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|| News Item: Posted 2000-11-21

Let's Talk Business: So You Need a Raise- What Have You Done to Deserve It?
By Rick Rickman

Photo by
I was in New York recently talking with a few of my favorite editors and we mulled over the state of photography and how fees hadn't really kept pace with the rapidly rising costs of living. One editor who I have known a long time and trust implicitly mentioned that some photographers have been raising their fees for the work they do somewhat regularly over the past decade. She mentioned that in the last year some of her favorite photographers have sent out letters giving notice that their fees were going to increase that year.

What many photographers don't understand is that the fees that some magazines pay photographers is not set in stone. Most photographers just choose to accept the status quo without ever thinking about asking for more. Recently, I did a job for a magazine called Fitness Swimmer. I really wasn't totally excited about doing the job in the first place and so I was trying to put the assigning editor off a little by being very reluctant.

She kept saying that she really would like me to do the job so I finally said yes. At that she said, "oh good, I'm glad we will be able to do this. Just bill me the $400.00 and expenses to the address she had given me along with the film." At that point, I said, "oh no, I can't do this job for that fee. With the last minute nature of the job and the fact that I was going to have to go underwater I couldn't do it for less than $750.00." I really thought she would say well that's just way too high. Surprisingly she said, "Oh that's fine, I'll fax you an agreement." I was a little surprised but I said ok.

The agreement came a few minutes later via fax and on that agreement were some alternate uses that we hadn't discussed on the phone. I called her back and told her I had received thefax with the uses that we hadn't discussed and because of those uses I would have to have $200.00 more added to the fee. This raised the fee to $950.00 plus expenses. I knew at that point that this was going to be a deal breaker. Surprisingly, she said she was sorry to have forgotten about that other items and the extra $200.00 would be fine.

At that moment I started kicking myself repeatedly and cussing at my self in the mirror. I knew by the tone in her voice that she probably would have gone for more if I had only asked.

I mention this story because as photographers we are all to ready to take any offer we are given to do a job. Sometimes we don't take the time to evaluate the opportunity. When a photo editor calls you with an air of desperation in his or her voice or repeatedly tells you how much they want you to do the job it might be an opportunity to negotiate a higher fee. Learning to be attentive to what is being said over the phone during assignment calls is very important. Learning calm, direct, professional, negotiating skills is one of the most important aspects of business today. It's every bit as important to your business as taking great pictures. The great pictures will keep them coming back. The good negotiating skills will get you more for each job.

Recently, some associates of mine were in serious negotiations with a magazine to do a big project that would require many days of shooting and several photographers. In talking with the editor of the project it became clear that what they had asked was considerably higher than a couple other bids. They began to point out the strengths that they would be bringing to the table for this project and how they could assure the photo editor that what she would be getting would be far superior to what others might be able to bring. The long and short of it was that my associates secured the contract at almost twice the fee.

In this particular case the fact that people are not afraid to ask for higher fees often demonstrates to a client that they are dealing with people who are confident about their own abilities and who have had some experience in the industry. This often gives the editor confidence that the job will be done well. Stressing your strengths to an editor can re-emphasize why they called you in the first place. Asking for more money gets the client used to the fact that you will be negotiating to do the job well for the right fee all the time.

It's also important to note that if you expect more money from a client you need to bring something extra to the table. If you're the kind of photographer who never does anything more than what everybody else on the sideline of an event does, ask yourself, why would anybody want to pay me extra. Just because you own a camera know how to operate the automatic functions of that camera and can isolate a player in the viewfinder, doesn't mean that you should be getting a higher fee for your pictures than "Joe Average" next to you.

If you set some achievement goals for yourself for the next 6 months it will help. One thing I like to do is this goal setting method. For instance something as simple as setting a goal that you'll try something new with your pictures at an "event" that you've never tried before. It's funny but I guarantee that some of those kinds of pictures will end up in your portfolio and start to give your book a new and more versatile look. This in turn will give you more confidence and greater skill. This in turn will generate a reason for an editor to think about giving you higher fees for your work. Business is a funny thing. Sometimes we forget that growth is an endless process and we need to keep developing our skills to keep up with an ever-changing market. If we practice asking for higher fees we get comfortable doing the asking.

Remember the first time you tried to ask someone out for a date. I was terrified! I didn't know what to say and the words I used felt really stupid. Needless to say I didn't get the date. The next time however I did better and actually got a very cute young lady to go out with me.

The same thing is true with negotiating for more money. It's an acquired skill. The more you practice the better you become. So, do yourself a favor and try something to raise your visual acumen and skill level and then in the very near future when someone calls to offer you an assignment make an attempt to generate the courage to ask for a higher fee. Then maybe you'll have a chance to actually have the money to be able to afford to date or, in my case take my wife to dinner. Now get out there and actually make some money!

(Rick Rickman is a freelance photographer based in Southern California.)

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