10 Tips To Successfully Combine Love & Business in Photography

A photographer wrote me for advice. He and his wife are into the business of photography together. I was asked how they can deal with irritants in business that seem to be affecting their home life as well.

I know these challenges very intimately, since I manage the photography business that my husband is in. For a few years, until she decided to be a full-time wife and mother, my daughter was also a photographer in our photo business.

This is what I can say:
On the good side – I heard that couples who are in business together tend to have fewer divorces than couples who are not. (Obviously, the study was not made in the Philippines, since divorce is not allowed in this country).

A couple could assume business roles that are complementary (one is photographer, the other is in sales), or by working together, they double their strengths (if both are photographers).

They know the issues and challenges of the profession or the day’s job, and that knowledge allows them to extend greater empathy and sympathy from and for each other than if they worked in different fields.

On the negative side – there are many challenges, especially when a couple has not learned to separate work from home – whether in terms of time, space or roles.

Another source of conflict is when couples believe that, since they are in the same business, they have as much right and capability to decide as the other spouse on EVERY issue. This is when the decision function is constantly split between a couple, and every argument puts them in locked horns. To remedy this, they need to define the areas of responsibility and authority, and who is in charge of what. For example, we’ve made our Studio Manager in charge of schedules – neither my husband nor myself can accept any appointments, whether for shoots or for meetings. Only she could do that. If you don’t have a secretary or Studio Manager, one of you could take on this role – whoever between you is more organized can take care of this more clerical task. Same way for costing jobs. If one is in charge of preparing cost estimates, then the other may not enter into negotiations about pricing without consulting the other. Again, respect for each other, and for the agreements that they have reached, will help tremendously in keeping peace at home and in the studio.
Living, as we did and still do, where our studio is located, we struggled with the challenge of separating business from home life for a long time, and from time to time we still do, but we know that we have to make an intentioned and determined effort not to take business issues into our home and vice versa.

From our own experience, John and I know that we would have to put aside personal differences and put on our professional selves when facing clients. Many times, after a long day of being gracious with each other in front of clients, we forget what we were arguing about before the clients came, effectively ending our personal tiffs. Same way, when the situation is reverse.

Each type of photography business – portrait, wedding, travel, photojournalism etc. comes with its own set of challenges. Ours comes from the fact that advertising photography is a 24/7 job, and that makes it even more difficult to separate business from home matters.

On the other hand, there are perks for the family that come with the job or the business. Our children are all adults now, but when they were growing up, they enjoyed being able to ride on helicopters when we did aerial photography, or come with us when we were photographing resorts. They feasted on pizza, hot dogs and ice cream that we were shooting in the studio. When we photographed rappelling, they tried that, too. Or rode in new cars – our clients’, not always ours. Or met important personalities who came to the studio to be photographed. We strongly believe that our children’s and our lives were richer because we lived where we worked.

There are pluses and minuses, but if you feel bogged down by the minuses of being in business together or having your business at home, here are some things you could do.

1. As soon as it is possible, arrange your home to be physically “separate” from your office and studio – even though they are on the same site and you may have easy access from one to the other. Combining our residence and studio was a compromise that John and I reached. I wanted to live away from the city, but John wanted a “two-second commute” between home and studio. He argued that if we lived in Pansol, Laguna where I wanted to live (an hour’s drive from Makati), we would have to leave before the children were awake, and the children would be asleep by the time we got back from work. I gave in, and I am glad that I did.

2. If you have the space, have your own living room instead of using your studio reception area for entertaining your relatives and personal friends or to allow yourself a space for personal relaxation. In our set up, we even have separate kitchens – one for the family and because we do food photography, another for the studio. We also have separate dining areas. If you do not have enough space for separate family and office area, perhaps designating different times for the use of these areas might help.

Here are a couple of examples:
a. before we had 24-hour Internet and Wifi, we had to set rules and schedules on use of computers for personal use. On the other hand, we appreciated the fact that having the office in the house meant we could have access to computers and other recreational gadgets in the house.

b. when our children were growing up, they were encouraged to write on our whiteboard (where all shoot and office schedules were kept) any important schedules they had that needed our presence – family day at school, PTA meetings etc. Now, we use computer calendars, and since our children now live away from home, we Skype, Messenger or email to keep in touch. We also visit, or they do.

3. Adopt a different look for your studio and another for your home. Our studio is more Western looking, while our house is more traditionally Filipino. It allows you to have a visual cue to drop the stressors of one before stepping into the other.

4. Resist the temptation to bring in office business into the house, especially your bedroom. It took me a long time, and even now I falter, to not talk about business when I am already in the house. Probably as a way to prepare himself for the next working day, John would ask me about his shoot schedules before going to bed – and many times, that led to business discussions, and sometimes, into arguments on issues where we do not have agreement. One thing would lead to another, and we would end up being both upset.

