Resolve

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Doug Menuez launched his personal blog, Go Fast, Don’t Crash, in March after receiving an overwhelming response to an article he wrote for Editorial Photographers about building a creatively satisfying life as a photographer. During his 28 years in the industry, Doug has achieved incredible success in the documentary and commercial realm, so we knew he would also have helpful insights into building a financially satisfying photography business — thus was born “Seeing Money.”
With a clear goal and strong business plan you can build your career to merge your personal vision with commerce, i.e. get paid to shoot what you love. These images are from a recent campaign Menuez shot in Dubai for Emirates Airlines. Menuez was commissioned to document the culture and people of Dubai for a month and the creative team pulled the ads from the edit. It was  a dream assignment, directly from his business plan. Photo Credit: Dubai for Emirates Airlines, ©2009 Doug Menuez/StocklandMartel

With a clear goal and strong business plan, you can get paid to shoot what you love -- like this dream campaign Menuez shot in Dubai for Emirates Airlines. He was commissioned to document the culture and people of Dubai for a month and the creative team pulled the ads from the edit. Dubai for Emirates Airlines, ©2009 Doug Menuez/StocklandMartel

When most photographers set up shop, they focus on becoming better photographers, naturally. Few photographers, however, develop even the most basic skills they need to run their own business. They hope to hang on long enough to be discovered before they sink under their own lack of knowledge. That’s like building an intricate jeweled house atop quicksand. (Look in the mirror, repeat after me: “You want fries with that?”)

The “get discovered” strategy implies that someone else will take responsibility for your own financial well-being. Ideally, we’d all be born independently wealthy, have our spouse deal with the money, or find the perfect business manager or agent who can do this for us. I’m here to tell you — snap out of that lovely fantasy! Not. Gonna. Happen. And even if, by the grace of the angels, it did, you would still need to learn the basics in order to participate in the decisions being made about your money. Even the best business managers need your help to help you succeed. You really don’t want to be one of those poor schmucks who got super successful but are now penniless because you trusted someone else to handle all your business decisions.

In my new column for RESOLVE, “Seeing Money,” I’ll be sharing what I learned the hard way about the business side of photography during nearly 30 years in the industry. I started as a fine-art student, moved into photojournalism, built a multimillion-dollar advertising studio with a staff of 15, then closed that monster and reconfigured with a minimal crew and low overhead. Along the way I made and lost fortunes.

I’ll be sharing what I learned the hard way about the business side of photography during nearly 30 years in the industry.

I never understood money; money was not my goal. I was — and am — all about making great images. But I learned to respect and understand that money has the power to support my most important work. I hope to help you realize the same thing by explaining what works, what mistakes to avoid, and how to recognize the ways our creative brains sometimes sabotage our own success — especially whenever it comes to managing money.

I am constantly trying to answer the difficult question, “How do you reconcile the conflict between art and commerce?” I give the long answer in my workshops. The short answer is, “Get paid to shoot what you love to shoot.” To achieve that, you have to build a solid foundation, step by step, to financial security.

Many photographers have a lot of fear around money; they think it will dilute their talent and corrupt their values, or they just can’t handle the math. I’ll provide pain-free financial management tips you can apply right away. OK, that statement was a lie — there is no such thing as pain-free financial management. But rest assured that my lessons will be less painful than if you did not learn these skills at all. Plus, you are benefiting from all the pain I’ve already gone through to get where I am today. Best of all, as you begin to learn and apply fundamental business lessons, you will find that you gain confidence and actually begin to enjoy the business part of your photography business.

In this “Seeing Money” column, I will discuss the steps you need to take right now to start (or save) your business. Check back soon if you wish you knew more (or didn’t realize you needed to know more) about:

  • basic bookkeeping
  • writing a business plan
  • getting an SBA loan and line of credit
  • working with an accountant
  • managing cash flow through accounts receivable/payable reports
  • insurance
  • legal issues
  • important business tools
Be Part of the RESOLUTION: Doug will cover these topics in future posts, but he is also eager to hear what questions you’d like him to answer. What do you wish you knew more about in regard to running a photography business?

The Foundry Photojournalism Workshop began in 2008 when Eric Beecroft, a teacher and photographer, discovered a blank spot in the array of workshops being offered to photojournalists — one that emerging and international shooters could afford. He and his team organized the first Foundry in Mexico City and got an impressive array of instructors to sign on, including Paula Bronstein, Stanley Green, Ron Haviv, and Stephanie Sinclair. We talked with Eric about this year’s workshop, in Manali, India, from July 26 to August 1, why it is important to include local photographers (South Asian shooters get a 50% discount) and how students can get the most out of the workshop — or any workshop, for that matter.
©Claudia Wiens, Courtesy Foundry Photojournalism Workshop

From Claudia Wiens' story on women wrestlers in Mexico, produced at last year's Foundry Workshop. ©Claudia Wiens, Courtesy Foundry Photojournalism Workshop

Miki Johnson: Tell me about how the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop started.

