"I know my COnDB! Do you?"
One thing that every photographer learns (or should learn) from the very beginning of doing business is to figure out your cost of doing business. This is a common practice among business owners in every field imaginable. Once you’re aware of what it costs you to operate your business as you’d like, you know what you need to charge in order to make an adequate profit. Before I continue with this post, if you are a photographer running a photography business and you haven’t yet figured out your cost of doing business (CODB), do yourself a favor and put pen to paper. Figure it out. You’ll have a much better idea of what you’re actually profiting from each job, which can be significantly different from what you are grossing.
CODB, however, is not really what I’d like to talk about here. I’d like to talk about COnDB, or, the Cost of (not) Doing Business. Sure, it sounds funny. But oddly enough, this is something that must be considered if you hope to operate a legitimate, respectable, sought after and self-sustaining photography business.
I was recently approached by a well known client in the ski industry. They inquired about hiring me for an upcoming shoot. They needed numerous images for a number of usages. In short, they needed a lot–a hefty number of images with hefty usage stipulations attached. This was all good and well and completely doable from my perspective…until I saw the budget allocated for the shoot. It was a sad, sad number. The number was so sad it looked like it wanted to cry. Really. We went back and forth (always amicably and professionally), and unfortunately in the end, we were not able to meet on neutral ground for both parties. In the end, the agreement still felt terribly lopsided and I had to politely decline the job.
Which brings me to the actual COnDB. I certainly could have used the sum total from this job. It would have made my bank account feel better, yet it would have given my internal business compass fits. We must account for our COnDB as photographers. We must contribute to the overall health of the industry that feeds our kids, supports our kids and pays our mortgages (both physical and moral). How can we account for this? The answer is simple–maintain a position as a photographer that allows you to say no to bad business. This means having enough coin in the ol’ piggy bank that you don’t feel forced to take any sum of money, regardless of the implications it may have on your business, and the photo business as a whole. It also means having the confidence in your work and skill set as a photographer to know when the client simply can’t afford your work. There’s no pretense to thinking or saying that. I have a laundry list of things I want, but can’t afford. And someday, I’ll purchase those items/services when I can. When I can.
I don’t hold anything personally against clients like the one I’m speaking of in this post. I understand their position–they are trying to get as much as possible, for as little as possible. We all do it (think buying a used car–or new, for that matter!). I do know that I can simply choose not to oblige unrealistic proposals and expectations. The honest truth is that you don’t want the clients who want everything for nothing. You want the clients who want the very best imagery possible, and they understand that they will have to pay a respectable sum for it.
Account for your COnDB. Know when to say yes, and when to say no. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again–VALUE YOUR WORK. If you don’t, who will???
As a side note, I followed up with the client several days after declining the job and plied the waters to make sure we were still on good terms. The response was gratifying, and I’m confident that if/when this client has another project with adequate budget, I’ll be tops on their list.