So I learned not to remember his shoot schedules, and I would feign to not have in my head the information that he was asking for. (But now, I don’t need to pretend – I really can’t remember – must be the age!) If, while in the privacy of our bedroom, we drifted into business topics, I would offer to walk to the studio so we could get records, files, etc. John has learned to take that as a hint that it can wait until tomorrow.

I also read a story – might have been on Readers’ Digest – about a wife who was feeling too burdened by rants that her husband would bring home from the factory where he worked as a supervisor. She knew, however, that there were no sympathetic ears at work to listen to him. She could not give him any advice, and he really didn’t want or need any. He just needed to unburden. On a creative impulse, she bought a tree and planted it by their main door. She advised him to use it as his hearing tree, and even put a bench where he could sit down while he talked to it. When he had expunged all his negative feelings and thoughts about work, then he could come into the house. It worked. (I wonder what the neighbors thought of him talking to the tree, but who cares?) P.S. Every now and then when she saw signs of the tree wilting – must have been all that toxic energies being dumped on it – she would replace the tree.

5. Realize that good moods and bad moods come in cycles. If there are genuine issues, find a way to deal with them, but it’s just a bad mood – you might just need to let it pass.

In the early years when we had no hobbies and only work, the bad moods came often. Although he may not have had issues with his photography, our staff or our clients, many times, he often ended the day being exhausted and consequently not in a good mood. So I encouraged John to pick up a hobby. From building small scale model plans, he went on to building remote control planes. When he was not happy at work, he could be happy flying. If he felt terrible because his plane crashed, his mood could change because his photography was well-received. We found his happiness flowing from one direction to the other.

Now that his hobby (flying) has sort of blended in with his work (he flies drones, which he uses for doing aerial photography), he or I have to look for something else to keep his mind off work. That’s a bit tough to do, since he is a workaholic. In the more recent years, he has found personal satisfaction in giving talks and workshops on photography, and deep fulfillment in doing advocacy work. Or doing volunteer work at the zoo, taking care of the elephant.

6. Find the right time to discuss touchy issues or bad news. As a child, I learned from an aunt not to greet anyone with bad news. Unless it is an emergency, delivery of bad news can wait until the other person receiving it has eaten and rested.

I have also heard the advice – do not go to sleep with anger in your heart, or something like that. Well, when I was younger, I erroneously took it to mean – we should try to resolve our differences before going to sleep, even if it meant still arguing until 2 or 3 in the morning. It didn’t help because sometimes that meant John would have go to an early morning shoot with no sleep at all. I have learned to be less stubborn as well as not to “sweat the small stuff.” Like finding the right time for delivering bad news, I also learned when not to pick a fight.

7. You might need to designate a “board of directors” to help break the deadlocks between you and your spouse. The challenge of a couple being in business together is that the decision function is split evenly between you and your spouse. Sometimes you may find yourselves stubbornly on opposite sides of an argument and with neither of you giving in even an inch. Before this happens, form a board. Nominate and agree on at least three more people to bring in to help you vote on critical issues. Five would be a good number. Let the proponents of opposing ideas present their arguments for and against an idea, and remember to respect the decision of the majority. If you lose, lose graciously – do not take it against those who voted against your idea. If you won, don’t gloat!

8. For the issues that you and your spouse, or your board, cannot resolve, you might need to take it up with a professional consultant. Resist the temptation to complain to other family members or office staff. Soliciting support from them may just divide you into feuding camps. If you must talk to your family members or employees about controversial issues, ask them to help bridge the gap, not to take sides.

9. Set down policies and define your values, and let these statements guide you in resolving conflicts. Craft your corporate as well as family vision and mission statements and make sure they complement each other. When you are in disagreement, be guided by your constitution and statements of your vision and mission. And don’t forget that you love each other – that’s why you are working together.

10. Always remember that personal and familial relationships should ultimately be served before business. Try to preserve your marriage and family, even at the expense of your business. If running a business together is ruining your marriage and wreaking havoc on your family life, it might be better for one to quit the family business and work outside of the home. But, if with genuine effort, you can keep your business and home together, then congratulations – you have the best of both worlds.

Indeed, love and business can go together. We’ve been at this for 42 years, and it gets better as the years roll on– so just keep rockin’ and rollin’ along.


Eighty Percent – Checking Business Stats

Reynaldo Mendoza: How to ask for more projects on existing clients. 🙂 The clients who usually make up 80% of your income.

I was prompted to write this article by this question on our Facebook group, “Business of Photography.”

First, I would like to congratulate Rey for citing the statistics – most photographers don’t bother to measure or sort their clients. He would like to reach and get more jobs from clients who give him 80% of his income.

