Something They Don’t Teach You In School

by | Oct 10, 2021

Today’s Philosophical Take by Joe Farace

“Life is too important to be taken seriously.”— Oscar Wilde

The original version of this post was written as an article for a magazine aimed at professional photographers. The editor refused to run it without major changes to the text because she felt the tone was “adversarial.” In her opinion, asking clients to be paid in a timely manner was “adversarial.” You might not agree with that. If so, read on…

Around the turn of the century, a piece of modern business mythology was born. The idea goes something like this: “The customer is always right.” Many small businesses, including photographers, adopted this principle as if it were the golden rule (which is, as we all know is really, “those with the gold rule.”) And it worked—their customers, it was said, loved them. But some photographers did not make enough money to remain in business, all that love notwithstanding.

What I’m about to say may shock some of you: In my opinion, any photography operation should be run for the benefit of the owners, not the customers. That’s because clients (most of’em, anyway) don’t really care if you make enough money to survive. Sadly this is true. If you fail, there’s always “that other guy” that Arlo Guthrie sang about that is ready and willing to take up the slack and step in for you.

Since most—and certainly not all—customers don’t care if you make a profit, you need to establish studio policies and practices that ensure you do. For instance, each aspect of your operation should be self-supporting: You shouldn’t shoot some assignments at a lower rate because you’re making higher profits from others. This approach makes you vulnerable to lower-priced competition in your high-profit area and at risk in the low-profit one. Worse yet, I’ve seen photographers shoot assignments just for the ego satisfaction alone and while that may be fun, it can also become a trap, because this kind of job can keep you busy without generating any cash flow. The winner may be the customer, the loser is the photographer.

If we don’t look out for our own best interests, who will? Typically, most photographic operations in this country are small. When Mary and I operated our studio we made sure that all of our new clients were appreciated and respected but everything was run under a set of standard policies. Good, existing clients—people who paid their invoices in a timely manner—were nurtured and we were more flexible about how we did things for them.

It’s your business so you can ignore all of this and run it anyway you like. These are just a few ideas to keep in the back of your mind when things don’t go the way you had hoped.


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