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What Is the Best Way for Real Estate Photographers to Increase Income?

Published: 21/08/2017
By: larry

Ryan in Texas asks:

What is the point at which real estate photographers should hire a contractor or employee to take on shoots for them? I have years of experience in RE photography, but a lot less in the business side, especially marketing. Would you take on an apprentice and let them go on their own when they are ready? What would you pay them?

How to grow a real estate photography business is a classic question. There isn't any one answer that is right for everyone in every location. Some will do it with more people (this works very well within families), some will do it by raising their quality and price and some will subcontract parts of the business to others.

Here are several things that may affect your decisions on how to grow your business:

  1. There is generally not enough profit margin in real estate photography where it would make sense for 3rd parties (more photographers) to get involved and share profit. Someone always gets a bad deal in this arrangement.
  2. You should be tracking what you are making per shoot so you understand what your profit margin is.
  3. Most of the success stories we've featured here on the PFRE blog in the past involve raising the quality of your work and charging more.
  4. If you hire a photographer, you not only have to train them, you have to train them on your style of shooting. And then you are not going to want them to leave and be your competitor. This is what leads to the nasty concept of non-compete agreements.
  5. Customer service and marketing are typically the more important aspects of this business so if these are your weak points, it may make the most sense to focus on improving these parts of your business rather than getting more people involved.
  6. Contracting out drone work and Matterport could be done easier than getting more people involved doing the same thing that you are doing.
  7. Many real estate photographers contract out their post-processing.

Specifically, I would suggest that you find yourself a PFRE coach to work with and go to a workshop like the one in Ontario, Canada at the end of Sept or the one in Irvine, California in mid-September. These would help you navigate through these issues.

7 comments on “What Is the Best Way for Real Estate Photographers to Increase Income?”

  1. I think a great way to do this would be to have two pricing tiers. Send out your photographers on all the shoots that people want to take your lowest rate on. That's the only way I'd consider doing it anyway.

  2. I actually did a detailed study on this several years ago. After reaching my peak earnings using optimized workflow I built a business model. That model indicated I have to expand using employees to somewhere between 3 and four employees tripling in size before I would realize more money in my pocket per hour of involvement. I determined it was not worth it. Instead I found other ways to build in add-ons that used the same assets I was creating but had much higher return per hour of my involvement. For example I create a custom brochure (in PDF) for agents. I get between $100 and $120 per hour of my involvement and no additional expense at all.

    lately I've been on a Zillow Walk Through video kick. I charge $35 per video while I'm on site already, sometimes $50 if it's a big house. It takes me all of 15 minutes from the time I say "Go Hide" to the time it's reviewed and uploaded. That's $140 and hour using your cell phone! I of course then take the time to track the results and point them out to the agents. Every single one is sold on it. If your normal shoot is $200 you just increased revenue by about 18% with no additional expense and only 15 minutes time per shoot.

    I've just brought in two new partners, for drone shoots and high end videos and a few other things I can't find the time for. I bring them in they do their thing, I get a small piece of the action. We both win. It's a pretty tricky thing to do but I trust they will not try to invade may area. In about two years I aim to quit or slow down a lot and turn the whole business over to them.

    In the end 95% of people involved in this business are one man shows. Their "business" is actually themselves not a brick and mortar business with employees. Expanding is a major undertaking. You must be able to model your own business performance as well as that business performance with a new model or one where things are outsourced. I have worked in outsourcing for many years in the IT industry. It's a complex beast. If you don't model and understand what time you still have to involve yourself with, it may not turn out to be profitable for you. If you just like to take pictures and hate business it will never work.

  3. A great place to get advice and training on business is SCORE. Go to score.org and register as a client. No charge! Many online courses and e-mentoring, plus many chapters around the country for face-to-face mentoring.

  4. We recently raised the quality and price of our work. However, subcontracting a drone aerial service was the turning point for us in acquiring new business. Good luck!

  5. This has been an ongoing problem for me. Over the past few years it has gotten too busy for me to handle all our requests for shots. Last year our waiting list was over two weeks in the peak season, which in our market, is just not acceptable. Last year I shot over 1100 homes and there just aren't enough hours in the day to do it all.

    I took the plunge this year. I have hired additional photographers (full and part time) , staging assistants, and customer care assistant to handle scheduling and followup. So far it is working better than I ever imagined. I have a combination of contract people and employees. Our team consists of 3 full time and 4 part time people. It is an ongoing process but we are on target this year to shoot over 1500 homes .

    Our marketing is more about the brand and less about me as we promote the Shows Great brand. Our turn-around is much better, we now can schedule photo shoots the same week as requested. I can take a vacation, I can sleep at night, and everyone seems to be happy.

    I have been in the real estate business for over 30 years (20 as a licensed REALTOR, and 10 as a photographer and stager), I think we have only just begun to tap into the income potential of this business with less than 20 % of the homes in our market having professional real estate photos and this number is growing each year. I am really excited about the future of Real Estate photography and where is will go in the future.

  6. Thanks for the replies. I missed that my question got posted, thinking it didn't, though I did see Larry's response in my email.

    One concern of mine right now is learning to shoot consistently timing-wise. I could be making a lot more this way. Some houses take forever mainly because of me looking at the photos on the camera screen to make sure they turned out okay, then nitpicking the heck out of them and re-shooting the entire room because I wasn't happy with it. Once I get more consistent timing and quality with different techniques, I'll work on raising my prices and increasing my income. At this point I can't fathom becoming a larger business with employees because I don't know where that transition is supposed to happen. My biggest concern right now that makes my business a little bit harder on me is lack of internet at home due to no one servicing my area (though I live in an ever-growing metro area in North Texas with a healthy real estate market)--I have to go to Starbucks just to deliver photos, which takes more time and reduces my hourly income. Fixed wireless internet is a no-go for me as well due to dense trees blocking radio towers. I'd love to rent some office space but don't have the income needed to do this and even if I did, I'm not sure I'd want the pressure of making rent.

    My main immediate goal, however, is to go to a workshop as Larry suggested; thus far, it's been cost-prohibitive for me to do so, especially now that my wife and I are restructuring our finances to include a brand new member of the family in about nine months. This means no new equipment for me for awhile, so in the meantime I want to focus on improving my work and making the quality more consistent. That's been a slow process so far but I can see it happening despite sometimes producing work that makes me cringe at myself.

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