Eric Beecroft:
I was thinking a few years ago, I’d been doing photography for about seven years and I wanted to take a workshop. I looked around and there were some great ones, but they were all impossibly expensive, particularly for students. I’m also a teacher, and they were too expensive for teachers too. Then I wondered, how could a local photographer from Latin America or Asia take one of these workshops? They could never afford it. So I thought, let’s just put one on ourselves. I teach photography and history at a small high school where I lead a lot of international trips, so the organization wasn’t that hard.

What has been really amazing is that it wasn’t hard to find people to teach for free. I think instructors are drawn to the notion of doing a workshop for people who are passionate and who they normally wouldn’t reach. The students aren’t all young — last year they ranged from 16 to 65 — and they’re not all trying to be professional photographers, but they’re passionate.

Another of our original ideas was to bring a lot of instructors together for one workshop. Most workshops are several thousand dollars for just one instructor. By having a dozen or so, we can offer a range of classes, lower the cost, and, best of all, create a mini-community that is almost like a festival on top of the workshop.

By bringing together many instructors, we create a community — almost like a festival on top of the workshop.

It was really important to me to create a community where everybody is really accessible. I remember reading a blog by a student last year. She wrote, “I walked into the opening party, and I went, oh my word, there’s Andrea Bruce, there’s Stanley Green, there’s Ron Haviv, and they’re all sitting there just drinking a beer and talking like human beings.” There’s a lot of God factor in photojournalism, and we want to take that away. We want to remind students that photographers are just people.

One thing I’d tell students is, don’t come to the workshop with preconceived notions. And don’t be scared to talk to the instructors. They don’t want to give autographs; they don’t want to be on a pedestal. We start the workshop off with an opening party where everyone’s just hanging out. That always blow student’s mind. If they can get past being star struck, they have the opportunity to build relationships that will last long after the workshop.

This year is going to be even more intimate because we capped the number of students at 100. But slots are still assigned on a first come, first served basis. I want it to be open rather than something you have to apply to. I thought, if a photographer is at a level where they’re going to Eddie Adams or they’re getting chosen for World Press Master Class, then they’re already pretty advanced. There’s this intermediate ground where you’re a beginner or you’re intermediate, you’re coming along, maybe you’re a hobbyist. And there’s nothing out there for that level of photographer that’s affordable.

©Monte Swann

From Monte Swann's photo project on firefighters from Fenix Ave. in Mexico City. ©Monte Swann, Courtesy FPW

MJ: So what kind of schedule can a new student expect at the Foundry?

EB: You’re taking one intensive class that is six days long. There are several specific classes students can choose from, and the end goal is to show your work to everybody at the final Saturday night show. That might be an individual story or it might be a collaborative effort, like Stanley Green’s class last year that created an amazing group project called Blood on the Floor.

We tell all the students to research stories before they arrive. Bring pictures if they’ll help; get access if you need it. It’s really hard to show up cold-turkey without any story ideas. Some people do anyway, and we try to help them. But the most successful ones either arrive a couple days early, or they get online and do a lot of research to develop a well-honed idea.

I don’t know how they did this, but two women got access to the women’s prison in Mexico City last year. I could not fly from Mexico to the United States and say, I want to go to the prison, give me access. And we had other people riding around with the ambulance drivers.

We like students to think of the workshop as an international photo assignment. A lot of people have this dream of being an international photojournalist. So we say, okay, here’s your shot. Come in, internationally, and do a story. Some students say, well, if I was professional, I’d have a $5,000 budget, and I’d stay in a five-star hotel. We have photojournalists like Andrea Bruce, a staffer for the Washington Post, and  Mike Chavez for the L.A. Times, and they just stand up there on the panel and laugh. They tell the students, “I’m lost half the time. I don’t know what the heck’s going on. People won’t talk.”

Or the students will say, “You’re Ron Haviv, people never say no to you. Ron says, “Are you kidding me? People say no to me all the time.” It’s so important for aspiring photojournalists to see the reality versus their ideas of glamor. You know, we’ve ruined a few photographers. People have said afterward, I don’t want to do this.

It’s important for aspiring photojournalists to see the reality of working internationally.

