Chris Parker | Emmy Winning Media Designer

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Dr Strange Client or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Clients – PART II

Dr Strangelove

Okay here we are again in part II of my series detailing the sometimes rocky yet very necessary relationship between the multi-media freelancer and their clients.  In part I, we discussed how to deal with creative differences between the client and producer. Click here to check it out! In part II, I am going to tackle probably the most sensitive and taboo of all client-vendor topics…  Dramatic drum roll, please. … The Budget!

How much a project is going to cost is almost always a sore spot for clients and vendors alike.  The client is always looking for the most cost-effective solutions while the vendor…?  Well it may surprise some of you readers, but he is looking for the exact same thing, to save money.

Falling money

How can this be you ask yourself.  Vendors are always looking to drive up the cost to increase their profit, aren’t they?  In short they are definitely NOT doing that.  You see, producers respect their client’s budget and will try to be as competitively priced as possible.  They themselves are business people and understand the value of the dollar.

Competition among producers is tough and in today’s economy a streamlined and cost-effective budget will win out more times than not.  Multi-media producers understand this reality all to well and will do all in their power to shrink and keep expenses low, including eating some of their time and resources if it means a happy client and future business.

As long as the producers meet client expectations within the set budget parameters then the client, and in turn the producer, will be happy.

Problems arise when the client’s budget doesn’t match his vision.  Clients, as with everyone else, are inundated with hundreds or even thousands of messages from the web and TV everyday.  And most of these messages are from the top echelon of companies with the resources to create high-end ‘Hollywood blockbuster’ like productions.  These productions are what clients want and expect for their projects. Many clients fail to understand the time and resources that go into even the simplest of productions.

It is the job of the producer to educate his clients on what can be done for the dollars at hand.  And let me tell you, this is not always easy.

Again clients expect ‘Hollywood’ and unless they are willing to shell out the cash they are not going to get it.  Case in point, a local furniture storeowner wants you to shoot a commercial for local TV, cable and web. His budget is about $1,000 for production of a 30 second TV spot. You agree to do the ad and schedule a time for the shoot.

So you show up on the day of the shoot with your gear, an intern and a four-hour shooting block.  During the shoot the client seems very happy with your efforts.  You finish up, go back to your edit suite and with a four-hour editing block you put together his commercial.

The next day the client shows up and you play his commercial on your brand new HD flat screen monitor.  After the viewing the client likes what he saw, but expected ‘more’.

Oops, sounds like an unhappy client to me.

The client goes on to say he wanted a nice dramatic crane shot of the store exterior with customers filing in and out.  He wanted nice close-ups of the furniture with a slow dolly.  And for the Pièce de résistance he wanted his logo to be a 3D element that animates in at the beginning and end of the spot.

Okay, so you choke back your bewilderment and tell him that his budget doesn’t even come close to what he wants.  Now it’s the client’s turn to choke back his bewilderment.

What went wrong?  Surely the client knew what to expect, didn’t he?

What the producer failed to do was educate the client in terms of what his budget could and couldn’t do.  After a client sets his budget, you should immediately start asking questions and informing him how much time and resources you can allot.  No work on the project should even begin until the client and producer understand the budget parameters and goals of the project.

You don’t need to be a miser either, just let him know the logistics.  Ask him about the kind of shots he’s looking for and what kind of logo treatment or post-production FX he is expecting.  It is this pre-production that is so important to either making or breaking a budget.

If he let’s you know he wants a crane shot or a 3D logo treatment, then you must inform him how his budget doesn’t fit those parameters.  If he is vague about what he’s looking for and just leaves it up to you, then let him know what you can and are willing to do for his budget. The goal here is to take away any surprises. You may even consider showing him some examples of different budgeted projects to give him an idea of what it takes.

Now there are some clients that let you create the budget while giving you free reign.  Now this may sound great and all, but it goes without saying that a well controlled budget will make the client happier than an over-inflated one.

Now let’s say the client sets the budget, but still wants a ‘Hollywood’ ending, even after you’ve explained all the logistics to him.  Well, in this case it’s simple.  Tell him that you can’t, or even better WON’T do his project for that money. I mean, let’s face it you are in this to make money.  If your client doesn’t understand this or respects this then you both need to move on.  There’s nothing worse for you, or your business and your family then losing money and time to a project.

Fortunately, this situation rarely happens.  Most clients understand and will listen to your input.  Taking the time to sit with your client and involve him in the process will make even the leanest of budgets a more profitable one.

Whether it’s for video, design or web, just remember this old adage when it comes to budgeting a project.

“You get what you pay for.”

Next time I’ll be discussing ways to create a high end project without breaking the bank.

(A modestly budgeted video with a high end concept)

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