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Do you Pre-Qualify Prospects before investing time in a meeting?

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Ned Miller
Do you Pre-Qualify Prospects before investing time in a meeting?
on Jul 2, 2010 at 9:10:06 pm

I have had a few instances lately that turned into a total waste of my time, and had I known they had no real budget to work with I wouldn't have invested time in them. I try to get an inkling of what level of budget they were considering but could not pin them down. I often get, "We'd like to discuss the project with you, we've never done video and have no idea what it costs." This is in the context of producing, not just offering shooting or post services.

Living far away from the city, going in for a meeting will be at least an hour each way, $25 in parking, $15 in gas (Chevy Suburban), sometimes a haircut, nice duds from the dry cleaners, preparing specific samples to show plus psychological wear and tear. This has happened with small entrepreneurs and Fortune 100s.

My standard line is, "What are you planning to invest in this project?" or some variant in reference to "budget range", but lately I have been getting the "We don't know yet" type of answer. Being a hustling optimist I merrily trek downtown to only find out I'll have to pass it off to a young, cheap, up-and-comer associate because there is nothing to work with budget wise. Many are under the impression a quality video is in the $700 range.

I do believe in the power of a face-to-face sales meeting, to see if the chemistry is there, and I do have a persuasive dog and pony show, so perhaps I am too eager to go to the effort of a face-to-face?

So my questions to Producers (not post only) is: How do you (politely) pre-qualify a prospect to determine if you want to invest a half day of your time in the first meeting? How do you say, "I can't consider producing your video if you don't have at least X amount of dollars", without sounding mercenary?


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Nick Griffin
Re: Do you Pre-Qualify Prospects before investing time in a meeting?
on Jul 2, 2010 at 10:24:50 pm

Well, Ned… isn't THAT a good question. Unfortunately it's likely that there are a lot of different answers. I feel your pain because I've been there and done that -- especially last year when it wasn't so much that companies weren't doing projects, they were just not doing them "right now."

One way of qualifying is to help the prospect understand what they get for what they pay. I explain that we've done projects basic and simple enough that with a half day of shooting and a few hours of editing we've been able to deliver complete videos for as little as a few thousand dollars. Then I say that we've also worked on complex and lengthy projects where the budget has approached $100,000 and that we've worked at all points in between. At this juncture I've let them know that if they have $900, I'm not their guy.

It's also useful to get them talking about what they envision as their end product. Can their project be done in a single location or will it involve many? Do they want one or more actors? Do they want a certain look or style? At each stage I try to give them an idea of what various options cost -- for example, on-camera union actors with associated fees are around $1,000 a day. Want that to be someone you've heard of and you might be able to get them for $10,000 or $50,000 for a few days, plus first class airfare and accommodations. It's all about getting the prospect into a realistic mindset and knowing that they can control the budget by controlling the options.

This first meeting does NOT have to be in person. You can suggest that to "help determine if what they want and what we have to offer is a good fit, let's spend a few minutes on the phone." Beats the hell out of gassing up the Suburban.


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Bob Zelin
Re: Do you Pre-Qualify Prospects before investing time in a meeting?
on Jul 2, 2010 at 10:28:14 pm

refuse to meet in person. Do your initial meeting on the phone, and email them an initial proposal. When they say "are you crazy, how much do you charge !" - you know not to go visit them. Remember, they may still "lie" to you, have you come down for the meeting, and ask "the kid" if he can do the same job for $600 (why yes sir, I sure can do it for $600, and I can start today) - but at least you don't waste your time ALL the time.

In purchases, it is common for everyone to speak to value added resellers, and then "shop it to death", ultimately buying from B&H Photo (for example), after they wasted the time of all the dealers (and people on Creative Cow) so they could get the info they need. I have found that it is important to give people an idea of what a rough project will cost, because many people will faint when they find out what you charge.

A toilet doesn't cost much money, but it costs a lot to install the toilet.

Bob Zelin




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Rich Rubasch
Re: Do you Pre-Qualify Prospects before investing time in a meeting?
on Jul 2, 2010 at 10:36:58 pm

I agree as well. Give them an idea of what typical editing costs. You can easily ballpark a basic two-person crew shoot day...maybe $1500. And for editing you can give them a range of $500-$1000 per finished minute. So if they are asking for three 2-minute videos for web you can assume two day shooting or $3000, and using the formula's editing average, about $2250 to edit them. I'd say that puts you around $5000 for about 6 minutes of finished video.

Our University media department uses $2000-$4000 per finished minute if shooting and delivering in HD. That puts it even higher.

But we always establish first what their needs are and help them craft an approach that might work for them.



Rich Rubasch
Tilt Media Inc.
Video Production and Post
Owner/President/Editor/Designer/Animator
http://www.tiltmedia.com


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Mark Suszko
Re: Do you Pre-Qualify Prospects before investing time in a meeting?
on Jul 2, 2010 at 10:41:36 pm

You look for code words. What kinds of adjectives are they using, what kinds of qualifiers? One of the secrets of a good interrogator is the pregnant pause: leave that empty space there, hanging, an extra couple of seconds... and the other guy will get antsy and start filling it. Then you listen to what he's filling it with. Use active listening, the same as a psychoanalyst would, leading questions. "Why do you think that is?" But re-framed in production terms.

