Because I was a poor student at the time, and of the “any-money-is-better-than-no-money” mentality, I took the job for $100. That’s how I ended up in a park, two hours away, shooting an anniversary portrait for the parents of a friend. It wasn’t until I was processing the film (yes, film) that I did the math. After paying for film and processing, the three enlargements I promised, my bus tickets there and back, and five hours of my life, I had made about $17.
I dislike dealing with money. I find it awkward and uncomfortable. One of the things that makes financial transactions easier for me is to have everything out in the open. There has been more than one occasion when I’ve been on the phone with a client, gotten flustered, and blurted out a price that was too low for fear of losing the job.
One way to keep things easy is to have standard rates for your services. (i.e. “A full day shoot costs $1200, a half-day is $700.”) You can modify your prices if you feel like it, but it gives you a set of numbers that you’re comfortable with. These rates should include the cost of any materials involved, travel, plus your time. Be sure your client knows what is included in that fee. (i.e. “For $500 you get two logo design options, one round of changes to whichever design you choose, and a hard copy of the final design on a disc.”) Standard rates mean you don’t have to make up a number on the spot, and you’re less likely to shoot yourself in the foot
You can also provide a quote for the job. A quote in advance means everyone knows what they’re getting into. Get as much relevant information about the job (is it a full day or half-day shoot? On location or in studio? Will you need to rent any equipment? How far will you have to travel?) and then tell the client you will prepare a quote. Work out the cost of the job, including your time and come up with a price.
The quote can be as simple as one line in an email (“I estimate the cost will be $450”), or as detailed as an itemized list. My quotes look similar to my invoices, with lines for different items, and their costs. The important thing is that both the cost and product/service are stated, in writing, and you and the client agree to the terms.
Even if you have standard rates, providing a quote in advance helps to protect you from haggling with clients after you’ve done the work. There’s nothing wrong with negotiating, but both the cost and the final product should be clear to both of you to make sure expectations are met. By preparing a quote in advance you can also make sure that the job is worth your while.
(Hint: if a two-hour transit ride is only going to net you $17, you might as well stay home).