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Photography Business to Business: The Outsourcer

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This post is part of a series called Freelance Photography.
Will a Robot Steal Your Photography Job?
Photography Business to Business: The Doer

In this series, we consider the three main types of business clients who hire photo-video services and how best to help them: The Outsourcer, The Doer and The Designer. Today, in our first instalment, we take a look at the relationship between Outsourcers and photographers. In this tutorial you'll learn who Outsourcers are and what they want, how to land a job with them, and how to produce a successful photo shoot for this type of client.

The Outsourcer

Many businesses choose to hire a photographer to help complete a project. There are many reasons for a business to outsource: they may not need photography often enough to want to develop the capacity to do the work themselves, or it may be cheaper to hire a photographer than it would cost to do it in house.

For example, an Outsourcer client could be a restaurant who’d like nice pictures of their food, an office-based business who want some nice head-shots of their staff, or an art gallery who needs to document the latest show. Some Outsourcer clients are one-offs who need photography for a particular project, and Others become career-long clients and call you back repeatedly.

Photography outsourcing can also be broken down into two main parts: the photography itself and post-production. The client may want to take the images themselves and send the images away to be edited. A company I did some product photography for recently told me that, prior to hiring me, they’d been making the pictures in house and sending the files to a Japanese company for processing. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll consider outsourcing to encompass both the photographing and the editing afterwards.

meeting
Image: Photodune

You Are the Problem Solver

For the Outsourcer, you are the problem solver.

Being the problem solver means you're taking the lead on your part of a project, and it's very different to how you are expected to behave with the Doer and Designer types. Doer clients have a clear idea of what they want, but lack the experience or skills to complete the work alone, so they hire you to work with them as a temporary creative partner. Designer clients usually know exactly what they want and how they want it done: you are the tool with which they work.

As the photographer for an Outsourcer, your role is to communicate well and understand exactly what the client wants, even if they don't have the visual language to articulate it clearly. They want something, and they're exactly not sure how to get it, but they know you have the ability to make things happen. They look to you as someone who can think creatively and passionately about their project. They often also need your experience to help steer clear of problems in areas of a project that are outside their expertise.

How to Land an Outsourced Photography Job

Experience and a solid portfolio are the first steps to proving that you're the right person for the outsourced job. After that, it's about providing good customer service. Good service comes down to understanding and anticipating the needs of your customer.

Outsourcers see you as a potential solution. They want to hire you to solve their photographic need in an effective, economical, and—if you're lucky—creative way. But how do they know you're the right person for the job?

First, you must listen carefully to what they want. For many businesses, photography is a special-occasion purchase (especially so for Outsourcers, compared to Doers and Designers). Potential clients can be nervous, and maybe even a bit defensive, about their desires. They might not know how to ask the right questions or say things in ways you are used to. Keep in mind that some people have stigmatised ideas about art, or prior negative experiences buying creative services. It's best to treat all potential clients gently and model steady, clear, responsive communication. Listen to what they have to say and ask for clarification if you need to. Come to understand what it is they actually want and you'll be halfway there.

Second, be the person who can provide a solution. Your potential clients have to choose between many similar options and services. Because they don't make photography choices often, it's likely that they won't be able to differentiate the nuances between you and your competitors. It's a big help if you can clearly show what is unique and positive about your services. It's helpful to know what it is that you aren't good at, too.

The potential client hopes that you're the person who is going to say "Yes! Let's do this." Listen to what they have to say, figure out a solution that works for everyone, and you'll be well on your way to being a hero.

photographer
Image: Photodune

Are You Experienced?

Photography is expensive, and hiring a photographer is probably everyone's last choice. These days, it's almost certain that your potential clients have searched for stock photography or attempted to do the pictures themselves. They might even have tried another photographer! Before hiring you, every client will want to do their due diligence and make sure that you're really a safe bet.

So, everyone looks for experience, but what does "experience" mean? To Outsourcers, Doers, and Designers it can mean very different things.

Demonstrated results are important for Outsourcers. They want to see that you can handle the job they need you to do; proof you can solve the problem. A history of photographing in the same field, or a closely related one, will help seal the deal.

Keep your pitch appropriate. For example, if you've photographed products before and you're contacted by a new potential client to do it again, show them a portfolio of product photography (not your portfolio of headshots or food or architecture). Including tear sheets or other final-product images will help establish your credibility and dependability.

You won't always have the exact type of job on hand to show. If this happens, think about what might demonstrate similar skills. For example, I was asked to document an event recently that included a large group portrait at the start. I'd not done this sort of thing before but decided it was similar to a wedding. Rounding people up for photographs is the same no matter where you go, so I treated it in the same way and it was successful.

