Friday, May 29, 2015

Business advice

A couple of weeks ago I gave a talk to first year photography students at James Cook University. It was a really fun couple of hours where I got to talk a little about my niche area of photography as well as answer lots of questions.

I spoke quite a bit about the business of photography, mainly because I believe that the technical side of our art is pretty easy to get a handle on. Practice, practice and more practice. Check your results, learn from your mistakes and constantly improve. It takes time but the overriding concept is pretty simple.

The business side of things is different though. There are many photographers out there nowadays running (attempting to run?) their own business, that really have no business being in business in the first place. I believe the market helps sort out the photographic wanna-bes from the truly gifted artists. Produce enough crappy work and you'll soon get a reputation that will make it hard to get new customers.

Being bad at the business side of things doesn't work that way unfortunately. You can continue working at a loss until your savings run out, and even then people will be happy to pay you peanuts for your hard work.

I told the students to think of their business as an exclusive club. Not everybody gets in. We can only afford to work with the people who can afford us. If you ring a plumber and he quotes you $80 for a job you're not gonna offer him $40. Or if you do you'll get hung up on pretty quickly. Yet photographers seem to like acquiescing to these requests for cheap work at the drop of a hat. One student even raised that eternal fear that if they quoted a price that the client didn't agree to, that client would find another photographer.

Let them! Let somebody else make a loss on that job whilst you bust a hump to find clients who like and respect what you do, and are willing to pay good money for it. If you can afford your own rates chances are you're not charging enough!

Know and understand the value of your work to your customer. What is their return on investment? How much money do they stand to make when they use your fantastic photographs to help them increase their bottom line? That is what you need to be thinking about. Not how much time it takes you to take the photos. Not how many megapickles your camera has. The client doesn't care. They want to know how much money they will make. Hiring a photographer isn't a cost, it's an investment. They want to see a return on that investment. The more money they stand to make the more money you can charge.

So don't be afraid to say no. Be prepared to explain your rates and fees. Explain it in language that a business owner will understand. Show them how much money they stand to make by using high quality photography, and how much they stand to lose by using crappy imagery. Your job is to convince them that you can provide photographs that will have value far beyond and above what it will cost them in assignment fees.

So what are those fees? That is the 64 million dollar question isn't it? And it varies from person to person, country to country, region to region. You need to first of all know your lowest possible number. The figure below which if you dip you'll make a loss. That's no-go territory. Once you know that then, let's be honest, it's a free market. Your job is to get as much money as you can whilst your client's job is to get it for as cheaply as they can. Somewhere in the middle you will come to an agreement. The larger your overheads (including your salary) the higher that fee will be. Don't forget to include a profit for the business so that you can upgrade equipment etc and things will go smoothly.

The main point is to know what you need to charge to make the amount of money you deem necessary and refuse to work for anyone who can't afford it. Let them go to another photographer with either lower overhead, lesser lifestyle expectations or no idea of how to stay in business for the long term.