During a recent night out, I was asked the question: "What do you do for a living?" It was the perfect opportunity to practice being excited about my work, so I launched into my story. This was followed up with a question that often comes up in these conversations: “Why would someone hire you to fly around the world when they could save time and money hiring a local photographer?”
The question could have been rephrased: “Everyone is a photographer these days. Why should I pay your fee?”
Could I ask you to do some basic calculations with me? How much money would you need per year to cover your living costs, your business expenses, and to leave a little extra to build your business? In the UK, it is roughly £60,000 ($77,000).
How many shoots can you realistically handle per year, assuming you’re involved in the entire process from pre-production to delivery? Is 50 per year a reasonable number? That means you need to be making £1,200 ($1,538) as a minimum per shoot just to make it as a “somewhat successful” business.
I did this calculation to determine a price to charge my architectural clients. During the fee negotiation process, one of my clients told me that my fee was almost the entire fee he was charging for his design. Why should he give up most of his income simply for photography? I caved and offered him a cheaper option (half the fee for half the time), but it got me worried about the state of the photography market. If my minimum fee requirement was significantly more than what my clients could afford, how sustainable is my business?
I found the answers to these questions in an episode of the Tim Ferris Show. For those of you not familiar with the Tim Ferris Show, it is a long-form interview podcast where the host, Tim Ferris, interviews world class performers across a variety of disciplines to tease out common practices that can be applied to any discipline. I've learned more about the photography business from the Tim Ferris show than from any book or course about the photography business.
The episode that spoke to my questions was an interview with Seth Godin. Seth is a leading expert on the topic of marketing as well as being a phenomenal communicator. He did a similar interview on the Chase Jarvis Live podcast. Both podcast episodes bring out principles from Seth’s latest book, “This is Marketing.” The episodes cover principles like making your service for the smallest viable audience. Just that concept alone was worth listening to the episodes.
Any photographer who is trying to find an audience for their work should listen to the podcast episodes. At the very least, it will challenge you to think about the practices you've always been doing that you've assumed to be useful. Personally, I changed my entire business focus.