Set Clear Expectations with Your New Client

Once your Outsourcer client is on board for the photo shoot, a project brief is the place to start. Sit down with the client and go through what exactly it is they want. They are looking to you for guidance here. Don’t walk away with, ‘whatever you think is best, you’re the photographer’ as your brief; this will undoubtedly bite you on the behind. You should come up with good outlines for your work and a clear idea of how you will do them, with a timescale.

For example, if you’re photographing food in a restaurant a detained work plan is something you need to complete quite carefully in advance. Before you even get to stylistic questions there are many practical issues you’ll need to address: how many dishes do you need to photograph? How long does it take to prepare each dish? When is the chef available? Will there be someone on hand from the kitchen staff to help with the shoot? Is there room to work? Will the restaurant be open or closed while you're working? What do you do if things go wrong and, say, you have a souffle fall before you’ve had a chance to shoot it? And so on.

Thrash out all the potential problems, but offer solutions. This is where experience comes in. If you’re not experienced enough yet, do your research thoroughly before meeting the client so that you can answer any questions they might have. If you are unsure about something, say so.

The most important thing here is to come away with a clear and agreed brief, something that both you and the client can refer back to if things start to deviate.

Set Expectations Early

Expectations of an Outsourcer client going into a shoot are different from the expectations of Doers and Designers, particularly when in comes to knowing what is reasonable. Sometimes expectations will be wildly high or inappropriate, and sometimes they'll be much lower than you anticipate. However, if you agree on a brief and stick to it, they'll be happy.

Don’t promise what you can’t deliver just to get the job. As mentioned, the Outsourcer may not know what is achievable and what’s not, particularly for a certain budget, so it’s up to you to manage those wants and needs realistically.

Guide, but don’t dictate. Trying to force someone into your way of thinking (even if you’re right) can lead to resentment. Instead, if you have strong feelings on a particular way something should be done be patient and explain your reasoning. Remember, your client doesn’t have the knowledge and experience you have in this particular area, but they do know their own business really well, so meeting in the middle might produce the best results all round.

You must have an agreed-upon direction with the client before the shoot. You could have a radically different idea of the finished product than they do. For example, a jeweller may want some "nice shots" of their products to use in a display window. So you take some studio-lighting product photographs: white background, cleanly lit, perfect. Then you find out that what the client actually meant was jewellery modelled on people.

Now this might seem  an extreme example of getting it wrong, but miscommunication like this happens all the time, and it happens especially with clients who don't buy photography often. Unfortunately, many clients don’t really know what they want until you present them with what they don’t want, so it’s important to communicate properly from the start and continue that right through the whole working process.

clown
Image: Photodune

Be Ready to Get Creative

With the Outsourcer, it's often possible to flex your creative muscle early and have a little fun with the job, where appropriate (of course). The Doer and Designer tend to have a more fixed idea of what they want, and your creative input usually comes later in the process, but it can get pretty deep. Creativity with Outsourcers is generally (though not always) a bit more superficial.

You can never know going in how someone’s creative vision sits, but you can make an educated guess from the type of business they have and by meeting them in person. I find it always pays to have a more creative idea in amongst your suggestions—you can read the room before deciding whether or not to pitch it.

Let's use the head-shot scenario again: a law office might want some standard, shoulder up head-shots on a plain background. Would a company who offers circus lessons? They’d be much more likely to want to show off their fun and creativity with something a little wackier.

It really pays to do your research on a business, too. Not only is it genuinely helpful when it comes to thinking of ideas that would be right for the company, but it’s good customer service: the client will be pleased you’ve taken the time and care to find out more about them.

You Are a Hero

Although an Outsourcer is just one type of client you might have, they can often be the most flexible and fun to work with. They're looking for a cost-efficient solution to a problem, from someone who knows what they’re doing and can deliver results in a timely manner. Outsourcers often have a more open-ended idea of what they want going into a project than Doers or Designer, and this means you need to be comfortable and confident with taking control of the process; making sure that above all, you go away with a clear brief that is agreed by all parties.

Experience, a good portfolio and providing good service are key to landing an outsourced photography job. Bear in mind that hiring photography services is usually a last resort—people will often try to do it themselves or even buy stock photography first—so when you meet, remember to keep things friendly, be responsive, and always be receptive to ideas. 

Also keep in mind what it is that you offer that others don't. If you have the same photographic skills as someone else, it may be that your problem solving skills, manner, or creativity make your prospective client want you over the competition. Outsourced jobs can lead to lucrative contracts, particularly if it's something with a recurring need, like product photography. Try to always make a great impression and do the best job possible.

The expectations of every Outsourcer will be different, but never promise what you can't deliver. lt's up to you to manage expectations and keep them appropriate to the job, time and budget so try to guide, rather than dictate, your way into a happy compromise. 

If you can be the person who problem-solves, comes up with some great ideas, gets the job done and be a pleasure to work with, then chances are the client will never want to look elsewhere and it may lead to further work both from them and based on their recommendation.

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