I am curious to know, how many clients give him a sum total of 80% of his income? 1, 2, 3 or more? How big is the biggest chunk from one client– 10%, 20%, or 50%?

Pardon me if before I try to face his challenging question, I would digress a little, and tell a couple of stories that relate to “statistics.” I just hope to establish that I was never really a math wizard (I still am not), but that the need to understand business pushed me to try and learn math.

When I was in college, I had a subject called Math 101, which was Statistics. I had to do a “take two” because I could not understand the concepts and formula. Worse, I could not even understand the professor. He had a thick provincial accent, and his “Is that clear?” sounded more to me like, “Da cler?” My answer was always a meekly whispered, “no,” but he did not really care for me to learn. I was just another statistic (sorry for the pun) among students who failed in his class. My second attempt to pass this class was more successful, although I barely passed.

Thrust into the business of photography by a photographer-husband who threw all responsibility for handling the business to me, by declaring “I just want to shoot.” I had to handle all the paperwork. I had to do bookkeeping and accounting. I was totally unprepared, since I finished Political Science, not Business Management. After struggling to understand business math for a few years, I decided to go back to school. I enrolled for my Masters in Business Administration (MBA, which I didn’t finish). One of the toughest subjects was “Statistics.” I vowed to face my fear, and even volunteered to be presenter of the group’s case study. My group-mates were supportive, and cheered me on. My professor understood my fear and helped me gain confidence. After that positive experience, I somehow took a liking to Statistics, and learned to love numbers.

This knowledge has been useful.

I learned to identify our most-valued clients, by adding up billings and sorting clients’ totals from highest to lowest. Playing around with data, I searched for highest billings, lowest billings, average billings, modal averages, busiest months, slowest months, fastest growing clients, success ratios, cost of doing business, profits and losses, this year vs. last year, etc. – and prepared charts and graphs that showed in a few pictorial representations how well or poorly we were doing. I still have not mastered numbers, but now they meant something.

A question like Rey’s made me realize how numbers helped me to find new business directions. One photographer-friend who used to boast that he only needed his two clients and often turned down jobs that got passed on to us. We did not have any major clients like he did, but we had quite a number, here and there. After the assassination of Ninoy Aquino in 1983, many foreign businesses left the Philippines, among them one of his two clients. His other client drastically reduced their advertising budget, and looked for less expensive photographers. They found us.

Shocked that this photographer could lose everything all at once, I checked our list of clients, and computed how much each contributed to our billings. Not one reached more than 2% of gross billings! Although it consoled me to think that even if we lost a few of them, we would not go down to zero, still, I felt that I needed to increase sales from some – even many – of them. Like Rey, I wanted to identify whom I could depend on for more business, and to learn how to do that.

First, I needed to consult with John about what kind of work he preferred to do, so I could go after the clients who assign those jobs. Then, I studied which industries were growing. (Actually, at that time, the economy scored negative). I asked myself – which industries would continue to prosper, even if the economy went down. (In 1983, in the aftermath of Aquino’s assassination, advertising was down, almost zero. The only advertisers on TV were Bank of PI and Max’s Fried Chicken (I still don’t know why). The Manila Bulletin, which used to have 40+ pages, was down to 16 pages – practically all news and no ads.

There was no one to ask, so I asked myself – what would I still spend on, even when my income is greatly reduced?

Food and medicines!

I worked on gathering a food portfolio, brought out savings to renovate our studio kitchen and to equip it with new kitchen appliances. To entice clients to ask us to shoot more, I offered package discounts. I explained that it was not efficient for them or for us to only shoot one set up in the morning, and to have another client with two set ups in the afternoon. The first set up for shooting food takes the whole morning, and if the afternoon was reserved for another client, we probably could only do two set-ups. I offered a sizeable discount if the client would ask us to do ten set ups – all within a day. Our clients were encouraged to plan for future campaigns – so that they could take advantage of our package discounts.

While I believed that people would need to spend on medicines, even when the economy was down, somehow, pharmaceutical companies were not spending on photography. I had to look for something else, and was thrilled to learn from a client that whenever the economy was down, their sales would go up. Really? My curiosity was piqued.

My client represented an American cosmetics firm, who explained that whenever there was an economic depression, women tended to make themselves feel good by buying make up. Interesting.

Which led me to ask – if lipstick, powder and perfume were for women during a depression – what would men go for? A marketing manager who worked for a local gin distillery gave me the answer. He said that when the economy goes down, their sales go up.

Aha! What an exciting discovery! But that was more than 30 years ago, so what about now?

Today, the Philippine economy is much better, but not altogether that rosy. Some industries are active while others are not. So, where do we look for good clients? The most accessible way is handy – check newspapers or magazines (and the Internet, of course) for clues. Read the business newspapers. They can tell you which industries are rising. Real Estate? Automotive? Banking? Retail? Food, as always?

