A trap I’ve fallen into several times throughout my career is “over-booking” myself. And by “over-booking” I do not mean accidentally scheduling two shoots at the same time.
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When I first started out my professional photo journey, I thought that the goal was to have a shoot every single day— or even have multiple shoots per day!
I ran my business and scheduling by looking at my calendar and thinking any time I wasn’t shooting was time that I was available to shoot.
(raise your hand if you currently think this;))
As my client base grew, and I started booking shoots on a more consistent basis I eventually learned that being “Fully Booked” does not equal shooting all day every day.
***UNLESS YOU ARE OUTSOURCING YOU HAVE TO CONSIDER THE EDITING TIME.
how to know if you’re over-booked
You may be over-booking yourself…
If you are staying up all night and getting up early every morning editing
If you are struggling to get galleries delivered on time
If you are finding yourself sleep deprived
If you haven’t had a date-night with your spouse, a get together with friends, or a leisurely activity in more than 2 weeks (even during busy season)
If you’re unable to stay on top of business-backend things (like emails, finances, etc.)
how to stop over-booking yourself
First, assess your workflow:
How long does it take you total for one shoot? Consider your average travel time to shoot locations, average time spent shooting, average time spent editing, and average time spent coordinating with your client. Once you know how many hours you spend per-shoot, you can figure out how many shoots per week gives you a 40 ish hour (or 20 ish if you’re part time— or whatever amount of time you want to be working….) work week.
Check your turn-around times:
If you are booked fully, you should still be able to meet your deadlines. if you are over-booked you will struggle to meet deadlines and give up personal time in order to try to make things happen.
DO NOT give clients un-realistic deadline commitments. (boutique shooters I’m looking at you) 24-48 hour turn arounds are not reasonable for a gallery of hundreds of images. They are essentially asking you to skip your night of sleep and give it to them for free. Consider what is reasonable (I would say turn arounds for a shoot yielding 100 photos or less should be at the quickest 7 days and at the longest 3 weeks)
CHARGE RUSH FEES for anyone who needs extreme turn around times. If you’re giving up your sleep, you better be getting paid what your sleep is worth to you.
If you need more time to edit, increase your turn around time, or raise your rush fee rate.
Don’t Work For Free
For clients who require you to do above an beyond regular work, charge above and beyond your regular rates. i.e. If you send a gallery and clients want more images, or additional editing be done to the images they got, be sure to explain to them that you are happy to accommodate their requests for an additional rate, and according to your availability.
Raise Your Rates
If you are up to your eyeballs in work, raise your rates. This cuts back on your workload by eliminating cheaper clients, and keeps your paycheck the same with the potential for your paycheck to even be more. (i.e. if you are shooting for $300 and hour and you shoot 10 hours a week, but you can’t keep up on editing, raise your rates to $500, you can then decrease your workload (yes - that can mean losing lower paying clients) by 40% while maintaining the same income. (scale it to whatever you’re at— if you’re at $150 an hour or $200 an hour, consider increasing to $250 or $300 an hour)
Remember that if you are a freelancer/independent contractor YOU SET YOUR RATES. if a client is not putting you on payroll, providing you with the necessary equipment, software, office space, health benefits (if you’re full time) and all the things “employers” do, they cannot set your wage. (more on that in it’s own post later)
Decrease your gallery size
If you feel uncomfortable raising your rates (which you shouldn’t if you’re booking yourself more than full that means you’re worth more money than you’re asking…), another way to cut back your workload is to decrease the amount of images you deliver
For commercial jobs decrease your hourly guarantee of shots (i.e. if you’re giving back an average of 100 images per hour of shooting time, cut it down to 50 or even 25 for the same price, and let your clients know they can purchase a larger gallery size if they pay a higher rate)
For portrait sessions (bridals, engagements, boudoir, seniors, families, maternity..etc) deliver a smaller gallery for the same rate you’re charging (one way is to leave your current rate as a “mini session” and deliver a small amount of images for it, but also offer an increased rate for a “full session” with a larger amount of final images, that way people have the option to get more or pay less)
Decrease your editing quality (not recommended, but it is something you could do)
If you have a client (cough cough* boutiques) That you don’t want to lose but they won’t pay you more and they won’t plan ahead so you can have a reasonable turn around, you could always have a frank conversation explaining that editing takes time, and if they want those quick turn arounds you can do it without charging them more by simply applying a preset and clicking export. No individual photo adjustments. You could tell them you are willing to do that for their lower budget rate, and then if they want any additional editing to be done to the images its at ______this rate and the turn around time is _______this long per 20 images. or something like that. that would make it so they could purchase additional (full and professional) editing on images that are going to appear on their main web page, or social media posts.
THIS IS OF COURSE NOT WHAT I THINK ANYONE SHOULD DO. If a boutique or whoever your client is values their brand at all they will want high quality photos to represent their brand and showcase their product, but if they are unwilling to plan ahead or pay more then this could be an option that works for both of you. I’ve seen how boutiques are and honestly many of them would take this option before evaluating their budgets or their schedule so I am just throwing it out there that they should get what they pay for, and you shouldn’t work for what you’re not getting paid for. AGAIN. This is not what I would do as a business owner, or what I would want to do as a photographer (I don’t like anything with my name on it going out without my full stamp of approval — so if this is the route you take you may want to consider requiring that they do not disclose your name in association with the half-edited images)
(if you are a boutique owner reading this, think about the local brands that are the most successful—like Albion Fit. They invested in their photography and it gave their brand a strong identity that put them above the other companies who weren’t putting out high quality, cohesive, consistent content. Your photographs are what sell your products. Your photographs are what tell your customers who you are—do you want your image to be recognizable and high-end? or do you want it to blend in with everyone else, or worse be recognizable for being bad? invest in your brand, invest in your photos. find a photographer you love and give her a reason to love you back).
Be strong, Say “no”.
It is seriously the hardest thing for us to do, we want to say yes to everything, we love to accommodate people and it’s also really hard to turn down income. But you can’t live and run a business if you are constantly over-booking yourself. If you look at your calendar, and you are already at your max amount of shoots for the week (which you determined based on your editing time etc.) you are NOT available for another shoot even if you’re not shooting every day, or every hour of every day.
If you really want to fit them in, remember that it will cut into your editing time you need, BUT one option you could do as a **SPECIAL EXCEPTION** would be to say “I’m booked really full this week, I would love to squeeze you in, so we can shoot this week, on this day, at this time, but a) it will be at a higher rate( and/or) b) I won’t be able to start editing your images until next week, so I am willing to fit in shooting you this week, but the turn around time will be extended since I’m already booked full on my editing time for this turn around period.
The bottom line is, this is your job. and it isn’t sustainable to work at your job 100 plus hours per week (I mean….maybe if you’re getting paid 10 grand an hour to skip your sleep, you could do it for a week or two, but even at that price-point, you really can’t live like that forever) . So evaluate your rates, workflow, gallery size, and availability and set up a system that works for YOU! Remember that everything is a trade, and be sure you’re not getting an unfair end of the deal. There’s a balance that is fair to you and fair to your clients and it’s up to you to find it.