It’s not just for photographers, either.
A bit of humor sheds light on a serious problem.
There’s a video that’s been making it around Twitter and the blogs of professional photographers lately. It’s called “The Vendor Client Relationship — In Real World Situations.” I’ve embedded it here, just in case you haven’t seen it yet. It’s worth a look if you’re either a service professional or someone who uses service professionals. In other words, it’s worth a look for anyone.
The problem is, too many people try to save money by trying to cut special deals with service professionals. Sean Cayton, for example, is a professional photographer who blogged about this topic. In his article on Black Star Rising called “Five Tips for Dealing with Unreasonable Client Requests,” he reported:
I met recently with a prospective wedding client who was on a very tight budget. The groom, an art director, asked if I would allow him to help with the photo editing in order to save some money. I had to tell him no. I operate a full-service studio, and letting the wedding couple do their own editing just isn’t an option for me.
As a helicopter pilot, I’m often asked to provide flying services at locations an hour or more away from my base. Not only do the potential clients try to get a lower hourly rate from me, but they balk when I explain to them that they have to pay the cost of getting the helicopter to the operating area and back. In their mind, I’m not providing a service to them when I’m not flying with one of their people on board. But the simple reality is that I’m working for them from the moment I begin my flight planning and pull the helicopter out of its hangar to the moment I put the helicopter back.
They’re fortunate they’re only paying for the time on the Hobbs meter. I put at least an hour more of unbillable time into every single flight I do.
Why We’re In this Mess
I believe that one of the reasons service professionals have to deal with clients like this is because too many other service professionals have said yes to their unreasonable demands.
I’ll admit that I used to be one of them. When I first started my flying business, I was so hungry for work that I’d do almost anything to make a client happy. That sometimes included trading services (usually advertising space) for all or part of my fee, waiving ferry fees, or dropping my rates just to better meet my client’s budgetary needs. Then one day I started looking at the numbers. While the revenue I was bringing in usually covered the variable expenses of flying — the actual flight cost per hour — they didn’t come anywhere near covering my fixed expenses, including hangar rent, advertising, and insurance. I realized I was working at a loss.
And I realized that I’d rather not work than to lose money doing it.
Just Say No
So I started saying no.
I said no to local flying jobs less than 30 minutes long and other flying jobs less than an hour long. It simply wasn’t worth the trouble of taking the helicopter out of the hangar for the profit I’d make on these short flights. (I did, however, encourage longer flights by introducing rate reductions for flights over 5 hours and 10 hours.)
I said no to free ferry flights for repositioning the helicopter. I was not going to fly for free anymore. Not only was there a helicopter cost involved, but a trained helicopter pilot was at the controls. Didn’t she deserve compensation for her time?
I said no to any barter offers — I can’t fuel the helicopter with a free ad in a publication no one will read or pay my insurance bill with a photo taken during a flight.
I said no to flights that required me to spend more than 15 minutes in flight planning before I had a signed contract and deposit in hand. I was tired of doing someone else’s homework in the hope of getting a flight they were probably too cheap to pay for.
I also started saying no to all charity flights, including raffle prizes. They’d promise a mention in the charity publication, etc., but these free pieces of paper were usually discarded, unread. Zero advertising value — instead, all it’s good for is more requests from more charities. And for a while, i was getting more charity requests than calls from paying clients.
The Importance of Screening
I also started screening my clients during their initial contacts with me. Did they sound like they were going to try to wrangle a deal with me? Were they making unreasonable requests? Did they have a clue about what they wanted? Were they trying to use me as a tool for getting information without utilizing my services? Did they have the ability to pay at the conclusion of the flight? Did they understand what they were getting for my hourly rate?
If I got any indication during the phone call that they could be trouble, I actively began discouraging them from flying with me. I’d state minimum fees and make it clear that I wouldn’t budge on my rate. I’d tell them that what they wanted was beyond the capabilities of my aircraft. And sometimes, if I got a gut feeling that flying for them would be more trouble than it was worth, I’d tell them I wasn’t available on the day or time they wanted me, even if I was.
Snobby? Elitist? I don’t think so. Just protecting my interests.
We Need to Stand Firm Behind Our Experience, Expertise, and Skills
I’ve been in the business for eight years now and have a wide range of experience completing many different missions. I’ve decided to stand behind my experience, expertise, and skills. That’s what my clients are paying for and despite what they might think, they’re getting a lot for their money.
I probably have more knowledge and experience for photo flights over Lake Powell than any other helicopter pilot flying today. You want an experienced pilot to take you on a photo flight over the lake? Then you’ll pay the 4 hours of ferry time to get me up there and back. Hint: there’s no other helicopter pilot who will fly up there for free.
I happen to have a good amount of skill chasing race cars and boats, low-level and high speed. I can put a still or video photographer right where he needs to be in these action photo shoots. Is your race an hour away? Then you’ll pay the 2 hours of ferry time to get me there and back. And you won’t load up the helicopter with unnecessary “observers.” You’re not just paying for a helicopter and a skilled pilot — you’re paying for a safe flight.
I’ve probably flown over and landed at more remote, off-airport locations than any other commercial helicopter pilot in Arizona — other than medevac pilots. You want to see some “air park” property in northern Arizona, east of Wikieup? Or a bunch of land north of I-40, east of the Colorado River? Or a vacant steel plant outside of Kingman? Or the side of a 40-mile long cliff north of Seligman? Or a powerline stretching from Forepaugh to Bagdad? Or a pipeline stretching from Tucson to the New Mexico border? Or a stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border from Yuma to Nogales? Or some other equally weird or remote place? Then you’ll pay for a pilot who knows where to find fuel, who to contact for permission to fly through restricted areas, where to find a landing zone where you can get out and take pictures or soil samples or a leak. And don’t expect to trade that flight time for a mention in the credits of your video or annual report or promises of more business in the future.
I’m not going to sell myself short — even if it means losing out on business.
Frankly, if a client doesn’t pay me what I’m worth, I’m losing out anyway. And I may as well lose out in the comfort of my office or home than flying a mission for someone who doesn’t appreciate the value of what he’s getting.
What do you think?
I’d love to read your stories of how clients have tried to deal you out of what you think you deserve. Not just from pilots or photographers, but from any service professional. Use the comments link or form for this post to share your stories or links to them on your own blog.
And if you think I’m wrong about this — that we should allow potential clients to cut whatever deal they like with us — I’d like to know why. Maybe there’s something I’m missing here.
But after years in a very expensive and highly specialized business, I don’t think so.