From looking at industries, zero in on companies. Create a database of prospects. Learn about these business entities. Study their styles and methods. Read about their plans and projections. Find a way to get yourself introduced.

Prepare a portfolio of photographs that is relevant to the client whom you are approaching. You could even invest in photographing their products – go ahead and take the initiative. Take a look at what images they are using, and improve on them.

Monitor your sales. Is the number of your clients increasing? Or are you able to increase the amount of business from each client? Is anyone lagging behind? Why? Should you work on revisiting that customer who is giving you less, or dropping him off the list?

In the meantime, go set your goals and sales targets. Keep track of what you are doing to connect, and what you need to win them over to you. Maybe you can offer rebates if you can lock them into yearly contracts or if they reached a certain quota. This way, you don’t just work from job to job.

Check your statistics, and try to understand why they are so. If your sales is not growing, what can you do to turn things around? Do you need more marketing materials? Which of your marketing materials elicit positive responses? Do you need to redesign your website? Can you join a trade show, sponsor or even just attend an event, perhaps do a photo exhibit? Check out – without really stalking – where your prospects like to hang out, and be there, casually. Greet them on their birthdays and anniversaries. Be active on Facebook and other social media.

But do monitor your strategies and the results they bring. Do your numbers, and watch your stats. Sometimes, you just might need to listen to someone like John who told me – “Do your paperwork at night. During the day, go call on your clients.” “Yes, sir!”

So here they are, Rey – just a few suggestions on how to increase the business from the clients who already give you 80% of your income (just make sure that 80% is not just from one or two customers). Business statistics give you lots of clues as to how your business is doing, how you can raise your income from each of your clients, or if you are indeed succeeding.

Let me know if these suggestions work for you.

Submitting Bids/Cost Estimates for Photography Jobs

Thanks, Gerome Soriano, for your questions. I had originally written these two articles for my staff, and later updated and expanded them for my students (I teach Business of Photography at the College of Saint Benilde), but since you asked me to write on “bidding,” here they are.

Attending Bidding or Pre-pricing Meetings

First of all, offer to meet prospective customers face to face, and avoid giving quotations or cost estimates to someone calling you on the phone.

At the meeting, check who is and should be present – in advertising, that would be the account executive, art director, print producer, other agency/client representatives, and other photographers.

(Note: I would be describing situations for advertising photographers. If you are not an advertising photographer, whom you would meet might have different titles and roles, but basically, they’re the people who will be contracting your services. If you are a wedding photographer, that might be the future bride and groom, or a wedding coordinator – maybe even a parent of either the bride or the groom. If you are a travel photographer, that person who will brief you about your possible assignment might be the editor of a travel magazine, or the marketing manager of a resort. Whatever your situation is, your first meeting would be with the people who would describe to you what they need from the photographer whose services they would like to engage).

Write down names of all present and expected (photographers who are late may still be considered qualified for the bidding, especially if they are being favored by the client or agency). If you are meeting them for the first time, do ask nicely for their calling cards, and hand them yours.

If you are meeting with your future client one-on-one, gently and politely ask whom else they are considering. You should find a way to find out who your competitors are.

Engage your client in some small talk and establish some commonalities. Then move on to asking about their requirements.

In order to have a basis for your cost estimates, inquire about (again, you would need to substitute what is relevant to your specialization. Wedding photographers would be asking about on-site edited videos or AVPs, albums, display prints. Editorial photographers would need to know if there are other intended purposes for your photos, other than for publication).

1.Usage – let your future client tell you what they need the photos for – brochures, calendars, print ads, annual reports, displays. Some printing requirements that you yourself don’t do may be outsourced, and they might need your supervision. In advertising, it is not unusual to ask more technical or definitive questions such as how long the display materials would be used, or in what other countries your images would be published.

Ask all the questions that you need to ask in order to fully understand what they need and want.

2. File Size – you may want to inquire or recommend the required file size. This often depends on the usage, and how big the final reproductions would be. Please take note that certain materials, like billboard, may require smaller files than those needed to produce murals and posters – this is because billboards are seen from a distance and low-resolutions are not obvious when not seen up close.

3. Creative Scenario – what images do they foresee? Ask to see their compres or pegs, and get copies. Get some explanation as to how strictly they will adhere to their compres, or if the compres are just basic guides, with art directors or clients taking a free hand in having them interpreted. Find out:

a. What are the elements to be photographed – product? group of products? food? models? building? time of day of shoot?
b. What special information should you know – is the talent a celebrity? Is the product highly reflective?
c. What effects does the art director want?
d. Will there be variations? What are the expected variations? Some variations are now called “progressions.”
e. What backgrounds will be used? Will the images be dropped out?
f. How will the photographs be used in the end product – with other images? With text? With special backgrounds?
g. Will they need special photo retouching, and are you
expected to do that?

