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.
A few months ago, I wrote this article about my experience with outsourcing. I could never have anticipated the number of questions, comments, and feedback that I would receive. Over a hundred people have reached out to me directly, sharing their challenges with the outsourcing process and asking for help. Given the clear indication that our community is longing for more information and support in this area, I've made it a mission of mine to learn everything I could about the world of outsourcing. My goal is to allow those who might be considering outsourcing to learn from my mistakes, save valuable time, and make informed decisions.
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:
Is Outsourcing Right for You?
Outsourcing has been a touchy subject for many people in our industry. For some photographers, they see outsourcing as a way of saving time that would otherwise be spent editing photos and to use it instead, as an opportunity to do more marketing for their business or spend quality time with family and friends. For others, they can't fathom the idea of relinquishing creative control or sacrificing their artistic integrity. Both are entirely valid opinions.
Based on my own journey with outsourcing, I believe that the first question a photographer must ask themselves is: “What value would outsourcing my editing bring to me and my photography business?”
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.
If you are shooting primarily for architects/interior designers/developers, etc., are typically hired to capture a relatively small number of images at each shoot and have an extended period of time to deliver proofs and final images, then outsourcing probably isn't necessary for you. Given that you're working with high-end clients and have more time to devote to an in-depth editing workflow, you’ll want to retain total creative control over your work and take full responsibility for delivering consistently excellent images with your own signature style.
On the other hand, if your photography business is driven more by volume and/or a desire to avoid spending countless late-nights editing, then outsourcing might be a great option to consider. Either way, you'll need to decide what your long-term goals are for your craft and your business, and then choose where to focus your energy.
Primary Considerations When Thinking about Outsourcing:
After the overwhelming response to my first outsourcing article, I set out on a mission to find the best real estate photo editing company in the world. My goal was to identify all the potential challenges involved in finding, vetting, and selecting the right outsourcing company and then break down the process in a way that could be applied to any real estate photography business.
Not too long into my mission to find "the best real estate photo editing company in the world," I realized there is no such thing! There are plenty of great companies but what it comes down to is which company is best suited to your own specific needs. At the end of the day, only you know what type of editor is right for your business.
For example, if you are a one-person show or small team with a unique workflow and turnaround time, and price is of utmost importance, then you probably want to go with a smaller company like CEYLON-PICS, who can learn your process and deliver images quickly, at an affordable rate. That said, be aware that this type of operation can come with its own set of challenges, including inconsistent results, editor turnover, rolling internet and power outages, etc. Any one of these issues can affect turnaround times and reliability. However, if you find the right company and are willing to put the time in with them, you might very well find yourself with a great strategic partner.
If you are a medium to large real estate photography company with multiple shooters spread out across one or more markets, you may want to consider a more extensive operation like Phixer that operates on a proprietary software platform with built-in traffic controls and redundancies to manage quality, consistency, and reliability. These companies are often less flexible, less willing to learn your specific workflow, and usually cost more, but if consistency and reliability are your priorities, then these concessions might be acceptable for you.
Sharing Other Lessons Learned:
I've spent the better part of two years learning about and experiencing the world of outsourcing. This past September, just when I thought I had a good handle on things, I took a trip to Southeast Asia, where I had the opportunity to meet up with Josh Phoenix, the founder and owner of what is arguably the largest real estate photography editing company in the world, Phixer, located in Cebu, Philippines.
When I first decided to take the trip, I expected to meet some cool people and get a first-hand account of what it's like to live in a developing nation. What I didn’t expect is how deeply moved I would be by the experience. My time overseas forced me to reflect on how easy it is for us to get caught up in the rat race where our days are often consumed with doing more, getting more, and accomplishing more, with our success sometimes coming at the expense of others.
While in Asia, I got the chance to finally meet the person “on the other end of the line,” who had previously been just a name or avatar. When I met these editing professionals in-person, heard their story, saw the poverty they lived in, and witnessed how thankful they are to have the opportunity to support their family by providing editing services to someone halfway across the world, it was life-changing for me, to say the least! It made me reflect on the daily hustle we often feel and how we tend to get hung up in the minutiae, losing sight of what's really important. We complain about how cheap our clients are and how they don't appreciate our value, then turn around and treat our employees, vendors, or outsourcers the same way.
I don't want to sound preachy in saying this, but having experienced both sides of the equation, I would encourage anyone in our industry who is considering outsourcing to approach the process with a spirit of courtesy, integrity, and fair trade. This should be common sense but it's not always the case, I believe it’s essential to treat outsourcing companies with the same level of kindness and respect that we use with our clients. I firmly believe that doing so will foster a stable, mutually beneficial relationship with your selected outsourcing company.
So You've Decided to Outsource Your Post Processing... Now What?
Outsourcing has done wonders for my business and has given me a big chunk of my life back to devote to my family and other priorities. If you’ve decided to move forward with vetting and selecting an outsourcing company, then make sure that you do so methodically and with purpose. To help you find the right outsourcing partner, I have developed a PDF questionnaire based on all the lessons I’ve learned (some of which were painful!) to walk you through the vetting process. I can share everything I've learned about outsourcing but at the end of the day, it's you who needs to put in the effort, ask the right questions, and seriously commit to making it work.
Download PDF form here. *Note* May require the most recent version of Adobe Reader to open
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To get started with a world-class outsourcing company open your Phixer account here and receive 200 free credits (a value of $275USD) with the purchase of your first credit package.
-A list of other outsourcing companies can be found on the PFRE outsourcing page
-For anyone currently experiencing success with outsourcing, please feel free to share a link to the company you use in the comments below.