7 minute read

How to Work with Clients

You've learned the skills, you've streamlined the workflow, and you've created an appealing portfolio. To close this series, Ab Sesay outlines how to deliver a positive on-set experience

To be successful, you need more than a great portfolio. Just as important are tight plans for your projects, and people skills to encourage clients to work with you again. They can all be learned, and it’s those business aspects we’ll look at here. Get it right, people will keep coming back. Get it wrong, you’ll lose business and have to work harder.

In this final chapter, we’ll examine how to win jobs, delivering for a client, and making sure everyone has a positive experience on-set. Using some of the sessions in previous chapters as examples, we’ll explain the different stages of pitching for work, how much you should charge, keeping everything on track, and creating a comfortable and productive environment. Let’s dive in.

Perfect Your Pitch

Tendering begins with you supplying a brief to the client. Essentially, there are two types. A focus on creativity, and what ideas you can bring to the process; and showing your reaction to a more specific need. In either case, you’re trying to entice the client, so keep the brief short, pictorial, and punchy. Don’t bore them.

In the first type, you’re interpreting a client’s idea, so it’s more freeform. This is typical for creative advertising or editorial jobs. The client provides top-line information, which is your starting point. Impress them with your ideas and show you can raise the bar. Explain plans visually with examples from your portfolio, or gathered examples – a bit like the mood board from Chapter 1. You might, as in Chapter 9’s sports brand project, go with themes of color playing off the product. From there, you can include examples of models you’d use, locations, and lighting styles.

The second type of pitch is led by specific requirements. You take the client’s needs and show you can deliver. This is the kind of brief you’d prepare for Chapter 8’s ecommerce project. You can include previous work in the same style, the models and location, the lighting, hair and makeup ideas, etc. All of which are based on completing the project in the most efficient and effective way possible.

Prepare a Statement of Work

The brief hooks the client in aesthetically. The Statement of Work gives them the structure. The brief is the menu, but the SoW is the recipe. It shows the client how you’re going to go about the project, and exactly what you’ll deliver. These deliverables are really important for both parties. A lot of business can be done in a more relaxed and verbal way, but in doing so there’s no room to protect yourself as a photographer. This should eliminate doubt and any misunderstanding about what you will and won’t be doing.

I see an SoW as an informal contract, but just like the brief, it shouldn’t put the client off. Keep it to a single page or it looks like a contract – and no one is going to read that! I break mine down into the following headings.

The overall description of the job, and its themes.

Scope of Work
This digs down further, detailing my broad responsibilities in fulfilling the objective, including things like hours or days being charged for, the location, casting of models, hiring a crew, enlisting hair and makeup, post-production, and delivery. It also defines areas the client will be responsible for, such as wardrobe styling.

Even more forensic. I set out the type and number of images that I’ll supply, as well as the agreed number of retouched images and level of editing to be completed. This is important, as retouching can take far longer than the actual photography if left unchecked. Inexperienced clients might see you make 300 images and expect every photo to be retouched, but if they’re not paying for that time, you’ll lose out.

‘Usage’ specifies how the images can be distributed. Sometimes full rights may be transferred, but that should be reflected in the billing. Usage rights can be outlined in timescale and purpose. I might specify two years for online use, and one year for point of sale, but non-paid-for social media can be used in perpetuity. The grade of client affects usage, too. For a local business advertising in the paper, I’m not going to charge usage. But a global pharmaceutical company will need to pay up if they want to use images outside of an agreed framework.

This should be realistic, based on what you’ve planned, or you may end up disappointing. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver than the opposite. Establish dates for pre-production, including face-to-face meetings, session dates, delivery of unprocessed images, a shortlist returned by the client, and finally the completed images.

This can include any clauses for usage or deliverables outside the agreed figure. Add a fully itemized breakdown of costs on a separate spreadsheet, so you don’t clutter the SoW.

Woman holding small handbag

Photo 2022 © Ab Sesay | FUJIFILM GFX100S and FUJINON GF110mmF2 R LM WR, 1/125 sec at F11, ISO 100

What to Charge

How much you charge could be a chapter in itself. To simplify, apart from the costs and expenses you bill on a project, ask yourself how much you need to bring in on a daily or monthly basis, and what you need to live and grow your business. From there, you can build a quote.

Look at your market, and the client. What can they handle? You might find you can charge a decent day rate, but some clients would rather save money using third-party retouching services.

Some commercial clients have the expectation of paying a lot. If a company has a media buyer, or they’re spending a million dollars in advertising per year, then they should be paying more than a client taking an ad in a local newspaper. Bigger firms will be well aware of standard industry rates for services like hair and makeup.

A Refined Treatment

Once a client accepts the SoW and budget, you can move to a refined treatment. This takes the brief and adds more specificity. We paint an even clearer picture and refine the look, so everyone – from the client to any other vendors – is on the same page. The purpose is to eliminate any surprises on-set.

I make sure the client sees the exact model, so they won’t say ‘oh, I thought we were using someone else’. The same goes for location. If the brief suggested ‘an old factory’, in the refined treatment I’ll include the exact place. I’ll also specify wardrobe, hair, and makeup – whether I’m sourcing it, or if it’s being supplied by the client. I’ll show more detailed examples of the lighting, with illustrations if we’ve managed an interim test session.

Plan a Pre-production Meeting

A final pre-production meeting is a huge help. It will eradicate any final surprises, and ensure the client has fully digested the refined treatment. After all, they might have only skim-read it, or be running multiple projects you don’t know about – or have been drafted in a week ago.

Be prepared to field last-minute questions and requests. It’s better you’re hearing them now. A client might want a specific camera, like GFX100, so they can pull vertical and horizontal images from the same files. Or, they might suddenly want to have the model’s hair blowing, in which case you need to add a fan to the rental budget. Basically, at this last stage of planning, it’s your job to be in full control. The thing I like to tell people is: ‘It doesn’t matter what’s said, it matters what’s understood.’

Photo 2022 © Ab Sesay

Have a Great Time On-set

Just a little bit more effort will see you over the finish line in style, so make sure the client has a great experience. It will pay off. If one photographer sends a car service to pick up the client, and another takes them to the studio on the handlebars of their bike, which do you think they’re going to hire next time?

The real-world example of that is an air-conditioned studio versus someone working out of their garage. Try to use an area that’s large enough to stop you tripping over each other, make sure Wi-Fi is available, and set them up a comfortable place to sit or work. If you’re photographing tethered, rig their monitor up, so they can look at images on the fly. Put on refreshments, with an easily accessible bathroom.

Pay the same attention to your talent, so everyone is comfortable. If there’s an area for hair and makeup, it needs to have good lighting… and power. And if the model is going to be changing, they’ll require privacy. All of this really speaks to the usefulness of assistants, who’ll take some of the organizational load, letting you work on the creative side.

We hope you’ve learned a lot from this 12-chapter course. It’ll be here whenever you need advice or inspiration. And if you want to learn something new, check out all the other brilliant articles on FUJIFILM Exposure Center here.

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