Nobody likes writing proposals for commercial or event photography assignments. Even if you eventually get the assignment, it always seems as though the proposal was secondary to the client’s final decision. Perhaps the main reason was that your studio was near his health club. If, after spending time preparing what you feel is “the ultimate proposal,” you don’t get the job, the reason is often just as hard to pin down. Notice that I didn’t say “lose” the job as photographers often say. That’s because you didn’t have it in the first place and maybe you were never going to anyway because the person requesting the bid needed three proposals before he could give it to his cousin Bill.
It often seems that preparing any proposal is a crap shoot. No matter what you produce or whatever approach you take, it’s never enough. The problem is that there’s no one “right” way to do it. One studio that I worked for prepared long, detailed proposals that included a company history, biographies of the principals, and reams of enclosures. Others prefer short and to the point proposals, but neither approach works every time. You have to tailor each package for specific clients.
Do you charge for proposals? Even preparing a short proposal takes lots of time and somebody has pay for it. If you don’t charge everybody, the people who do hire you end up paying for all those assignments you didn’t get. Using a template speeds up the process by making it more efficient but be careful. Developing a generic approach may get the proposal finished faster but not necessarily successfully.
How much detail you include in a proposal is critical. If you tell the client too little, you can loose the job. Tell them too much and they’ll end up giving your creative concept to the low bidder to execute. It happened to me and I still won’t drink that company’s beer. After that happened, I discussed proposal preparation with a few television producers, since video people have to jump through the same kind of hoops to sell their products. Their advice was to “Keep your cards close to your chest. Include only enough data to show you understand the project, but don’t include anything concrete.”
Being prepared before you write the proposal helps. When talking with potential clients, use a Client Information form. The form prompts you to ask the kinds of questions needed to produce an effective proposal. Find out, early in the process if cost is the only basis for a decision. This can be communicated directly but look for signals that they’re shopping for the cheapest price. If so, I recommend that you don’t write any proposal. Unless you know you’re going to be low bidder, politely decline to submit a proposal. And I’m talking to you, Cousin Billy.
Some clients always seem to be in a hurry to receive proposals. Here’s Farace’s Law on rush proposals: If you get a call on Wednesday to prepare a proposal for a Friday delivery, chances are the client will never get around to making any decision.
Joe is the author of “Studio Photography Anywhere” coming soon from Amherst Media.