Monday, October 1, 2007

Re-evaluating What You're Worth

I appreciated how highly regarded photographer Bill Frakes made a point during his recent appearance at the PhotoShelter Town Hall in Atlanta. Frakes recounted a story where he was asked to shoot a particularly challenging assignment of a sports facility, in use. For what the client wanted, Frakes quoted a figure of $10,000 for the assignment, and the client just went off, calling into question Frakes' pricing, and just how overboard and beyond the pail it was. The client said they'd hire someone else to do the work who was more reasonably priced, and Frakes thought that that was the end of it. Or was it?

(Continued after the Jump)

Instead, the client called back, saying that they'd hired another photographer, who's work just didn't cut it, and the images just didn't work, or were otherwise unusable. The prospective client now wanted Bill. Bill responded that the cost for the assignment was $20,000. The client was, as it was recounted, near speechless. How could it now be $20k? Hadn't he just quoted $10K, the client wanted to know. Frakes said "now you know how difficult the assignment is, so that's what it really should cost."

The client paid the new figure.

It helped that Bill's original estimate was only valid for 3 days, which gave him the leeway to make that adjustment. Not placing an expiration date on an estimate might have created a different - and $10k less - outcome in this situation.

For the past several years, I have been called upon by a high profile Washington DC client to execute a challenging assignment. It's become easier for me, to be sure, with the repeated experience. The assignment involves working directly with the President while away from the White House for one days' worth of the work, as well as a lengthy additional assignment the next day. This year, it had come to my attention that I was still onboard for the event with the President (because it was something they all knew I could do, and that there is a limited pool of people in town with that experience), however, I'd not even recieved a phone call asking about the second piece of the work.

In fact, a good friend of mine, who knew I had done this assignment over the years, did get a call, and he called me to ask about some of the specifics of the assignment, and I was happy to help - because he was a friend more than anything else. The client's events firm went so far as to tell my friend the figure he needed to stay within, and he did. In the end, the client didn't even extend to him the courtesy of a call saying he was not chosen, and he was frustrated, because he'd gone out of his way to assist them, and work within their budgetary figure. (FWIW, this figure was in the $4k range.)

The event I did do, came, and several people in attendance said "oh, we'll see you tommorrow..." and I politely said "oh, no. This year, I'm not on for that", and that response was met with repeated surprise. In fact, the head of the events firm said the same thing to me, and I said "let's talk about that, I didn't even get a call for consideration...", and this person was very surprised. I have a decade-plus relationship with them, and they know that it will be a challenge without me there.

When I made inquiries to friends of mine within the client's organization, I was primarily concerned that I had done something wrong. I couldn't concieve that there would be another reason I wasn't even given the courtesy of a phone call. My inquiries came back that the client "wanted to try someone else", and that there were no problems with me. Whew, I thought. Several people had some trepidation about having someone new, and an outsider, try to do the work. We were a well oiled machine together, and, in the end, my gut tells me that someone got the bright idea that it could be done cheaper. This wouldn't be the first time that a client of mine got that idea.

Well, while it could be done cheaper, at what cost?

Well, the event came and went, and the word back from inside the client's office is not good. Apparently, the "new guy" (or girl) just didn't get it. They were overwhelmed. They missed shots, they got in the way. Whomever made the decision not to use me is (probably privately) expressing regret about that decision. While I expect to continue my working relationship with this client over the coming year for other assignments, that particular event, to be sure, when it returns next year, will have a similar response that Frakes' had. My rates will significantly increase. Significantly.

Far too often, we make things look easy, and really make things run smoothly for clients, and we forget what a significant value that has for clients. We are far too quick to diminish the contributions we make, either in getting it right the first time - or when it really counts - and delivering what they want, when they want it.

As a result, we get stuck in the mindset that we can reduce what we charge, when asked, despite the fact that countless other clients have paid that amount, without complaint, for similar-type assignments.

I look forward to being able to be considered again next year for this assignment. And this experience has steeled my resolve to not only maintain my rate structure, but, wherever possible, to increase my rates on a regular basis.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

8 comments:

Dan Bannister said...

Good post John. Apologies in advance for the shameless plug, I would have emailed you directly but I don't know how to contact you. I thought you might like to read and comment on my blog post today:

http://www.onewordphotography.com/blog/

As it pertains to a personal experience with infringement. In fairness, I'll put a link to your site on my blog.

Dan

Anonymous said...

I'm curious how you balance the spirit of some of your "Watch What You Say and How You Act" observations with running your blog. You provide some very interesting stories and scenarios, and although I can't identify the exact event and/or client in various posts, can some of the clients recognize themselves? Is blogger.com similar to a very large elevator?

John Harrington said...

Good question. I am specifically vague so as to not revealt he client, however, there are probably three people who, if they read this particular blog entry, would recognize that I am discussing their organization.

This blog is written with the intent of helping other photographers find their way, and sometimes that requires some revelation of actual experiences, and, in this case, I'm ok with saying what I have.

Anonymous said...

Good post today, John. While I'm not even close to your stature as a photographer, I ran into a similar situation recently. I was unavailable for a client web catalog shoot, she hired someone else, and that replacement shoot totally bombed.

So here's a question for you-- how do you handle it if you're already booked (or unavailable) and your client asks you to recommend another photographer? I've had this happen and I send them to my local ASMP webpage "find a photographer" link, but it still feels a little like shooting myself in the foot.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy you blog greatly... But I have one problem... text heavy sites with light colored text on dark backgrounds are really hard on the eyes.......

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