Write a Better Photography Proposal
Avoid confusion and limit miscommunications with clients.
How do you write a good photography proposal? Why is it important? Okay, you may tell yourself, “I’m a photographer, not a writer.” Your skillset revolves around cameras, lighting, and your artistic vision, not some dull document. However, a well-written proposal can be the difference between getting paid and going hungry. And you can learn to write them.
The first step is to think like a reporter. Who, what, when, how, and where.
Every news story you read should cover these key points, and your proposal should, too. Because it’s all about details and expectations. Your photography proposal must be detailed and you have to make clear what you expect from the client, and what they can expect from you.
Expert advice: Mark Jordan says,
“The foundation of an effective proposal is built upon asking pertinent and thorough questions. The enemy of the proposal is assumption.”
What are you photographing? What is the deliverable?
Let’s start with WHAT. What are you going to deliver to your client? Be as specific as you can because this is also the part of the proposal that can state what you’re not delivering. Save yourself from getting a call from a customer that starts like this, “But I thought you were going to…”
This might be where you list the shots you’ll be getting. For example, mother of the brides are famous for wanting you to photograph more than you expect.
When? A schedule of the business relationship.
WHEN will you deliver your product? This area is ripe for confusion and disappointment because everyone has a different definition of ‘soon.’ Take the time to talk with your client and set a realistic timeline, otherwise you might run into a briar patch of customer expectations you cannot meet.
Expert Advice on When: Erik Valind
“I now include a timetable for all deliverables as well. It’s not uncommon to tell a client they’ll have their photos in a week, only to have them calling you two days later asking where they are. Plus, if you quote the client a week and deliver sooner you come off as a hero! After all, creating repeat clients is far easier than finding new ones.”
A second aspect of WHEN is when is the project complete? If the client keeps coming back asking for changes or re-shoots or more copies, are you going to charge them for these, or let them eat up your hours?
When will you inspect the shooting location? When can a client cancel the contract? When will the proposal be void?
Where will the photography location be?
WHERE comes in if there is travel involved. If you’re meeting a client for a photo shoot, are they going to cover your travel costs–an airline ticket or a tank of gas, hotels, and meals? It’s better to talk about it now, than find out the bad news later.
Who is responsible…?
Just as a good photography proposal states what you’re responsible for, it should also make clear what the client is responsible for contributing. If you’re waiting on materials from your client, that means their procrastination is holding up your cash flow. A detailed proposal means you can hold them accountable for their share of their project.
With all the formats available these days, it may be useful to nail down the HOW in your proposal. Suppose you send your client digital files but they were expecting hard copies. Now those printing costs are passed back to you. Being specific would have saved you both the confusion.
How much will this cost?
The other HOW is the biggee. HOW MUCH? How much are you getting paid? Are you billing hourly or per project or by some other measure? When does the client pay you? If you want a deposit before you begin work, that must be in the proposal. And if you want to receive your payment in a certain way (cash, check, PayPal, etc.), that should be noted.
Expert Advice on Deposits: Richard Storm says,
“If the job is in advance and will require a lot of time then always take a deposit. Clients have a tendency to flake out on occasion. This means that you still get a little payment for your time.”
Important Proposal Clause
Expert Advice and the “Act of God” Clause: David Hessemer
“Make sure there is an ‘Act of God’ clause in your proposal. I was working for a company that was doing a very large Nike sales meeting outside with 40 projectors, and it was all timed out to original music and live talks. Part way through, the projectors starting firing off randomly. It was a disaster and the client did not want to pay. Turned out that there was a solar flare at the exact time this happened and the power surge that hit the venue caused the computers to misfire. Since we had an ‘Act of God’ clause they could not blame us and we got paid.”
Do your business a huge favor by working out the details while they’re still just details, and not arguments. You do your best work with your camera, so set yourself up for success by crafting a strong photography proposal first.
Additional Photographer Reading
- Effectively Use Photography Business Cards
- 9 Free Photography Contracts