When negotiating your video services to a client who has the world at their feet when it comes to available talent, you’ll need to understand what gives them a better value — not a better video. It was John Bolton who once said, “Negotiation is not a policy. It’s a technique. It’s something you use when it’s to your advantage, and something that you don’t use when it’s not to your advantage.” Business people know what they want, they just don’t always know what it’ll take to get it. When you’re negotiating your next big project, use your skills to your advantage.

Not sure how to set yourself apart? Here are a few things to keep in mind before submitting a bid for that next big buck.

Dissecting the Negotiation

You’ve been approached by a marketing director who needs a video produced. Cool. Now what? Let’s start by understanding what they hope to achieve by soliciting your services.


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For starters, your prospective clients have an idea, likely in the form of a creative brief, a stick-person storyboard sketched out on a napkin or an ethereal brain dump that needs a creative propagator. They’re sharing this info with you because you fill one of three buckets: you’ve been recommended, you solicited their business or they stumbled upon your services through an online search.

Next, the prospective clients likely have a ballpark idea of what it’s going to take to produce said video project, through either time, talent or treasure or a combination of all three. If they don’t have a clue, they’ll be leaning on you to offer guidance.

Once hands have been shook and coffee has been poured, the creative conversation will go something like this:
“Hey, we’ve got this idea …”
“Cool, I can help, what were you thinking?”
“We need human-sized ants to run through a kitchen, then get chased away by a kid in a superhero costume”
“Um … okay … I think I can do that.”

The conversation will commence with back and forth fodder, likely touching on timelines, tools required and budget. If your clients are like most, they’re looking for you to drop the first budget balloon. If you overinflate, you lose the project, if you under-inflate, you’ll be huffing and puffing to get the project done. Either way, do not show all your cards at once, or this could be a very short meeting.

Successful Starting Point

The best ending to any initial negotiation needs to end with you shaking your client’s hand and saying, “Let me go back and think about this idea and determine what it’s going to take to make this happen.” Tell them you’ll need a day to evaluate the creative requirements of the project, line up and price out any additional resources beyond those that you own – equipment rentals, talent/actors, human-sized ant suits. Then, once you know what your actual costs are going to be, think about what it’ll take for you and your team to deliver a result that stomps out anything your competition can do.

The worst thing any freelance or independent video producer can do is assume they have a project in the bag based off an initial conversation. Want to know something? Either right before, or right after your handshake & coffee meeting, that client likely met with another producer like you, who likely had the same reaction you had to the hair-brained idea about superhero kid saving the day against those darned ants. The only difference is that your competition is strategizing about how to negotiate a better deal. So, stop thinking how you’re going to make this the best video ever, and start planning for how you’re going to knock their socks off, while filling your socks with lots of money.

Don’t Send Ideas, Send Questions

When you told your clients you were going to send along a proposal with deliverables right away, think twice. Follow up that same day, a few hours after your meeting, and say you’ve got a couple of quick questions. Ask about specific parts of their project: How many ants? What color cape? Did you consider shooting this in black and white, but only have the superhero kid be in color? When you keep the conversation rolling, you build trust and interest from your clients, as well as show creative thinking that’s going to make them look like the hero when this project is all wrapped up. Make your client sound like the creative genius. Now, once you have them waiting with bated breath, you slide in a question about budget, “So, that said, do you think you have a budget range you’d like me to keep all this in?” More often than not, they’ll give you a ballpark that you can aim to hit with your bid.

Price Locked and Loaded

Video budgets are easily the hardest part of any negotiation, and the one part that most freelancers tend to shortchange themselves on the most. Mark Twain famously penned, “A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.” If the bid you’re sending for a project isn’t a price you can live with, don’t submit it.

Take each project and establish a dollar value for each hour you anticipate spending on that project. A good starting rate for you could be $50 per hour. For others, it could be $100 per hour. Whatever your rate ends up being, make sure you understand what you’re getting out of what you’re putting in.

If you feel like you can honestly produce your clients’ video project in 20 hours, and your rate is $100, your bid will be $2,000 plus your equipment costs (if you rent them, add a premium on top of the rental cost). Some states require that you charge sales tax on the delivery of digital content, so be sure to determine what your tax rate would be and account for that on top of your final costs.

The most important piece of the price structure puzzle is to know your market. A freelancer in New York City is going to command a higher rate than a freelancer in New Ulm, MN. Do your research to determine what comparable freelancers earn in your market, and then decide for yourself if your services warrant a premium or discounted price.

À La Carte Bidding

People love eating at delis because they can order a variety of food items and pay for what they want. The same should hold true for your video services. If a client can agree to certain elements of the creative process, “Yes on the black and white treatment for the video, but no on the rotoscope processing that would keep our kid superhero in color,” they will have a better understanding of the cost of doing business with you.

Be consistent in your pricing. There is nothing worse than getting that cherished third-party endorser telling a business colleague to work with you because your project costs were $500, and then you come to the table with a $500,000 bid for a comparable project. Establish a rate card, and publish that on your website. Once you’ve started the conversation, adjust based on the value you feel your creative genius provides.

Up Selling Isn’t Just for Used Car Sales

You’ve got your clients hooked and you’re reeling them in, they love your pricing and your concepts. But wait, there’s more! Did you mention that you could shoot those human-sized ants in 3D? Did you offer to call in a favor with your buddy who knows that A-list celebrity who wants his or her kid to get a “big break” as a superhero? Value-added upselling is a great way to extract a few more dollars from the budget, while demonstrating yet another level of “above and beyond” creative direction.

Master Your Media

The great freelancers and independent video producers aren’t just good at their craft, they’re masters of negotiating. They know when to apply the pressure regarding their services, and when to lie back and leave a little money on the table for the sake of the “next” project.

Much like Bolton and Twain mentioned, you could talk about the project all you want, but until you come to terms with what you’re selling, which is your time, talent and treasure, there’s no point in trying. Step up to that meeting, grab that coffee, shake that hand and offer to produce the best damn human-sized ant superhero video the world has ever seen – on your terms.


Know When ‘No’ is the Answer

Sometimes in this business, you simply have to say “no.” Not every project is worthy of your time. Not every budget, however big it might be, is as good as it seems. Clients can be incredibly challenging to work with, talent uncooperative and the equipment just not right for the job. Understanding this is perhaps your greatest asset as a creative professional.

It was Robert Tew who perhaps sums this scenario up the best: “Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves you, grows you or makes you happy.” Your talent is too valuable to waste on projects that bring you minimal pleasure. The best leaders in business have mastered the power of “no” and still get business. You can do the same.

The word “no” is an integral part of any negotiation. The sooner you can master it, the sooner you will be saying “yes” to the types of projects you really want to do.

Dave Sniadak is the communications manager for a Minneapolis-based regional airline, multiple award winning video producer and has successfully negotiated hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of video projects throughout his career.