4. Consider logistics. Are there other responsibilities for you to handle – locations, props, talents, services, etc.? Will we provide food for talents and company? How many people do they expect to attend the shoot?

5. Ask about schedules/timetables or estimates thereof. Will there be several set ups? Will they be photographed in one or several sessions? Is this a rush project?

6. Ask about locations. Where will the photography be done – in the studio, or location or in several locations?

7. When do they want the bids to be submitted? To whom? Sealed?

8. Any other instructions?

If your specialization is not advertising, you may want to rewrite this article to make the questions relevant to the type of photography assignment that you would get.

Here are a few more tips on submitting bids (some are repeated in the next article).

1. If you ask nicely, and if your client has a predetermined budget, you might be able to ask for a range in pricing that could get you in among those to be considered. Ask nicely, but don’t insist if they won’t give any indications to you.

2. Unlike in other industries, such as construction, or supply of equipment, biddings for creative works are not solicited to just get the lowest bid. They would study your selling points – your skills, expertise, equipment, facilities, service, reliability, and suitability to this project etc. and see if your price seems reasonable. This means – you could have a higher bid and still win.

3. However, if they have limited the invitation to the bid to a very limited and tight group of pre-qualified photographers who have been deemed to be on the same level, then maybe the lowest bidder might be considered.

4. Neither submit too early or too late – close to the deadline is best. Since bids are not opened in front of bidders, it is possible that other photographers would be tipped on what you are bidding.

5. If you lost a bid, do not assume that the winner submitted the lowest bid. (see tip no. 1).

6. If you lost a bid, do not get discouraged. Thank the person handling the bidding, and politely ask to be invited again. As long as you are still being invited, it means you’re still in the ballgame.

7. Again, if you asked nicely, and not insist, you may inquire as to who won the bid, and why they considered him.

Prepared by:
@Harvey V. Chua updated August 2015.

Preparing Cost Estimates and Submitting Bids

1. Consider all points discussed during the bidding conference.

2. Estimate time, manpower, facilities, equipment and other requirements for preparation, actual shoot and post-shoot requirements. If you are the photographer’s representative, you may need to consult with the photographer about these details.

3. Will our quotation include other fees: billable directly to agency/client, or to be absorbed by the studio/photographer.

4. Try to think of similar requirements and check previous cost estimates. You may or may not follow previous quotations, but you must have your justifications.

5. Do you expect client/agency to ask for additional set ups, variations or service (bring fetched, for example) and yet expect not to be billed for these extras? Or do they allow addendum billings for additional requirements not discussed during the bidding process?

6. What is the credit card record of this agency/client? Consider cost of money over time. Clients who are prompt in paying generally get discounted cost estimates. Those who are slow may be charged more, or may be charged a higher down payment.

7. Consider the usage – for local use, or for national or international publication? For multiple insertion or for multiple usages (brochures, website, print ad, posters).

8. Consider efficiency – package discounts are possible when several set ups can be photographed during the same session. Higher discounts are given if the set ups are very similar – several shots from the same angle using the same type of lighting, or when the same background material is used for several setups, or when a succession of single items are photographed using the same background and/or angle. This is truer for objects than for people or for objects with movements, since more exposures are needed for the latter types. On the other hand, more complicated set ups or those requiring special effects should be charged more.

9. Consider the photographer and his expertise. Indicate the name of the photographer(s) who will be assigned to do the job. It is possible to present options as far as photographers are concerned – simply match the photographer with the costing for his services.

10. Consider the art director – is he decisive or is he generally slow? Does he play around with a lot of variations? Can we learn from him?

11. Indicate options, if certain requirements or treatments are tentative?

12. Indicate what the quotation includes or does not include.

13. Consider special relationships with clients. Clients who give us a lot of business and pay us promptly should get better discounts.

14. If you are new at this job, have cost estimates reviewed by someone more senior than you.

15. Indicate special equipment/services/facilities to convince clients that you are the best for this job (without saying so). For example, if the set up requires a lot of space, emphasize the spaciousness of your studio. If they are very concerned about confidentiality, describe how you can hold photo sessions privately, behind “closed doors.” If the job requires a lot of lights or the use of special equipment, indicate what you have. If they are concerned about power interruptions, mention that you have a generator (if you have one) so that you can continue to shoot in air-conditioned comfort.

16. Always seal bids, stamp the envelope “QUOTATION,” and try to submit bids are close as possible to the deadline (but do not delay). Submitting them too early, and submitting bids in open envelopes, sometimes makes it possible for your bid to leak out to competitors.

