Deadlines and Prioritising your workload

This blog entry first appeared over at www.photographybymatthewjames.com

3pm – time to write

The question is, what does one have to say on the topic of photography today? I actually have a half-written blog post just waiting to be finished sitting right here on my desktop, but I think I’ll save that for tomorrow, or possibly Friday. That post actually has value for you, the reader, and I want to save that one for when it’s good and ready.

Today I think I’ll write some thoughts about deadlines and how they seriously affect your entire day. For example, last night I had a deadline of just a couple of hours after the photoshoot (you may remember it was the Mini City Løb, which started at 6:30pm and ended a couple of hours later). I had to go straight back to the office and get editing so Sparta could upload to their Flickr account. I had my new assistant, Pierre, with me, and when I told him that the client needed the images before the end of the night, he was quite shocked. Seeing his reaction was an interesting experience, because for me it’s part-and-parcel of being a photographer. Granted, not all clients demand photographs straight away, but the sooner the better.

Don’t forget your life!

The problem is being able to predict when said images will be ready. If you’re able to work around the clock (and don’t mind doing so) then 24-48 hours should usually be enough, depending on your workload. But when you have a home to go to and a family / partner to see, then giving it 110 per cent isn’t such a good idea. Many photographers have made that mistake, and apparently those in the industry have one of the highest divorce rates. Nurturing relationships is just as important as nurturing your business, though it’s easy to take it for granted.

Instead, I like to prioritise my workload and decide what gets done first. One of my clients from the weekend hired me to take some portraits of her and her friends on Saturday afternoon, and those images haven’t even been touched yet. But, the images I took on Tuesday for Nike are about done, and of course the race photographs from last night are almost 24 hours old. So how do you prioritise?

Well obviously the clients’ demands are the first things to take in to consideration. Are the portraits from the weekend required before Monday? In this case, no; I simply explained they’d be ready ASAP, and no one argued with that. So this gives me a bit of leeway when it comes to handing them over, and I can take my time with them. It’s important not to take the piss, however.

Charge extra for short turn-arounds

But it’s equally as important to tell the client that something simply isn’t possible, especially when they demand a turn-around of less than 24 hours. In these instances I remind them that I have other clients who demand the same thing, and that money often seals the deal. If you want me to put your photos above everyone else’s then I need to include that in to the price. Rarely does this prompt a response of “No worries, let’s do it.” More often it’s “OK, just get them to me when you can,” and I can sleep at night knowing that I don’t need to do another 12 hour day (like yesterday’s post (see below)).

Realising how cheap I was

The biggest thing I’ve noticed so far this year is just how organised my workflow is now I’ve implemented realistic timeframes. I don’t jump at the chance to say “Yes sir” every time someone asks if I can hand the pics over next day. Instead I explain the procedure and leave it in their hands to make the decision. I suppose I also have to mention weddings, which have played a huge part in my freelance career, up until now. I worked out last year that an average wedding (based on my prices) pays approximately 50 DKK an hour (about £5). I came to this figure by calculating how much I spend marketing my photography services, how many hours I work before and during the wedding, and then how many hours I spend editing and following up with the client. It was this figure that made me realise just how cheap I was, and that there probably wasn’t a future in that industry for me. As a result I’ve given up, and it is, of course, the start of the wedding season again. In other words, I’m about to find out whether the decision was the right one or not, but at this moment in time it feels like it was. I’ve got all this time to write, haven’t I?

I think I’ll leave it there for today. A little journal entry on deadlines and prioritising your work. I hope it was inspirational.