What About THOSE Companies
I am not sure about where you live, but where I live there have been two companies that have infiltrated our industry. One offers in-home newborn photography and the other offers on location portrait sessions. These companies promise extremely low cost ( one offers a price of $15 a digital file), all inclusive sessions to the masses and with their aggressive social media advertising that show gorgeous images and convincing testimonials from clients, they are luring clients in left and right.
The business model is an all inclusive one that allows clients to get the session and a set amount of digitals for one low price and of course, clients can upgrade to add more digitals and add various kinds of printed products if you like.
I was curious as to how this would work for a photographer, so I went and applied with the company that offers newborn sessions.
Full disclosure, I am rebuilding my studio, I need to get my name back out there, I wanted to see if this might be a good short term fit for me until I get fully back on my feet. I went into the application process a photographer looking for a possible opportunity.
The application process was fairly straightforward, no big red flags to be concerned with. I needed to show examples of my work, talk about my work history, list the equipment that I used, and answer some general questions about my business.
About a week after I submitted my application, I received an email from their staffing coordinator congratulating me on passing the first step (Woo Hoo!) and if I was still interested would I please set up a time for a zoom interview.
The Zoom interview was conducted by the Director of Recruiting and it was pretty standard stuff as far as a job interview goes. She started out thanking me for my time letting me know she was happy to speak with me, but was very swift to let me know that she knew who I was and that she was pretty sure that this was going to be a short phone call. She wasn’t sure if what they had to offer was really the right fit. I thanked her for her honesty but I was very interested in learning more about how their process might fit into my business at this point in time.
Here are the things I found out during the interview:
- The main offer to their clients was a all inclusive price of $350 that includes the session and 8 digital files.
- They have nationwide pricing. A session costs the same for them no matter if you are in downtown New York City or Downtown Boise Idaho. This allows their prices to be very competitive, if not dramatically under market value in the larger metropolitan markets.
- They require a photographer to sign a strict exclusivity agreement. So if you sign with them you can no longer accept newborn sessions on your own.
- You can use the images you take for them in your portfolio and social media but they must contain the companies watermark and branding, not yours
- They require a three day training intensive (non-paid) where they show you their workflow, lighting techniques and process so all their photographers' images look the same.
- They require a purchase of a $1,500 lighting and equipment kit plus a annual refresh of new props at an approximate cost of $175
- They do all the editing and selling of the images
- They show each client a gallery of 40-50 images and expect submissions to contain a lot of images to choose from
- They promise clients that you will be there for 3.5 hours
- They want you to be available for at least three sessions a week
- You get paid $150 per session and can receive a $30 referral bonus if someone asks for you specifically.
- After the newborn phase, you are welcome to market to those clients for future sessions like baby plans, family sessions, etc. . .
- I would choose my geographic area but traffic isn’t a consideration. If you live in an area with lots of traffic like I do, a drive to a session could be over an hour each way.
- I would pay for all the gas, tolls, and travel expenses to and from sessions.
Those were the highlights.
Do you have any red flags yet?
There are many pros and cons in the above list. But where I really had to dig in to see if it would be a good option for anyone in my area was with the math. Numbers don't lie and are a measurable way to tell if something makes sense for a business.
Below I have listed the start up expenses and income for the first 10 sessions with a company like this and compared them to the average (give or take) price in my area for the same kind of service. Keeping in mind these are only the expenses for these particular sessions. You still have all the normal expenses of running your business like equipment, websites, phone, etc. . . . So keeping that in mind, your expenses are really much, much higher than what I have listed here.
THE FIRST 10 SESSIONS WITH A COMPANY
- $800 three days of training (average loss of pay, $200 a day)
- $1500 in start up fees
- $200 in travel fees
- $200 in misc. Fees memory cards, prop cleaning, etc. . .
$2,700 TOTAL expenses for the first 10 sessions
INCOME FOR THE FIRST 10 SESSIONS
-$1,200 in profit for the first 10 session.
That means a photographer won’t look to make a profit until they have completed 18 sessions. That is A LOT of newborn sessions. At their current recommended rate of three sessions a week that means you will not break even until you hit week 7. And that doesn’t even account for the wear and tear on your back, neck, and energy of doing that many sessions in other people’s homes per week.
HOW THE AVERAGE NEWBORN PHOTOGRAPHER IN MY AREA WOULD COMPARE
- $600 continuing education - courses and established training
- $2,000 equipment
- $200 in travel fees
- $200 in misc. Fees
- $3,000 TOTAL for 10 sessions
AVERAGE INCOME FOR 10 SESSIONS ($1,800 per session)
$18,000 in session fees and product purchases.
Total profit $15,000
I honestly can’t see how this makes sense for any photographer in any market. There is NO Cost of Doing business analysis where you can make an income of $150 for an home newborn session work. You can slice the numbers any way you want but even after the training and expenses are paid for, it doesn’t really make sense. If you average 7.5 hours per session (commute, shoot, set up, tear down, submitting images, laundry, etc. . .) , you are making $20 gross an hour, not counting your other expenses and taxes. At that rate, you are working for less than minimum wage in almost every single state in the country. These numbers may not reflect where you are but they are a good representation of any photographer who lives an any area where these services would be advertised.
This is an interesting experiment in how our industry might be changing. When an entrepreneur tries something different to see if it sticks it can disrupt an entire industry. If their pockets are deep enough and their reach is large enough, things can truly start to shift. The people behind these companies are savvy business owners, they have run all the scenarios and they know what it will take for this to take off and be profitable. Don’t think for a minute that other companies like this won’t pop up. I have been saying for months that the industry was going to have a major shake up after the pandemic ended. Is this that shift? Oh, I hope not.
Do I fault companies like this for trying to make a buck? No.
Do I think they are making it hard for photographers like us? Yes.
Do I think they are undercutting what we do and are cheapening portrait photography across the board? Yes.
Did I tell them that? I most definitely did.
The only way to stop companies like this from hurting us and our industry is by taking a stand and not working for them. This is not a great opportunity for anyone. In my opinion, it is predatory on photographers who haven't been able to get established and don't understand the value of their work. We need to create businesses that pay us what we deserve for the work that we do.
You are worth more.
Your skills are worth more.
Your time is worth more.
Our industry is worth more.
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