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Estimating/bidding process for motion graphics

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chadwick Chennault
Estimating/bidding process for motion graphics
on Apr 23, 2009 at 2:46:32 pm

After years of corporate whoring to provide a stable income in order to get my family started... I am preparing to enter the financially unpredictable but artistically gratifying world of full time freelance motion graphics. As a freelancer, one of my biggest weaknesses has always been creating estimates. I am in Austin and the market is VERY competitive... and the clients I have typically want a turn key bid based on as little info as possible. My typical formula for bidding has been something like (poke around to find how much client wants to spend)-+(how much I like/dislike client)/how fun/gratifying the project looks ^how little time the client wants the job complete. In short, I generally just pull a number out of my butt and live with it.

Can any of you recommend more scientific strategies for making bids/estimates? Are there any books, websites or resources you have found useful to developing your skills in this area.

Thanks in advance!

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Trey Gregory
Re: Estimating/bidding process for motion graphics
on Apr 23, 2009 at 3:23:16 pm

There are a slew of threads about how to get your #'s for pricing, there is even a calculator that will help you figure out what your rate should be to cover your expenses;

Figure out what your time is worth, and charge for it by the hour or by the day, your choice.

The key is not arbitrarily picking a number, you should have consistent pricing for your services, the only thing that should change is the amount of time it takes you to complete the project.

Your market has a lot to do with where you prices should start, but your skill, creativity, and experience is what the client is paying for, so you can charge much more for those.

Trey Gregory
ECG Productions - Atlanta
HD Production and Post

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Bruce Bennett
Re: Estimating/bidding process for motion graphics
on Apr 23, 2009 at 4:14:35 pm

Hi Chad,

[chadwick Chennault] "I generally just pull a number out of my butt and live with it."

If this method does not prove beneficial…

One thing that I use is a “living” Excel spreadsheet. On page one, I list all estimated and actual monthly, quarterly and yearly expenses: all insurance premiums, salary, accounting fees, Website hosting fees, phone, a yearly unforeseen expenses budget, office supplies budget, membership fees, government fees/costs, more government fees/costs, etc. I then create a formula to get a number that tells me what I need to make every single quarter in order to survive/break even.

Excel page two lists projects sold by quarter with the net income (not gross income) for each project. I then add them up to get a “total quarterly net income,” and then subtract my estimated monthly quarterly expenses amount (from page 1). I also subtract my dividends payments and employee reimbursements (i.e., mileage). That final number tells me if I’m the black or in the red for that quarter.

I then take that profit/loss number and divide it by the number 12 so that I know how many more months I’m good for (or how many months I’m behind). It is a good way for me to see exactly how my business is doing.

Hope this helps somewhat.

Good Luck!

Bruce Bennett
Bennett Marketing & Media Production, LLC

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grinner hester
Re: Estimating/bidding process for motion graphics
on Apr 23, 2009 at 4:31:36 pm

My secret formula:
Start with hourly rate. Judge how long it will take. Multiply.

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chadwick Chennault
Re: Estimating/bidding process for motion graphics
on Apr 23, 2009 at 6:45:36 pm

Perhaps I should clarify...

I have an hourly rate... I am curious as to what strategies you guys use to calculate how many hours you should bid/estimate.

Obviously, I can do a better job of tracking and reporting how long jobs take... but while I am building said database, I would like to know if you have any neat tricks to determine how many hours you bid.


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Alex Elkins
Re: Estimating/bidding process for motion graphics
on Apr 23, 2009 at 7:09:38 pm

[chadwick Chennault] "I would like to know if you have any neat tricks to determine how many hours you bid"

Surely this comes down to how well you know your own skills and the services you can offer.
I'm an editor, and I know it usually takes me X hours/days to cut a product promo/music video/whatever else. Based on the understanding I have of my own abilities and speed, the next step is to make a judgement as to what the client expects - i.e. do they need something quick and simple for internal use, or will they want a really nice grade, some effects shots etc. Or better still, ASK THE CLIENT what they want!

P.S. If you need to get a better idea of exactly how long different jobs are taking you, I'd recommend buying 'Time Equals Money'. It's a simple, concise way to track the time you spend on a job. I use it for every job now, and it's amazing how quickly I realised I was undercharging.

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Mark Suszko
Re: Estimating/bidding process for motion graphics
on Apr 23, 2009 at 10:20:43 pm

I think what Chad is getting at is, (and correct me if I'm wrong) even if you know your costs and have already established an hourly rate, on motion graphics jobs, there are so MANY variables and ways to go about something that it is hard to make even an educated guess how long you will take to execute a particular artistic concept. You can throw somethigng together with off the shelf plugs and standard settigns and it may be just perfect, what the client wants. Or you may need to go off the beaten track and do a lot of hand-made work, a frame at a time... even coding and creating new plugs just for the job.

This does get easier the more experienced you get, with the more things you try out, but when you are going to use a new tool or technique on such a project for the first time, you don't really have a baseline idea. Now that I've done some frame by frame hand-roto, the hard way and then somewhat simpler ways, my estimate of a particular 30-second job changes from three days to eight hours. My first DVD authoring job took a month and assembling the interactivity took 30 hours, the second time I did the exact same job in 13 hours. That's fine, if I always do the new project exactly the same way I did the one that I learned my technique on.

Now throw in some new moves with a plug-in or other app I've never used before, I will have to factor in some experimentation time.

A true artist may need to take a lot of experimenting on things that will never get used, just to get to the part that will.

I don't have a perfect answer, Chadwick, except for you to get as detailed with the client on what they want as possible, visualize using rough sketches, samples of similar work by others, and whatever else it takes so you both have the same idea of what it is supposed to look like.

Then if it involves some technique or whatever that you are not already very familiar with, or is of an unusual length, I would propose to the client that you first do a short test, for free or for a cut rate, just a few frames long. Pending approval of the test, as proof-of-concept, you'll submit a more firm budget based on what you discovered about the difficulty of the job and the likely hours involved.

Time yourself on the test footage, now you have a framework to extrapolate the full time it might take to do the whole thing. And if the test turns out exactly like what they want, I would then bill that time at normal rate. If you still don't have a "meeting of the minds", either write off the failed spec test as free training, and not bill for it, or charge a low minimum, depending on your situation, how expensive the experiment was to your business, and the stakes for the rest of the project. Ad agencies try expensive spec things all the time, and often eat the cost if they fail. But they often learn or produce something in the spec work that comes in useful elsewhere later.

Best of luck with it.

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Mike Smith
Re: Estimating/bidding process for motion graphics
on Apr 24, 2009 at 8:36:21 am

From a business perspective, if your technique makes the sale then it's working - unless you're bidding well under what your customer might have been willing to spend.

Then in production you have to control your costs / time to keep to your estimate. So don't go over the hours you bid, in general - unless you really want to try those experiments or develop those techniques partly for your own future benefit.

Of course that means you have to be clear what your estimate covers - delivery of an agreed product at an agreed price, and a specified process of stages, review and revision steps to complete. If those steps are to be exceeded at client request, client to be warned that extra costs would follow.

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