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How to Bid on a Project

Bidding tips by Andrea Stern 

Bidding a project correctly is one of the most crucial parts of getting awarded a job. The way you bid CAN ultimately get you in or cause you to lose the job. As much as every bid depends on the situation, there are also some standards and rules that you can educate yourself about and utilize to your benefit.

Here are some tips to help you become an even more successful bidder.

1: Creative Fees + Usage:

Trust me, always have a signed estimate that clearly describes the bid's basis and the licensed usage. Be sure all costs are agreed upon before beginning the job.

The bidding horror stories I’ve heard have mostly been about the client not understanding the estimate. I know it's all done in a rush, and communication is limited sometimes, but it is our responsibility to spell out what our numbers cover and don't cover.

I use the top of the estimate for this and call it “description”. Always define the amount of shots and what they are. Is retouching included? How many hours is crew covered for? Who is supplying the products, and how far outside of your city does the bid cover for travel?

Remember to define the shot list and if it’s a library shoot, or how the bid does not include variations, added shots, or different angles. Mostly, this section is how you protect yourself. I like to incorporate the usage into the creative fee (or day rate), so if the shot list changes, it’s easier to negotiate added fees. Usage is a large topic, and the truth is that we often need to educate our clients about it to protect our rights. The more educational backup you can use to quote or copy and paste, the better.

Utilize all of your supportive resources, like APA, to help you put license agreements together and to help explain usage to your clients.

A great line I like to use after the usage is: image rights granted with full payment. One of the most forgotten topics on a bid is overtime. Make sure it is clear on your estimate that the shoot day is covered for the standard 10-hour day; anything over that will incur overtime of rate/hour + ½ for the crew. If you expect a job to be over 10 hours, either mention it in the description or pre-emptively add the overtime to your estimate. This is one part of the bid I would even repeat and say directly in the email when sending in the bid.

As you can see, I keep using the words “bid” and “estimate”. It does make sense legally that a bid is an absolute amount you would be paid, and an estimate is the approximate amount. Even though that makes total sense I’ve never seen that happen. That is why I use those words interchangeably.

If you feel you would do better if you had help with your bid, hire the right person, like a Rep, producer, or consultant. So many of us enjoy this type of negotiation. It could be well worth that commission fee if getting help will ultimately leave you with a much larger rate than you would have gotten on your own.


Clients can't usually give you numbers, you have to throw tnumbers out thers for them to bring you up or down. 

Everyone has their own style of negotiation. If negotiating is not your strong suite, I always recommend hiring someone who can help. If you cannot afford to hire someone, here are some helpful hints that have helped me over the years. Great negotiating is about instinct and intuition and while I do believe some people have a negotiating gene in them, I also think it’s a skill that can be cultivated.

  • Tip #1: Clients are usually not comfortable revealing their budget so it’s easier if you say a range of numbers to get more of a sense of what they have. That “range” of numbers has been my favorite negotiating tool. It seems easier for clients to respond to a range v.s. an amount.

Always start with a higher amount and hope they say you are too high. You don’t want to be too low.

  • Tip #2: The best tool I can suggest is to listen. Get a sense of the person you are negotiating with and use that to guide you how to respond.

Use questions about the details of the job to get a sense of each client. Find out as many specifics about their past jobs so you can tell the type of production quality they are used to. Have your list of keyword topics, like dig tech, retouching, location scout, permitting, catering, motorhome ready to go to help you dig more info out of your client. Really listen. I have found that people want to tell us a lot more inside information than we give them the time or opportunity to reveal.

#3: On Advances, Expenses + Payment:

Always get a 50% advance for a photoshoot 

Congrats! Once you have official approval that you were awarded a job, it’s now time to get your advance invoice in for half of the total. (The advance percentage does change depending on the client).

To get this advance invoice in, you need to have their purchase order (PO) # on your invoice or at least have a signed estimate. As soon as that happens you can officially begin to start spending money; officially booking crew, renting gear, permitting locations, etc.

Be careful though, you know there are a lot of scams out there. If this is not for a major advertising agency or a client you know, wait until you have been wired the advance invoice and it clears at the bank before you spend ANY money for a job.

The advance can be used to pay any talent or crew that needs immediate payment and all the other costs you need covered right away.

If any changes occur before or during the shoot you need to request an “overage” (send in an overage estimate) and when that is approved you can spend more $. Do not go over this total which you’ve been approved for, or you will not be able to charge for it.

Invoicing for an advertising job after it is finished requires backing up all receipts. This should be done correctly, and I recommend getting a producer’s help and/or a bookkeeper who knows the business. Expect to be paid 30 – 60 days after the client receives your final invoice.

#4 CREATIVITY: (in all ways and all places, even *bidding*!)

Think outside the box

Before you say “no it’s not possible” think creatively. I always approach our business with the attitude that if a door closes, I find the window.

Just like a good producer responds with options in a tough scenario, be your own innovative producer.

Sometimes bids come in last minute, the parameters are challenging, and maybe the budget is tight- but if you want the job - do whatever it takes to trim costs by trying something new. Are there any alternatives or opportunities to bring certain costs down to meet a client’s budget?

Getting creative seems to be my response for all that is happening in our business right now. The entire industry is changing, so go with the flow of it and find your way. New ideas are needed right now so be that professional that finds new ways to offer solutions. Stay young in your thinking. Don’t let years of experience slow down your career. Of course, use your experience wisely, but don’t let what you’ve done in the past limit or define you. Step outside your own thinking sometimes and see where you have created a box and where it no longer serves you. Think young.

If you are in this business, that means you are creative, so step up and be creative.

Bidding by Andrea Stern of SternRep |

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