17. After a reasonable lapse of time, inquire about the cost estimate that you submitted. Find out if the job is being awarded to you, or if they need to negotiate prices, or if the job is being awarded to a competitor. If the latter is the case, try to find out who got the job, and what cinched the deal for your competitor. Do not assume or jump to the conclusion that he gave the lowest bid. It could be something else – learn what was his winning combination. Yes, you may ask discreetly and tactfully what the winning bid was. Always end on a positive note; no sour grapes. Very nicely, but without begging, solicit advice on how we can have a better chance of winning the next bid. You know you can’t win them all so don’t mope. Just move on and strive harder. Review what you did and check what you could have done better.

18. If on the other hand, you were awarded the job, ask if they would like to schedule a preproduction meeting. Say, very matter-of-factly and without fanfare, that you are sending a bill for the down payment. Congratulate yourself and proceed to ensure a good shoot.

19. Winning bids is not just or always about price. It is winning your client’s trust, confidence and friendship. It is about doing a good job of “selling” your company. It comes from serving clients well, and being enthusiastic. It is about creating a good reputation for yourself and for your company.

Prepared by Harvey Chua @2014

Questions from a photographer-friend on pricing, walking away from a deal, and putting food on the table.

1. Is it advisable to walk away from a shoot if the client cannot or does not want to accept your quotation, no matter if its a reasonable one at that. I could but I did not want to end the relationship. I’m also wary that it might reflect on my reputation.

First of all, let me be clear, so we’re not misunderstood. I am not advising you to walk away from a shoot. If you’ve already started to shoot, I will assume that the client has committed to hire you and you have committed to do the project. You’ve agreed on the requirements, including the price. That is a different case from walking away from a prospective shoot – before you’ve signed on the dotted lines.
Actually, the advice I hear from professional consultants is that you should be ready to walk away, if the conditions are not right for you. But that does not mean burning bridges. You do not have to end the relationship just because their budget now does not suit you (or viewed from their perspective) your quotation is too high. You can explain that after reviewing your costs, you find that you will not be able to make a reasonable profit from this job. You could then request that they consider you for their next (or future) projects.

It’s important that you don’t look upset, too disappointed, or angry. Or, cocky. Don’t make them feel that they are cheap clients who can’t afford an expensive photographer like you. This is not about who they are or who you are. It’s just that this time, the numbers do not match. This is a routine business transaction, that’s all, and this one is not meant for you.

Then, continue to keep the relationship warm by calling, greeting, emailing something that you know your client would like – an inspiring quotation, a funny but tasteful cartoon or updates on your portfolio. Invite him to coffee or to an event. Pace yourself properly so that you don’t appear like you’re pestering your client.

Who knows, this client may reserve all the better paying jobs for you, and give the low-budget ones to others.

2. While I accepted the low-ball price, can I also give bare bones servicing? Maybe just give them 1 instead of 3 edited photos per layout. Or just do the job at minimum required levels. I’m looking forward to shooting this property because I can use it for my portfolio and I’m ready to pull out all the stops for this one. But I was thinking, should I give them them all the A-shots? We do not have licensing contracts for this.

John would always say that I should not even tell him how much I quoted for a particular job. Whether it’s for a peso, or a million bucks, he would like to give it his best. That’s John, and I am proud that he is that way.

While I agree with him about not diminishing the quality of his shoot, I do try to trim down requirements so that we can earn from the project. Usually, the three aspects that combine as basis for cost are: quality, quantity and time (meaning rush). If a client wants all, then he has to pay more. If he wants to cut down, he has to sacrifice one or another – maybe he reduces the number of set ups, or maybe he does not insist on rushing the project. He could give up on some “bells and whistles,” but lowering the quality of your work is not an option that you should consider.

Yes, you could explain that you could reduce your price if he would choose the best of your shots for each set up, and that’s what you could work on for final editing. After all, he really just needs one.

If by “A-shots,” you mean, the best of the lot, I would give you a resounding yes. It won’t serve you or your client well to give him “B-shots.”

As for licensing contracts, I suggest that you work hard to specify what rights you are granting to your client. Find a way to negotiate prices even on the basis of what rights you are granting – the more rights you grant, the higher your rate should be.

As for getting great property shots for your portfolio – there are other ways. Earn well from your other projects and you can afford to spend a few days having a grand holiday, with your family, at a resort or destination of your choice. And then, you can leisurely photograph the resort for your portfolio. No hassles for you or your family.

3. Even if you can afford to “lose” a client, is it ever advisable to walk away from a job offer. I know it’s half of my quotation, but it still is money that can put food on the table.

It’s partly answered above, but the tough part of your question is “…but it still is money that can put food on the table.”