But if you’re serious about becoming an international photographer, the Foundry can be like a halfway house. We’re here to help you with the first steps. Student who haven’t traveled, or they’re scared of travel, or they’re scared of shooting internationally — this can bring them to the next level.

As an example, last year some of the students struggled with story ideas. They came in wanting to shoot things like the president of Mexico. You can’t just show up one day and get that kind of access. So we said, let’s ask around. We met a man from Syria who was an orthodox monk stationed at a Catholic monastery in Mexico, because I think they’re running out of monks. He wasn’t even Catholic; he was Eastern Orthodox. It’s a great story. And he let four students stay at the monastery and document their lives. They ended up producing a great piece from that.

©Kirsten Luce, Courtesy FPW

Kristen Luce profiled a clown workshop in Xochimilco, south of Mexico City. ©Kirsten Luce, Courtesy FPW

MJ: Why was it important for you to bring in a significant number of local photography students?

EB: This year we’ve got a lot of South Asian photographers coming, and last year we had quite a few Latin American photographers come — that’s what we want. We want them to get access to inspiration, to communities, to slideshows, to classes they normally wouldn’t get. And we also want non-local photographers to learn from the local ones. We tell all students, bring business cards, share them around. I know the connections students made at last year’s workshop haven’t stayed online. People have made friends. People have started dating. There’s kind of a huge web of people now.

We also wanted to help photographers understand what it’s like to work in an area, South Asia this year. We have panels with different photographers and points of view. So if someone is thinking about becoming a stringer there, they can find out what it’s like to work there, what challenges they might face.

We’ll also have one night where we show only work by South Asian photographers, where we try to get them some exposure that they wouldn’t normally get. We had a lot of good things come out of that last year. One amazing photographer ended up getting work with some major agencies, because of meeting people, networking, and showing his work at the workshop.

Then we had a couple young Turkish photographers in their early to mid 20s. They’re amazingly talented, so I won’t say the Foundry made all the difference, but since then, one is shooting for the Wall Street Journal, others are freelancing for the New York Times. One is in Afghanistan right now. They’ve met a lot of people and they’re jump starting their careers.

The International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP) has thought outside the box since Cristina Mittermeier and several other top conservation photographers founded it in 2005. Membership in the league is by invitation only and its photographers have found innovative ways to create tangible change on conservation issues, as with their Rapid Assessment Visual Expeditions (RAVEs), where a handful of photographers tackle a specific issue to produce multimedia content and raise awareness. Trevor Frost joined the ILCP staff in March as the RAVE director, and has also helped expand the organization’s use of social media as a publicity and community-building tool. Recognizing that fewer funds would be flowing to the non-profit during this economic downturn, the ILCP has embraced tools like blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to further their cause for small amounts of cash — a lesson that photographers of all kinds can learn from.
©Barry Goldwater, courtesy ILCP

An image from the ILCP Borderlands RAVE. ©Krista Schlyer

Miki Johnson: How did ILCP decide it wanted to focus more on social media like Facebook and Twitter, as well as online community building?

Trevor Frost: As a young photographer and explorer, I’ve had to spend many hours networking to get to where I am now. So when I joined ILCP as the Director of Rapid Assessment Visual Expeditions, I thought it would be great to make a online avenue for others like me to meet and work with the accomplished photographers, scientists, and explorers that make up our organization.

ILCP already does a good job at facilitating communication between members, especially our emerging league and experienced fellows. But ILCP members have little communication with others who aspire to be photographers or conservationists, yet are not quite skilled enough photographically to be a member of the ILCP. By providing a social media platform for this communication, we can link less experienced photographers, explorers, and scientists with members of our group who are very experienced. This will help support new talent, create a community beyond membership in the ILCP, broaden the reach of ILCP, and, we hope, lead to higher conservation achievements.

©Janos, courtesy ILCP

From the ILCP Borderlands RAVE. ©Krista Schlyer

MJ: What online tools is ILCP utilizing to extend its communication?

TF: ILCP is focusing on Twitter and our new online magazine/blog to generate a community and to catalyze connections between conservationists, scientists, and photographers. With the online magazine/blog we hope to create a digital outlet that photographers will want to be published in, something they want to put on their resume. We also hope it becomes a platform for communication and critique, and offers a place to publish stories that have been rejected by traditional media.

On Twitter we are starting off by posting links to websites and news stories that feature ILCP or its photographers, affiliates, and partner organizations. Eventually we will expand this to include a wide range of interesting conservation topics. People only want to follow Twitterers with the most interesting updates.

