Let’s read what’s in the fine print

A photographer wrote on our group page on Facebook, Business of Photography, to inquire about his friend’s rights. Apparently, based solely on a verbal agreement, his friend did some photography for a magazine. Later on, the magazine asked if the magazine’s client could use the photo for a poster for display in a mall. The photographer said no, but the photo was still used. The photographer was, and still is, upset. They are all upset – the magazine folks, the mall advertiser and the photographer. His photographer-friend asks: Should he complain? Should he sue? Should he sue the publisher, the mall advertiser or both?

To quote the photographer who wrote to us, in behalf of his photographer-friend: “Now I ask, who is in the right in this situation? Is there a legal basis for the Photographer to come after the Mall or Magazine? What would you do in this situation? Should the photographer teach them a lesson in how to respect photographers rights if this is indeed a rights issue?”

I tried referring this to a lawyer-friend, but she is hesitant to give an opinion without access to more complete information. That’s a professional for you. But I am not a lawyer so let me hazard an opinion as a lay person. (Please don’t mistake my advice as legal opinion – for more professional advice, please consult a lawyer). I’m just thinking out loud, and if my thinking is erroneous, please do correct me.

Photographers should take an active role in protecting their rights. In the case presented to us, we were told that there was no contract between photographer and magazine, or between photographer and the mall advertiser.

Allow me, however, to ask further. Was there really not a contract between them? There might have been, but it’s possible that the photographer was not aware of it. Perhaps it was not in a standard form where we sign on dotted lines- it could have been in the fine prints, and maybe, no signatures were even required.

Some magazines announce, usually on their editorial page (the page where the editorial box lists all the people involved in the publication – the publisher, editors, designers, staff as well as contributing writers and photographers) a declaration that all submissions, whether articles or photographs – become property of the publisher upon publication. If this was the case, and I am not saying that this was the case between the photographer and the magazine in question, then submitting to such publications may have caused the photographer to surrender his rights to the publication, albeit unknowingly.

Years ago, I remember aspiring to get a personal story published in a prestigious magazine. The instructions on how to submit were clearly stated, and it included an announcement that all submissions, when published, become the property of the publication. All the warning bells rang in my head, and neither a $100 payment for each article published nor the honor that came with seeing my name and story in print in this international magazine (pardon me for not naming the publication) could not make me grant them perpetual and universal rights to my story. It did not matter that my story would never be a bestseller and I probably could never sell it even just one more time – all that mattered to me was not losing ownership of it. It was MY story, and I wanted to keep it.

Photographers should watch out for a similar rule that many photo contest organizers add to their terms and conditions. All entries, not only winning entries, become the property of the contest organizer. Many photographers I know don’t even bother to read those rules – even when they are printed in big, bold letters – but they would be the first to complain when they see their pictures being used, without their “permission.”

Do I mean to tell photographers to never submit photos to magazines or contest organizers, when the fine (or not-so-fine) prints warn them about the full transfer of rights to the publications or the contest sponsors? Or to work for clients who demand total surrender of their rights? No, I am not saying that. All I am saying is please read the rules, terms and conditions, and make your own decision whether to accept or not accept them. What you get in return for surrendering your rights – fame, glory or cash – is for you to weigh and to negotiate for. As we were told during the seminar – be aware of your rights, but know that what you do with your rights is or should be a business decision. You have the primary responsibility to protect your rights, and the first step in doing so is in reading the rules, terms and conditions, whether in large or fine print.

Why Day Rates Don’t Work

Disclaimer: I am speaking only from my experience in the business of advertising/commercial photography. The following article may not be true for other specializations, but then again, it might be.

Many years ago, when John and I were just starting to consider ourselves professional photographers, I was totally ignorant of what to ask my clients. I did not know that I had to ask for a full description of the work that they needed done, and to inquire where they would use the photographs that we would produce. I was just excited that we were finally charging for what was a hobby, and simply quoted a fixed amount as a per day rate. In fact, I had no idea how to define “day.”

