:01:19 pm

[Mike Cohen] "We add a project management fee of 25% of the total budget"

I like that and another easy way to cover your fees is to simply add another hour or so to your billing just to bury it in the invoice.

What about video conferencing? Skype works brilliantly on both windows and mac and it's free. Here in Atlanta traffic is so bad that we do generally discuss most everything via phone, though I'm going to set up my client in Colorado with Skype so we can try video conferencing instead.

Walter Biscardi, Jr.
Biscardi Creative Media
HD and SD Production for Broadcast and Independent Productions.

STOP STARING AND START GRADING WITH APPLE COLOR Apple Color Training DVD available now!
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Mick Haensler
Re: Should I charge clients for meetings
on Jun 22, 2008 at 1:31:28 pm

Like the others, it depends on the client. I'm doing a project right now for a very influential non profit which will not only be a lucrative project in itself, but has the potential to open a lot of doors for me doing the kind of work I want to be doing. This client loves to have meetings at their facility, they will never be charged.

Mick Haensler
Higher Ground Media



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Todd Terry
Re: Should I charge clients for meetings
on Jun 22, 2008 at 2:56:22 pm

For smaller clients, yes we bill, for bigger clients... usually not.

We are a tiny company, so if me or my partner (our GM) is out at a meeting, chances are we are not being able to bill for much "real" work during that time.... so with smaller clients we do charge, and we have an hourly rate for meetings. It's not nearly as much as our rate for shooting, editing, or some other stuff... but it's better than nothing.

Conversely, we have a couple of really big clients, and they get differernt treatment. If a client's annual billing is high, say, in the six-figure range or near that, we will gladly go to their place and dance in a grass skirt if that's what they need... free. Not pretty.


T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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Mark Suszko
Re: Should I charge clients for meetings
on Jun 22, 2008 at 8:21:32 pm

Lots of great suggestions here.

Clyde, do you think this a matter of technical issues or of psychology?

Specifically, are they always wanting you on their turf so perhaps they can feel in control of the project? Or because they have trust issues? Or are they just kind of lonely and like hanging out with cool people like yourself? My guess is that they are trying to tell you something: you may be leaving too many things unsaid or assumed, and it makes them nervous. Or, maybe this is the most creative thing they get to do all year, so they want to milk the experience.

It is important to try and figure this out, because one reason leads to more work and money, the other could lead to you eventually losing the business for being "unresponsive". Even if you're good and did nothing wrong. I have seen the reverse, where clients stick with someone who is not that good and overcharges, but the client just loves them despite that, because the relationship is so tight. We have to be technically proficient, but to really succeed we also need people skills, client skills, to understand their needs and communicate back to them. I think the best producers mix these two skill sets equally.

Some folks would adore having clients that were so "clingy", because it gives them a chance to upsell to bigger budgets and more projects. But certainly there can be a point where too much of a good thing is not good for you. Some clients are just control freaks, it is their nature. It is not always a bad thing, if you look at the advantages of a detail-oriented person. How much is too much? I would say the indicator for that is that you're losing more on the travel and time taken for meetings than you are making on the finished work. Below that threshold, I would generally say "whatever it takes to make them happy (within reason), and bill accordingly".

Pay more attention to their language and to how they say what they are saying when they call for these meetings. It may give you a clue to ways of reducing their nervousness and increasing their confidence. That may be something as simple as altering the vocabulary you use with them, to reassure them. What if you simply phoned them more often on the next project, or emailed or texted them at every little milestone?

How about giving them more supervisory tools, such as more window dubs? A link to a private web page, where they can view and mark up the work in progress and see the schedule may improve things. Using comparisons to previous successful efforts may help: "I'm going to use essentially the same effect here that we used in the demo sequence of the XYZ video you liked, you're pretty familiar with that from the last time you sat in on the edit for it, so, shall I just go ahead and do that the same way you already understand, and you can just approve it after I've finished that segment?" Build up a bunch of reference points where they have already seen a successful outcome, and get them to see that it was fine before, it will be fine this time, without having to do the same bit of hand-holding.

