What Is The Value of Time? - Words and images by Peter Finnie.
We've all got a sense of time. We all have a sense of its passing. To a premature baby, it is incredibly vital. To young lovers it flies by in a blink. When we are dealing with an illness, it drags on, and on, and on. The question is how do we value it with respect to our businesses? When we as creatives are looking at the business side of our enterprises, we sometimes have difficulty when assigning value to what we do. Why is this so?
When creating, we think, we envision, we experiment. Time is often not a factor when we are in that mental ‘zone’ and we are creating. It costs us nothing to think. Or does it?
A question that arises for photographers and all creatives is how to price their work and effort, or to boil it down, how do I value my time? The crux of the question involves a look at what a business is trying to accomplish. Then conclusions can be formed with respect to the answer.
Business is about providing products or services to clients that require them. Clients pay dollars for services that they would rather not provide for themselves. These challenges with supply and demand are what keep us in demand as creatives with services to offer. Business costs and customer demands are two main factors in determining pricing. Let’s examine both factors.
Most beginning creatives struggle with understanding the REAL cost of doing business. We get a camera or a shiny new computer, and we dive into the realm of creating content. Before we know it, someone says they have a project we would be “great” at. We give it a try and sometimes pass off the time investment as ‘no big deal’ since we are building a ‘portfolio’. While true, here is where a trap is set.
The new photographer does need to develop a portfolio, admittedly. But the real costs of doing business (CODB) are already being ignored. That computer/software will need to be upgraded in 18 months. The beginner camera that the photographer starts with will need lenses and upgrades over time. Does the budding new photographer need to acquire studio lights? Modifiers, gels, stands, props, printing, advertising, insurance and many more expenses are also waiting in the wings.
How are all these expenses to be covered? From a photographers perspective, by investing time and experience in the creation of images. Not only does a photo shoot require gear and time for setup, but there is a great deal of time spent in the editing and retouching of images. If a client wants the
photographer to craft the shoot creatively, and does not provide a detailed brief, the value of the photographers creative vision must be factored in as well. Time becomes more valuable when the demands get higher. It’s been said that from the neck down, we’re all worth $10-20 an hour. From the neck up? We should be worth a lot more!
Photographers need to ‘begin with the end in mind’. What is the income that you would like to make in the course of your business year? Divide that figure by the number of client shoots you have or anticipate booking. Record that number. Then add up all of your real expenses and divide the total by the same number of total projected shoots. You will easily determine if your income will be in excess of your expenses. If it is not, you won’t stay in business for very long. If your business model is not sustainable by the proceeds it brings in, it isn’t hard to fathom that some adjustments need to be made.
How else can a photographer maximize their return on invested time? Proper licensing of their work is another item that many starting photographers miss. If you only shoot an image and sell it outright, any further licensing of the image isn’t possible. Work made for hire can be extremely limiting for photographers without their even knowing the implications. This type of challenge will be addressed in an upcoming article.
The bottom line is knowing what the realities of business are, alongside the creative/technical side of your craft. A great creative mind will usually be outperformed by a mediocre talent with a keen sense of business. The idea is to be strong at both.
Ask yourself as a creative, the following:
What kind of lifestyle do I want?
What is my real cost of doing business?
How many gigs do I need to do @ X/$ per year?
Do I bring any special abilities to the table for my clients?
Am I being asked for special services (Rush jobs, extra retouching, creative vision and planning, etc).
All of these items will help clarify your picture of what your time is really worth. Yes, get experience as fast as you can when starting out. But don’t sell yourself short when conducting business. As a professional, your time is definitely worth more than that of a hobbyist.
Peter Finnie is a photographer/author/trainer based in Tottenham,