On my first attempt to quote a day rate, I simply said, “Photographer’s Day Rate……P(amount).” I had a subscription to an American photo magazine, which mentioned that US photographers charged a day rate of US$1,000.00 (This was in the 1970’s). I simply multiplied that by the exchange rate of US dollars to Philippine Pesos. (Note: I don’t remember the actual exchange rate then, so let’s suppose that the exchange rate was Php25 to US$1.00). I quoted a day rate of P25, 000.00. My client – the PR Manager of a local bank was shocked. He said he did not even earn that much, and how dare we charge that much, etc. In short, we did not get the job. I had thought that it was a fair quotation but it did not seem that way to him. I deliberated on this experience long and hard, and justified my quotation by thinking what it actually included. My “Aha!” moment then came to me – I knew what that price included, but my client didn’t. At the next opportunity, I typed,

“Photographer’s fee, plus use of camera and lighting
equipment, services of an assistant, round trip transportation
from studio to client’s office, films, processing and submission
of contact prints and slides……………………………………………………P25,000.00

The next client approved our quotation without questions. Hurrah!

(Later, I found out that the figure that the magazine cited as a photographer’s day rate was simply for his creative fee, and there were more additions – usage rights, studio rental, photographer’s assistant, direct expenses etc. I could not bill those charges to my clients, but consoled myself by saying we were not in America). ☹

At that point, however, I still had much to learn; and at this point, the learning actually continues. Through the years, as I learned more about how to price, I saw that a day rate that does not completely or adequately define what a quotation should (to be tackled in another article) can be confusing to both the photographer and his client. Here are some early lessons.

Lesson #1 Not defining the scope of work for the day.

I learned from another photographer who also charged a day rate, that when he almost came to the end of day at the place of his shoot, after he thought he had covered all that he needed to shoot for his client’s annual report, he was asked to shoot ID photos of all employees. It was not indicated in his proposal, but neither was it defined as not included. He had no choice but to comply.

Lesson # 2: Not defining the hours.

What is a day? Is it 24 hours? I learned this lesson when, after approving our day rate, our client – a big hotel in the south – sent me a schedule of photo-shoots that started at 4am and ended at 2am the next day. And they thought they were being kind to us by only scheduling 22 hours of work!

Lesson # 3 What if you can’t shoot on the day you thought you would?

Things happen. Maybe it rained when you were supposed to shoot outdoors. Maybe the talent got sick. Maybe your plane got delayed. You’re getting more than your fair share of Murphy’s Law, but you’ve reserved this day for this particular client. You turned down other clients. What happens then? Can you still charge for this day, even though you were unable to shoot?

As more mistakes were made, and with the realization that a “Day Rate” left many things undefined, we expanded our definition so that we could be clear as to what we were supposed to do, and what the responsibilities are for each party – photographer and the client – for the expected and the unexpected.

There’s more to follow, on what to consider when pricing for photography. Please send in your questions, share your experiences, and tell me what you would like to read on this blog, or this Facebook group.

Learning and Keeping Lessons on Photographers’ Rights

Copyright Poster4 final (1)The other night, we opened our (photo studio) doors to some 40 other photographers who came to listen to talks on protecting their rights. We invited three speakers, Atty. Louie Calvario of the government agency, Intellectual Property Office; Atty. Joey Tapia, an arts and entertainment lawyer; and Alvin Buenaventura of the Filipinas Copyright and Licensing Society (FILCOLS).

Originally scheduled for three hours, the talks – which promptly started at 6pm as earlier announced – lasted five-and-a-half. It was such an information-packed evening that would have gone past midnight and into early morning, if we had not signaled that it was getting late and we could no longer accommodate all the questions that were being asked.

From my many experiences attending seminars and workshops, or reading books, I know that it is easy to be inspired by what we hear or read – especially if it is something we are hearing for the first time, or when what we hear is something that applies to us, or something we can profit from or use. At that moment, all the bulbs are lighting up and exploding in my head, but I’ve also learned that those myriads of bits of information can disappear from my mind and consciousness fairly quickly, if not done, applied or implemented within a couple of days after receiving them.

This, then, is my effort to ensure that what I learned the other night – tons of potentially profitable information that I could apply to our business of photography – will serve my company and me, and as I pass them forward, my students and colleagues in the industry.