Put yourself in the client's position and see how they may feel: the project that may make or break their raise this year is in your hands and they can't really do anything about it or contribute in it. I know I feel kind of nervous just waiting for a mechanic to fix my car; imagine something much worse. So they get fidgety, they want to be part of the thing somehow. I have found one easy thing to throw such a nervous person to occupy them productively is a "job" of picking out music cues from a stack of needle-drop CD's. They could easily kill an hour picking cuts out in another room while I get the editing done. When they come back, they feel like they have contributed at least a little bit, and they seem more relaxed.

Over the years I have had a client or two come in that was very "hands-on" like Clyde's at the beginning. I took the time to educate them where they need that, and to keep explanations simple, dropping little very short tidbits along the way of why I am making the cut the way I am, etc. and darned if by the next time we worked together, they would just say over the phone: "well, you understand what we're looking for here pretty well, I trust your judgement, you just go ahead and make it the way you think best and I'll check back in with you when it's close to done."

I love those days.




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Steve Wargo
Re: Should I charge clients for meetings
on Jun 23, 2008 at 6:01:26 am

[Todd Terry] "we will gladly go to their place and dance in a grass skirt"

Yep, I knew it.



Steve Wargo
Tempe, Arizona
It's a dry heat!

Sony HDCAM F-900 & HDW-2000/1 deck
5 Final Cut (not quite PRO) systems
Sony HVR-M25 HDV deck
2-Sony EX-1 HD .


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David Roth Weiss
Re: Should I charge clients for meetings
on Jun 22, 2008 at 9:05:15 pm

Clyde,

Let me ask you a question... If the same client asked you to drive to the location of their up-coming shoot to do a site survey, would you charge for that?

Most people would answer yes to the question above, because they can see exactly how a site survey can directly benefit the client and the project. Production meetings are no less beneficial to the client or to the project, they just may feel a bit harder to justify when invoicing. If that's the case, try to get past that feeling, because this is business, and billing for your time is perfectly acceptable.

As you will often see people mention here, if you give your time away to a client, that becomes the standard that they will come to expect from that point forward, forever. Resist the feeling to donate your time. If the client doesn't like what you've billed, let them request a discount.

David Roth Weiss
Director/Editor
David Weiss Productions, Inc.
Los Angeles

POST-PRODUCTION WITHOUT THE USUAL INSANITY ™


A forum host of Creative COW's Apple Final Cut Pro, Business & Marketing, and Indie Film & Documentary forums.


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clyde villegas
Re: Should I charge clients for meetings
on Jun 22, 2008 at 11:44:34 pm

Thanks guys for your help.

We already did a site survey twice and did not bill them. We already had production meetings and I know their important. The meetings I didn't like are the ones when they call me up to meet someone in their office and do some chitchats. And this is for a project that I already gave a big discount, which means I do not have some form of budget buffer when I exceed my projected number of meetings.

However, I think Mark is right. It's a great opportunity to "upsell to bigger budgets and more projects." I might do a few chitchats... just a few.


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Todd Terry
Re: Should I charge clients for meetings
on Jun 23, 2008 at 12:24:13 am

Some meetings are often critical, but many of course are not...

If a client wants a meeting but you really don't want to go because their history proves that they are pointless or not the best use of your time, you might casually say something like, "I'd be happy to come in... but let me check what we've done so far and how much we budgeted for meetings. I sure don't want to go over budget on your project." This might help them realize that your time is valuable and that they are using up the resources that they are paying for, not in the best way.

You could also say that you'd be happy to come in for a meeting, and that it would be helpful if they could go ahead and email you an agenda in avance. When faced with the prospect of having to write out what the meeting needs to cover, they might wise up and realize there is no real reason for it at all. I doubt they would call you in if they are pressed for a real agenda and it is #1: Chitchat, #2: adjourn.

Then again, I've known clients to do crazier things.


T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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Steve Wargo
Re: Should I charge clients for meetings
on Jun 23, 2008 at 6:24:44 am

Todd's advice is excellent. We recently attended a first meeting with a new client. The original contact said it was a huge budget but the meeting person stated right away that it was a budget of around $3k. We agreed to cap it at a bit more but made it very clear that in exchange for the discounted price, we had to make every minute count and that we needed to work with the decision maker to keep redos to a minimum. They were quite happy with that arrangement and said that we would conduct all business through e-mail.

Having thought about it a bit more and having read the other posts, you kind of have to play it one client at a time. Just be conscious of those who want to meeting you to death and then they don't do the job or they hire someone else.

