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What’s the Best Way to Collect Real Estate Photography Shoot Payments?

Published: 13/03/2019

PaymentsJeff asked the following question:

Right now, I mostly do a net-30 payment policy with my existing customers, and up-front payment for new clients and "other" (FSBO, rental properties, etc). But I'm wondering if an up-front policy might just be the simplest and best way to handle payments across the board.

I like the idea of giving my long time customers the flexibility of delayed payment, but it takes up time to write up an invoice and send it, keep track of paid vs. unpaid shoots, and do follow-up calls and emails when payments are nearing their due date. There are even a couple clients who are so forgetful that they've just given me their cc info so I can automatically charge them after a shoot.

With all that said, can you suggest an ordering system that would work well for receiving up-front payments? I can use my Square reader when a client is at the shoot, but what about lock box shoots where the client doesn't meet me? I'm thinking of an online ordering system that I can push to new and existing clients, and preferably something that is VERY SIMPLE to use for my more techno-challenged customers.

Yes, we've talked about this issue before and many real estate photographers have complained about the issue of managing their accounts receivable. Many, as you say, just use a Square reader to take credit cards at the shoot. There are a couple of options to take care of the situations where the agent isn't at the shoot:

  1. For those situations where the agent is not at the shoot to pay, send the agent a request for payment (invoice) via PayPal or Square.
  2. For those situations where the agent is not at the shoot to pay, you could simply take their credit card number over the phone or keep it on file.
  3. Use a service like FileShip.io to get payment at delivery of the photos from everyone. This is pretty general and works in all situations and doesn't cost you anything but adds 5% to the client's cost.
  4. Collect the shoot fee at scheduling time on your website by just putting a PayPal or Square button on an order form. This is not very difficult. You can get a few lines of HTML code for a payment button that you can paste on your web page at PayPal or Square.

These days real estate photographers can accept credit cards to collect their shoot fee right on site from their clients. I talked about his a year ago. Early adopters were already doing it then but now it's become very routine. The way you do it is with this little free swipe gadget that attached to your iPhone or Android smart phone. There may be others but this is by far the most popular.

Here's why you want to accept credit cards on site:

  1. It's good for you because it maximizes the probability of getting paid up front.
  2. It's good for your client because many don't carry their check book with them. They are used to using their credit cards for everything. No one is going to say, "Oh I forgot my credit card". That's like saying I forgot my pants!
  3. It makes you look more professional.
  4. It is very easy. It takes about 4 minutes to signup for the free swipe. You pay 2.75% for any credit card (if this gives you heartburn, increase you shoot fee by 2.75%. This is peanuts for getting paid on time and not having to keep nagging you clients for payment.
  5. Payments you take by credit card go directly into you bank account the next day.

I would argue that allowing your best, trustworthy customers to pay any time within 30 days is a customer service benefit. But they should have to demonstrate their trustworthiness. I think, like many aspects of this business, there isn't one best way to collect payments. If you shoot for agents that are good business people, they will appreciate being able to pay when and how they choose. On the other hand, if you have a bunch of agents whom you shoot for that continually need reminding to pay, collect up front.

Braulio recently asked about how to take credit cards on his site:

I have been looking at the PFRE to find out a way to charge on my website, I have used Paypal and Stripe and they all charge 2.9% + 0.30 cents. Is there a cheaper way to charge on my website? Please, I need your help.

Yes, I agree, I don't particularly like PayPal either (for many other reasons than their cost per transaction). I use them for e-book transaction processing just because they have the best worldwide coverage (works in all countries except a handful of African countries) but if you are doing business just in the US or Canada I recommend you take a look at Squareup.com.

Squareup has a low per transaction charge (2.75% per swipe) and, their SmartPhone/Tablet Apps give you the ability to either take credit cards at a shoot or send an email invoice to the agent so they can pay afterwards with their credit card.  This approach is much more effective than taking the payment on your site, although if you can also do that too with Squareup. Taking credit cards at a shoot is a huge advantage and will cut down your accounts receivable, yet you still have the choice of emailing an invoice to the client that they can pay with credit card. Also, they have a very nice dashboard on their site for each account that tracks a lot of useful things. I've noticed recently that many restaurants and other small businesses are using squareup.com.

If you are doing any shoots at all, the only immediate reason for not signing up for Square right now is that you don't have a smart phone and I'm here to tell you that that's not a good reason; get one. Another reason for not signing up is if  you live outside the US. Anyone know of services like this outside the US? This is just one reason for having a smartphone more reasons are:
  1. LightTrac
  2. Finding your way around town
  3. Being reachable all the time for shoot scheduling
  4. Keeping your shoot schedule on the fly.

