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Setting the bar too low?

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  • Setting the bar too low?

    Wow - I just stumbled in to this thread and was astonished at the levels of pricing!

    With a son that is a partner in a law firm billing his time at nearly $400 an hour and a daughter in sales making over 120K a year, maybe I've been tricked into thinking my $85 hr. billing avg is practically giving my services away!

    Leads me to wondering if most of you are doing outservice work for other studios or labs that are marking up your work or if you are working directly for your own clients???

    I have a minimum charge of $129.50 for any type of retouching work (traditional or digital) plus the price of prints, negatives, etc with no complaints about pricing and (at the moment) a 54 order -$14,000+ work backlog. In case anyone is wondering, there is plenty of (the typical) competition in this area.

    Reminds me of the old sales joke about the chicken farmer - guy is having trouble in the hen house with too little product and no amount of lectures or incentives seem to work - then he takes a trip to Australia - comes back with an Ostrich egg - takes it into the hen house and say's hey look guys I just want you to see how the others are doing this!

    Any questions that I can answer here I'll be glad to provide details.

    Jim Conway
    Last edited by Jim Conway; 01-19-2002, 04:48 PM.

  • #2
    That comes out to about 54 $260 jobs...what does $260 get one of your clients? Is that 54 clients?
    Learn by teaching
    Take responsibility for learning


    • #3
      It's good to hear about your success.
      I do have a couple of questions.....
      1. What sort of advertising to you do, if any?
      2. Who is your "typical" client?
      3. Location, location, location. Where are you situated within your area?
      4. What brings you here?


      BTW: The cover photo on your website is extraordinary!!
      Last edited by Vikki; 01-19-2002, 06:18 PM.


      • #4
        Last question first? I'm at the end of my career (age is catching up with me) and "taking the library with me" so to speak is not my style. If young people are turned off by the idea that there is no money in the business, millions of photos will self-destruct for no reason other than the lack of interest in the business.

        In brief our sales system involves inquires from yellow pages (card size ads) ... the phone callers are ask a simple question for openers - "Are you lookling for museum quality work?" and the followup conversation will be according to their response.

        We offer to send our "Inquiry packet" and generally send out 40 to 50 a month. The information content includes sheets on emergency handling, newspaper columns I've written, the how's and why's of our copies processes (we make 4x5 negs on everything with 200 yr + life exp. How a copy can be better than the original - things like that. In other words proof that we are pros. I use single sheets because we know that they will keep some of the literature with their photo collection.

        Over 50% of the inquiries will order within six months. (most are in no rush to judgement here and some don't respond for several years!!)

        Our typical clients are in the 50 and over age group, just ordinary people. I'm talking here about our bread and butter restoration work, not the "Conservator" or consulting part of the business. (that's a separate subject that belongs in other forums like Conservation online or the Photo History group))

        to be continued ...


        • #5
          Originally posted by Doug Nelson
          That comes out to about 54 $260 jobs...what does $260 get one of your clients? Is that 54 clients?
          I just looked - one client has 7 orders from an "inherited" collection in here now, the rest are all singles or negs for reorders so they go as low as $11.90 for a single 5x7 RC reprint to as high as $1,200. I think to answer your question though, we have a list of around 1,700 clients (built up over the years)that we still consider as "active" contacts.

          For the $260? hard question to answer! Starts with my cleaning your original and making a 4x5 negative for $14.95. If we scan for retouching or printing it will be from that negative not the original (I can do a lot to eliminate any flaws with pre-copy work, cleaning, etc. plus contrast control in making the neg) BTW - That neg is a great selling point! Obviously, the human readable aspect and the idea that it will last for centuries are features that are powerful tools when it comes to separating us from the pack.

          RC work prints are used for tradition retouching. Finished work copied again on to 4x5 film. If we go to computer for retouching (in whole or in part), we run the finished job back onto 4x5 (film recorder) for the customers so they will have a negative of the final for their archives - so all roads here lead to Rome - collection longevity of at least 150 years or more using time tested methods.

          Retouching runs $85 an hour and up depending on the complexity. If I think I'm the only one in the world that would attempt to do it (chemical restorations fit in here) or the customer has had the work done elsewhere and didn't like the results, I price it up accordingly. I will give a firm estimate in advance and if I can't calculate it for some reason (testing needed), I add a small charge to the negative price for making a proof before a final price is set.

          B&W prints start at $17.50 for 8x10 RC (no guarantee of life expectency on RC but we do selenium tone them) twice that price for long life fiber base ...and we do photo oil colorings, paintings - any type of recreation the customer wants - even tintypes or Dags - so prints can run quite high. The best single order to date was over $11,500 for four heavy oils. Disaster recovery jobs (if covered by insurance) can involve sheets of orders to separate them into like classifications for working so I use a master order for those. None in process at the moment.

          I'm just starting to offer digital color prints, conversions of collections to DVD's and other computer related products and have no idea if we will have any market for it or not. Stay tuned - If I can learn a fraction of what most of you already know, it may add to my income but so far, my "digital" additions are proving to be expensive lessons in how to try to make pigmented inks go though printers designed for dyes!

