Contracts and budget proposals. Obviously, you need them. My approach is to over-engineer them slightly-- I like them to be meaty but not so dense as to overwhelm the client. Most people won't read a five page proposal or contract and you want them to understand and have appropriate expectations; at the same time you don't want a document so brief that it appears poorly thought-out. I want my clients to feel like they basically understand it, but the technical aspects make them want to give over control to someone who knows what they're doing. Three times in the past year I've had my contracts "sent over to legal" for review, and I've never been asked to modify it. So I feel pretty confident that it passes muster.
My contracts always stay the same, but the budget proposal (which I sometime call the "Spec Sheet") is tailored to each job. It can be longer depending on the client and the size of the contract. It's supposed to lay out all of the details of the shoot so that we're all working from the same set of expectations. We've talked through most of the details by the time I write up the contract and proposal, but never count on them remembering what was said. Always write it into the contract.
A few bits, pieces, and golden rules:
- Never work without a contract
- Always require a retainer at signing
- Never call it a deposit (deposits should be returned if the job falls through)
Just found us? You can start at the beginning of the Going Pro Series here.