The exposure contract
Rarely do I ever complain on the blog about our business or things that annoy me about being a business owner but today is a little bit of an exception. One of my biggest beefs in this business is the assumption of others that I need help with exposure. In addition it is annoying and rude for someone to think that their event, party, idea , clothing line, new grand opening, marketing strategy etc. etc. is so off the hook that business will trickle down to me just for being involved with them. That the heavens will open up and shower me with money merely for taking photos of their administrative assistants’ convention or donating one piece of artwork to their auction that 300 people will be attending or providing parents with free digital images at the annual church bizarre. Don’t get me wrong. We work closely with several non-profit organizations and causes every year and donate thousands of dollars worth of gift certificates and services to charity auctions and we are happy to help a good cause and that is not what I am talking about here…keep reading and you will see.
When someone comes to me and asks for free services in exchange for exposure I cringe at the pathetic begging for free photography. It’s demoralizing, rude, and simply bad business on the part of others. Honestly, if someone had it all together and really had a business or event that was so awesome that just by working with them would cause me to be a successful business owner, wouldn’t you think they would also be ultra successful and have a massive budget to pay for the services?
I know a lot of my other small business owner friends appreciate this issue because we speak about it to each other often. I also know there are a lot of new and inspired photographers that read my blog so I want to take the time to help educate the industry (if there is one anymore) on what I call my exposure contract.
Here is how this contract works. Basically let’s say someone like a real estate broker comes to me and says “Danny, I think your photography is just awesome! I see your stuff all over the city, in stores, in magazines, and those photos you did of the mayor were fantastic!” obviously the first thing I do is thank them for their wonderful compliments. It’s nice to know that the thousands of dollars I spend on advertising and promotions monthly is paying off to have this wonderful person call me and express appreciation for my hard work. Then the lovely future client says “I own one of Houston’s fastest growing real estate companies with 40 brokers, all of which sell homes in the millions of dollars daily! We just spent a TON of money on a new website and need to get fresh new portraits of all our staff, each broker and the new building we just moved into as soon as possible!” So I then compliment them on their great success and explain how our services work. I ask questions about the locations, the timing and their budget so I can put together an estimate. Their response to the budget generally is , “Well here is the deal, we don’t really have much in the budget for this but we will make sure and give you photo credit on the website and it will be great exposure for you!”. Now this is where I throw out my exposure contract.
What I explain to them is that they are interested in our exposure contract services. This is a very simple contract that we have put together with little to no risk whatsoever. Basically what we do is the following:
1. We put together an estimate of cost for the job they are requesting.
2. The business requesting the services pays twice that amount up front and in full.
3. We monitor our joint marketing strategy for 90 days after the work is complete.
4. If we receive 4 times that original estimates’ value of paid work in those 90 days, we will pay them back the money they spent 100%!
5. If we don’t receive 4 times the amount in marketing residuals we will pay them back half of what they paid after 90 days and just go on with our exciting lives.
Because you see there is no reason I should take 100% of the risk on the other businesses marketing. But if the other business is so unbelievably awesome that they are certain I will get more than twice the business for doing their services for free then there should be no problem with doing this contract. It’s called a gamble when two sides hedge a bet on an unknown outcome. It’s called stupid business strategy when one party takes all the risk while the other gets everything they wanted with no risk or work involved.
For those photographers that want to “make it big” I have news for you, it’s not gonna happen by doing this job FOR FREE. It’s also not a lottery and you won’t strike it rich overnight by running one special event. This deal is a long slow train wreck with sleepless nights, failed marketing strategies, and the ever constant battle of quantifying your art. But the upside is that when you do it right it feels awesome! When you create art for art it feeds your inspiration to work harder and better! And when you realize that everything you create is by your hand and not by a get rich quick photographer that hands out their business model at a convention you take pride in YOU. That is the payoff.
Honestly, I make very little money, I rarely see my extended family because I work all holidays, we are constantly trying to make this business work and if a big studio and lots of advertising makes you successful than we are there. But I don’t get out in the industry telling of Cinderella stories or flashing fancy marketing materials like its a silver bullet. It takes hard work to be able to keep working hard. It also takes a supportive family, loyal staff, great friends that also own businesses and lots and lots of wonderful clients that all become part of your family.
So there you go, a little insider info from me that I rarely share. I hope this new contract strategy helps someone else. I also hope it helps another photographer stop and really think about what they get themselves into. I don’t do photography because it makes money, I do it because I love photography. I love running a business too, and the two sides of my world don’t always mix well. But this is the real challenge and with challenges comes risk but let it be your own risk and not the risk of others.
God bless Texas and god bless those Small Business Owners!