          Jim Conway


          • #6

            It sounds as though you have a very interesting business. Better watch out! We'll be out to pick your brain! I checked out your web site too. Very professional.



            • #7
              If there is anything I can suggest that might help someone here double their income, I'm ok with that.

              The web site being very limited is designed with the same purpose in mind as a yellow page ad - one job only, to bring in inquiries.

              I see many sites that post prices and page after page of photos - an approach I feel can work against you. Your prospects can't relate to the photos, only your skill level (sell the sizzle not the steak) and, more often than not, if you give them that chance, they will make a decision to call or not to call you based on price without even bothering to explore the details.

              Jim Conway


              • #8
                Thanks for the information.
                Since I feel that my site fits the profile you just mentioned, I have a couple more questions.
                Your prospects can't relate to the photos, only your skill level (sell the sizzle not the steak)
                What do you mean by that?
                (Although, I agree that I may have gone overboard on the number of examples on my site.)
                I see your point about posting prices, but I find it irritating when places don't list prices. I'm on the fence on this one.


                • #9
                  Hello Jim,
                  I am curious...Does your company do mainly traditional darkroom work? Are you using Photoshop to do your restoration?

                  If you scroll around this site I am sure you can find out all sorts of information on using pigmented ink, this is a great site for those questions, believe me...I ask them all!
                  Last edited by Jill; 01-19-2002, 11:20 PM.


                  • #10
                    Selling the sizzle

                    Elmer Wheeler, the greatest salesman of the last century coined the expression and it became a staple in marketing and management. The "sizzle" idea is to present the benefits ... I show you an open door and invite you in - I do not make you walk around the outside of the house and give you a floor plan that you have to learn before I invite you in! Most people do not care to get deeply involved in your business - so don't explain it ...just give them the benefits. You can explain the "how" later when the are receptive to you and want to hear it.

                    We clean the customers originals at no extra charge - a simple thing to say on the phone. I don't explain how - or that I'm an expert in such things - just tell them we do it. They say "great" and seldom ask for an explanation but if they do, (because So and So studio parroted the oxymoron that they do copy work but don't touch the original) we explain it like this - "Like a window pane that hasn't been cleaned in a century, there is a layer of grime on most old photos that have been on display from the coal or oil furnaces, smokers, gas lights and other atmospheric pollutants. It needs to be removed - and the only other option is to copy it dirt and all!" "Have you ever heard of an Art Conservator that doesn't clean paintings or a Paper Conservator that can't clean papers?" Then comes the proof - we show them the filthy cotton balls when we deliver the work. (more sizzle - see what we did for you!)

                    Some of you may want to take a course in chemistry and learn more about photo materials to sell with this particular "sizzle". That would take about half the time that it did to become proficient with Photo Shop. Is it necessary? If you are handling old photos as a professional I think it is - but that's a different subject - I used it here to illustrate a sales point, nothing else.

                    There are many other things you can do that require no extra effort - for example we deliver our orders in white custom printed boxes. (Nordstrom's type thinking here) There is an inch of foam top and bottom to protect the photos and on the top next to our logo a 3" gold seal sticker - "Guaranteed to meet ANSI processing standards for archival processing" A "warning" is also printed on the box stating it is reusable for shipping but not suitable for photo storage. Inserts include a return label -more literature and reprints on things like "How to care for your negatives" - "How to protect your photos in your Will" and other single sheets.

                    If people want extra boxes to mail photos to relatives we give them whatever they need. You can guess - our orders come in from all over the country from the best source possible - recommendations from our clients to their contacts. We made life a little easier for them by giving them a box and are rewarded a hundred times over -.that's the value in "selling the sizzle".


                    • #11
                      For final prints, yes Jill we are printing mostly traditional fiber base. It's print longevity that is at the heart of our sales and digital prints are just starting to reach the point of fitting into our business plans. My best exhibit is a group of 1870 toned prints in mint condition - next to a group of 1970 "natural color" prints that are in all shades of fade - and next to that, a group of inkjet prints I made a few years back on the Epson 700 when it first came out (faded so badly now that they are now are barely discernible). The exhibit is labeled simply "Progress?" The explainations are all there as well and it creates a great deal of interest for people coming in for the first time.

                      As far as retouching is concerned, anything goes - from chalks to subdue cracks to airbrush for overpainting - conventional art or computer imaging - whatever tool can do the job the best and in the least amount of time.

                      I make the "how to do it" decision after we take the job in. I have the good fortune of working with my wife (40 years in April) who handles a great deal of the showrom sales and she is quite good at estimating.

                      For digital retouching I'm using Corel Draw but we outservice a lot of the computer retouching (I'm not really good at it yet) and most of the artists are using Photo Shop. BTW to stay on topic here, our outserviced digital retouching is being done in New York at the present time and they charge me $65 an hour and up, that's why I was so surprised at the pricing in this group.