Offhand, I would say, invest in a book on negotiating, because those techniques will help you make sure that you do not leave any money (your client’s money) on the table. Photographers have to remember that they are negotiating with business people who have had training in negotiating. When they meet photographers who are clueless about how to negotiate, and who seem eager to shoot even for free, then you’re an easy and willing victim.

But to address your question which is indeed a tough question – especially if you are married and have children, and most especially if you are the sole breadwinner. I can talk to you for hours on why your pricing is factored on your self-respect, but even I will argue that you can’t eat self-respect, self-dignity and all that c- – p. There are times when you need to swallow your pride (sorry for the cliche). But, read on…

I learned early on that if I can’t raise incomes (which is not entirely within my control), then I have to reduce expenses (that I can do, to a certain extent). During hard times, I changed from premium brands (Anchor Butter, for example) to something less expensive (Butter Compound). John said, “Don’t scrimp on food,” but neither he nor I could tell the difference if I served the butter unwrapped. ☺ I sent our children to a school where “Hello Kitty” and other branded school stuff were banned. Even with a small income, I discovered that I could still save 15% by buying inexpensive clothes, or not buying them frequently. Looking for inspiration and role models, I learned that Mrs. Elena Lim, the owner of 26 companies, including Solid Corporation that manufactured Sony and Samsung appliances in the Philippines, still travelled, not first class or business class, but economy.

I need to stop here, because I may spend too much time reminiscing about the old times when we were poor. Fortunately, even then, we did not feel poor. And we never hit bottom – God always provided. He still does. ☺

Emails and Other Sales Tips

Paulbonin Togado Vargas hello ma’am Harvey. my usual problem is. when i reply to inquiries. karamihan di na po nagrereply ulit. is it okay that I’m already giving away my packages or is it better to not give them on your first reply to the inquiry.

The above request prompted this list of suggestions. I hope other photographers would also share their tips, suggestions and stories.

1. Decide what you are selling. When you reply to inquiries, what does your reply contain? Do they contain information about you and your credentials? Or do they contain only your packages and your rates?

Reply first with what is important for you to project. What is that, for you? What are you selling? I suggest that you try to sell yourself first, and discuss price last. Your customer must be first convinced that you are the right or best photographer for the job that needs to be done before you discuss prices.

If you are selling on the basis of price, then you may be underselling yourself as a photographer.

I remember entering a shop at a mall and pointing to a bag on an upper shelf, and asking the sales attendant if I may look at it. Before she reached for it, she told me the price, and while it was something I could afford, I felt offended. I would have preferred if she had shown me the bag and let me fall in love with it by showing me its features or letting me touch or handle it. She should have observed if I liked it and she should have waited for me to ask how much it was. If I’m interested, I would ask.

Potential customers, when they email you, could ask you directly for your rates, but what if you held them off for a moment to first ascertain their needs and preferences? What if you first offered them your selling points? Would they have felt your interest in them if you had asked them for their requirements or their ideas of what they wanted?

I agree that there are customers who search for photographers by looking at their rates, but they are most probably not looking for the better photographers. They are trying to find the cheapest photographers. Is that how you want to be considered? Do you wish to attract those kinds of customers, or would you like to find dream customers – those who will first try to see if you and they make a good fit, if your skills and style suit their needs.

Try to present your selling points first – these are the advantages and benefits of choosing you.
Try to engage them in conversation – personally is better, but if not, maybe through a phone call (they might like your voice, and the confidence it exudes). If you can’t meet them or talk to them on the phone, then yes, shoot them up an email. Inquire about their needs and preferences. Encourage them to tell you what they are looking for. Tell them that you will try to craft a proposal that is based on what they need. There are many more questions to ask – where is the wedding, where is the reception, how many guests are they inviting? If you must ask for their budget, ask for a range, not a specific amount.

2. Invite them to meet with you, and use the opportunity to wow them. It also provides you with a chance to size them up (sorry for the way that sounds). There’s a story I tell my students about one of my biggest mistakes. I did ask my prospective client (a non-Filipino) to meet with me, and to check out our studio. He was impressed, but as we discussed the cost of photography, he seemed uncomfortable with the price I quoted. He told me that he and his wife (a Filipina) were just starting their business, and have many start-up expenses, in addition to the expense of moving to the Philippines. He said this, and he said that – in short, he made me believe that I really could not squeeze another centavo from him. He had a very pleading look. He assured me that while they could not afford our rates at that moment, but that if his business would succeed, he would make it up to us. I was close to taking pity on him, as I wanted to help this foreigner who had chosen to try his luck in my country, so I caved in and agreed to the price that he haggled for. We shook hands, and I walked him out of the studio, and out of our lobby – just for me to see him wave to a uniformed chauffeur (in white pants and shirt, and white cap) standing next to a gleaming white Mercedes Benz that was parked outside our door. I could have kicked myself.

