Everything Cost Something

My trainer, Paul, said it best the other day: Everything cost something.  We were actually talking (well, I was panting between squat reps — if you don’t squat you don’t work out) about a previous blog post, and that, distilled, was the bottom line.

Fast forward to last night.  Every night, I take a zen bath.  What is a zen bath?  I have a huge oval soaking bathtub, and it is completely surrounded by candles.  There is a vat of bath salts on the shelf next to the tub, and 3 antique stone Buddhas line the back.  All lights, except, of course, the candles, get extinguished — and music plays from my iPad to a wireless speaker system.  I soak for 1 hour.  
Now, here’s the thing.  I am totally ADHD.  That means soaking in a tub for an hour in my zen bath requires a bit of diversion to keep me from strangling the rubber ducky.  So, I have a system to read my iPad while I soak.
And, I can check email.
And book a flight.
And hotel rates.
Hell, I can work right from the tub no different than at my desk.  That is pure Zen.
So last night, just as I sink into the vanilla scented water, an email alert comes in from Benny.  
Benny is a friend and associate I’ve known for a while.  On the surface, he is a competitor, running a photography company that does similar stuff to what my business offers, but deeper down we’ve become friends.  He’ll call me and pick my brain, and I’ll do the same with him.  I think it’s important to develop relationships with colleagues, even those who might be viewed as competitors, and there have been times when that deeper relationship has paid off.
Gary is another friend/ competitor of mine in Las Vegas.  We’ve had lunch numerous times, have found ourselves working the same event for different clients, he’s sent me pictures of my dad (who has hired him for a few events), and overall he’s a good guy.  When I had a printer blow up a few years back, Gary lent me one of his.  He didn’t have to do that.  In fact, he met me at midnight at his storage unit.
So, I’m a big fan of building a team among my colleagues, even as we may bid against each other on jobs.  In the end, we need each other.
Anyway, Benny sent me this email:
“WTF $349. For 3 hours
This sucks, I trained this guy!

I clicked on the link.  BTW, I’ve edited the link so the deal — which is over — doesn’t come up.  Not because I don’t want you to get a deal in Miami, but because there is no reason to drive traffic to a competitor’s web site.  My competitive nature is still alive and well.

Here’s the thing though:  $349 for 3 hours of green screen is roughly 1/3 to 1/4 the rate of what that type of event should cost.  A deal, right?

Let’s look at it through the prism of my favorite industry:  hotels.

Did you know it cost — according to the Hotel Motel Association — $50 to flip a room?  In other words, when you check into a room, stay the night, and check out, it cost $50 for the hotel.  I guess that calculation covers the room itself, the cost of the maid turning the room, replenishment of amenities, washing the sheets and changing the towels, etc…

So, what does it mean when you are paying less than $50?  Assuming you aren’t in a casino hotel, where they are banking on you dropping money into the slots, it’s a safe assumption that the hotel has lowered the cost of flipping the room.  How?  Maybe they don’t change the sheets?  Maybe they don’t clean at all?  Maybe they haven’t remodeled in 100 years, and you still have to use a bucket next to the bed?  One thing for sure:  the hotel exists for one reason, to make money, as does any other business.
So back to my cheap Living Social Green Screen Photographer.  If a green screen event typically cost $1500 for 3 hours, and he’s charging $350, what gives?  Are there hidden costs somewhere?  Are the photos being handed out in zip lock bags?  Does he show up with a Coolpix and flash for lighting?  Is the background a green sheet duck taped to the wall?  

I can see you rolling your eyes and saying you are SURE that’s not the case.  Don’t be.  I’ve seen all of those things happen at events.  And, if you think the results are the same as the Hollywood style sets that Benny and I provide?  You are nuts.

But there’s something else, while I’m on my high horse.  I think as a professional, you have a basic decision to make:  are you going to work every hour of every day, earning less per hour, or are you going to work fewer hours and make more per hour?   Unfortunately, until you are very established and in high demand, it doesn’t work both ways.  

I’ve learned this the hard way.  I’ve run around the country, shooting events, going from place to place, and in the end — when I do my taxes — I still qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit.  But that’s been a while.  Now, I charge what I need to charge to cover my expenses, make a profit, and invest in new technology.  The kind of client that hires me WANTS me to do these things.  And, in the end, the relationship is great.  I’d much rather work for a client that understands the sheets need changed, and not simply shaken out and put back on.

One last thought:  once a price is established, it’s hard to raise that price.  

My dad learned this lesson and taught it to me, and the story is a bit — un-politically correct.  Of course, I’ll tell it anyway.

Back in the 1980’s, a gentleman called my dad to enlist his help in writing a newsletter.  The man ran a not-for-profit AIDS organization, and he founded the group — it was no secret — because he was living with AIDS.  I’m sure I don’t have to remind you, before the turn of the Millennium,   being HIV positive was a huge health crisis.

Anyway, my dad offered to write the newsletter as a public service.  He charged a fraction of what he typically charges, mainly because he liked the guy.  Every year, the non-profit called, and every year my dad and his team spent a week or more redesigning the newsletter.  It was a standing joke in the office that it’d be cheaper just to send the group a check so they could hire someone ELSE to do the newsletter.

Then one day my dad asked how the founder was doing.

“Oh, he passed away years ago,” said the intern.

My dad was pissed.  Not that he’d offered his services to the non-profit — after all, it was a community service on his part — but that no one had told him the guy had passed away.  And, when my dad raised the rate — just slightly, to cover his own costs of producing the newsletter — the group, now flush with money and well established (in fact, a household name) — hired someone else.  

So, dear cheap Living Social Photographer  Friend of Benny’s:  GET USED TO WORKING THOSE $349 gigs.  ‘Cause, now, you’re stuck with them.

That reminds me:  I need more vanilla bath salts.

My zen bath