TURNING DOWN WORK: PROOF THAT PAID WORK CAN BE UNPROFITABLE

The Carrot

I am constantly goading people to turn down work, and am often met with resistance. Seems counter-intuitive that if you want to make more money you would turn down paying clients. So let me give you an example to illustrate the point: paid work can be unprofitable, and some paid work can actually hinder the achievement of your overall business goals.

Meet Russell, a wedding photographer who generally shoots on the weekends. Though there is a great deal of post-wedding work, weekdays are fairly flexible.

So when Sally asks if he can do some headshots for her LinkedIn profile, he says yes. He could use the extra income.

He thinks to himself that headshots are easy and can probably be done in two hours: one for shooting, one for editing. Since he charges $5,000 for weddings, $300 feels like a fair rate to him.

Sally shows up to the shoot holding a pile of clothes. She has no idea which outfit to wear. She asks if it’s OK to take photos in a few different looks.
 

The Fall Begins

No problem, says Russell. But once the shoot gets rolling and she’s on her third outfit, Russell realizes this is going to take longer than expected. He didn’t know outfit changes were going to take up so much time. Plus, she did her own hair and makeup and it’s not looking right in the photos. Russell doesn’t know how to do makeup and hair since his brides always have it professionally done. When he looks at the shots, he knows immediately that the lighting is washing her out. He tells her to put on more makeup. This takes up time.

The shoot ends up being two hours. He was an hour off, but hey, he’s still going to make $300 he wouldn’t have made otherwise.

He could have just been watching TV during that time anyway, so what’s an hour?

The next day he looks through the shots. Because of the makeup debacle, only half of the shots are even usable. He finally finds a few good ones, picks his top five and sends them to Sally. She writes back immediately. The ones he sent are not what she had in mind, she really wanted photos of her looking more professional. Sally thinks she looks too friendly.
 

The Fall Continues

Too friendly is not how Russell is feeling right now. He goes back through the photos again and finds some that could be considered more “professional”. Sally writes that these are better, but could she just take a look for herself and pick the ones she wants?

Frustration has now turned into annoyance. He’s already spent almost an hour sifting through the photos and doesn’t want to spend any more time on this project. But Russell doesn’t feel as though he has a choice. Sally clearly doesn’t like what he’s picked and he just wants her to choose the photos so he can move on to editing them.

Sally picks a couple photos, but her hair looks weird in them. She asks if Russell can Photoshop her hair from a different picture onto her face in another. Russell knows how much time this will take, but Sally has made it clear that she doesn’t like any of the other photos and Russell doesn’t want to upset her. After all, he’s bent over backwards thus far and would hate to have spent all this time and still send away an unhappy client!

So he does the work. After another hour he has produced the photo she wants. He sends it off relieved that it’s over and psyched to spend the $300 of some rightly-deserved beers.

But like a zombie, she keeps coming back. Sally writes that she is pleased with this one, but didn’t he say he would provide three final shots? Unfortunately, unlike a zombie, his brain is still intact and he has to continue to deal with this “side project”.


The Lesson

And on and on it goes. If you think this is an exaggeration, then you don’t work with clients. The thing is, it’s not Sally’s fault, it’s Russell’s and his lack of process.

You see, if Russell regularly did headshots, he would have given Sally instructions ahead of time. He would have recommended hiring a makeup artist for an additional fee. Even better, he would have included it in the price. He would have said she is allowed up to three changes of clothes. He would have asked her ahead of time to show him some examples of photos she liked and wants to emulate. This way, when he picked the top five photos, he would know that they were in line with what she wanted (and if she didn’t like them he would have been able to refer to a concrete example). Then he would have told her he only includes one round of editing and any additional rounds or extreme editing, like editing two photos together, would cost extra.

But this is not something Russell does every day so he doesn’t have a process for it. Meaning he doesn’t have a way yet of making it profitable. Had he developed that process just for Sally, it still wouldn’t have been lucrative since he would have spent that extra time developing the process. And unless Russell wants to add headshots to his repertoire, he needs to say “no” to customers looking for work outside his niche of weddings.


Turn Down Work, Make More Money

Imagine if he had spent that same 4-5 hours working to land another $5,000 wedding client instead? That marketing work may have even planted the seeds for a few additional wedding clients. The value of his time spent is incomparable!

Plus, the last thing he wants is for one of Sally’s friends to contact him for more LinkedIn headshots, so he didn’t even receive the value of more potential business. Sally is unlikely to give him a referral for weddings because that’s not why he was hired. For her he’s not top of mind for weddings, if anything he’s top of mind for headshots.