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Outsourcing – Take Back Your Evenings and Weekends.

March 6th, 2018

This topic always seems to be controversial. There are strong opinions on both sides of the fence but despite our individual point of view, I think most of us can agree that there is a place for outsourcing in our industry.

With that said, I’d like to share my experience in the hopes that it might help some of you decide if outsourcing makes sense for your business.

It’s May 2016; my city was literally burning to the ground. A massive wildfire (1.5 million acres by the time it was under control) jumped the river and breached city limits with almost no warning. Over 88,000 people were evacuated and when the dust had settled, 2400 homes were lost along with hundreds of commercial buildings. This was the largest natural disaster in Canadian history.

It was nearly 3 months before I was able to return home with my family. We didn’t have a clue what we were coming back to. Would my wife have work? Could I continue my real estate photography business? Was our house in a livable state? There was nothing but uncertainty.

Once most people had returned (minus about 15,000 that never did come home), things got back to the “new normal.” It was business as usual and the rebuild was starting. Homes were being bought and sold once again. Shortly after getting home, I found out that my main competition wouldn’t be coming back. My phone blew up and overnight, I became the busiest I’d ever been. Before the fire, my most active month ever was 65 shoots. Post fire, I was averaging 135 shoots per month. I was hanging on by a thread, working 16 hour days and for the first time, I started to resent my business. Please understand that I was always grateful for the work but it was becoming unhealthy and unsustainable. I needed help.

Over the years, I had been approached by dozens of outsourcing companies (as I’m sure you have too) but I was too protective of my work to consider the thought. During the months after the fire, I got to a point where I had to make some decisions. Do I raise my prices and try to reduce my volume? Knowing the market couldn’t sustain that, I was quick to dismiss the idea. Do I keep plugging away making significant money but having no family life? This was not an option either. Do I swallow my pride, remind myself that I’m running a business, and not every single image I take needs to be portfolio worthy? I am, after all, a high volume real estate photographer and the majority of my clients don’t need portfolio quality images. They need good images, delivered fast, and at a price they can afford to pay for every listing. This next part might sound negative to some of you, but I realized that good enough, within this circumstance, was exactly that–good enough. My real estate clients didn’t notice the difference between a 75% photo and a 99% photo so why was I breaking my back for that extra quality? I needed to make sure I wouldn’t have to say no to clients without working myself into the ground. If I could find a way to offload the majority of my editing, I could free myself up to pursue new business opportunities and stick to editing just the jobs that really inspired me. In the long run, this would be better for my clients, myself, and my family.

I decided to reach out to a few outsourcing companies to see what they had to offer. I went through about five editors before I found one that I thought had potential. I created some videos to explain my workflow and started training the editor on how to process my raw files. In the beginning, it was painful! There was a ton of back and forth with plenty of disappointing results and reliability issues. After a few months, it got to the point where I almost couldn’t tell the difference between their edits and my own. This is when I finally felt comfortable enough to hand over my editing. It’s been a year and a half since I started outsourcing the majority of my work and I can’t put into words how beneficial it has been for me and my business.

Some of the benefits I’ve experienced:

  • I no longer work evenings or weekends.
  • I never miss a drop-off or pick-up with my kids (or any other family event for that matter)
  • I’m able to provide better service to my clients by offering extras on every shoot such as window pulls, gradients on TVs, cloning out camera reflections, sky replacements, adding fires to fireplaces, etc. I could never offer these services if I were editing five homes per day.
  • My clients recognize and appreciate these value added services and the quick turn around times.
  • I offloaded the mundane work so I could focus on what truly inspires me.
  • I doubled my volume in a few months and I make twice as much as I used to while working half the time.
  • I help my outsourcers run a successful business and support their families.

Like we always say, only you know what’s best for your business. If you are new to real estate photography, it’s probably wise to handle all aspects for a while until you have a solid, overall understanding of your operation. You’ll know when the time is right to get some help.

If you’re more experienced and tired of shooting all day then editing late into the night, outsourcing could be a viable option for you.

If you are a seasoned pro with ambitions to make the jump into interior/commercial photography, looking to free up your time to perfect your craft, pursue high-end clients, and eventually get to the point where you can choose which jobs to accept or decline, then in my opinion, outsourcing is a no-brainer.

There are some good options on the PFRE outsourcing page but the best way to find a good editor is to ask your peers!

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23 Responses to “Outsourcing – Take Back Your Evenings and Weekends.”

