Thursday, April 23, 2009

How to hire a photographer AND get the price you need! Part 2

In part one of this article I discussed relationship building with your photographer to maximize your return on investment and get the professional job that you and your client deserve. What I’d like to discuss today is specific ways that you can get the most bang for your buck when hiring a photographer and how to negotiate a win-win with your chosen photographer.

There are many things that determine a photographer’s fee. Among them include overhead, experience, specialization, reputation, and demand. These items are for the most part locked if you are dealing with a pro that knows their worth. And I would suggest you ONLY dealing with these photographers, because awarding assignments purely on price is bound to come back and bite you down the line. An exceptional pro brings much more to a shoot than just camera. He should be your partner and be involved in your clients brand and desire to make both of you look at good as possible for as long as possible.

So you have determined the photographer you want to use, but one small problem...they want more money than what is in your budget. Don’t hang up the phone yet or trash your estimate. You have chosen the photographer because you feel comfortable in their approach and secure that they are professional enough to bring you home a great job. It’s worth a few more e-mails, calls, or eye batting before ( works sometimes!) before you give up and start your search all over.

Usually the place in the estimate that can be adjusted is the fee that is based upon the client use of the photos. Insisting on owning the copyright to all the photos is going to be justifiably expensive, and most likely the place where it will be easiest to bring the price down and still meet your needs without anyone being worse for wear. You should license ONLY the rights needed for your client’s immediate needs. If your client isn’t going to be running airport kiosk ads in Malaysia, you shouldn’t be asking for unlimited world wide use because the fee is going to reflect all the possibilities of those uses.

Instead do this: License what your immediate needs will be. Then get the photographer to let you know what the additional reuse license will cost for “someday” uses. Get it in writing. If the time ever comes (and it rarely does) where your client needs to use them for something you weren’t aware of when negotiating, there will be no surprises. You can ask your photographer when doing your estimate to list a menu of pricing. What I do on almost all estimates where the client isn’t sure of all the uses for the photos is to give a menu of fee pricing ranging from exactly what they want (which is usually unlimited rights) and then a couple of other options that are less expensive, but only list the rights I think the client REALLY needs. Since I am fairly liberal in the bundling of uses my photos can be used for, the price is almost always reduced to the client’s satisfaction. Also, be sure to voice any concerns about exclusive use and the photographer using out takes of your shoot for stock, self-promotion, and fine art showings. These are issues that are very important to photographers and there are very easy ways to negotiate to make sure your client is protected, but yet the photographer can use his work to build more business. Whenever severe limits are placed on the photographer’s ability to use his work as self-promotion you can be pretty sure it is going to cost you more money. The ability to show what we have done in the past is very important for securing business in the future, similar to a creative firm showing a website, reel, or portfolio with completed jobs to land new accounts.

Another way of getting your cost reduced is to pay the photographer. As in...NOW. The production costs that it takes to do the job are going to be billed to the client. So for the sake of everyone, why not consider a cash advance on all expenses instead of paying an additional necessary markup on those expenses when a photographer has to wait 30 or more days to get paid?

Cash advances are the life blood of any studio. It allows the photographer to finance YOUR job and to spend more time creating and less time wondering how he’s going to do the job without maxing out his credit cards, line of credit, etc. As a location photographer, I have heavy travel expenses. When I get cash advances for my estimated production and travel costs, I bill everything at my cost with no markups. This is good for saving anywhere from 20-25% on travel costs that will need to be paid for sooner or later anyway. Sooner will help keep more money in the client’s pocket and your photographer and crew happy. Consider paying your photographer C.O.D.

Photo fees need to be adjusted by savy photographers if they know it will be a long time before seeing their invoice get paid. You’d be surprised at how many photographers would be happy to knock something off their fee if they knew they weren’t going to be waiting 30-90 days(or even more...) to get paid. Doing this also builds trust which is the cornerstone to a long term relationship with your vendor. If you are worried about YOUR cash flow suffering if you use this practice, then you should probably be more aggressive in getting advances from YOUR client.

Cash flow can be an ugly house of cards, and it only takes one party to make the house weak. If you cannot find the will to ask your client for an advance, than at least give the photographer the option to bill your client direct for services rendered. Sure... maybe you wont’ get the markup on the photo fee, but you will have the opportunity to save your client some money and it will help the photographer knowing that predictable payment cycles help his/her cash flow planning.

Here are a few more ways to entice the photographer to lower his fee and/or save money:

If you are using stock along with assigned photos, try to incorporate the assigned photographer stock library instead of automatically calling a stock agency. If the shooter knows they can make some money with additional licensing of their library images, then they just might be happy to come down a little on their assignment fee. You also get the added advantage of a more unified look to the project by using the vision of one instead of several photographers.

Offer the photographer additional manpower for things like cleaning, unpacking boxes of merchandise, prepping clothing, packing merchandise to be shipped back to client, etc. Bottom line:
Someone has to do this, and often it’s cheaper to have company people do this instead of an expensive photographer or skilled photo assistants or stylists.

Offer to let the photographer design a promo on the end of an odd sized press sheet that is just blank when your client’s project runs. You aren't paying anymore for the paper or ink, and that space could be very valuable to the photographer.

Feel free to offer your client’s product or services as a part barter for the job. Depending on what is offered, it could have more value to the photographer than your client and the cost to client could be minimal. I once bartered a stock photo license for a magazine cover in exchange for a little cash and a 4 day trip to St. Marteens. It was a travel magazine that had unused press junkets falling out of desks, and I was more than happy to go there and shoot some stock and practice my horribly bad French.

