“What do you charge for…”

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Five scary words to a lot of photographers. There is so much of US wrapped into those five words. I think they may be the scariest words we self employed folks ever hear.

Although it is exactly what we want to hear… someone wants to hire us. All that marketing paid off. The emails, promos, tweets, status updates, pins, instagrams, and tumblr posts worked!!!

We have someone who actually wants to hire us… or do they? Maybe they are from our competition trying to weasel out our price points? Perhaps they are looking for someone to bid higher than their buddy so they can use our higher rate as a justification to hire their buddy? Maybe they are really some sort of corporate spy bent on destroying my business because of something I have no idea I ever did?

Actually no… they just want to know what it costs.

What if I am too high? What if I am too low? What if I don’t really know how to do what they want? What if they want something I cannot do? What if I fail to deliver? Do they have an army of attorneys waiting in the wings to sue me into oblivion at the slightest amount of sensor dust?

Do they have a goon squad?

“Go away or I’ll call the goon squad.”
“I’m on the goon squad.”
“You are the goon squad!”

As I like to point out… “It costs what it costs”. Now we have to discuss what it costs with someone who may or may not want to pay what it costs, and we have to be clear to ourselves and them on why it costs what it costs.

Relax… take a breath. Think about what you say next.

Because it can be very, very important… as it can become the ‘base’ of all that comes afterwards. It can become a touchpoint, and as such can hinder all attempts at negotiations.

Perhaps someone says “How much do you charge to do headshots?” You quickly respond with, “well, headshots are usually $200.”

You have just created your top rate. All negotiations will be focused on lowering that rate, and you simply tossed it out as a reference.

Now the client smiles… “That’s great”, he says, “I need a headshot of me in my office in Denver. When can you come up and do it?”

Remember that $200 you tossed out there… now it has to be changed. And the client is going to resist that change, as they have already gotten the touchpoint figure of $200 in their head.

Yes, of course it is a stretch story… all examples are stretch stories in order to make a point clearly. Most of the time the differences are more subtle, and the client expectations more nuanced.

Or not.

What if the guy was asking you how much for a headshot, and you blurt out $200 and he does a quick calculation that to do the entire office staff of 30 people it would be $6000 and that is a grand over budget. So he thanks you and hangs up.

You had no idea he was talking about 30 people. Surely that would have been a better ‘per shot’ price for most of us.

When we give a price, we usually base that price as our highest point in the mind of the client. What we want to do is ‘base’ that price as the lowest point. This gives us more room to negotiate as needed.

NOTE:

“My rates for heashots are $200.” Bad… it creates a base high point.
“My rates for headshots start at $200.” Better… it creates a base low point.
“My rates for headshots can vary according to the job, but they start at around $200. What are the specifics of your job?” Best… this one creates a base rate that then requires more feedback from the client. We call that dialog and it is very good for establishing relationships.

Number three takes care of establishing a price point by noting that they START at $200, and we indicate that there is room for negotiation based on the facts of the job.

Beware of being vague.

“How much do you charge for a headshot?”

“How much you wanna spend?”
“What is your budget?”
“I dunno, what do you have in mind?”

Vague means you don’t know, and are making it up as you go along.
(HINT… yeah, many of us do just that on occasion… shhhh…).

That neither instills confidence or trust, and we get down to negotiation stance before we even know what we are negotiating for.

I suggest for single off jobs you have an established “starting at” rate, and go from there to the inquiry of the specifics. If you have let them know that you are open to making considerations for possible special circumstances, and that you are also able to charge more for the work, you have a bit more of a platform to stand on when discussing the rates.

For larger jobs with lots of moving parts, it is ALWAYS better to get the specs for the job before even mentioning an number which could become a touchpoint for the client. They asked off the top of their head and you gave them a specific number… done. No… don’t do that.

Is there a time when it is OK to ask what their budget is?

Yes… once the negotiation has begun. Once the figures have been established as real, and fluid if necessary, you can then ask if there is some way to work within their budget.

But be careful not to give the farm away. That will not help you establish yourself as anyone of consequence in this or any business.

Bid:
Headshots for 20 people.
Shoot fee: $170 per person.
MUA/: $75 per person
Stylist: $50 per person
Digital Tech: $550 for the day
Assistant: $500 for the day
Travel to location: $200 for the day
Gear Rental: $200 for the day

Client comes back and says you are a bit over their budget. That is a tip that they want to work with you but of course want the best price they can get. If you are way over their budget, you will probably not hear back from them. That should not be a problem if you are indeed confident in your value.

I would then ask… what is the budget. “If we can get within your budget, I will be glad to work it out.”

By line-iteming each of the cost figures laid in the bid perhaps you can trim a bit. The client feels better about sharing the budget with you because you have just laid your prices out for him.

If you must trim a grand off… there are ways of doing that.

If you must trim five grand off, walk.

To trim off five thousand dollars makes a mockery of your bid. And if you do it, never expect to do anything of value for that client again, as they know that your bids are paper tigers, easily shredded by desperation.