                      Jim Conway


                      • #12
                        Thank you Jim for your detailed answers. You bring a whole new viewpoint to this forum. You must have quite a nice business. Your lucky to be able to work with your spouse
                        It sounds like you have the sales tactics down pat! My downfall, I like to do the restoration,enhancement,graphic designs end.
                        If you don't mind another question...How do you choose the restorers you hire? Do they come from a larger business or freelance like me?
                        The way I figured out my fee is researching other restorers pricing and deciding if it is what I think is a fair price that I would payas a customer. I have a low overhead so I don't need to figure in office space etc... I send out my digitally restored work(on a cd) to be printed as a traditional photo (there is a thread on this in this forum)....and for myself I am very happy with my printers quality. I have prints hanging on my wall I did 2 years ago with no glass (eeekkk, I know) and no fading (I think the inks and papers have come a long way)....but if/when they fade, I have my work saved on a cd so I can reprint if ever I need. I save all my customers work on a cd for them and one for me.
                        Are you using DVD to save...did I understand that right?


                        • #13
                          I think I see what your're saying about the "sizzle".
                          I'm wondering though, if Elmer Wheeler's comments included the use of web sites. I'll have to look up his work.
                          I'm just not sure those theories apply to the net.
                          Unlike you, most of us here don't have an actual shop that people can walk into, ask questions, and browse around. So our websites need to be more detailed than a mere flyer or brochure. (I seriously doubt people will just take my word, over the phone, that I can do a good job). If no one gave details or examples, a customer would have to call every potential restorer for details before they could make a decision. Unless your business is nationally known, or locally available, you're asking people to put a lot of blind faith in your word.

                          About the pricing you've noticed on this website...For the most part, most people here do not consider themselves professionals yet, and therefore do not feel justified in charging professional fees. However, if you surf the net, you'll see that these prices seem to be the standard. I think as more and more people learn or teach themselves how to do this, prices will fall. This is good and bad. The way I see it, if restoration was more affordable, more people would have the work done professionally. But, as long as the prices for digital restoration are out of people's reach, the more likely they will be to do it themselves - and be satisfied with their work. (As an indication, I receive hundreds of visits to my site, per week, from a link from Katrin Eiseman's site). And you, too, are learning to do it yourself. I believe that high priced restorers, although doing digital restorations, are still charging at "traditional" restoration prices . I think they will eventually price themselves out of businesss. Digital vs traditional usually doesn't matter to the average customer, as long as the work looks good, and they can afford it.

                          More questions. Who, in New York, does your restoratiosn? Why/how did you choose them?

                          More to follow.......
                          Last edited by Vikki; 01-21-2002, 05:54 AM.


                          • #14
                            Catching up

                            Hi Vickie and Jill (combining answers here - is that ok?)

                            Elmer Wheeler books are long out of print however if you are lucky you may find some in the used section at Good sales presentations DO apply to the net. It's unfortunate that so many bought into the idea that the local retail store was stone age thinking (along with shopping centers, druggists and pet shops) and wouldn't stand up against the power of the Internet! It was an expensive lesson for many. There are a lot of reasons for Internet failures and the one that is MOST important in this field is personal contact. People want to tell you the story that goes with their precious photos. Set yourself up where you can't listen to that story and you lose!

                            If you don't have a location to showcase your work, perhaps you can work something out like one of my competitors here in Portland. They moved in with a Framer in the Portland Historic District. It's a great combination! I know because we get lots of our referrals from Framers. Another competitor here closed her own shop in the antique district and moved in with a wholesale pro finishing lab where she has an outside corner entrance and public access. Antique Malls are another possibility for showcases - all combinations that let you set short hours to be there to talk to people and still handle your appointments by home phone.

                            Just suggestions that may or may not fit your business plan, but I feel if you are selling in RETAIL you are up against a stacked deck and a lack of credibility unless you are showcasing your work in your own trade area. Our local clients are usually 50 plus and seldom use a computer for much of anything except e-mail to their kids (most of them with the kids old 486's and a AOL account) Maybe that has a lot to do with prices (and the turnover of businesses) on the net!

                            About location, location, location - Doesn't apply. This is a "destination business", it's not a spur of the moment purchase so any location where people can find you will work.

                            How do I select "digital" people to work with? First of all it has nothing to do with their prices. I expect any supplier to be fair and that's all I ask. I went through more than a dozen to find the people in New York (I think that was a Light Impressions exec's suggestion, I'm not sure).

                            They do the best work I've found to date. Others that we tried just lacked the skills to create the look that I need. Faces flat with no modeling, contrast that I can't stand (usually to cover up poor shadow work) - lack of attention to detail or going off on some "artistic tangent" and making changes I didn't ask for that lose the authenticity. I'm a photo historian (by virtue of age if nothing else) and again it's my cry for professionalism in this field - if you are going to work on historic artifacts learn something about their history. As a "buyer" as well as a seller believe me it's not easy to find qualified people!

                            Jim Conway

                            PS A special thanks to the several others here for the kind personal notes that I've received for information in these posts that they feel has been beneficial. I appreciate it.


                            • #15
                              Thank you for combining answers, we ask alot of questions!
                              It is interesting to hear how a business finds restorers. Thanks


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