Anyone out there have a credit card processor they like better than Squareup.com?

Larry Lohrman

16 comments on “What’s the Best Way to Collect Real Estate Photography Shoot Payments?”

  1. I use QuickBooks for online billing. Established broker clients, which is most of them, pay 30 net. New clients pay at delivery the first 2 shoots. This system has drastically reduced my stress; payment for everyone used to be at delivery and I'd stew over the 'late' ones. I let QB keep track and send reminders automatically (almost never happens).

  2. I use a program called Service Fusion, it's for HVAC / Pool Repair type of companies. it syncs up with Quick Books too. Just a tip that I have had huge success with is sending the invoice immediately after the shoot is done. I've gotten paid 90% times faster then sending it with or after the photos are done.

  3. I collect upfront. If I were to get a client that was doing consistent business I'd be open to billing on a weekly basis if they haven't had any bounced checks or rejected card payments. I don't want to be in a position where I am having to send out dunning notices and prodding customers that fall behind. That's office time that comes out of my income.

    For my better customers, I'll shoot a home and pick up a check from their office (if local) later that day or even before the job. They can even mail me payment or I can send them an invoice through PayPal, but I don't deliver images until I receive payment. I have delivered images to good customers before getting paid with no problems, but I don't do that as a matter of routine. Once they have the photos, I have lost all of my leverage and things get worse if the home sells or they lose the listing. Small Claims Court? Sit around all day not working to collect $200? Not worth it.

    I know what I'm charging for the job before I ever leave the house, so I can provide that figure when the job is booked. PFRE is pretty easy that way. We know what we are delivering so there are very few surprises. I can accept cash, checks or cards so it's easy for customers to pay me on or off site.

    I want to keep it simple. I'm going to be delivering the images within 48 hours and it's not like a manufacturing business that needs a float on components to build a product and get paid for it. RE agents may not sell the home for months or could even lose the listing so financing them for any length of time isn't as helpful. If they are good, they are closing a few homes a month and have plenty of cash flow to cover the couple of hundred dollars it takes for my bill. I'll bet they are paying much more in car/insurance payments.

    Jeff, do what works for your business. If you are photographing a home where the agent won't be there, send them an invoice upfront via Paypal/Square/etc and have them pay a day or two in advance. I don't like the liability of storing CC data, but if don't mind, set it up so you are charging their card the day you do the job and send them an invoice so they know you've charged the card. You might even want to send a confirmation for the job with a note that you will be charging their card ending in NNNN on photo day or the day after as a reminder. For those clients that are big enough to make billing on a longer cycle worthwhile to keep them as clients, give a discount for paying faster and state an interest charge for paying late. I'd recommend not offering terms longer than 14 days. That way, if they do wind up paying late, it isn't 2 months down the road.

    The traditional Net 30 invoice was partially for large companies to get invoices reconciled with shipments and through all of the internal red tape so payment can be approved and a check cut on the one day a week when checks were cut and signed. For a photographer doing business with an agent person to person, it's a short term lightly secured loan. An agent should be able to make a payment for a job the same day or the next day. It's not like they only cut checks once a week and the head of AP has to sign off on the register.

  4. I've never had a problem getting paid from a RE agent or a developer/builder. I let them pay 3 ways - they give me their credit card info and I process their invoice the day or day after the shoot through my Paypal account and send them a copy of the paid invoice - or they pay by etransfer or cheque - on very rare occasion by cash. It's about 50/50 etransfer and credit card.

    As soon as I send the invoice (if etransfer which surprisingly more and more are choosing) I text them 'your invoice is in your email please confirm that you've received it'. Like Aubrey I find the fastest way to get paid is sending invoices or charging their credit cards same day of the shoot.

    As I keep numerous clients credit card info I decided to write the information down in 'code'. e.g. second number from the beginning and second last number in the credit card number is reversed - and the code or expiry date last number is one lower or higher etc. A simple way of having some protection and I keep the large envelope hidden where it's easy to access but less likely for a thief to find.

    I don't do 30 days - every invoice says 'payable upon receipt'.

  5. I've been doing this for 11 years now and have had very little problem with collections, some but very little. I think I have hit a sweet spot now.Now this works for me, I don't think it can work for everyone.

    My objective from the start is to grow a relationship and become a valued part of their team. By demanding payment up front or on site per job I feel the relationship becomes more transactional than personal. It is easy to shed a transactional relationship, harder to shed a personal relationship. It works for me.