And desperation fueled by fear is most definitely NOT a good place to be for negotiations.

Part Two of this will be posted next Wednesday, August 13. See you then.

Meet Josh Ross: Product Photographer, Portland, OR

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I met Josh several years ago on the stobist forum. We have stayed in touch and I am knocked out by his wonderful still life and product work.

I asked Josh to speak about his photography, and we chatted for an hour. Josh walks us through his transition from LA to Portland and from Portrait to Still Life work.

Enjoy this interview and make sure to visit Josh’s website: www.joshrosscreative.com

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Josh Ross on Twitter
Josh Ross on Facebook
Josh Ross on Linkedin
Josh Ross on Google +
Josh Ross on Flickr

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Thanks so much for spending some time with us Josh. I look forward to having you back in September to chat with the Project 52 students. See you then.

For some more insight on how Josh does retouching, see this page.

An Interesting Negotiating Tactic

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… and it is true.

Names have been changed a bit to keep client/photographer privacy.

I had lunch with a photographer today. We had met to go over plans for a big project and chose “The Vig” for delicious sandwiches and salads. What has that to do with the story? Nothing, I just wanted to tell you where I ate so it is kind of an instagram moment.

He recounted this story from earlier in the year:

A prospective client had been in touch with him 5 times in the past two years about shooting his proprerty, a twenty-six unit hotel in North Carolina.

Each time my friend sent him the same bid: $6000 for 16 finished images and a usage of two years.

Recently the hotel owner called and was totally dismayed. “Why so much?” I hired a guy last year and he only charged $800.”

“How did they turn out,” my friend asked? “Since you are calling me today, I am guessing they didn’t do the job.”

The hotel owner was nearly apoplectic. “They were horrible, terrible pictures and didn’t do anything for my business. But you are ten times more expensive.”

“Actually, my images won’t cost you a thing. They will even make you money.”

The hotelier was now very curious… “What do you mean they won’t cost me anything”?

Most of the hotelier’s business came from website bookings. Internal and external research shows that the most important thing a consumer looks at are the photographs of the hotel… even before price in many instances. Having better photographs means getting more bookings.

My bud explained that in detail and then asked: “What is your profit per room, per night”.

The answer was something like $55.

“Well, my photographs are going to cost you .50 a piece per day. $8 a day for 16 images that will help you book a room for $55. A net gain of $47. Even at one booking per week, your costs will be paid. If the images bring in one more booking per day, your costs will be paid in a few months, and then it is pure profit after that.”

$16 per day / $2920 per year / $5840 for 2 years.

“If the images bring in 2 additional bookings per week, that is $110 per week or $11,440 – nearly double what the images cost,” the photographer explained. “How many more bookings would you expect with really great photos”?

The hotelier explained that his chain estimated that great images could add an additional 5-10 bookings per week.

An hour later, my bud received the go-ahead. The shoot was booked three weeks out, shot in a day, and delivered in three days.

The hotelier was so pleased he has shown the photographs to his chain representative who was also fascinated by the breakdown of ROI that my friend had presented.

“It just came to me,” he said over lunch. “I was sitting there and looked at the calculator and thought… oh what the hell.”

Are there ways you can use out of the box thinking to explain cost/benefit to YOUR clients?

I bet there is… and there is a calculator built in to your phone.

Make the case for better by showing them how much more better can produce.

BTW, the hotelier reports much higher bookings as a direct result of the images my friend did.

SUMMER-SCHOOLMANY OF THE TUTORIALS DURING “SUMMER SCHOOL” ARE BY PROJECT 52 PRO MEMBERS EITHER CURRENTLY ENROLLED OR ALUMNI.

A Simple Tool for Shooting to Layout

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Sometimes we have to shoot to specific layouts or dimensions. Here is a very simple tool for working with layouts that may not be typical.

I use cardboard stock for making these little screens. And as I note on the video, I always give the shot a little breathing room.

BTW… you can also print the layout on acetate at the same size of your screen. Then cut it out and put it over the top of your LCD to see how type and headlines work.

SUMMER-SCHOOLMANY OF THE TUTORIALS DURING “SUMMER SCHOOL” ARE BY PROJECT 52 PRO MEMBERS EITHER CURRENTLY ENROLLED OR ALUMNI.

Don’t Be Afraid of ‘Systems’

SUMMER-SCHOOL

As a commercial photographer I know a lot about how to make things happen. In fact, being a commercial photographer is a lot of ‘solutions… NOW’ sort of life.

The locations are too small or too large. Too many lights or not enough. Always need another stand or something that will go just 6″ higher. It is a constant battle of “making” it happen when so many things are against the photograph coming out at all.

Solutions – solving problems – that is the nature of what we commercial shooters do.

I have to admit that I have never liked ‘systems’. I hated them, actually. They took the serendipity off, they seemed to be too button down corporate to me.

But I came around out of necessity. I was always able to keep things in my head; appointments, billing, conversations, expectations. All in my head.

I was also pretty good at multi-tasking.

