Where does the work come from?

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.

Customers Vs Clients

© Neil Turner, July 2013. Fisherman's Walk, Bournemouth.

© Neil Turner, July 2013. Fisherman’s Walk, Bournemouth.

Today is my first proper day back at work since a long overdue holiday. I will write a little more about our time away when I do a further Fujifilm x20 update but in the mean time I am writing a few new lesson plans for my next bout of teaching. The first one that I decided to tackle was about business or, more specifically, the business of editorial and corporate photography. Every single colleague who works in these areas handles their business lives differently but there are a few basic truths that are there for everyone.

What is the difference between a customer and a client?

It’s subtle but it’s important to be able to differentiate between the two, no matter what business you are in. A customer is someone who buys your wares or services. When you go into Tescos or Wal Mart (depending where in the world you are) you pick up a few items, stick them into a basket and pay for them before leaving. You are one of a few thousand people who will do much the same thing in that store on that day. You are, or were, a customer. As a professional photographer I might pick up the odd customer but I don’t have a shop and I don’t get much “passing traffic”.

What I need is clients. A client works with you on a regular basis and there is a definable business relationship between you. They do far more than dropping a print or a JPEG file into a basket. There are, obviously, business models in the photography industry that work exactly that way but it would be tough and rather less than fulfilling if I were to think of the people who pay me merely as ‘customers’. A client needs to nurtured, convinced that they are buying the right services and looked after. I might have twenty clients at any given time and everyone who I deal with is a potential client and not just a customer.

In the field of photography that I love working in long-term symbiotic relationships are what I need. I am happy to say that I first worked with one of my current clients in 1987 and that my next three assignments are all for clients I have had for at least four years. I have a few jobs booked between now and Christmas that have become annual fixtures in the diary and that is a great feeling: clients who come back time-after-time. It’s funny though because whilst shooting a job for a new client a couple of weeks ago I acquired a customer. A corporate executive that I was shooting a portrait of wants to buy a print from the session. I don’t think that he will ever become a client (although I’d love to have his company as one) but he makes a rather useful customer.

So, what is the difference between a customer and a client? Let’s try this;

A customer is someone with whom you trade whereas a client is someone with whom you work.

If you have a definition that would be better in the context of editorial and corporate photography, I’d be very happy to hear it

Objects of desire

One of the great joys of being a photographer is the wonderful array of gear, technology and toys we get to use on a daily basis. It is also one of the curses of being in business. If I went out and bought every new camera, every new lens, every new application and every new computer that I fancied I would have no home, no car and no life.

That doesn’t stop me looking. The CES show in the USA has thrown up lots of new “I want one of those” moments and a quick calculation says that I would make a £20,000 hole in my finances if I went and bought it all. The serious point here is that for many photography is a hobby and buying new gear is a matter of “I want it, I’m going to have it”. For professional photographers there is a simpler test which asks “will that piece of kit pay for itself, pay my bills and work how it’s supposed to work?”

I’ve said many times that a lot of my clearest thinking comes from teaching and I’m currently updating my notes for teaching some business studies to my NCTJ Photojournalism group at Up To Speed Media in Bournemouth. In many ways the formula is simple: A. you need to take the cost of purchasing the item, insuring and servicing it and divide that by B. the number of days you work in an average year. Dividing A by B gives you C. To get the final figure D. You decide how many years the item might remain useful (longer for lenses, less time for camera bodies, computers and software).  Finally, you divide C by D and that figure is the cost of that piece of kit per working day.

An example: Telephoto zoom lens

  • A. price paid is £1,400 and it adds £20 a year to your insurance and a further £30 a year to service. That’s a total of £1,450
  • B . working 3 days a week on average over a 52 week year. That’s a total of 156 days
  • C. that’s 1,450 ÷ 156 = £9.29
  • D. lenses last on average 3 years

The final figure for owning that particular lens is £3.09 per working day IF you shoot for 468 days over three years. The cost goes down if you work more and it goes up if you work less. Of course one lens isn’t much use without the rest of the kit and so you can go through your whole stash of gear and do the same calculation for each. I tend to go for 2 years for camera bodies and computers, 3 years for heavy use lenses, 5 years for light use lenses and only 1 year for software including upgrades.

How depressing was that? Let’s end on a lighter note: objects of desire… well… the Canon G1X looks very, very cool, as does the limited edition all black Fujifilm X100. Of course the Canon EOS1DX has to go on the list and I’d love to give the Nikon D4 (and a kit of lenses) a spin. The list is actually a lot longer but nobody reads this far down… do they?

Photographic policy

Just in case you haven’t noticed, I’m a photographer. I also teach a bit of photography and write about the subject too. The latest addition to my ‘portfolio career’ is what I can only describe as photographic consultancy. I have done a few corporate training sessions aimed at people who aren’t necessarily shooting pictures but who are handling them on behalf of their employer. It started off with some PR managers from a range of Universities a few years ago and has been a very small part of what I do ever since then.

This week, I did a bespoke session for an NGO talking about copyright, licensing, permissions, model release, photographing children and how to get PR pictures used in the media. All of that in less than one day meant that we didn’t get right down into the finer details. For some organisations the knowledge that they need to do more will be enough to get them going. A company wide photographic policy has to be a ‘must-have’ with the amount of images, websites, pamphlets, brochures, publications and social media in circulation (officially and otherwise).

We are in the Christmas party season and a good, well publicised policy telling staff what is and is not acceptable would be very useful. Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and the rest are public platforms and un-wisely placed images or video are bad news. It isn’t only about stopping bad stuff happening though; good pictures need to be licensed, captioned and stored properly. The quantity of pictures held on company systems seems to have expanded exponentially and it makes sense to have policies that make use of the good stuff whilst making that the bad, the off-message and the out of date images are never seen.

As a professional photographer it is really hard to see photographs sourced from keen amateurs, micro stock sites and crowd-sourcing as anything other than lost income but that is the way the world has gone and we need to learn to work with it. People like me, with a lot of experience in the industry, can help to form policies for small, medium and even large businesses based on our knowledge of the law, ethics and technical matters. It isn’t going to cost a fortune and any company who ignores the concept of a photography policy could end up regretting it.