It has been a little while since I last posted on this blog; apologies for this but sometimes life gets in the way of blogging! Anyway, I thought that those who are interested in the business side of photography might be interested in something that came into my thinking on a long drive back from a job listening to a business programme on BBC radio. When I got home I produced a couple of reports from my invoices using the wonderful Billings Pro application on my Mac. The one that caught my eye was one that gave me the raw data to work out how the bulk of my work (based on turnover) in the last six years as a freelance has come in.
Conventional wisdom says that a photographer gets out there with their folio after making cold calls and arranging appointments with potential clients. When I say ‘conventional wisdom’ I mean ‘what they taught me in college’. It is the classic sales tactic: research potential customers, show them what you have to offer and then (hopefully) close the deal at a mutually acceptable price. 99% of photographers and probably 88% or all businesses will probably tell you that it is neither that simple or that straightforward.
I started by working out some categories for the way I have initially got the work:
- Cold calling and portfolio viewings
- People finding me via the web
- Referrals from family and friends outside the photography business
- Referrals from other photographers
- From colleagues I knew before going freelance
- Sub-contracted work via other photographers
- Other odd sources
I then quickly added up how much work (monetary value) each of those six sections accounted for and got the following results:
The monetary value for each client is based on that initial method of contact. Some high value clients have been very loyal to me and I hope that I have, in turn, given them the photographs that they need to keep those excellent two-way relationships going. On the flip side, most of the work that has come via the web has been one-off jobs for clients who don’t have a lot of work to commission.
Now I don’t know about you, but I found that to be quite a shocking set of results. Only 5% of my income has been generated by getting out there and trying to make sales in what you would call a ‘traditional’ way yet more than twice that figure came from referrals from other photographers. The sub-contract figure at 27% is also a lot higher than I thought that it would be but the biggest surprise is how low the figure for income generated via work from pre-freelancing colleagues. In my first year as a freelance that figure was considerably higher but it has been eclipsed by the friends and family percentage which, at 44%, is somewhat higher than I would have thought. People finding me through the web includes not only those who have found my website through searches but also the various social media platforms that we all spend so much time working on – 4% isn’t a great return on all of that effort either.
If I had the time, I’d like to work out how different the chart would be if I based the figures on the amount of time spent on the jobs rather than the money invoiced. My strong suspicion is that the cold calling and portfolio section would be a fair bit bigger as would the one for pre-freelancing colleagues because those are both news and editorial biased sections whereas the friends and family one is far more corporate and commercial.
So what conclusion should I draw from this? Maybe I should spend less time trying to generate work from cold-calling and spend a lot more time with family and friends? I suspect that the true answer is that I need to change my targets for the cold calling to more corporate and commercial ones simply because they have a higher value per job.