By Mark Loundy
Yes, I'll admit I'm a fool for you
Because you're mine, I walk the line
— Johnny Cash
Are photographers fools for love? Some staff photographers certainly live in a fool's paradise. They use their employer's resources to support below-market rates freelance business. Hard to believe? Let's take a look...
Employer-paid health insurance, retirement fund, worker's compensation insurance
Using staff-issued equipment on freelance jobs
Making contacts on editorial assignments that develop into commercial jobs
Daily credit line
Using employer's computers, Internet access, phones, desk, stationery, etc.
There's more, but you get the idea.
So our hero is cruising along. Life is good. The day job is secure and the freelance gigs are helping pay for the weekends at the lake and the new car.
He has no idea that he's walking next to the edge.
Whammo! Reality hits. It turns out that the economy has been affecting ad linage and the paper's bottom line has suffered. The major corporation that owns the paper tells the local manager to fix the problem — or else. The quick fix is to cut staff and that's what happens. The photo department is converted to all-freelancers who get $50 per assignment. Our hero is over the cliff and on the street.
That's OK; he can fall back on his other freelance gigs, can't he? Of course he's been reading this column and monitoring the Editorial Photographers Group and is up-to-speed on determining his cost of doing business.
So he gets out a sheet of paper and writes down all of his monthly expenses. Let's see, home office, auto, phone, equipment, repairs, health insurance... Holy flashcards! $250 a day? That can't be right!
But it is. Our hero sees that he needs to triple his rates and quintuple the number of jobs he does. When he tries to raise his fees, his former clients go hunting for some other photographer with a day job and below-market rates. He finds that his lowball pricing has destroyed his own market.
Our hero ends up going to real estate school.
"Good business practices aren't just for freelancers," or "There but for the grace of the bottom line go I."