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  • Pricing on a small job

  • Jenn Lindsay

    August 24, 2020 at 3:32 pm

    Dear geniuses,

    A small academic association has asked me to edit together footage (A cam and b-roll audience shots) from an academic conference–two different keynotes and a panel discussion. The original footage is dark so it will need some minimal color correction. The job looks pretty darn basic–they want the full lectures, unedited, and a little editing on the panel session so the boring stuff and pauses are cut out. They have logos and don’t need any motion graphics work. They’re asking me how much I’d charge. I think I can get it done in two full work days. Anybody have a ballpark idea of what I should charge?

    Thank you!
    iMac 27-inch, 3.5 GHz Intel Core i7. 4GB GPU.
    FCPX, Motion
    MacBook Pro 15-inch, late 2016, OSX 10.12.5
    * Canon C100 Mk II
    * Canon T5i
    * Canon Vixia HFG20
    * iPhone 6S+

  • Mark Suszko

    August 26, 2020 at 10:10 pm

    You may not like my answer because it is never simple or right IMO to tell someone like you: “Charge X dollars for this.”

    That’s not because I’m trying to be a pedantic jerk, but because I’m such a strong believer in calculating your day rate and hourly rates – before – you start making and taking bids, because that’s the only way for you to really know if what you’re asking is the “right” number. Once you know your day rate, you can answer your own question about the bid proposal with a number that not only covers your costs of production but also includes the appropriate markup.

    Somebody tells you: “Charge a flat $1,100 for this” with no context, you are either going to be under-bidding this or over-bidding this; you won’t know which, and neither one is good for you over the long haul.

    I will give you the shortest possible procedure for figuring your day rate and thus your hourly rate. Multiply the figure by your estimated hours, plus a couple hours fudge factor for changes or last minute problems, then you have a solid number.

    How many days a year you want to work? Take out some vacations, sick days, weekends. Maybe you get to… 325 work days. And you wanna make $50,000 a year. So far that’s around 150 a day minimum you need to be pulling in, that’s before all your expenses for housing, transportation, utilities, taxes, health car, retirement… (and this is why freelancers charge more than you expect, because they have to carry all the expenses where their full-time employer might have covered some of it as a salaried job). So let’s bump that $150 daily nut up to reflect the costs and we’re at about $200, let’s say….

    Next, your work stuff: the gear, the software, the subscriptions and fees for music, for software apps, upgrades, plug-ins… the cameras, their support gear, batteries, lights, audio, the computer, the editing package, the storage drives, planned maintenance and upgrades… let’s skip the actual totaling and accounting for now and say, for you, this comes out to another 30 bucks a day that will cover your system and equipment and operating costs.

    Now the daily nut (for you specifically) is $230. This is the number, below which, you are losing money working on something. Any job estimate that works out below this is a losing proposition and your time and energy is better spent going out to drum up better jobs.

    And we haven’t addressed mark-up and profits yet. If you are in this as a business and not a hobby, you need to add a markup of a few percent. We’ll estimate for now that based on a five percent markup, we’re now at a day rate of $250.

    Are you using a ten-hour day or an 8-hour one? Both are common. For a ten- hour work day that makes your hourly rate $25.

    How long were the seminars? At a very minimum, figure twice the event length for editing time, and it’s usually more than that, if you’re going to be color correcting scene to scene and adding graphics and sweetening audio and adding titles and music. Four times the running time is not a too-wild estimate. Then you gotta figure an hour or two for applying any changes they ask for, or fixing unexpected problems that crop up. Then rendering time and making the deliverables.

    You didn’t say how long the seminars were. Let’s say it was two, two-hour sessions and a keynote they want broken out into it’s own, one-hour, stand-alone segment.

    Five hours times my 4-hour estimate is 20 work hours, round that up to 22 so you have time for lunch, dinner, and bathroom breaks. – you’re not a machine. 22 hours at your hourly rate of 25 per is $550. That’s your bottom line number you tell yourself for this job. Below this price, the work is not worth your time. Above this line is all profit.

    Now, you could ask for more than that, and you should. How much more? The cynics will tell you whatever the market will bear – however desperate they are, however few other options they have.

    But you’re in this for the long haul; you want their steady, monthly repeat business. You want your number on speed-dial in their office. You do NOT give a discount to earn this business. You just spent this time calculating your magic number that makes sense and you will keep this number limit holy.

