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How Do You Measure Success? (Part 1)

Author: Vince Collura

I am curious as to how the PFRE community meters their professional progress. There’s no wrong answer here, and with photographers at various stages of their business, I can anticipate a great mix of answers. The question really boils down to: What can you look at on a monthly basis that tells you that you’re progressing or growing?

To get the conversation started, I will look at a few metrics that I have come across in working with photographers. These metrics are purely measuring earnings vs labor. There’s way more to talk about, but I will save that for another post:

Earnings Per Home: Depending on how you keep track of your accounting, this is an easy one to break down: Take earnings in a given month and divide by the number of unique addresses. This metric tends to work well if you are looking at a variable product base: smaller and larger packages, add-ons like drone, etc.

Dollars Per Click: The most granular metric I have seen, which has a good basis because ultimately, shutters tend to have a lifespan, so in theory, this model allows you to tie some of your maintenance costs into your earnings. In this case, one is dividing income by the number of frames captured.

Hourly: One of the easiest metrics to think about which tends to be great because it helps you compare easily to other professions and opportunities.

Total Income: High level; what am I making on a monthly, weekly, or daily basis? This metric works great in the early days of your business--or if you are full time in real estate and don't have other kinds of work that compete against the work financially.

What measurements are you taking to make sure that you are on the right path to where you want to be, professionally?

Vince Collura works with some of the most well known brands in real estate to consult, direct, and execute visual branding implementations and photography strategies for companies that put a high value on the impact of photography on their business. He is currently Chief Operating Officer of VHT Studios. He joined the firm in 2016, after the acquisition of Gotham Photo Company, the company he founded in 2004.

13 comments on “How Do You Measure Success? (Part 1)”

  1. In the beginning $ was the scorecard, now it's the loyal clientele. Most of my clients I never see socially but a part of me considers them friends.

  2. Apart from the philosophical answers that will be offered, the business metrics I use are total annual net divided by jobs.
    I don't like to be idle but I don't want to be working like a house on fire every day.
    Meeting a decent income level with enough retirement savings so I don't have to live in a box at the park.

  3. What Bill Jones said. So many business consider their customers the enemy. If you think of your clients as friends, things go much better. Treat them as you would friends and do them favors and occasionally give stuff away. Acting like your clients are your friends is one of the secrets to good business, IMHO. Of course, a few of them necessarily can go to hell, but I guess that happens with a few friends too!

  4. I have always used invoice totals as my metric. I typically look to see what I did in June vs. a year ago, etc. It actually has little to do with reality, since I lose 3 percent on credit card payments, have the rare but occasional bad debt cost, that sort of thing, but its just my way of comparing year to year stats.

    On costs, I measure cost per shoot. Example - Last year I shot 1100 homes. I want to buy a new car for business use.

    Car - $30,000 /5 years = $6000 a year/1100 shoots= $5.46
    35000 miles a year at 35mpg=1000 gals of gas at $2.5 a gal= $2500, plus 5 oil changes and 24 carwashes=1200, so $3700 a year/1100 shoots = $3.37 + $5.46= $8.83

    So, now I'm at almost $9, add insurance and taxes and financing I'm probably closer to $11. So having a car to drive to shoots costs $11 a house.

    I do this for everything, and it gives me a lot of perspective. As an example, a $15 lunch on a 5 shoot day is 3 bucks a shoot. A Nikon D750 at $1800 over 2 years is $.80 a shoot. In other words, I could buy 3 new cameras every 2 years for what it costs me to eat out.

  5. @lee miller: Absolutely. The *relationship* that gets built between solid clients and photographers is key to long term stability, and its something that businesses often miss the boat on. I would also add that there is definitely thought behind what I refer to as the "mood cycle": When you enjoy your time with your clients, you enjoy your work more. when you enjoy what you're doing, you do better work. Your better work further strengthens your relationship with your clients, and the cycle builds from there!

  6. I came to PFRE after 30 years of grinding my teeth and hating a good portion of what I did for I living. So paying a mortgage and living a happy lifestyle (with a camera no less!) makes me feel wildly successful every day.

  7. I like Randall Henderson's approach very much.

    When I was starting out as a new photographer, and there wasn't enough money, and wasn't realistically *going* to be enough money anytime soon, I dispensed with using revenue as a measurement (it was depressing; I was poor). Instead, I took the attitude that ACTIVITY would be my metric. The assumption was that if I was "active", either shooting or studying or pounding the pavement looking for clients, then that would ultimately lead to money. I watched my calendar to see if it seemed full of appointments and projects, and if it did, I deemed myself "successful".

  8. @scott hargis - I agree on @randall henderson's method: I tend to never look at COSTS through that lens, but it makes a lot of sense.

    The ACTIVITY metric is great, especially when getting started! The thing to watch is that the activity metric could open someone up to a bit of stagnation, or even backwards motion if its not checked against earnings. In the industry, there are a ton of discount players, and its easy to see pricing trending in the wrong direction. I have seen a ton of scenarios where folks were also hit by doing "packs" of shoots, so - their REV looks great for a period of time, but their net earnings at the end of the year went down, OR they earned more overall, but made less per home and got sloppy doing it.

  9. @ Vince,
    Well for sure, you can do anything wrong if you try hard enough. I never paid any attention to the discount players. Even here in the Bay Area, one of the most expensive markets in the world, we have "tour companies" offering shoots for $400, less than half what others are charging -- and that's just "mainstream" work, not the high-end stuff.

  10. Just to clarify, when I was starting out I was charging below-market fees, too -- because that's where my skills were. My point is that you can't let yourself get caught up in what the discount companies, or anyone else, is charging. I kept my attention on what *I* was doing, and made sure that even when I didn't have many shoots, my calendar was full anyway. All that self-generated "activity" paid off, because I grew my skills and honed my work ethic and had solid systems in place long before I needed them. That was my way of being immersed in photography even when I had hardly any customers. By focusing on action, I was immersing myself in the craft, which paid off tremendously in the not-so-long run. There's no excuse for not working, even when you're just starting out!

  11. Its and equal balance of the bottom line financially and working with agents I enjoy seeing daily.
    I measure success differently today than I did in 2012 when I began in RE photography. When I began it was all about volume, I wanted to shoot as many homes as possible.
    Today it’s about
    1) Building relationships with a stable of agents who value what I bring to their process and are willing to pay for it. This makes for far more enjoyable workdays with an equal level of respect for OUR end goal.
    2) Creating Efficiencies in my process, which allows me the highest earning potential without sacrificing the quality I bring to my clients.
    3) I track my numbers relentlessly and analyze how changes to my process affect my bottom line.

    In 2014 I did 1550 houses in 2018 I did 1153 houses in 2018 I made nearly 3x the revenue of 2014 and my workdays were far more enjoyable

  12. In my view there are three kinds of "success" related to working as an independent contractor.
    1) Financial: One has to generate enough money to pay overhead, pay a salary equivalent to themselves, build a retirement fund.
    2) Professional: One has to perfect their craft. i.e. be able to deliver images that are superior to the average in their market.
    3) Emotional: Establish good working relationships with sufficient clients to ensure financial success while enjoying the work required.

    Each of us are going to put different weights on each of these. Unfortunately, if one can't be successful financially, the other two become empty ambitions.

    Whether one is measuring clicks, houses, or other metrics, at the end of the day at the end of the year there has to be money added to one's retirement fund and a positive balance in the personal and business checking accounts.

    So, for me, the only realistic measure of success is positive cashflow. With a larger bank balance at the end of the current year than there was last year.

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