(P.S. This was pre-Internet era – today, I could google the name of his company and would have known more about him before our meeting. On the plus side, we did work together for many years, with me adjusting rates upwards, and justifying the incremental costs, which he approved).

3. Assess your customers, and adjust to suit their needs. I remember another story about how high-end stores survey the customers that come into their stores – they look at how they are dressed, what shoes they wear or what bags they carry, or what jewelry adorn them. This may be looked upon as a snobbish or discriminatory practice, and maybe they would miss out on rich customers who don’t like to look rich, but it does help to personally meet and assess your prospective customers.

Car salesmen do the same thing. When you walk into their showrooms, they will first ask you what kind of vehicle you are looking for. There is no sense in showing you a luxury sedan if what you needed was a pick-up. They will, however, try to sell you the top-of-the line pick-up.

4. Offer a range of options. Customers are individuals, and they are all different, just as photographers also are. Offer different packages. They’re priced differently, but their inclusions also differ from each other. If you are printing your rates and packages, you may even want to design them differently – with better paper and more sophisticated designs for your luxury packages.

But do limit the range so you don’t confuse your customers. Your services, prices and target customers must conform to your branding strategies. Photographers can’t or shouldn’t combine Divisoria with Greenbelt 5 prices.

5. Suggest an upgrade/upsize/meal, not just a burger. Offer a package that may entice them, even if they need to stretch a little bit. They might be willing to trim their allocation for other items in their budget to get that upgrade – that special product or service that you are offering. Remember how when we eat at a fastfood restaurant, they remind us to consider getting the meal, instead of just a burger? Or, do we want to upsize our fries and drinks, or would we want a sundae? Don’t miss the opportunity to get your customer to “upsize” or get a “premium product/service.”

Since I’ve mentioned burgers, I might as well mention the advice that I heard a foreign speaker give at one of the Photoworld talks. She suggested that one of your packages should be a “Whopper,” – something very special and irresistible, but a bit more expensive. You’ll never know when you’d meet customers who would go for your “Whoppers.”

6. Check your statistics, and see how you can improve them. What do you think you can do to increase your success ratio? One particular success ratio is computed based on the number of consummated sales over the total number of inquiries. Is the rise and fall of your success ratio tied to an action that you took? Experiment with different approaches – inquire about prospective customers or their requirements first before giving out your price packages, or vice versa? Follow up with a call, or another email? Send a brochure to all those who inquire about your services? How do your prospective customers respond when you send them additional samples of your work? What if you sent them testimonials from your happy customers? What if you offered them a premium or promo item if they would email you back or give you a call?

There are other things to compute – like number of inquiries in relation to the number of posts you make on social media, or when you make them? How can you increase the number of inquiries? Do they differ based on when you post on social media? Are there more inquiries if you posted at night, or on weekends, or on holidays, or the reverse? Similarly, you can measure how many inquiries you get from your other marketing strategies – from wedding fairs, for example. Do you get more inquiries from particular wedding fair venues? Or, a different time of the year?

7. Don’t conclude, without investigating, that your prices turned them off. It could have been something else. Could it have been bad grammar? Could your replies have been poorly written, or badly designed? This is not to say that they were.

Could your email address be turning off potential customers? Get your own domain, and use an address that reflects that you are a professional.

8. Find out more. Survey those who sent you emails in the first place, but did not get back to you after you sent them your packages. Why did they not get back to you? Were your list of services not attractive to them, or did they not seem enough for their needs?

Survey those who followed through. What attracted them to your reply? What made them say yes to your invitation to meet?

Survey those who actually booked a session, or wedding coverage with you. What did they like? Ask for suggestions on how you could improve your services to them.

9. Selling is a numbers game. Keep records, and see how your numbers fluctuate, and think of ways to improve them. As long as your numbers are moving up or improving, then I would not worry about those who got out of your net.

When we were just starting, we did not have many jobs. Many times, we would have time to play chess in the studio, or John would take time off to drive up to the Cordilleras, or go where the newspaper headlines led him – chasing after a Japanese straggler in Mindoro, or taking pictures of the floods in Central Luzon. Since jobs would keep him in town, my first statistical record was based on a goal, “One Job a Day.” I tracked how many days of the week or of the month when we did get one job a day. We did reach the point when we booked the month solid, and even averaged more than a job a day. I think that it helped to set targets or goals.

10. Aim for repeat business. Keep a customers’ database and even of prospective clients. Keep notes of details about them – birthdays, anniversaries, names of other family members, favorite colors, favorite beverages, etc. Keep the relationship warm – by writing or calling them, sending them greeting cards, news of your promos or discount coupons. Ask them also for referrals and introductions to their relatives and friends.

Let me know if these ideas work for you.