  • Inspiring post! Thanks for sharing your experiences 🙂

  • Agreed 110%. After 18 years I finally have a life away from the computer. I will never edit my own interior images again. Exterior images require very little if any editing.

  • I couldn’t have said it better myself!! Family first!! Balance in all things!! If you’re shooting 60+ Houses per month, you need a life. Outsourcing has been a huge blessing to not only my business but to my family.

  • Well, your situation fits like a glove (Not like that OJ jerk glove), but I am concerned that you did not mention the cost of the service or the time extension that it would take. The cost of service is important and with agents wanting their product yesterday….time is important

  • Great article Brandon… totally agree. It’s not possible to sustain family life when editing at nights and work always came first – not a good balance.
    Everyone is much happier now with this new situation and results are great.

  • I’ve investigated several places but ultimately I end up doing it myself. I guess I’m a control freak–and I also have clients that like to have images before the following morning and outsourcers aren’t going to do that (and if they do it comes at a cost). I have a very fast computer and normally editing a home takes 30-40 minutes. At 2-3 properties a day, I’m usually back home by 2:00-3:00 so I’m done editing by dinner.

  • I have often thought of outsourcing when I am looking at a number of shoots all stacking up on top of each other but have yet to actually take the plunge since that seldom happens. Which leads me to agree with the writer that this decision is one to be made by each photographer taking into consideration her or her own market and business model. Some photographer’s like Scott don’t like to spend time at the computer and prefer to spend their time shooting while others do like to massage their images in post. Personally I fall into the latter camp and what I do in post is part of my brand and one of the reasons my clients hire me.

    But then I do not have a high volume business. Which is what I mean about your business model being a primary factor in making this decision. If I had a high volume business model, I would certainly make use of an outsourced service. So would I if I hated being in front of a hot computer for hours at a time. But at my age, I am delighted to spend time in front of a computer that is close to the kitchen and fridge. And I am told I have to get up and move around every half hour to give my aging photographer’s back a break, so proximity to fodder is a great allure.

  • Perfectly timed post. The past week has been crazy (welcome to the March housing market!). I shot 4-5 houses a day, came home exhausted and then edited until midnight or later. I knew I was at a point where I needed to hand off my processing, but couldn’t quite pull the trigger. Until now. Thanks.

  • @Jerry

    I didn’t touch on price because the cost of outsourcing varies so much and in my experience if you’re at a point where your volume justifies outsourcing then most likely the cost will be easily absorbed. When I first started, the total cost of my editing was 12-15% of the cost of a shoot but I was able to add a couple shoots per day so it made sense. Since then my volume has increased so much I’ve been able to negotiate my editors rate down by almost 50% so my total outsourcing cost is now more like 7% per shoot.

    With regards to turn around times:

    When I first started RE photography I was awful so I built my business around convenience until I could catch up on quality. I guaranteed same day turn around, the Agents loved this and it’s a big part of how I created the volume. As you can imagine that was short lived. I was editing through the night to honor my commitment. Like I said in my post it was not a sustainable model and I knew that going into it but I really didn’t think I’d ever get to the point where I’d be too busy.

    The #1 search criteria I had when looking to outsource was turn around time. Most editors offer 24 hrs which just wouldn’t work for me. I finally got an editor to agree to 6 hour turn around and They have been rock Living up to their commitment. I shoot until 2:30 ish, send everything off by 3 and have it all back by 9pm (even if it was 5-6 jobs)

    If there is volume, and you can foster a good relationship with the right editor, outsourcing can be a great thing.

  • Thank you for the update Brandon, sounds like the post services have progressed to the point where they can be relied on.

  • I really enjoy editing my images, but I’ll be darned if this doesn’t make a lot of sense. Monday night I shot only two houses, but I was up until 1am (started editing at 6pm). A lot of this time was actually taken by uploading images (I don’t have internet at home and may never, and my phone’s hot spot has to handle it which takes forever, another story entirely) and doing the virtual tours, mainly because one of my big clients’ marketing assistant scheduled me for a Matterport the next day on a huge luxury house at the last minute–when I was expecting to be able to spend time editing the photos I took the next morning. Instead, after working until 1am, I got my behind out of bed at 630 to be at the house by 730 to do this Matterport since I knew it would take me a while, which it did. Granted, I only worked until 1am because of this last-minute Matterport put on my calendar, but I’m thinking more and more seriously of outsourcing images at least when I have Matterport tours to do during the week. The Matterport gets me the most money per house, so when I have still shoots to do as well, I probably won’t mind spending the money on outsourcing a couple shoots because $500-600 will more than make up for the outsourcing fees.