One major goal of all of this is to drive increased traffic to our websites and multimedia pieces, which help disseminate conservation messages. The increased web traffic should also help us forge new relationships with corporate partners by offering an opportunity for brand exposure. At this point ILCP’s involvement in social media is in its infancy. Aside from our followers and fans increasing on Twitter and Facebook, we have not seen direct benefits yet. We do, however, expect to see benefits over the course of the next year.

©Ian Shive, courtesy ILCP

From the ILCP Borderlands RAVE. ©Ian Shive

MJ: Why did ILCP decide to focus its resources on social media and online tools?

TF: When people ask how they can help non-profits they almost always hear: Please donate. This is frustrating. People want to get their hands dirty. Many of the most successful conservation projects involve citizen science and participation. When people have a chance to work along side well-known scientists or photographers it, makes them VERY excited about the subject and, I believe, it motivates them to become more involved, including donating money.

ILCP membership is based heavily on one skill — the ability to produce stunning images. Thus the ILCP can seem elitist. We realize there are many photographers who take brilliant images and work very hard on conservation who are not quite to the standard of ILCP, but who could still benefit from working with ILCP in some way. Using social media, we can create an extended ILCP community without actually extending membership.

We hope that this will help our followers grow as photographers and conservationists, so at some point they can join ILCP as a member. This also fosters communication, moderated by ILCP, between emerging photographers and the extremely talented members of the ILCP. All of this empowers conservation. The bigger the army, the better!

MJ: Have ILCP members embraced this new social media initiative?

TF: I don’t have any concrete numbers or names but in the last two months I have noticed, especially on Twitter, more of our members tweeting. Even some of members with more years under their belts.

There are certainly a few of our members who are quite skilled with social media tools. Not surprisingly, most of them are our younger members or emerging members. A few names that come to mind are Chris Linder and Ian Shive. Both have helped ILCP produce the first Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition blog (Borderlands RAVE) in addition to a few other projects.

There are two upcoming Rapid Assessment Visual Expeditions (RAVE): one to the Flathead basin in British Columbia in July 2009 and one to the Yucatan Peninsula in September 2009. Stay tuned for a RAVE website with field dispatches, the ability to track expedition members, and live photos and video.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: How have you used social media to lower your publicity and communication expenses? What online communities are you part of and how involved in them do you feel?

Food and advertising photographer Michael Lamotte created his own postproduction studio, GreenBox, a year and a half ago. Here he outlines the pros and cons of different postproduction strategies, including starting your own postproduction studio. Don’t miss his last post explaining how he built GreenBox and distinguished it from other studios.
© GreenBox Imaging

A composite image taken by Michael, with postproduction by GreenBox. The main images in the composite are below. © Michael Lamotte

The way it used to be for commercial photographers was, once we shot the film, it was given to the agency and we never saw it again. It was very rare that you were involved at all in any of the postproduction. Which was fine sometimes, but sometimes the end result was different than the original intent. Now, because of the advances in technology, there has a niche has developed between photography and pre-press.

Instead of pre-press doing all the postproduction, today the photographer does postproduction on their own, or they hand it off to someone like GreenBox to do the work before it’s passed on to pre-press. One-way to look at it is: The budget is out there for retouching on every job, regardless of who does it. There’s nothing that doesn’t get touched by Photoshop these days. The question is, who is going to get paid to do that postproduction work?

If photographers want to do their own retouching, it’s a good skill to develop and I think it’s good to retain control up to the very last minute. But that only works if you’ve got the time and the deadline fits your schedule. When you get really busy, you end up thinking to yourself, “I’ve already shot this and sold it to the client; I want to do the retouching, but I don’t have the time to because I’ve got another shoot the next day.” And inevitably everyone wants everything delivered immediately, so you get to a point where you realize there is only so much you can handle. I’ve also heard stories about agencies getting burned by photographers who want to do their own retouching but are not really technically skilled with Photoshop and pre-press requirements. They deliver the file and then the agency has to source it out for someone else to fix.

Another option would be for the photographer to hire a freelancer, so the files can be worked on the next day while the photographer is shooting another job. That’s a possibility too. But again, then you’re relying on the availability of the freelancer. Typically if you find someone who understands what you want and how you like it, then you’re much more dependent on that person. If you call them up and say, “I need you to do this tomorrow,” and they’re booked for the next three days, then you might have to go to someone else whom you’ve never worked with before.

The third option is to have someone on staff full-time to do retouching, but then you have to be shooting enough to support that. Having someone in-house to do retouching is a great option for a photographer because the Photoshop work is a good second revenue stream, if you can find additional clients who only want retouching services.

