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How Do You Go About Finding And Hiring An Assistant?

April 29th, 2013

AssistantOnce you become successful as a real estate photographer the subject of how do you deal with the issue that you periodically may have more work than you can handle. The post about Peggy Taylors’ success in Tampa raised this question for several readers because Peggy mentioned she has an assistant.

First of all I’m doing this post to initiate an educational discussion on the subject of assistants and independent contractors, what follows is NOT legal advice. And I don’t claim to have all the answers, we are just discussing alternatives here.

The most common way for real estate photographers to get help is to contract with someone to do your post processing work for you. Many retouching companies inside and outside your country are setup to do real estate post processing. There’s hundreds of these companies. A few, in the US are listed down on the right lower side-bar under Real Estate photography Processing Services.

One of the key questions with an assistant is, are you going to hire an employee or are you going to work with an independent contractor? What’s the difference?

  •  An employee type assistant: with an employee you are required by the US IRS to pay the proper employment taxes and withholding taxes (other countries may be similar).
  • An Independent Contractor assistant or associate: Independent contractors are responsible for their own employment taxes.

John Mireles over at PhotographersToolKit.com has a great explanation of the difference in this relationship and why it matters.

To me one big reason that an independent contractor (IC) relationship works better is that real estate photography is seasonal and cyclical and the level of help you need probably varies widely through out the year so if you can find someone you can contract out shoots or processing work to when you need help it is more effective than someone who comes to work for you everyday.

The other issue is how do you find someone you can work with? In real estate husband and wife teams are really common, and they are probably equally as common in real estate photography. But if that alternative works you’ve probably already thought of it.

When my wife Levi and I worked together in real estate over a period of 10 years we almost always had an assistant and our experience was, it’s difficult to find the right person. Over a period of 10 years we had about 6 different assistants. Some were fantastic, some were OK, and a couple were a disaster. The conclusion we came to was that you need to listen to that very small voice that’s in your head when you are deciding. It’s never loud, but it’s usually right! Some times it’s not even a voice, it’s a feeling in your stomach.

What are others experiences with hiring assistants?

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9 Responses to “How Do You Go About Finding And Hiring An Assistant?”

  • This wouldn’t work for everybody, but I’ve actually got assistants to pay ME for being my assistant. If you flip the script and market the job as a wonderful educational money making opportunity experience, then you can charge for it and you’ll actually get good people who are eager to do well and learn. This hiring stuff is nonsense and I’ll never go back now that I know this is possible

  • The first question is, what are you expecting this person to do? Most people believe that “Assisting” means carrying equipment inside and then becoming a student for the next few hours. If all you’re looking for is someone to lug your lights up the stairs, then frankly a day laborer at minimum wage is all you need. Having a ‘student’ on location with me just means my photos are going to suck because I’m going to be distracted all day.

    But if the PA is going to have an active role, including setting up and operating lights, grip equipment, etc. then the going rate in most metro areas is $250 – $350 day. Digital tech (meaning, running the laptop and doing on-site post-production) is more like $500/day. You can usually get people to do Half Days, too.

    Good sources to find skilled assistants are ASMP, but even better are the local rental houses. PA’s pretty much live at those places!
    You can search my blog under “photo assist” to find a write-up I did on the subject.

  • I have had 3 assistants and 2 of them were trying to steal my customers. Watch your assistants very closely as they are more than happy to tell your agents that they can do your job for less money.

  • i’ve never really found a good one.. so work alone these days..

  • I am lucky because my assistant is my younger sister. We are best friends (other than my dear hubby) so we get along great. Since it is “in the family,” I don’t have to worry about her running off with my clients. I spent several weeks training her on my style and the basics of real estate composition and using flash(she was already a hobbyist photographer with some professional experience in video–we did this one a couple of years ago http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Yisq_G3sCBI). After just a few weeks, I let her shoot some lower priced properties on her own, gave her feedback and she kept going eager to learn more (much like I was when I got started). Now there is not that much difference between her shoots and mine. She is starting to learn processing which will be a major time saver for me. Eventually I will turn the business over to her. Obviously, this is not for everyone but it might work for folks with family members who are interested and trainable!

  • @Peggy – Yes, a family member is an ideal partner/assistant. What a great gift to give to your sister!

  • Once you free up some time by having someone do your post processing, you have much much more time available for marketing and shooting. I personally outsource all my retouching work to an external studio and it is worth the money i’m paying to be able to provide such a quick and predictable turnaround time.

    I used to have an assistant but he kept on trying to steal my clients…. common issue….

  • My thought was intern – the university provides them at minimum wage to you and you in turn provide them with a learning/working experience. We haven’t tried this yet, but we are thinking this is someone who can set everything up for us on the computer – meaning – set up the accounts, set up the filing of the images, doing the backup, bringing it through the basics in lightroom and finally – managing the delivery to the customer and the billing (of course all this under supervision). We haven’t had much success with photographic assistants, but find on the really big jobs we bring in a second shooter and pay them a per house rate if they shoot an entire house themselves or on a per hour rate if they are assisting on one of our shoots. Sometimes if we do video and stills, we hire the video out and shoot the stills ourselves. Since most of our work is divided between Brad and myself, we haven’t had to job out a lot of work, maybe 25%, but even so, the intern concept is starting to gel with me and might soon become a reality.

  • @Scott Hargis, can I come work for you? I’ll bring the MacBook Pro…

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