How to bid on jobs as a young photographer

Getting hired as a photographer is tough, no doubt. Just getting people to take you seriously is hard enough, and getting people to pay you what you're worth is even harder. As photographers, and artists in general, we're sometimes expected to "bid" on jobs. In this post I'll go through a few tips on how to maximize your pay and how to get a client to choose you over anyone else. 

First off, what's a bid? When a client wants to hire a photographer for a photoshoot, often they'll contact several similar photographers and ask them individually to give them a quote for the job. The client will then pick the estimate and photographer that they feel is appropriate for the job. 

This process is intimidating and difficult for a lot of reasons. Often you're given very little information about the shoot, so giving an accurate estimate can be tough. You may overestimate or underestimate the parameters of the shoot, and end up losing the job because you overbid or worse, you get the job but end up not having enough money to pull it off. You also don't know who you're up against most times. You could be counter-bidding against anyone, and that unknown factor can be intimidating. 

So now for the good news. I have some tips on how to get through this process unscathed. I'm no expert by any means, but I've won several bids this month, and I'd like to break down how I did that, and share it with you. 

1. Open a line of transparent communication. Like I said above, often you're not given a ton of info about the shoot. You may only be given the date, the clients name and a very vague description of what needs done. For example: "We need photos for our artists' upcoming EP." Don't settle for just that bit of information. Ask for more details. Tell them that you want to quote them as accurately as possible, and give them the best estimate you can, and in order to do that you need more info. 

2. Be willing to negotiate. A lot of times a client has a very inflexible budget, and if you just throw out a number that's over that dollar amount, even if only by a few hundred dollars, you could lose the job and never hear from them again. Tell them up front that you understand that they are on a budget, and that you are willing to talk more about the costs and see if you can work around some things. This may sound like its going to lose you money, and they might take advantage of you. But if you understand what you're worth, you'll know just how much you can wiggle on money. Which brings me to my next point.

3. Know your worth. You can't quote a job if you don't know exactly what your photography is worth. This process is complicated, but I'll give you the broad strokes. Tally up all your expenses for the month. Rent, insurance, food and gas. Then take that number and figure out what you need to make hourly to meet your expenses each month. From there, mark up your rough "hourly rate" to a figure you feel comfortable with charging, so you can have some extra money each month. Take your hourly rate and put it into a "day rate". A full day is 10 hours. Your day rate should reflect a number that will sustain you based on your average days worked a month vs. your expenses and overhead. 

4. Know your market. Your specific genre of photography, along with your city/state are going to dictate your rates heavily. An advertising or healthcare photographer is going to be bidding WAY more on jobs than a wedding photographer because the parameters of the job are much more intensive. Likewise, a wedding photographer in the midwest might be bidding much lower on jobs than a photographer in Los Angeles. As gently as you can, find these things out. Find out what your peers are charging. But don't step on anyones toes, and don't make people feel like you're threatening their business. 

5. Lay on that charm. This goes without saying in pretty much every business. Be someone that the client wants to work with. Be professional, nice, charming, and know your stuff. I intentionally overbid on a job last week after a string of emails back and forth with the client. Not by much, mind you, but by the time I sent my bid, I knew I had an upper hand in the negotiation process. The first email I was sent was cold and tactical. "we need a bid, please send us an estimate and we'll take you into consideration." By the fourth email the conversation was different. "We're gonna fight for your bid." The client seemed much more willing to get MY bid approved through the chain of command. I accomplished this by opening that transparent line of communication, and being a real human being, rather than just a number on a spreadsheet. (I ended up getting that job).

6. Don't get discouraged. You're going to lose a lot of jobs. You're going to THINK you are going to win a bid, and end up losing it. There's so many reasons you can lose out on a gig, and they're not all about money. The fact of the matter is, we're in an oversaturated industry. There's so many talented photographers out there. Being good isn't enough anymore. Offer the client something no one else can, be someone people want to work with, and be confident.