The ebbs and flows for a postproduction studio run along the same lines as those for a photography studio. But when you’re a photographer specializing in a certain area, that’s the only source of income coming in, as opposed to this model with GreenBox, where we could be drawing from several sources. So even now when a lot of people are really slow, there’s always somebody working — and they need retouching services. That way you can becomes less dependent on just one circle of income.

If you’re going to start your own postproduction studio, it’s good to have a focus, an area that you specialize in, just as you should as a photographer. I’ve always felt that, if I were a client and I looked at someone’s portfolio and they had some fashion, they had some still life, they had some landscape, even if they’re all good, I really don’t have a clear picture of what they love, where their passion lies. But then I might interview someone else and they only have food — well it becomes obvious that person really likes doing food photography. And if I needed food photography done, I think I’d want to go to that person instead of someone who says, well, yeah, I do food photography too. And that directly translates to what we do at GreenBox Imaging.

No matter how photographers do it, I think it’s important that they always include retouching as a separate line item — I cannot stress this enough. Because no matter what you do with digital files, it takes time to process them and prepare them to be handed over to the client. Even simple processing, renaming, and organizing your images without any retouching can take some time. The big danger is if photographers include processing and retouching in their photography fee, clients start to think, why should I pay extra for it, it’s included. Just like anything else in business, it’s always a good idea to have it called out as separate charge, even if you’re doing it yourself.

Pricing for retouching can be all over the place, but it generally runs from $150 to $300 an hour from a postproduction house. In my experience, that is what agencies and design firms typically budget for retouching and postproduction services as part of a project. We try to look at it on a per-project basis and quote it that way, but in general if you go somewhere with your files, that’s the range that’s out there.

The client explains what they want and you try to estimate how many hours it will take as closely as possible. Sometimes that’s very difficult to do; you never know what’s going to happen down the line during the postproduction process. Maybe the designer goes through the image and gets it the way they want it and only then it gets passed on to the client. The client may say, “That looks great,” or they may have a bunch of changes, and those are the things that are unpredictable. All you can do is estimate as close as possible; then when we get to that point where we start running out of time, we notify the client and say, we have this much time left. The request you just sent is going to push us over, or it’s within the budget but anything after that we’ll need more hours added on. That’s all you can do, to keep the client informed of where they are money-wise and time-wise, and in the long run it only makes you more respectable as a postproduction studio.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: How are you handling retouching and postproduction? Do you find that it’s a helpful second revenue stream or just a burden on your time?

Valenda Campbell, Senior Photo Editor for CARE, worked with renowned documentary photographer Phil Borges to create Women Empowered, an exhibition and book that highlight the importance of empowering women in indigenous communities — something Phil has long advocated and CARE has increasingly focused on. In this post Valenda explains how they convinced CARE to take on such a large project and how it helped the organization reach brand new audiences. Check out our earlier discussions about creating clear goals that help photographers and NGOs create the most useful images possible.
Rufo, 7, spends her day collecting water and firewood, hearding goats, and helping her mother cook. Her mother can afford education for only one of her seven children, so every morning Rufo accompanies her sister Loco to the school, says good-bye, and then returns home to her daily chores.

Rufo, 7. Her mother can afford education for only one of her seven children, so every morning Rufo accompanies her sister Loco to the school, says good-bye, and then returns home to her daily chores. ©Phil Borges, courtesy CARE

Miki Johnson: Tell me about how the Women Empowered book and exhibition was conceived. Was that a new thing for CARE to do a whole project around a photo project?

Valenda Campbell: It was definitely a learning experience for me. I had put together some exhibits before but this was my first time working on a book. Having published many books before, Phil came into it knowing what he wanted to produce. I let Phil know right up front that I’d never worked a book, but I was looking forward to learning a lot from him and that I’d do my best to keep up. CARE hadn’t done anything like this since I had been here. We had published A Gift from America back in 1996 about CARE’s 50th anniversary, but that mostly involved pulling materials from the archives.

At one point photographer Fred Housel was shooting quite a bit for CARE and some larger exhibit projects came from that partnership. So between that and the Connections photo exhibit, which I led in 2004, CARE had some limited experience with large exhibits. But since I had been with CARE we just hadn’t had the right opportunity or any specific clarity to justify a book and traveling exhibition.

When things started falling into place with Phil, we saw a lot of potential for the awareness it could raise around issues of women’s empowerment and CARE’s poverty-fighting work. But it was a bit of a hard sell because I had a pretty ambitious list of what we wanted to accomplish and what it was going to cost –- not to mention a lot of people would have to spend significant time helping us pull it together. Taking on a project like this is an organizational commitment that impacts everyone from the photo library, to finance, to the country office staff in the field.

