If you’ve worked in this industry long enough, you’ve heard the phrase that suggests why being a good businessperson is just as, if not more, important that being a good photographer. The more jobs I do, the more I see the wisdom in this statement, and this article will illustrate a few key points why.
A kit of imaging gear, lights, a computer, and a few other essentials do not come at a cheap cost for independent filmmakers or photographers. The easy way out would be to simply buy a bunch of gear, and go into some serious credit card debt over it, hoping that in the next 6 months you can turn around enough jobs to pay it all back, as well as any accumulated interest.
A business-savvy person would go over, in detail, exactly what gear is needed, costs for everything, but then consider what could be purchased used, what could be rented, and what could be borrowed or hired out at less of an immediate expense to the business. It’s not a wise move to go into debt, hoping that the jobs will come to help you climb out of that financial hole.
The art of negotiating with clients.
This is a very important skill, and it takes time and experience to develop good techniques. Tony Roslund wrote a great article explaining how to study up for and communicate with clients during a bid, and it has many great points. Simple things like not ever giving out a number during the first meeting can make a huge difference. I recently made this mistake, and it nearly cost me a job.
Even though I explained to my client that I would email them with a proposal that would include the cost, after reviewing my notes, they wanted an idea of what my typical rate was. I threw out a number, and the estimate ended up being higher. Of course, they wanted to know why the cost increased for no reason. I was able to explain things well enough, but it did put a damper on moving things forward.
Being able to speak confidently, intelligently, as well as at times strategically, can be the difference between a big contract or no contract at all.
Being able to craft a job-winning proposal.
When responding to an RFP or bidding on a 5-6 figure project, it can be well worth the time to craft a proposal packet that looks great and is highly informative. Nothing says “pro” like a neatly-designed proposal. Take the time to create a document in Word, or better yet, InDesign, and include pages that have detailed information on your business, your team, answers to common client questions, answers to specific questions the client has asked, workflow scenarios, budget options, and more. Include some great images as well to give it a look that will make it stand out. (Sure this may take a few hours to create, but the beautiful thing is, that once you’ve created one, the next time you need it, use the previous one as a template.)
Marketing your business.
Searching through job listing websites and responding to requests on Facebook or Reddit don’t count as marketing your business, but I hear that this is all that most people do. I’m certainly guilty of not advertising my business as much as I could, but for the location I live in, I’ve found that my best bet is face-to-face meetings. It’s a small town, and personal interactions have gone a long way. Oddly enough, they love Facebook in this town, and there are groups for just about everything. I keep tabs on those groups, and have been able circulate examples of my work through those and I can get clients out of it.
Lee Morris wrote a thoughtful article that asked the question: What is more important, the quality of my work or the business of selling it? He touches on marketing and makes some good points on getting out ahead of the competition.
This goes hand in hand with marketing, and can work for you when you’re doing other things. A good business person understands the value of an updated, compelling website that include examples of work, contact information, and perhaps even a blog. A little work to keep things fresh or write about a recent project can go a long way. Some of my best clients have made remarks about a topic I wrote about on my blog, and it was refreshing. They appreciated that they could learn a little bit more about me, and they noted that it made their decision to hire my business, an easier one.
If you’re lacking on the web-side of things, read this article on improving your website by Zach Sutton, and check out Squarespace, a favorite among my peers and what I use myself for a couple of different websites.
Pricing yourself properly.
The market you live in, the clients you are getting, the competition, all of these things will impact what you might price yourself. Go too low, and no one will take you seriously. Go too high, and no one will be able to afford you. This is very tricky, but do everything you can to learn what you can charge– ask your client what their budget is, ask them for examples of images they’ve seen elsewhere that reflect what they are looking for, and find out who they worked with previously.
I’ve been surprised by many clients, both good and bad, when it came to what they were willing to pay vs. what my initial thoughts were. Don’t sell yourself short, ever, and start high, negotiating down only if necessary. Having a high estimate and then coming in a few bones short of that is better than estimating low and exceeding the budget, having to ask for more money late in the game.
So what are some things you have done for your business that improved the quality or quantity of clients you were getting?