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I’m an introvert. There, I put it out there and now everyone knows. It may not seem that way to some people I know because of the work I do and the situations I subject myself to. Being a photographer who would rather take photos of landscapes and animals, makes it tough to work with people. Yet, that’s what I do almost daily–work with people. After all, photography is a service business and who do I serve? People.

As a service business, photography probably requires more interaction with customers and clients than most other service industries. Photographers must deal with scheduling, artistic direction, post-shoot changes, billing, referrals, and a myriad of other tasks that put us in direct contact with people. When I have to deal with people, I like to try and put myself in their shoes and hopefully see things from their point of view. I’m a big believer in fairness and the golden rule. Would I like to be treated the way I’m treating someone? Do I think what I’m doing is fair? These are just a couple of the questions I try to keep in my mind when I’m dealing with clients. I don’t always get it right, but I’m learning and I’m trying.

In the photography business, I face a lot of challenges, many of which weren’t issues just a couple decades back. From big picture problems such as, how to justify the need for photography services when just about everyone owns a camera, to day to day issues such as, keeping on top of schedules and payments which are completely internet-based. But the biggest challenge is keeping customers happy. What happens though when I’m not the one solely responsible for their satisfaction?

Over the past few years, hundreds of businesses providing photography services have sprouted up. They employ an army of gig-based talent to go out and take the photos, while they handle the logistics and money. For many photographers like me, it has been both a blessing and curse. I don’t have to deal with getting jobs and billing, but I still deal with people, probably even more people than if I got shoots on my own. Not only do I represent myself when I’m with a client, I also represent the company which got me the gig. Because of that, I often hear an earful.

If I could start a company that could stay on top of customer service in the photography industry, I would put most of my competitors out of business. My early career taught me the value of good customer service, even when dealing with unpleasant people. I worked at Nexis/Lexis in telephonic technical support. Nexis/Lexis had the largest legal database, combined with one of the most complicated system interfaces I’ve ever seen. Add to this rude attorneys, assistants and clerks working in New York City, and all I can say is that I’m glad a phone line separated us. What I learned, however, is that the people I helped would often ask specifically for me because I treated them right even when they didn’t reciprocate.

That kind of service is even tougher today. I’ll take the real estate photography business as an example because it most closely matches my experiences in my younger days. I can still remember in the past when looking at real estate listings meant picking up a copy of a printed magazine at the grocery store. It had a single grainy B&W photo printed along with all the particulars of the property. Getting those ads meant weeks of lead time for the realtor and usually months for the seller. Nowadays, a listing with full-color and aerial photos or video or VR walkthroughs can take as little as a few days from the time the seller calls a realtor to having the listing online.

Realtors can be arrogant, demanding cheapskates–they are often hard to please. It doesn’t help that so many of them were brought up with a overgrown sense of entitlement that they deserve more. Even with all the technological advances that make it possible to get photos overnight, the expectation for great service for the cheapest price is still there.

On the other side of this are all the companies providing the photography service. Often started by younger entrepreneurs who grew up with parents who failed to set boundaries and received participation trophies. They’ve really never understood what customer service actually entails. They never had any good examples. They’re too arrogant to accept criticism or suggestions for improvement. They are obsessed with doing everything online so they don’t even bother to put a phone number on their website. And in a world where we have instantaneous access to everything and everyone, sending these companies an email or text message might as well be a letter sent through the Postal Service…via the slow boat to China.

What I hear most from customers of these companies–after all, I am a company representative–is that the photos produced are stunning, but the service is abysmal. Scheduling is difficult, billing is inaccurate, getting corrections made is impossible, and speaking to a live person is harder than seeing a yeti. Offering a fast or cheap service shouldn’t also mean bad service. Which brings me back to my statement: If I could start a company that could stay on top of customer service in the photography industry, I would put most of my competitors out of business. Who wants to join me?

About six months ago, I signed up for ImageBrief at the Explorer level. After submitting over 125 photos for over 30 briefs without any success, I want know if anyone has actually sold one of their photos through ImageBrief?

If you’re not familiar with ImageBrief, they allow ad agencies, publishing companies and brands to post a brief requesting an image. Photographers are able to respond to the brief by submitting images through the website, and depending on their level of enrollment, they keep 70-100% of the payment for the image. That amount is much better than the typical stock agency.

Premier members can also post their images for sale and submit themselves for jobs. And they get to keep everything they earn. It sounds great, but like all good sites, there is a lot of stiff competition. On a slow day, maybe 3 to 5 briefs are added. Some days, as many as 20 are added. Many briefs cover popular subjects and get hundreds of images submitted. But what actually happens with all those images?

With all the briefs to which I’ve submitted images, I’ve only seen four actually get awarded. Even with all the images I’ve submitted, I’ve never even been shortlisted once. I follow all the briefs to which I submit, and most just fade away into oblivion without so much as a status update to tell me what became of the image request. After a few months, some eventually are closed without any image selected. So it begs the question, has anyone ever actually sold an image through this service? At what membership level did this occur?

I get emails frequently trying to entice me to upgrade from my free membership, where I get to keep 70% of the awarded amount of the briefs, to a premier member, who gets to keep 100% of the awarded brief. Of course, they try to tell you that these premier members get job offers and are making money, but a half-dozen testimonials doesn’t convince me that this actually works for the little guy, like me. And at $60 per month or $500 per year, it’s an expensive investment without any guaranteed return. However, if I actually got awarded and paid for an image, I wouldn’t be as hesitant to upgrade.

Are you out on ImageBrief? What has your experience been? Do you think it’s worth your time and money?

Oh, and by the way, here’s my ImageBrief profile.

i-t2P437x-SPhotography as a business is tough. Everyone has a camera nowadays and everyone thinks they’re a pro photographer just because they have a fancy new SLR. Fortunately, there are plenty of people who still believe a pro can do a better job or simply want to be in the action and not behind the camera. As a business that still means you have to find these people. Sometime last year, I joined a service called Thumbtack. If you aren’t familiar with the service, here’s a basic rundown on what they do.

As a customer seeking a professional, you answer questions about your personal projects. They send the customer requests to qualified professionals who respond if they are available and interested. As a professional, they promise to provide these leads to you, for which you pay to submit a quote. They claim that many pros who use it have doubled or even tripled the size of their business. In reality, it’s not quite that simple, nor effective, and here’s why.

To submit a quote, you have to purchase credits. Credits cost about $1.50/credit. Depending on the quote, it will cost between 2 and 9 credits. The more profitable the job being quoted, the more the quote will cost. Sounds great so far, right? Well, here’s where one of the first problems comes up. Read More »

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