It was also a hard sell because people don’t always appreciate the influence of social documentary photography. Everyone enjoys the creative products of projects like this, but they may not quite appreciate the impact, the number of supporters behind it, and the variety of networks that are created and plugged into it. I explained how Phil’s book and exhibition would reach a lot of people through new venues while also providing high-quality material for our regular venues.

Committing to this type of high-level project is a tough call because it’s not easy to illustrate how this channel, through a lot of dotted lines and connections, will get us to our target audiences. In the end, though, there was enough potential there to get started and see how it went. Then when the project started coming together, everyone thought it was great and were very excited.

MJ: What have been the lasting results from Phil’s Women Empowered project?

VC: The Women Empowered book and exhibition have allowed us to reach new audiences. There’s the audience of photography enthusiasts in general, the professional photography networks, photo collectors, and the arts community — it’s so widespread. Like the magazine you worked for [American Photo, which included Phil in its “Heroes of Photography” issue]. Everybody who is a photo enthusiast gets that magazine at one point or another. Also, coverage in Photo District News is a great avenue to reach out to the photojournalist and documentary side of photography, which helped us connect with resources and support. In these ways, Phil’s work has also made other photographers aware of what we’re doing and it helps us recruit a higher caliber of potential photographers to work with.

I may be biased, but I would say that Phil has been one of the most valuable communications relationships we’ve built in recent history. Everyone who has had his wonderful material available to them has been thrilled with the opportunities it inspires, the doors that it opens, and the conversations that it starts. Because Phil is a photographer who is pretty worldly and well-traveled, he has a lot of insight into examining indigenous cultures and telling those stories — he’s seen so much first hand. It’s also good to have a man’s perspective included in this women-focused communications platform that CARE has adopted. Ultimately it adds a lot of credibility to CARE that he’s so committed and passionate about helping tell the stories behind CARE’s work. It means a lot having somebody of his stature, experience, and talent make that kind of commitment to supporting our work and our mission.

One thing that’s interesting about this project is that we went into it with the specific understanding that this was not going to be a CARE project — his was going to be a Phil Borges project. It was going to have his look and it was going to be a message that he was bringing by telling these stories through the eyes of CARE’s work. We didn’t want it to be an overtly CARE piece and have people think we were trying to sell or solicit something. For instance, on Amazon.com I don’t think people are searching for books under CARE, they’re searching for Phil Borges. When the book stores are adding titles to their inventory or when we exhibited Women Empowered at the U.N., it has Phil’s name, his look, his brand, his stamp on it. Yet he’s telling CARE’s stories by sharing what he saw when he visited our projects. This way it’s a message about women’s empowerment, not a message about CARE. So even if somebody decides to throw their support behind behind another organization that empowers women in developing countries, whether it’s through CARE or not, it’s a win — because we were able to get someone engaged in those issues.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: How have you been able to convince NGOs to take on larger projects? What lasting benefits have you seen of relationships between photographers and NGOs?

Are you keeping an eye on your bottom line? ©LaCour Photo

Are you keeping an eye on your bottom line? ©LaCour

Many of my favorite photographers have built successful careers on being excellent observers. Their images are powerful because they watch, anticipate, and press the shutter at the decisive moment.

But being a keen observer of people is not enough. To succeed in the business of photography, you must employ a careful combination of observation skills. You must be an excellent observer of people AND business. To succeed, you must watch your business –- know it inside and out. As John D. Rockefeller said, “Everything that is watched improves.”

Rockefeller knew exactly how much it cost to extract, refine, and deliver a barrel of oil. He was fully aware of all his costs. Knowing this information –- and acting on it –- gave him a competitive advantage. He knew how to price a barrel of oil to turn a profit.

As a result, he implemented cost savings measures like manufacturing his own barrels and starting his own transport company. By carefully observing the data that mattered, Rockefeller made Standard Oil wildly successful.

The success of your photography business also depends on your observations. Are you watching each area of revenue and cost? What things are you tracking? What systems do you have in place to help you measure and manage your business’s success? Here are three areas that you should be observing particularly carefully.

1. Calculate Your Profitability

  • First, create a price list of all your “items” (individual products and services you offer) and calculate profit margins for each item. By understanding profit margin, you will ensure that you’re making money on everything you sell.
  • An item’s profit margin is based on “Cost of Goods Sold” (COGS). In order to calculate the total profit margin on packages/proposals you create for clients, identify a COGS for each item on your price list.
  • COGS for an item is calculated as the total direct expenses incurred in the production of a good, including the cost of materials used to make that good and the cost of labor to produce it. COGS does not include indirect expenses, like marketing, accounting, and shipping.
  • Knowing the COGS will help you determine which products and packages are turning a profit. Subtract an item’s COGS from its sales revenue to determine the gross profit it earns.
  • Net profit is the difference between COGS and indirect expenses from sales revenue.