    What you do, if you have the time, is ask around to other companies in the area, what their hourly rate is to edit something for you. You want your rate to fall into the upper third of the range; neither the most expensive, nor the bottom-feeding cut-rate guys. Maybe you decide $600 will keep them with you. Round numbers sound “made-up” to many people – it’s psychology. They tend to accept a number that isn’t round as something that is “more accurate”. So now I’m going to suggest the final price all delivered is $622. The $22 will pay for your celebratory latte.

    Now you know your true value, the negotiating is up to you. I’ll suggest that the first person to say a number, loses, so wait to hear their offer first – they may have ridiculously offered too much.

    If their offer is lowball, at least you KNOW that now, because of your calculations. You should counter with the right number, or a little more, but be prepared to walk away if they don’t come down. If they know you can’t walk away from a bad deal, they own you and always will. And eventually everyone else knows that too. So hold the line, even if it costs you.

    They may counter by saying: “my cousin’s girlfriend’s sister can do this for less.” Maybe they can. You have no way to know what their context is, what their expenses are. What their experience level is or if their gear is reliable. You can’t let a lowball offer from anybody else drive the number YOU will quote. You have to live YOUR life, not someone else’s. You may find at first you lost a gig to the cousin’s sister or whatever, but in many such cases, they come back to you later to fix it because what was promised was not what was delivered, or the competitor didn’t figure all the costs that you did. Trust the rate number you generated. Stick by it. Because you are a businesswoman, not a hobbyist.

  • Tim Wilson

    August 27, 2020 at 2:11 am

    Hi Jenn,

    I’m chiming in behind Mark to underscore: his is the only possible correct answer. If you want to make enough money to live, you have to do the math to find out how much that is.

    Which is to say, all of us here have wanted that “just tell me” answer, and we have learned the hard way that you can’t skip the steps.

    The one tweak that MIGHT work for you is to do the math on a monthly basis, rather than annualized. It’s the same math of course, but I can see months in my head more easily than the year.

    That is, you know what your monthly rent is, what your monthly payments are (cell phone, Netflix, car, loans, etc). You can also easily estimate what you spend for things like groceries, clothes, and going out (presumably less than usual right now!) on a monthly basis, even if you’re not currently keeping the best records.

    And yes, you have to count all the equipment that you’re using for these jobs.

    Whatever that total is for your monthly expenses, that’s what it is. Make more than that, and you get ahead. Make less than that, and you fall behind.

    That’s why, to ME, and the way I set up my business, the hours or days I was willing to work was the SECOND number. I was willing to push myself past my comfort level because I was young (THEN lol), and I could adjust my time on the clock. The one, immovable number is the monthly expenses. So I started there.

    Looking at how many hours I was “willing” to work, I found as a freelancer that I was only able to work about half of the hours in a day. The rest was things like paying bills, cleaning the part of the house/office you’re working in, answering emails, and things that don’t make you money, but you can’t really get by without doing.

    So once you find that immovable monthly load, and divide that by the number of days or hours that you’re willing to work, you come up with numbers for your day rate and your hourly rate.

    Now double that.

    Because, again, in my experience, I could only spend half of my time actually doing client work. Maybe you can do better than me….actually, I hope you can!….but the point is the same. Not every hour of every day is billable.

    I don’t want throw another wall of text at you, so I’ll wrap it up here — but I was given this guidance when I set out in my own production business, and it made all the difference in the world.

    And that’s why neither Mark, nor I, nor anybody here can tell you how much you can charge and actually make money for yourself. That’s the number you have to watch. Not how much you should charge the client. The number to watch is how much you need.

    You can always tell the client, “This is what it costs” and make your case, but you can’t negotiate away your own expenses!

    Let us know if we can do anything else to help you sort this out!

  • Eric Santiago

    September 16, 2020 at 1:43 pm

    Great posts folks.

    Some of the tips here I’ve followed but sadly didn’t stick with at times.

    Again great experiences shared here 🙂

  • Tim Wilson

    September 16, 2020 at 6:41 pm

    Valentina Vee is one of the people I admire most in the industry. She shoots, directs, produces, writes, edits, trains, is a legend of lighting, and is doing as much as anyone anywhere to shape the future of video production. Her work has billions of views online. Yes billions. I’ve seen individual clips with over 100 million views each.

    She takes staff positions now and again, but is mostly a freelancer, and recently tweeted this:

    I have always wondered if beginning freelancers really believe us when we say things like, “you’ll be lucky to bill for half your hours”, but experienced freelancers already know. Rofl Whatever you think you should charge, you should double it.

    And if that number sounds like something you can’t defend to a client, your response cannot be, “Well, I guess I’ll just have to charge less” without consequences. That’s why there’s no shortcut to this answer. You’re the only one who knows your expenses.

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