If you're just getting started, brown nosing is a critical part of the relationship. My wife is very good at it and we should have done an instructional video years ago.I, on the other hand, have to really work at it.

Steve Wargo
Tempe, Arizona
It's a dry heat!

Sony HDCAM F-900 & HDW-2000/1 deck
5 Final Cut (not quite PRO) systems
Sony HVR-M25 HDV deck
2-Sony EX-1 HD .


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grinner hester
Re: Should I charge clients for meetings
on Jun 23, 2008 at 1:56:47 pm

I think you probably already know this answer. Hearing it from others is often an affermation that makes decision making easier.
There is no better diplomatic way of weeding out a client than nickle and diming them. Likewise, there is no better way to run off a great production company than to continually ask for their time for free. They know this. It's a gamble they are obvioulsy willing to take.
The bare bones answer is if this is a sales meeting, no you cant bill for that and expect to see them in the future. If it's a creative meeting they want you in, of course you are in the business to make a living and won't be giving this off the clock.
If you feel you dont want to do this meeting for nada... man, don't.
let em grind away at your competition while ya get back to work.
If you feel it's a required hand-holding to keep a gig ya wanna keep, man oppease em and pretend it's not irritating.



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Brian Mills
Re: Should I charge clients for meetings
on Jun 24, 2008 at 6:25:55 am

One thing I've got to chime in here with:

I have a client that initially behaved just like you described. They called me in to "discuss the project" and ended up picking my brain on various other aspects of the project. By the time he called me to the 4th meeting, I said that I had already met with him enough to give him a quote to proceed, and any other meetings hereafter would be charged an hourly "consulting fee." The meetings got a lot less frequent and I charged him for every one after that (and then the shoot of course).

These meetings were actually me teaching him what he needed to be a producer on this project.

This client is still active and still sends work my way, but if the phone calls start getting a little too long, I cut him off and say, "this is getting a little technical, do you want me to come in and consult with you?". Some times he says yes and gets an invoice, mostly he says no.

You have to recognize the meetings which are necessary to bid a job (and therefore not charged), and the meetings where you are in essence helping the client produce their project, which very much should be billable hours (I charge 75% of my operator without gear rate for example).

Good luck...




Brian Mills
Videographer


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David Derozier
Re: Should I charge clients for meetings
on Jun 25, 2008 at 1:41:41 am

Something I did years ago when I owned a business and helped me separate the "tire kickers" from the serious ones was to charge a "consultation fee" that was knocked off the price of the production if they accepted.

I've found (and was confirmed by reading the book "The Must-Have Customer") that the ones that complain are not serious shoppers...or they are people who will suck the life right out of you. These people who nickel-and-dime you to death wouldn't work for five seconds without getting paid...and they'll bitch about how much they're being paid (as Harlan Ellison in Pay the Writer said in a YouTube presentation).

As others have said, if they turn out to be good customers, then you can change your policies for them...you own the business, you get to make the rules.

Good luck.


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Kevin Hanley
Re: Should I charge clients for meetings
on Jun 25, 2008 at 3:50:54 pm

After reading your initial post, I had planned to ask you a question, but you subsequently answered it further down in the thread. The question I was going to ask was "Is this a high paying client, or a low paying client", and then I was going to tell you that I already knew the answer.

In our business, we are selling time. That's all we have to sell. Experience is part of what we sell, but actually experience is what makes our time more valuable, so it's still time that we're selling.

Any good client expects to pay for your time. The ones that don't are always---100% of the time---low paying clients. They're also the ones that take up the majority of your time, preventing you from working for other clients, and more importantly, preventing you from spending time improving your business and working your way up to bigger and better clients. Expecting free "meeting" time is one red flag. The next red flag is the "if you take care of me now, there are big things coming your way later" line.

Bottom line, meetings are not free. Maybe an initial consultation to sell the client on your company, but beyond that everything should be billable. Attorneys, mechanics, and many other people who sell time (labor) for a living charge this way, and I don't see a lot of people questioning that. Why should your time and expertise be free?

We charge half rate for consultation and pre-production meetings. That seems to make all of our clients happy.



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clyde villegas
Re: Should I charge clients for meetings
on Jun 29, 2008 at 1:51:01 am

Thanks for your all your advices. They're very very helpful. God bless.


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