2. Identify and Track Referrals

  • Referrals are the lifeblood of many photography businesses, especially wedding. In a good economy, fostering strong referral sources is the most effective growth strategy. In a bad economy, it’s critical.
  • If you don’t know where your profitable referrals are coming from, you’re wasting time and money. For example, let’s say five colleagues in your community are responsible for referring 60 percent of last quarter’s business. Don’t you want to treat those referral sources differently than the florist down the road who hasn’t referred anyone? Tracking your referral sources allows you to invest valuable marketing resources into the right people and groups that will give you new business.
  • Tracking referrals is a detailed process — one that requires organization and automation to be effective. You can use simple Excel spreadsheets to track referral sources and leads. There is also more sophisticated studio management software available. The good news is that both options can be cost-effective for even the smallest studio.

3. Create a Marketing Strategy and Track Your Success

  • Marketing can seem daunting at times, but even a simple marketing strategy can have a beneficial impact on your business. Here are a few things that most successful businesses strategies have in common.
  • First, a contact database. The importance of maintaining an organized contact database can’t be stressed enough. It may sound like a basic tactic, but trying to grow your business without a contact database is like trying to drive a car without an engine. If you want to grow your current relationships and develop new ones, you must keep track of communications with every client, referral source, partner, and prospect with whom you interact.
  • Second is email marketing. Email communication is the name of the game these days. And with the help of your growing contact database, you can easily reach thousands of prospective clients with a single key stroke. Keep your contacts up to date on events, new services, awards, specials, and other important information with emails. That way, you will already be on their mind when they are seeking photography services.
  • Finally, make sure to track your database efforts. Some automated solutions allow you to track the read and response rate for email blasts through easy-to-read reports. Whichever way you decide, be sure to regularly review your efforts to understand what’s helping you drive revenue and what’s not.
Be Part of the RESOLUTION: What strategies do you have to observe these areas of your business? Are there other areas you have found it particularly important to observe?

March 17th, 2009

No more advance checks, says Omnicom

Posted by Lou Lesko

In a move that could portend worse to come for advertising photography, Omnicom Group , the world’s largest advertising agency holding company, is tightening its belt. The huge corporation has chosen to enforce its sequential liability language, which states that ad agencies acting as agents for their clients are not liable for production payment unless they’ve been paid by their client. That means the Acme Ad Agency, representing Tropicana Orange Juice does not have to pay me, the photographer, until they receive money from Tropicana. If I don’t agree to those terms, then I can take a hike.

The move is seen as a measure to mitigate debt exposure to advertising clients like GM who are on tenuous financial footing. What this means for photographers is, if you work with an Omnicom agency, you will no longer be getting an advance check to produce the job. Adding insult to injury, Omnicom agencies are going to ask photographers to sign a contract that states they don’t have to pay the photographer for 65 to 70 days after the completion of the shoot, and that’s only if they’ve been paid by the client.

Sequential liability has been part of ad agency contracts for two decades, but it was meant to protect the agency from getting left holding the bill with large media buys if the client went out of business. At the production level, the sequential liability language was formerly removed or ignored.

Swiftest to respond to this action were the commercial production houses. Project budgets to produce a television spot run into the millions of dollars. Without the ability get a 50% advance on the budget, the production houses would have to secure massive credit lines that just aren’t available in the current economic climate. Photographers are going to have an even more difficult time because their financial resources are not as extensive as a commercial production company.

Yet all may not be lost. Last week, in the United Kingdom an industry backlash about the practice resulted in Omnicom UK suspending the sequential liability rules after engaging in talks with the Advertising Producers Association.

The question is, what’s going to happen here? Will photographers protest and force Omnicom to reconsider? Could you operate without getting an advance check? What are photographers’ options?

*UPDATE*
I spoke to Pat Sloan from Omnicom who said “There has been no policy change, we have reminded agencies of what the policy is.”  As I mentioned previously this policy is to protect Omnicom from being exposed to debt liability should a company that one of their agencies is representing not pay their bill.  Amy Rivera from DDB LA wrote me saying that “We have great clients that pay the advance every time and it is still our practice to secure advances.”

Communication is the best policy here. Ask, if there is going to be an advance available.  Read up on the financial solvency of the client.  Have a very clear understanding about how much production debt you can carry and for how long.  As Tricia Scott pointed out “There aren’t too many photographers who can upfront this type of money (and shouldn’t!). Imagine 3 jobs happening at the same time, upfronting it all.”