    There’s something to be said, though, for outsourcing large shoots that we know will take us a lot of time to edit ourselves, versus the usual run-n-gun shoots on tract homes that we can expect to churn out more quickly. Then again, when I do a luxury shoot, I take great pride in editing them myself and making them look great.

  • On Linked in I have 7 million friends and 6,999,998 are overseas shops, any recommendations on who does good work?

  • @Brandon
    You said “total outsourcing cost is now more like 7% per shoot.”
    That seems so low, which for a Photographer would obviously be absolutely great.
    Just wondering… what do you charge for each shoot and what is your cost for post-processing.
    It just seems to me that you cost is… unbelievably low.

    I did look at your website and photos are beautiful but… is this the quality that you get for such a low price with turn around time of just a few hours.

    I’d love to know who do you use….

  • @Marek

    Very valid questions, I’ll do my best to answer:

    I charge a flat rate of $200 per shoot, whether it’s a 1000 sq ft condo or 2500 sq ft home. This works in my market because there isn’t a massive gap in home sizes and they average out at about 2200 sq ft so it all comes out in the wash.

    At first I was paying $1.25 per image for 20-25 images on average.

    Over time the volume increased to a point where I was able to negotiate down to $.75 per image, then just a few months ago my editor actually offered a further reduction to $.65 if I committed for a year.

    As mentioned in my post, I don’t outsource every single image, just the mundane repetitive stuff (which to be honest is about 85%) anything you see on my website has been edited by me and with more care. That said, there have been many times a photo straight from my editor was portfolio worthy. If you send me your email I’d be happy to show you a few recent samples that are 100% processed by my editor.

  • Excellent article! I’ve really been thinking about this subject. Reading about how you ‘trained’ the editors on how you want it done is brilliant.

  • I like to keep things simple. I Shoot one house in the morning. Edit in the afternoon. Delivered by 3 or 4 PM same day.

    I totally enjoy shooting and editing my own photos and make my grand a week. One shoot a day keeps the stress away. More time to enjoy life.

  • While I enjoy editing my photos, I prefer spending time with my family. I shoot one to two homes a day, upload everything by 9PM and have the retouched images back by the time I wake up. My clients have images the day after I shoot and everybody is happy!

  • Hi Brandon, thanks for your informative post, I , prob like a few others, have tried a few overseas outsourcers but have yet to find one that I can send the images directly on to the agent, I always have to do something to them. If ok with you, would you mind letting us know (or letting me know by email avrilfallat@gmail.com who you have found that you are happy with. I understand if you prefer not to. Thanks and best wishes

  • For the longest time, I’ve always looked at outsourcing for RE as not appropriate. Relegated to only large volume wedding shooters. However, I now look at it as one of the most brilliant moves a business owner can make. While is still do the majority of my own post-production. I have recently started to outsource some of my jobs. There’s nothing better than waking up in the morning with a message from your retouched letting you know that your images are ready to download from DropBox. Many services get your images back to you in 24hrs.-36hrs after you’ve sent them in. The trick is to find a competent retoucher which is a trial and error effort. My suggestions are to send in some test images to several retouchers. After receiving them back, check for quality, the accuracy of your requests and the ability to meet deadlines. Part of my business is mentoring RE photographers who want to tackle and solve and improve specific areas of their photography and their business. I was talking with a RE photographer the other day when he mentioned that he can be in and out of a home in 45 mins, HDR style, but that it takes him 3 hrs. to do his post-production. I promised him I could cut 70% of his time off his post by teaching him specific methods and using the correct software. But imagine not having to do post-production at all. RE photographers that I’ve taught, spoken to, or met with, that are doing volume business, 4-6 homes a day, or 500 plus homes a year outsource ALL their work. Its the only way to get sleep, have quality time with your family and earn more money by photographing homes and leaving the tedious and time-consuming post-production time to experts who specialize in RE post-production.

  • Thank you for your post, do you mind sharing the method you send the files? I am outsourcing, but find the time to upload and download takes way too long. Do you send raw files or JPEG’s?

  • @ Kelly

    I use WeTransfer for all sending and receiving. And yes, I send all raw files.

  • Hi,
    I am doing RE photos for 10 years in Paris, and shot around 4/5 appartments or High ends Houses per day.. and finally decided to stop doing post for the average..
    Would you have an outsourcing company to suggest or tried?

    I do agree with Brandon, family first and i cant get focused enough on my work editing late at night

    Thanks

  • Hi,
    What would you consider fair pricing for post work in the US?
    Thanks

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