    I use HMBGSS for accounting and invoicing (Home made Big Giant Spread Sheet). I shoot between 400-500 properties a year and have about 40-50 different clients in any one year. Of course there is the old 80-20 rule. 20% of my clients give me 80% of my business.

    My Policy is pay within 15 days of invoice by check or credit card. 50% pay by check 50% by CC. The only exception to that is FSBO, for them I demand cash when I walk in the home, no checks or CC.

    I keep meticulous records of everything. My average pay after I send invoice is 8.6 days. Most new clients expect to pay right on the job. I tell them I'll send an invoice, don't worry, I'm not worried about collecting because I'll track them down to the ends of the earth to get paid then laugh. For some reason, and it's just a personal thing, I feel it's just a bit less professional to discuss and collect payments on the job in front of the sellers. I want to look and act like I am part of the agent's team, not itinerant gun for hire. My clients come through references or track me down after looking at my work. They tell their clients "I work with the best pro photographer in this area..." I also check out anyone who calls me before I agree to work with them, I know their rep and their client's. I'm picky and will not work for just anyone. That comes over time but it's hard to start that way.

  6. I use PhotoInvoice.com. This requires payment up front. Once payment is received (through Stripe) the client gets a link to the photos. Easy as pie and I always get my money minus 2.9%. In some cases I use PayPal. Takes 2 minutes to create an invoice. Of course some clients pay by check.

  7. PocketSuite is my preferred choice. Every booking is confirmed with a credit card inside the app So, when I publish my images to the customer via mls-delivery.com I use my phone and push the charge button in PocketSuite. Done.
    No more calling or email casing the money

  8. I use Freshbooks. Works pretty good.

    My standard workflow is to send a deliver email and then do up an invoice in Freshbooks a day or so later. Agent gets email with link to secure payment page.

    I do not make a big issue about payment. The invoice says due upon receipt but some agents let the float a bit.

    No big deal. I just log in once a week and re-send the outstanding invoices. The agents eventually pay. 90% pay in less than 30 day. Another 8% pay within 60 days. 2% long pay me. I am not sweating the 2%. Eventually I just stop taking their orders and then they magically catch up on the oldest ones.

    I pretty much run it like a “tab” at the bar. If an agent has an open invoice I will add the next one to that invoice and re-email it out. So when the payments hit they are bigger.

    On this “tab” thing though...I do open a new invoice when the month rolls over. Freshbooks tracks your numbers and I like to know what this month’s numbers were vs same month last year. So if someone has an open invoice at the end of March and I deliver a new order I April, they will get a new invoice emailed out and I will re-email the older one from March too.

  9. I've been using http://www.waveapps.com and have been happy. No complaints from clients. Freshbooks was too expensive. Could not figure out how to set up quickbooks to receive credit card payment. PocketSuite was great, I may revisit that option someday. Charging at the job doesn't work for me, I get lots of unoccupied homes where the client just gives me the lockbox or garage code.

  10. I use Quickbooks online/integrated billing. I send them an invoice, they pay it online and I send their photos link! With my brokers who give me lots of business I bill them weekly and most are prompt at paying. Only had trouble with a couple I had to keep sending reminders. This process has taken me awhile to get to but it has greatly reduced my stress of payments!

  11. This is not complicated. Single answers are too rigid and never correct. Established clients can pay me however they would like. Newish clients who I feel like i do not know very well pay me onsite. Seriously... not that complicated and works perfect... i stopped chasing payments when i did this, no follow up emails for payments.... nothing.

  12. I use Quickbooks online for billing, and Square for getting paid at the time of the shoot. For most RE clients, even the ones I've worked with for years, I take payment at the time of the shoot. But if they prefer to pay upon receipt of the photos I'm fine with billing them. But I generally expect immediate payment.

    I've found that many agents tend to be a little overwhelmed with all the details of listing a house, so paying the photographer can fall through the cracks. I'd rather just get paid and not fret about chasing them down.

    For higher end clients, like developers and architects, I'll do 30 days. They usually have a better support staff, so getting paid is not a problem. I've found the worst clients, as far as getting paid on time, are property management companies. I've become apprehensive about even working with them.

  13. I used QuickBooks payments till two month ago when I discovered the total amount they kept in fees (almost $5,000 in one year) this is unacceptable and there's no going back for me. After consulting several sources, I decided to keep quickbooks for invoicing and Zelle, Check or ACH for my payments.

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