To My Client: No Surprises

I recently received an RFP (Request for Proposal) from a potential client and the client included a criteria of “Complete listing of expenses (no surprise costs)!” I fully understand their need to include this statement. Some of the surprises aren’t completely the fault of the vendor.


First let me look at the client’s view. Very often, too often, when they send out an RFP to any vendor they get an estimate back that A) doesn’t include all of the information that is needed for them to make an informed decision. What they receive is a quote for the cost of the entire estimated job but no details on the breakdown of costs. For most large clients these details are needed for reporting as well as their ability to budget correctly. B) doesn’t include a capability statement that explains why a particular vendor is able to even complete the work.  How would the client know that Company X has knowledge of the job being bid? How do they know that the vendor has the resources to even deal with the scope of work? These details are crucial to their ability to do business and as a possible vendor it is my responsibility to provide them with as many details as possible so that if I do win the bid, that there is little or no stress about my ability to complete the requested work.

I don’t hold all the responsibility though. Many RFPs are vague and incomplete. Often the reason for that is the fact that the client wants to see my knowledge of the work proposed. That is understandable and acceptable. At the same time certain details are needed for me to understand the work required. A full scope of work as the client understands it, and/or a detailed explanation of the use of the product or services at the end of the project is huge help. With that detail I can chart the path from beginning to end and that should show the details the client needs to decide on a vendor.


Knowing where you want to be at the end of a project is crucial for both client and vendor. Knowing the need, use and benefit of any product or service helps the client get all that they need out of any vendor they choose to work with. Without it, it is like packing a bag and getting in your car knowing you want to go on vacation but not knowing where you are going.


Using a similar metaphor, if the client knows they want to go to Vermont to go skiing for vacation, as a vendor it is my responsibility to pack their skis. At the same time my client will get nowhere if I don’t put gas in the car too. It is my responsibility to know, plan for, and handle the details. By relating those details my client is able to see on paper that their vacation is exactly what they want planned, and they know that by including the details I am going to ensure they get to where they want to be.


So what if the client doesn’t include the needed information so that I can provide a complete and details response? Again that is where the responsibility is mine. It is my job as a professional to ask the right questions, to ask detailed questions and get the information I need to answer their questions. When I do that, my clients get the results they want and there are no surprises.


Send me an RFP for photography services and let me show you what I mean.

8 replies

    Michael – this is an EXCELLENT post, and quite worthy to be sent out to my meeting planner peers. Please consider joining the MiForum and MECO, and posting this, or allowing me to do it as a contribution to the list.
    We need to hear this on so many levels!
    If you want me to post, please send a copy w/o photos so I may post it in an e-mail, and of course, I will include a link to this site. KR

  2. Deirdre
    Deirdre says:

    I recently sent out an estimate and it was refused because my quote was too high. 2 locations with multiple rooms for a highly successful radiology practice that wanted to compete with the others in the area. I had no surprises in my quote either after the walk through. Oh well…..

  3. Jill Tarnoff
    Jill Tarnoff says:

    Yes, this is an excellent point. As a voice over artist I am frequently asked how long it will take me to finish a job. There is an increasing need to record narratives for web presentations. Many times the client has no experience with the broadcast world and innocently thinks a 5 minute recording takes 5 minutes. In fact, it takes about an hour. They are often surprised by that.
    You are right, it is my job to ask the right questions so my proposal contains no surprises. I need to ask questions about the number of pages and what is the font size and is the five minute presentation straight talk or are there pauses to show slides. These are the details that I need to know to provide an accurate RFP.

  4. Michael Stern
    Michael Stern says:


    I saw your post and appreciate its’ relevance. I’ve just been asked to produce a time-lapse over the course of 3-4 months. In an email I was asked to provide a quote. The second sentence in this reply is the only info I have so far received. I’ve set up a meeting at the location to meet and to ask many questions. My first one is..”what do you imagine having in your hands after the project is complete.” I’d also ask, “how do you see this project, as a stand alone time-lapse (60 seconds or so), or as part of a movie where although the time-lapse is important, it’s not the entire shebang.”

    Sometimes well-meaning clients don’t know they’re not asking enough questions nor providing enough background. This is where I shine. I get to go into sales mode and land the fish.

    See you on my show very soon!

  5. michael confer
    michael confer says:

    Well written and great points Michael. Thanks for sharing your insights and knowledge.

  6. Patrick Rogers
    Patrick Rogers says:

    Thanks for this post, Michael.

    I am still fairly new to the business, and have had some problems/frustrations with just this topic. I have been asked to bid on a few jobs, or have been asked what I charge with very little information, such as “I have two homes to shoot, and would like to do one in the morning, and one in the evening.” or “I have a project I would like documented soon, how much do you charge?” A few others were similarly worded. In each case, I say that it’s hard to give you an accurate estimate without more information, but my general day rate is X and my half day is Y. In a few of the cases, I did not hear back from them at all, and others I have gotten one line “no, thank you” responses. What am I doing wrong? Am I asking the wrong questions? I feel it necessary to include some sort of rate, because otherwise, I am not certain that they would respond without one, is that wrong?
    Anyway, thanks for the post!

  7. Michael
    Michael says:


    If you are talking to Real Estate agents they want houses shot for cheap and aren’t willing to give up part of their commissions for photography. Their market is tight and they are watching every penny. Do so investigation though. Make sure you are in the same range as your competition. If you are, stick to your guns.

  8. Joseph Krowles Jr
    Joseph Krowles Jr says:

    I’m a graphic designer and I find myself in this situation a lot. The bottom line is, most of the time you are dealing with people who are ignorant about your field. I don’t mean this as a put-down. They just don’t know what questions to ask, or what details to give you. It’s your job to ask the right questions before you bid, and if you don’t get the answers you need, build options into your quote that take into account different scenarios. If you don’t get the job because the client is scared of the “real numbers” involved, consider yourself lucky. The guy that won the job just won himself a headache.

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