So, while I was listening to the speakers but unable to take down notes as I had to attend to the attendees, I am now taking some quiet time to recall the information, stories, and advice that I heard from our three speakers. In a way, this is also my to-do list.

Atty. Louie Calvario spoke on photographers’ intellectual property rights as protected by Philippine law. Even I was surprised to hear that Philippine laws, more than American copyright laws, are protective of rights of authors and creators. I also learned that, in addition to registering our business name with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Trade and Industry, that we should register our name and logo with the Patent Office and with the Philippine Intellectual Property Office. I also took note of the advice that although works – in our case, photographs – are copyrighted at the moment of creation, without need to register them, it would still be safer and photographers would have a tighter claim, if they would register their works. Works could be registered singly or as compilations, such as books or a collection of proof sheets – and can be registered in hard or digital copies, with the National Library or with their office. Registration fees are for each registered work or collection of works, not per picture/photo. There is so much to learn about copyrights and related topics, so I think I will get a copy of the Philippine Copyright Law.

Atty. Josephina “Joey” Tapia talked on “Contracts for Photographers” and went to describe all the elements that should go into a contract between a photographer and his client. She advised the audience to always read contracts, and to be careful of working on a project before the contract has been signed (and of course, read) and before down payments had been received.

Since she covered all the elements that should be incorporated into contracts, and I was unable to take down notes, I probably should invest in some professional consultation time with her. I should bring for her scrutiny a copy of our standard contract, as well as contracts from a few multinational clients who insist that we sign their contracts.

When asked for advice on how to protect a photographer’s rights when the photographer deals with friends and relatives who won’t sign contracts, she still advised us to get contracts signed, but if that is truly impossible and yet we still want to do the work, then she had a very practical advice – use email to record our conversations and negotiations.

Sometimes, the situation between photographer and customer/client reaches a very unpleasant status (disagreements about expectations of quality, deadlines, payments and other issues). Atty. Tapia described the different non-litigation procedures that we can have recourse to, but when it has to come to the most unwelcome option – suing in court – she warned us of the high cost of suing, not only in terms of actual expense but also of time, especially here in the Philippines. She also warned that if we’re up against a big, powerful company, we might find ourselves with no law firm willing to take up our case. The reality is – even the richest, most prestigious law firm would rather represent, not us, but our big, powerful client.

Ultimately then, the best advice she gave us was for photographers to have a contract that names the contracting parties and defines all expectations, timetables (start and end times), deliverables, conditions, payments, penalties and other conditions that we add to our contracts, even conflict resolutions. While conflicts are unwelcome, we should still define penalties and alternative solutions for non-performance of contract terms and conditions, and if it must come to taking the dispute to court, our contracts should also indicate where cases should be filed. We should read and understand contracts before we sign them, and of course, make sure that these contracts are fair and favorable to us.

Our third speaker was Mr. Alvin Buenaventura, Executive Director of Filipinas Copyright Licensing Society, Inc. (FILCOLS), the “collective management organization (CMO) in the text and image sector operating in the Philppines.” I have attended talks given by another collective management organization (FILSCAP for song writers and composers), but I invited Alvin because FILCOLS would have more affinity with photographers. I also hope that someday, photographers could organize themselves and become affiliated as a group with FILCOLS.

He did not disappoint. Although he had heard me speak of the difficulty of organizing professional photographers, he narrated how their now 600+-member organization started with only eight members. He then showed photos of members receiving checks for the publication or reproduction of their works – with the money having been collected through the efforts of the large organization, not of the individual members running after infringers. They are also affiliated with counterpart organizations abroad that act to protect the rights of Filipino authors and image makers (I hope someday, we can say “photographers”). Speaking mostly in Filipino, he is very confident that in a few years, we can be accredited as a separate collective management organization or as an affiliated group – all we need is for one person to spearhead the effort to organize Filipino photographers. Is anyone up for the challenge?

Although not officially listed as a speaker, Jenny Bonto, executive director of Artists’ Welfare Projects, Inc. spoke on the different programs and campaigns that they are offering to all Filipino artists. Membership is free. https://www.facebook.com/Artists-Welfare-Project-Inc-720458124693734/timeline/

There — I’ve written down the important points that I learned, so that I could have something to come back to. I need to do this so that I can keep, apply and benefit from all the information and nuggets of wisdom that I heard on Wednesday night. I hope that those who attended this very special seminar will do the same, and share them, especially with those who wanted to come but could not.