Allow your photographer to book through your corporate travel office. Often the deals are better with the buying power of a corporation compared to a small business. Again you can save a lot of money of a project by letting the photographer go directly through your agency and billing direct. One word of caution however...Let the photographer see and OK the travel arrangements before finalizing plans. Corporate travel agents are very effective getting a person with a brief case on a flight, but not so much with a photographer traveling with 500 pounds of lighting gear and a crew with additional gear, props, etc. An experienced location shooter will need input or the travel is sure to be a disaster.

I hope these tips have helped. I realize some of them seem pretty basic, but in these times it is good to be reminded of how we can all save and still create for our clients and our souls! I’d love to hear of ways you have saved and welcome your comments, advice, and tips!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hiring a Photographer (and keeping your hair)-Part One

The economy is a bear. Your client is demanding more and wanting to spend less. Cash flow seems to be headed in only one direction, and unfortunately, it’s not the direction you need it to be flowing. Now, more than ever, having strong relationships with your vendors is important to the reputation of your work and for getting the job done with a minimum amount of stress and maximum amount of creativity.

Don’t be fooled...though everyone is going through some tough times,better times are sure to follow and you will be remembered for your creative problem solving when the money becomes available again and the purse strings are loosened. Short change your client now, when it seems that “good enough” is the flavor of the day, and you could find yourself outside looking in down the road.

As a professional photographer, I’d like to offer a little advice on the best way to procure your photographer and create a win-win relationship that will last. Here are some thoughts...

Try treating your photographer as a partner, not a vendor. You will find that professionals like to be involved and be aware of the very REAL obstacles you face. We can offer solutions to problems, but need to be aware of the full story. Transparency in your business dealings with your shooter will go a long way in getting the most bang for your buck. Sure you can find a cheaper shooter. In fact...if you look long and hard enough you probably wouldn’t have too much trouble getting the shooter to pay YOU to shoot your job. I don’t recommend this, but be my guest....Just be sure to have an understanding banker, client, and cardiologist on stand by, because you are guaranteed to need them.  An experienced pro brings value to your assignment and should never be considered a liability or unnecessary expense. If they are, you need to keep shopping.

Hire the photographer who is suited for the assignment. Not someone whom you know will give you the price you want. When an assignment is matched correctly to the proper photographer, you will be amazed at the loops shooters will jump through to work with you.
Some of the loops, involve the cost to produce the assignment. If you have a budget it, share it. Instead of milking every last drop out of the budget, do a great job and then get more follow up work from your client who has fallen in love with your talent to bring home a creative job, solve problems, and stay within budget. Pros build their reputations with tomorrow in mind and do not rely on a “get what you can today” attitude. Make the photographer aware of the money on the table and let him/her figure out how to produce/shoot/deliver for what there is to work with. It is possible that you will find your concept is simply too expensive to produce. If so, great...It’s better to find out before hand than to be halfway through an poorly produced job that LOOKS like there was no money available to shoot it. The old saying: “KISS”-Keep It Simple Stupid says it all.

Hiring the right photographer means using shooters who have extra talent in the area you are looking for. It seems obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had calls to estimate jobs for food, still life, and hospital work, none of which are to be found in my portfolio! I wonder what the person on the other end of the phone line is thinking?  We all know that for every job, there are 100 competent photographers to shoot it, and within that number probably ten photographers will knock the assignment out of the park! Again, stick to a specialized photographer, and you’ll reap the rewards of a great job and someone who is EXCITED to be working with you. we’ve narrowed down who you should be calling. Now what?

First, don’t assume a photographer costs too much for the job or will be booked. This is a very crazy business and we WANT to work. We do not enjoy telling you that you can’t afford us or that you should have called 4 months ago to get on our calendar. Now sometimes we MIGHT have to tell you that, but believe me we HATE doing it.  When phoning, start with some niceties.Telling us what your name is, your company, and position is the considerate thing to do instead of starting the conversation off saying, “What is your day rate?”. You are looking for expertise, experience, equipment, and enthusiasm. You are NOT buying a pound of peaches. We also appreciate knowing where you heard of us because we like to thank people who referred us and we also like knowing how are hard earned marketing dollars are working.

A brief description of the job you have in mind, time frame it needs to be completed in, and who the client is helps us determine if we should get more info from you or perhaps refer you to someone who might be better suited for the job. Time is valuable and we do not want to waste yours nor waste our own. If there seems to be a connection, then the job can be discussed further. Preferably by meeting or phone supplemented by an emailed shot list and/or layout. Without a shot list, or at least a concept, it will be impossible for the photographer to provide an accurate cost estimate. What you don’t want is someone blurting out, “I’ll do the job for x-dollars” before they even hear all the details. My advice is to RUN from this photographer, because they are setting themselves and YOU up for problems down the line. Estimating photo shoots is an art in itself, you will know how experienced and professional the photographer is just by looking at the estimate he/she provides. And by the way, don’t just look at the last number at the bottom of the page. All of the stuff that comes before and after that number is important. It shows you how well the photographer has thought through your job and can show an approach that you might not have thought of.

In any event, the estimate should be thought of as a starting point, open for discussion and an excellent opportunity to reevaluate your concept and the logistics of doing a professional shoot. If you have a problem with ANY part of the estimate, you MUST bring it to the attention of the photographer or rep. Don’t wait till after the job begins or even after the job is completed to start asking questions that needed to be asked before the job was awarded. Good photographers don’t like surprises when it comes to business and you shouldn’t either.

Stay tuned to my next blog entry where I’ll discuss specific ways to save money on your photography project and bring home an amazing job for your client.  As always, I encourage your comments, questions, suggestions, or topics you’d like me to cover!

Stay focused...