Don’t miss posts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 from SAS Becker about deciding when to transition to full-time shooting, how to budget for it, how to remarket yourself, and much more.
©SAS Becker

©SAS Becker

5. What might a weekly schedule might look like for a full-time wedding photographer?

In the perfect world, I would shoot three days a week, edit for two, schmooze for one, and do nothing else. Okay, realistically for a portrait/wedding shooter, one could hope to shoot for 3-4 days a week, mostly weekends. Do editing and post production during the traditional work day. Arrange to go out to at least one business-contact meeting a week outside of your client meetings. Make check-in calls to clients at night.

Business growth and development can happen in your off season; January and February are traditionally slow months if you are on the East Coast. You’ll need to plan your personal time off in advance. It is so important to keep up on the more mundane tasks when you are slower because (hopefully) you won’t have much time to prepare during your busy season. One of the hardest things I have found being self employed is that after a very productive shoot I feel like I deserve a vacation. Well, guess again… that’s when you should be planning for the next one. Which isn’t such a bad thing after all, when you love what you do.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: How do you budget your time? Do you set aside one day a week to follow up with clients or work on marketing?

In “Going from weekend wedding…3” SAS explains how to get in the right mindset for full-time shooting. Check back next week for “5“: How to market your news business.
A wedding image by SAS Becker. © SAS Becker

A wedding image by SAS Becker. © SAS Becker

Q: What are the biggest up-front costs a photographer will need to budget for to make the transition to shooting weddings full time?

A: The obvious one is gear. As a professional you need at least two of everything and a wide selection of lenses. You wouldn’t really show up to a wedding with just one camera, would you? One thing that surprised me was the wear and tear on my gear. My previous years as a stock and editorial shooter didn’t require the shutter activations I am seeing in my wedding work. My first year, with more than 40 weddings, I sent in three speedlights and one body for repair. Your website, identity, and branding are also going to be a big expense starting out. Don’t forget promotional pieces and print costs for your studio or portfolio.

There is a lot of trial and error that goes into deciding how best to spend your hard-earned dollars. My first several weddings I promised my brides the world, then I had to deliver expensive albums that ate into my profit. Now I prefer to get most of my profit up front in the form of a creative fee instead of marking my albums way up — especially because not every client is interested in a traditional album.

Workshops and conferences are a great way to brush up your skills and learn from other photographers’ experiences. Some provide great information while others are pointless. I think their real value comes in networking. All in all it is helpful to speak to as many pros as possible to see what worked and didn’t work for them and to adapt their advice to your current situation.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: What workshops and conferences are worth the time and money? Do you have any tips for how to get the most out of them?

Don’t miss Jasmine’s other informative posts: “When is the right time to approach a rep?” and “How to have a productive meeting with a rep.”
Party Kids at Tube and Ron Toms in Portland, October 3, 2008

Michael Rubenstein's "Party Kids in Portland, October 3, 2008," an image from Redux's upcoming American Youth book*, published by Contrasto and due out in May 2009. © Michael Rubenstein

Most agent fees are either 75/25 or 70/30.  As far as I know, they don’t vary by level of photography or industry.

At Redux: Assignment fees are split 70/30, stock sales are split 50/50. Photographers being represented  can expect the agency to send out their portfolios, target clients, design, print, and mail regular promotions, help edit your portfolio and website, submit bills to clients and collect payment from them, give an advance if needed, set up meetings for you, pitch story ideas to clients, work on ways to build your portfolio, split expenses 70/30 on mailing/promotion and stories for portfolio use and resale. Photographers considering an agency should ask if the above are done for them, when they will get paid, how often their books go out, and to whom. Same goes for promo pieces.

We do one big agency promotion per year at Redux, which is usually a promo piece featuring the best photography of the last year and that we expect buyers to keep. We also send out individual photographers’ promo pieces throughout the year, usually once a quarter. We also do a monthly Redux email newsletter that goes out to clients. That email includes information on special photographer whereabouts, new feature stories, notable tear sheets, upcoming Redux events, and photographer exhibitions.

Photographers who license stock through Redux can expect that we are packaging and pitching relevant work during newsworthy events, keywording and captioning their work for optimal searching, syndicating their work overseas through a network of experienced and trustworthy international agencies, and making sure their work is available for licensing as soon as it is off embargo.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: Do you have other questions about reps you’ve always wanted answered? Leave them in the comments and we’ll ask Jasmine to address them in upcoming posts.

* Click here for more images from the America Youth book.

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