Combining Love and Business in Photography – Five More Tips

One of the questions I received online after our talk in Davao City (at the 3rd Mindanao Photo Expo) came from a photographer’s wife:

“I am currently working but I want to give it up to concentrate on our business. My husband will not permit me to resign. What should I do?”

To fully understand their situation, I had to ask her a few more questions. She told me where she was working, what kind of work she was doing, and how much she was earning. I also needed to understand what kind of photography her husband was doing, and how much he usually earned – on a good month or a bad month.

Being a photographer’s wife myself, I understood her predicament, and this is how I shared my two pesos’ worth of advice. Perhaps other photographers, or photographers’ wives, would like to share their sentiments so that she could hear from more than just me.

My first advice was for her to compute what is really her take-home pay. This is not the amount that she withdraws as salary (which she told me) every 15th and end of the month, but what is left after she deducts the cost of working – transportation, eating out while at work, cost of clothes or uniforms, salary for a yaya (nanny) if they have young children who would require the presence of one while their mother was at work, and other expenses that she must incur to stay employed.

She was quick to point out that her husband earned more than she did. As a wedding photographer, he was charging an x amount per wedding, and doing four or five weddings a month.

At first blush, it looked like she was comparing their gross incomes, rather than what each really brings to the kitchen table. I advised her not to compare her take-home pay with her husband’s photography package, as she was comparing “apples and oranges.”

It appeared that both needed to do some accounting. And since her husband’s contribution to the kitty may vary from month-to-month, they have to faithfully record income and expenses, month after month, until they can find monthly averages based on yearly totals (maybe even culled from several years).

To help her decide if they could live on a single income (and a variable one at that), I also advised her to do a family budget.

If she is intent on giving up her job, I suggested that she asked or studied how her joining her husband can help promote his business or help increase his income or profits. What specific responsibilities could she assume, such that, if she took care of those, then he could be more free to do more of the profitable part of his business. For example, in my partnership with John, I did the front end (selling and marketing) and for a while, until I could hire someone, also the back-end (accounting, billing, collecting). I also attended meetings – bidding conferences and preproduction meetings– so that he could focus on the earning part of his work, which in his case, is actually shooting. Of course, all those tasks help to complete the photography project, but certain tasks more directly produce income. Meetings are necessary, but I could do the meetings, but I can’t do the shoots.

In wedding photography, he could perhaps assign doing initial interviews (sales) to her, as well as supervising subcontracted work, such as album making,

Of course, this does not preclude her actually learning enough photography to be a wedding photographer herself. She could start off as his second-shooter. With her doing this, he would not have to hire a second shooter. This she could do on weekends, and even while she is still a full-time employee. If she became a good enough photographer, then she could accept to photograph a different or separate wedding, thereby doubling their income as a couple.

If you or your spouse are in a similar situation, I hope that you consider these before you make your decision.

1. Work your numbers. Compute your actual contribution to the family kitty (your take home play less your expenses to allow you to work). Do the same with your husband’s income – not what he charges his clients, but what’s left after he has paid all expenses that he incurs to do the job). Compare what you earn with what you can potentially earn given different scenarios – if business were very bad, bad, good, very good etc.

2. Remember that leaving your job and joining your husband in his photography business could be like “putting all your eggs in one basket.” Would you want to do that? What would be your recourse if his business went sour? How can you diversify your incomes?

3. If you and your husband are convinced that you should be in business together, don’t give up your day job yet. Gradually work your way out of your day job, and into your husband’s photography business, although some people get an extra challenge from jumping right in.

4. If you want to help boost your husband’s business, list down all the different tasks that he does, or those he asks others to do for him. Assign values to these tasks, especially if they represent actual, identifiable income or expenses. Check which ones you can do or which you can learn. Which ones are you good at? If you are good in sales, and can raise your husband’s fees, then you could be more valuable to him doing that.

5. Consider how your working separately or together can impact on your marriage, family life, or your children’s lives. Remember that there are considerations more important than money.

I hope this helps.

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. ☺