Then I realized that ‘multi-tasking’ wasn’t really what was going on, I was busting my ass doing things simultaneously that could easily have been done one at a time. The idea of ‘multi-tasking’ really is a farce for so many reasons.

We are humans and most of us humans have to have a focus. A way of putting all of our attention on one thing, and getting that thing done.

Spending 6 hours multi-tasking to get 4 hours worth of work done is inefficient at best. Destructive in many ways.

So I found myself forming systems… little ones at first, then larger and more complex ones as the gigs began to get more complex.

THE SIMPLEST SYSTEM: CHECKLISTS.

I use checklists for many of my common functions now, and I use them religiously.

I have a checklist for my shoots. And I check each thing off as I load it. Does it make loading go a little slower, yeah. A little. But I never worry about getting to a gig without something I NEED.

As I have mentioned before, I have cases with gear that is packed in accordance to the type of gig I am doing. All my speedlights (save one in the bag) are in one large tool kit with triggers, cords, modifiers and all kinds of clamps and holders. When I do a gig with speedlights, that box is there and it is everything I need. There is a checklist in the box to help me repack the items. Did I remember to get all the clamps, and are there any grids missing? Checklist… got it.

I have a larger kit checklist that combines the different containers, which are also checklisted.

A big shoot may require Lighting Kit A and Lighting Kit B. It will also necessitate stand case A and B as well. Since those cases are prepacked to the same standards (checklists) each time, I need only grab them and load them according to my needs.

Every item I use is on a check list. They are marked as loaded, and then remarked when reloaded at tear down.

I don’t ever want to get home without a camera body or flash head. Again.

THE DAILY WORK CHECKLIST

I have been asked how I get so much done (even though I sometimes go to bed thinking of all the things that didn’t get done). I have my daily checklist to help with that.

Here is how I do mine. Starting early morning.

5AM to 6AM: Check Email / Social Media for trending articles.

6AM – 7AM: Write for my blog/book. I try to write 1000 words a day across various platforms. These days I do a bit more than that since I am working on a novel and doing discovery for a non-fiction book.

7AM – 8AM: Breakfast, walk the dogs, take my daughter to school and such.

8AM – 8:30AM: Review plans for the day.

9AM – Noon: Email is off, focus on the main job at hand. Can be broken into two distinct gigs if necessary. (This includes any marketing initiatives.)

Noon – 1AM: Lunch, email, social media check in.

1AM to 4PM: Email is off, focus on the main job at hand. Can be broken into two distinct gigs if neccessary. (This includes any marketing initiatives.)

4PM: Check Email / Social Media. Have a bit of fun.

5PM /5:30 PM. Dinner and get ready for webinars usually at 6PM.

After Webinars, relax, read, chat with friends.

Before retiring in for the night, I take a look at today’s list and make tomorrow’s list of prioritized gigs.

I rarely watch TV or movies (weekends are for that) and I rarely have the same schedule every day… this is an estimate checklist above.

Shooting days are far different and by nature looser.

CONTENT CHECKLIST: WEEKLY

I maintain a lot of online presence; from this site to the three Project 52 Pros as well as my namesake site, it can be overwhelming to keep up with it all. I have a checklist for content, updates, posts and what gets attention on what day.

For instance, I post on the Project 52 Pros sites with regularity. New assignments are added each Friday, and the critiques are uploaded the day after they are given. (Unless I forget to check my list… which recently happened when I travelled. Lesson learned. Big time.)

Here is what a content checklist could look like:

Posts:

Lighting Essentials on Monday.
Project 52Pros on Tuesday
DonGiannatti.com on Wednesday
DonGiannattiPhotography on Thursday
New Assignments on Friday (All P52)
Newsletter on Sunday.

I use the Editorial Calendar Plugin to keep ahead of things on my websites.

For content I also have a small checklist. 
Citations linked.
Author Info added.
Links checked.
Spelling checked.
Any additional info that was promised or needs to be on the post.

I probably add a couple of checklists to specific projects once or twice a week, but these are the ones that keep me going… and turning out a lot of content.

Don’t be afraid of checklists and systems… find the ones that work for you and make them your ally in the war that is over our time – and those who want as much of it as they can get.

If you have any systems you would like to share, use the comments field below.

NOTE: If you are a wedding shooter, check out this article at Tiffinbox.

Viral Visual Strategies

Social Media – VISUAL social media – is really powerful.

“On Thursday April 10th I shared the tumblr page with a huge dog magazine I’ve worked with regularly called The Bark. By Friday morning, it had 4,700 likes and 1,080 shares. I also sent the link out to a magazine called Koream Magazine, and on Friday they started to publicize it. All all the other huge Asian American media channels started to pick it up – like Hyphen, Angry Asian Man, Audrey Magazine, and more.

 

The Korean American founder and curator of a My Modern Met saw it on Saturday and immediately reached out to me for an interview that afternoon. Within the hour she had it up on the site and she told me that all the major news sites follow the site like The Huffington Post, The Daily Mail, Yahoo, The Today Show, and Good Morning America, just to name a few.”

A Photo Editor