Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Where my time goes as a full-time Pro Photographer

I have seen some pie charts lately on forums and blogs about how much time a professional photographer spends doing different things to run their business.  I thought about what I am doing and believe this is pretty close to what I do in the chart above.

In some ways I see some of these overlapping and not as clean delineations. For example I see blogging as much a part of "Marketing" and "Learning/Workshops" as something totally independent for the others. 

Stanley shooting an assignment. (photo by: Knolan Benfield)
Shooting

I may actually shoot even less than 10% of the time, but this is close.  When I first started doing this full-time I was lucky if this were even 1%.

When I was on staff I shot a little more percentage wise, but even as a staff photographer there were a lot of other responsibilities.

Even when I look at my time doing what many consider what a photographer does it is broken down into different parts.

I may shoot for a day with a client and then have to spend a full day or more ingesting the images, culling the take, editing the picks, converting them from RAW to JPEGs and then delivering the images. Often after booking the job and before I show up there are a lot of pre-production things you need to be involved in. You need to charge batteries, sometimes scout the location, line up assistants, talk the the client to coordinate and many other things to be sure the shoot is a success.

Estimates

When someone has contacted you for a photo shoot one of the first things is collecting all the information you can to encapsulate the clients expectations. After you have all this information you are going to need to prepare an estimate.

I write down all the hard costs that I can think of for the project. I think of all the time I will need to complete the project.  This is figured on how long it could take and not on if everything goes well. I try to under promise and over deliver.

After I know the costs of the project and what time I have involved I then start my estimates with the Cost-of-doing-business.  These are all the costs to just have your doors open for business that you must spread over all your jobs to recover.

After adding all this together I then compare this to what is the going rate.  While I could do a job for $1,000 why would you price it at this when the going rate is more like $5,000?  On the same note, if the going rate is $1,000 and my figure is $5,000 this has to somehow be justified.

The last part of writing an estimate is putting myself in the place of the client and creating the verbiage that will help them understand the bottom line and why I am the best for the job.

Book Keeping

I spend a lot of time invoicing, tracking my expenses, following up on outstanding bills, getting 1099 forms from assistants, providing 1099 information to clients and the list goes on and on.

I have bills, healthcare and taxes to pay. Knowing the IRS can call you in and want to see your books will cause you to spend time doing this or paying someone to do it for you.

Stanley teaching. (by Dennis Fahringer)

Educating Clients

I am often spending time helping clients understand why a certain treatment will help them achieve their goal. Sometimes I am having to put together examples of my work for other clients or from my portfolio to help them see what I am proposing.

In this industry seeing is believing and talking is cheap. 

Sometimes I have to find contrasting examples to make my points.

Often clients do not really know what they want and you are problem solving and proposing possibilities in order to get them to tell you if you are on the right track or not.

The best scenario is for the client to invite you into the process before they are making the decision to use a photographer. I do this for many of my clients.

Surprising to me I have found myself talking myself out of shooting a job because that wasn't the best thing for the client.

Portfolio Development

I really think you need to go and work on your own personal projects to create the material to show to clients and attract clients to what you enjoy doing the most.

What you often find is that clients may not hire you to do what you are showing, but hire you because you are showing them it. They may want to do something like what you want to do and because they feel good about your work will hire you to shoot other things in hopes that by bringing you in they might somehow get their bosses to see your portfolio pieces and want to do it as well.

Learning/Workshops

This really overlaps with Portfolio Development. I must keep current with the latest gear, software and techniques to see what things I can do to improve what I am doing now or even to do new things all together.

I enjoy being inspired by other people's work and then I also need hands on workshop time with some of the new software.

Blogging

Today you need to interact with your audience as much as possible. People hire the last guy they can remember.

Blogging helps me be in front of clients and potential clients.

Blogging also helps to differentiate you from others.

This is like how a series of photos will help you more than one photograph. Every one has at least one photo in them that could win awards, but consistently showing a variety of work shows you can deliver all the time.

The way blogging helps differentiate you is showing your expertise. When it comes down to it people are hiring you as a problem solver more than a photographer. Talking about how you solved a problem and then showing the images demonstrates your problem solving ability. Showing a portfolio of images shows you make pretty pictures.

Marketing

If people just would call me and I was booked for the rest of my life then I wouldn't have to do marketing.

No matter what business you are in you have to find those clients who want to hire you.

I think in many ways photography is more difficult to market than food, healthcare or housing. Photography to a certain extent more of a luxury than a necessity. If it were a necessity then you are marketing to everyone and then just trying to explain why to pick you over another grocery store.

Most people own cameras and will most likely take their own photos to use before they take the next step of hiring a photographer.  Getting people to want to hire you over them doing it themselves requires you to prove your value.

Even if you were selling widgets the numbers would be similar.  For every 1,000 companies you contact only about 100 of them will be impressed enough to take a second look at you.

Of those 100 companies that think they are interested only 10 will hire you for the job.

In this business of photography very few of those 10 that hired you will hire you again repeatedly.

If you are a wedding photographer your hope for the client is they only hire you once to shoot their wedding.

Unless your client has an ongoing need for photography like supplying a website with fresh material or a publication you will only be hire occasionally by them. 

A very successful corporate photographer will shoot maybe 100 days a year. If 8 of those 10 clients hire you only 1 time a year and the other 2 hire you maybe 3 times a year you will start to see the reason why you spend a lot of time marketing.

10 Clients who hire you 3 days a year = 30 Days
+ 70 Clients who hire you 1 day a year = 70 Days
Total of 100 Days

There is no formula except that you will spend a lot of time finding people to hire you.