I had a conversation with a potential client and we were galaxies apart on the costs of things. I asked him what he could spend per episode of his notional cable show. Then we explored that figure, with me throwing rough numbers at it for my expenses. "So you're asking me to split around three hundred bucks for a three-hour recording session between two cameramen and myself? What's that come to, per hour... just for the staff part of the shooting, then? Minus the editing time, which we're roughly figuring will take four hours? And the rental of the cameras, the switcher, the audio gear, the lighting... I laid out how there were different levels of quality we could use: and just a little bit about what you give up each time you drop down a tier on the economy scale. I left it up to him to decide what tier he wanted the results at. He was really hot to do everything in HD... until we compared HD and SD budgets thru the *whole* production chain, and looked at what his final distribution was going to be, on the local cable leased-access, which is still SD. I talked about just doing the show on a very small scale as 10-minute youtube clips, just to get his toe in the water. We talked for about an hour about why two houses don't cost exactly alike, why two cars cost different amounts. I never mentioned a figure: first guy that does, loses.

As we worked thru the list of elements that any production needs, he really started to get a grasp of what constituted a realistic budget... and that whole time, i never actually gave him a figure of my own, just asked him to work things out based on his initial amount. The guy was smart, and he was the first one to come out and admit he saw that the job he wanted done, was unrealistic for the budgets he had planned. Then the next thing kind of surprised me. He said he'd go out and raise more money, pursue grant money and corral some sponsors. He was going to take his budget to the level he now saw was necessary. A couple weeks later, he told me he was in the running for a grant for the show, but they had a minimum investment level of something like fifty thousand, so he wanted to re-visit our numbers discussion, this time to RAISE the budget and production values. So that discussion went from talking about a $500 per episode cable access thing, to a sponsored and underwritten series with a budget of around five grand per episode. Okay, still peanuts to most of you guys, but for me and my buddies, planning to do this in our spare time for kicks and beer money, it is starting to look a little better all the time. Could raise the beer brand up beyond PBR into some Grolsh or Goose Island at least. Hasn't happened yet; the deal is pending some matching funds. But I didn't mind the exercise. i made a fine acquaintance out of it anyhow. Maybe a future business partner, you never know.


In these bad times, I think you just grit your teeth and keep pitching, exploring even the marginal guys. On the theory that even if that particular guy doesn't pan out, he may have other contacts and you will be remembered when the subject of a serious yet accessible pro comes up.



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grinner hester
Re: Do you Pre-Qualify Prospects before investing time in a meeting?
on Jul 3, 2010 at 1:47:04 pm

Even though I can offer a flat bid for a turn-key project, I do mention the hourly rate I base that off of before wasting anyone's time going into an initial meeting. We've all done it once... talk about a project for an hour only to find they can't afford the meeting, let alone a video.
ONCE
For me, their needing to have a meeting is my first red flag. It's as easy as "can you have a turn-key project done by Friday?"
yes.
"can you do it for X amount of dolalrs?"
yes.
that's a five minute phone call or two emails. More than that and they often are looking for free consultation for when they have their son in law do it.



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Gav Bott
Re: Do you Pre-Qualify Prospects before investing time in a meeting?
on Jul 5, 2010 at 12:20:47 am

I ask right out before on the phone or email before any face to face.

"Do you have a budget set aside for this one? Roughly what kind of level are you thinking of?"

Not sure if I read it here, or if someone else told me, but "I never mentioned a figure: first guy that does, loses." is something I hold on to tight.


The Brit in Brisbane
The Pomme in Production - Brisbane Australia.


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Ryan Mast
Re: Do you Pre-Qualify Prospects before investing time in a meeting?
on Jul 5, 2010 at 3:13:00 pm

[Gav Bott] ""Do you have a budget set aside for this one? Roughly what kind of level are you thinking of?" "

And if they don't want to answer that, I ask, "Just give me a ballpark -- $20, $200, $2,000, $20,000, or $200,000?" It's enough to tell what order of magnitude they're thinking.

--
Meteor Tower Films
We make music videos, design video for live theater, and build interesting contraptions.


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Tom Sefton
Re: Do you Pre-Qualify Prospects before investing time in a meeting?
on Jul 5, 2010 at 10:09:38 pm

I have never seen anything wrong with asking a client immediately what budget they had set aside for their project - does anyone think this is wrong?

If they have £800 and want a 4 minute web film with a days shoot then I might bother with the discussion about just how much time and effort will go into it - but only if they look as though they know what they are talking about.

If your client doesn't know his arse from his elbow then surely a question regarding how much money they have set aside for their video would help to ascertain this?


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Ned Miller
Re: Do you Pre-Qualify Prospects before investing time in a meeting?
on Jul 6, 2010 at 2:28:11 am

What's an arse?

Ned Miller
Chicago Videographer
http://www.nedmiller.com
http://www.bizvideo.com


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Don Greening
Re: Do you Pre-Qualify Prospects before investing time in a meeting?
on Jul 6, 2010 at 5:09:35 am

[Ned Miller] "What's an arse? "

The plural of "R".

- Don



Don Greening
Reeltime Videoworks
http://www.reeltimevideoworks.com


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cowcowcowcowcow
walter biscardi
Re: Do you Pre-Qualify Prospects before investing time in a meeting?
on Jul 6, 2010 at 11:50:14 am

Generally when I get this type of call, I will ask them three things.

How long do you anticipate the run time?

What is your deadline?

Where and how will this be shown?

Based on the answers I get I can tell them right off the bat a wide budget range. Generally I\'ll say something in the 10,000 to 100,000 range depending on a number of factors. Usually at that point they will say, \"really? That expensive? We were thinking more in the X range.\". Now I have their budget expectations and know whether we can do the work in that range.

This has worked for me almost every time.



Walter Biscardi, Jr.
Editor, Colorist, Director, Writer, Consultant, Author, Chef.
HD Post and Production
Biscardi Creative Media

"Foul Water, Fiery Serpent" featuring Sigourney Weaver coming soon.

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grinner hester
Re: Do you Pre-Qualify Prospects before investing time in a meeting?
on Jul 16, 2010 at 7:42:41 pm

I bill by the hour. If meetings are involved I do charge for them. I don't charge extra for pretending to be awake. That's what shades are for.



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