Last year was a pretty good year for me on the work front. This year started off well too, but then I went away on safari and came back on 1 July to find that my main photography gig had pretty much disappeared from under my nose.
So what happened?
Well, as most of you know I have been photographing homes for a new realtor who opened up here at the beginning of 2018. I was the first photographer that they contacted when they set up shop and I agreed to do the work for a bit less than I would ordinarily charge as they promised me good volumes.
At first the volumes weren’t that high, but as their concept of selling any home at a fixed commission amount regardless of the asking price caught on amongst locals, the work started pouring in. I was covering a very wide area, sometimes travelling over 100km and shooting up to 5 properties a day.
I relished the gift of regular work and I also got to see parts of my city I didn’t even know existed (we have a population closing in on 4 million, so it’s not a small town). The client paid on time and I was getting along really well with the agents I was working with. Whilst the jobs were being co-ordinated from another city, the agents were all asking for me to shoot their listings because, well… my work was much better than the other people they were using. Not only that, I delivered on the same day I did the shoot whereas the others were constantly dropping the ball and taking a few days to deliver. Eventually there were only 2 of us working the entire metropolis.
During the height of this gig it did cross my mind that I could potentially be setting myself up for drama by allocating so much of my time to this one client. If something happened and they either went out of business or they decided to use other people, what would I do? I had, in a sense, become very reliant on them, so there was a high degree of risk. I didn’t have an employment contract with them, so they were under no obligation to continue to use my services if they didn’t want to.
Around Easter time this year I met with the local team and they told me that they were expanding their operation from 4 agents to 7 and that I needed to either clone myself or create my own team to do the photography I couldn’t get to when the wheel started turning faster. They loved working with me and knew that they could count on my work ethic to propel their company forward. I won’t lie, I worked my ass off for these guys. My systems were so streamlined that I could photograph a massive 6 bedroom home in under 30 minutes and have the edited images up on the cloud within an hour of returning to my office.
Then I told them I was going on safari for the last week of June.
I went, we had an amazing time in the bush and when I got back I told the co-ordinator I was back and ready for them. But there was hardly any work coming in. I checked their adverts and I could see that they were giving the jobs in the areas I had previously been covering to other people. What the…? The quality coming through was hideous to say the least, but this didn’t seem to matter to them.
I contacted one of the agents I did most of the work for and she told me that the company now had lots of photographers in Durban and that she as the local principal agent no longer had a say in who they could use. The Head Office was assigning all the work and basically each agent had their own photographer. But she also mentioned that the company was changing their business model from a flat fee to 4.5% commission. Bloody hell. Reduced demand for the service and more service people to go around. Talk about a sudden way to nose dive!
I was still getting a few jobs, but I had gone from averaging 3 a day to maybe 2 a week in July and August. This simply wouldn’t do. Not at the original rate I had agreed to anyway. So at the end of last month I sent the co-ordinator an email advising her that unless she could give me a minimum of 20 assignments a month, I would no longer be able to shoot for them at the same rate. No response came. Boom. There went about 75% of the income I had been earning monthly for the past 18 months.
I’m sure I’m not the first freelancer who has had this happen to them and I certainly won’t be the last, but it is very difficult to take on the chin. I had allowed one client to dominate my calendar, thus putting my eggs in one basket that I really had no control of.
On the upside working with them has allowed me to build up a pretty decent portfolio in the property sector and I am now coming up first in Google for geographic based searches for what I do. I don’t get many calls from estate agents these days, but I do get a fair amount of calls from Airbnb hosts and recently I did a nice job for an interior decorator who has promised me more work in the not too distant future. I can charge these clients my usual rate, which is great (when it results in an order).
I learned a great deal about not only the RE photography industry, but also my own capacity to perform when I had this gig. I am a much better photographer now and I am looking forward to building up a more varied client base in this specialised field.
The feature shot I am showing here was taken for a different agent. This home has a remarkable retractable roof, opening up the entire kitchen and dining area into an alfresco delight. Glory, I’m even beginning to talk like an agent now.
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Edited by Dallas