Real estate photographers: How to build your team

In Build A Photography Business Show, Real estate photography - business management by Build A Photography Business

So your real estate photography business is growing and you're wondering if you should hire some extra team members. It can be a daunting prospect and one that you might be tempted to put off just because it looks like it'll be too big to manage ...

"Should I hire someone now or wait until I get busier? And how on earth do I find the right people?!"

I'd love to share with you my experience in building a large team of photographers, when I think you should start hiring and some things you can do to make the process a successful one.

Here's what I covered in this episode (you can jump to the different sections in the video timeline):
0:00 - Intro
4:22 - When should you start building your team?
6:04 - Know your numbers
7:54 - Define your processes and expectations
9:25 - Hire the best people
14:22 - Invest in your new hire with your time
16:16 - Summary

Video transcript:
Real estate photographers: How to build your team

In this episode we’re going to talk about how to build your team if that's something you'd like to do.

But before we get into that I want to quickly mention something in the news that got my attention recently, and it’s from the World Health Organization who released a report on the risks of working long hours, and I want to quote from this report rather than just share the media coverage on it. So here’s what they said:

“In a first global analysis of the loss of life and health associated with working long hours, WHO estimate that, in 2016, 398 000 people died from stroke and 347 000 from heart disease as a result of having worked at least 55 hours a week.

... “Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard,” added Dr Maria Neira. “It’s time that we all wake up to the fact that long working hours can lead to premature death”.

So how does this relate to what we’re talking about today?

Well, if you are consistently working over 55 hours per week in your photography business then, for the good of your health, something needs to change. And really, 55 hours per week is easily reached when you’re a photographer because maybe you start in your office at 8am and you work until 5pm, you take a break, have dinner, catch up with the family, and then you go back to do another 2 hours of editing at night, and if you do that Monday to Friday you’re at 55 hours a week, and even more if you do extra work on Saturday and Sunday.

Looking back at what I used to do, around 2004 and 2005 before making some changes in my business I was regularly doing 65 to 75 hours a week, and it was really hard.

What can you do to fix things when you get super busy?

Well, one option is to raise your prices and do fewer jobs but you bring your hours back to 40 to 50 hours a week even though the same or more revenue is coming in, and that's a great place to be.

The other option is to build a team so you don’t have to do everything, but you have other photographers and video people and others who can do some of the work for you. Now there’s no right or wrong here as to which is best – I mean, some people will prefer to work just for themselves and others want to build a team. It’s up to you, and both choices can work really well, so there’s nothing wrong either way.

But if you want to build a team then let’s look at what you can do, because it can be really tough. And I'm speaking from experience here, because I built a large team of photographers back when I was still shooting.

So I went from just me and another family member, up to a team of 6 photographers working for us in less than 5 years. Looking back with what I know now I don’t think I managed that as well as I could and I would certainly do things differently now, so with that experience I now have let’s take a look at a process you might use to build your team.

I think the first question that often comes up here is:

When should you start to build your team?

Like, when do you go from just yourself to adding 1 or 2 or more team members?

And here’s what I’d say to that – as soon as you can. Ok, as soon as you can.

Now this is where I go back to what I was talking about in the last episode of The Build A Photography Business Show where I was talking about the importance of patience.

So bringing it into this context, ideally what I think you want to be doing is reinvesting back into your business for as long as possible as you build things up.

Now you might be wanting to pull money out of the business so you can buy that new car or put your salary up, but instead if you’re being patient then you’re going to be putting money back into the business, and one of the best ways to do that is to invest in people. And the reason why I say that is that it can allow you to put your time into business development while you have other people doing more of the day to day stuff like shooting and editing.

Or, going the other way if you don’t like doing business development, then first of all, maybe think about whether owning a business is really your thing.

But if you do want to run your own business, then maybe you hire someone else to manage the growth of the business and you limit yourself largely to shooting. I mean, that could work, but what’s important here is to be patient about rewarding yourself, and invest in people for your business as early as you can.

Know your numbers

So if you’ve decided that you want to build a team, then the first thing to do is to know your numbers in terms of what you’re making from each photo shoot you do. I went through that in detail in a show called ‘What should you charge for real estate photography’.

That’s where I shared a formula for calculating your photography fee that looks like this:

Business expenses + (your salary x by your time spent shooting) + your travel fee + your editing costs + the value that you deliver to the client + your profit margin = Your fee.

Now when you start adding extra team members to that process then your business expenses will increase, so you’ll either want to adjust your pricing before you bring in new team members, or you’ll change your prices when you bring them on board. And I think this right here is one of the biggest mistakes I made many years ago in my photography business –

I did not charge enough when I was building my team.

I kept my prices too low for too long, and it’s because I was thinking that the number of shoots per week was the most important thing, but I wasn’t paying attention to my numbers and how much profit the business was making once we paid our team members and covered all the other costs.

So this is definitely something you’ll want to dig into, and it might mean you need to increase your fee to make this dream of building a team viable for you over the long-term. I mean, I'd really be pushing your prices right up there before you add another photographer so you know you've got enough to cover all those costs.

Define your processes

OK, the second thing you’ll want to do is to define your processes and expectations before you bring anyone else on board. So in terms of photography, you need to have a clear process for how you shoot, instead of just trying out different techniques all the time. You need to have a certain look and process for doing it that way, and then you need to be able to share that process with your new photographer.

Or maybe you’re the type of person who has different fees for different clients, or maybe you change things around all the time, then before you start building your team you really need to settle on your pricing structure so your new team members can share that with your clients and prospects.

So think through how things run in your business, because systems become even more important as you expand. I mean, when it’s just you in the business you can kind of make stuff up on the spot because it’s just you, right, but when you have a team you want them to do things a certain way and they can’t do things right until you’ve defined how to do things right.

So make sure you define your processes and get clear on the role and functions that you want your new team members to fulfill.

Find the right people for your team

Now the third thing you want to do after getting your numbers right and defining your processes, is you want to start the process of finding the right people, and my first recommendation is to go slow and not to rush through this. You get yourself in a panic when you need to hire someone quickly, so I think you need to plan ahead so you avoid that and that’s why you should add new team members when your work is a little quieter.

I know it can be tempting to think that you’ll wait and make sure things get busy when they normally get busy in the spring or whenever, but if you wait until then you’re in a rush and you’re going to accept second rate people just because they’re available, rather than because they’re the best people for your team. So you want to be looking ahead, give yourself a few months if you need it, and take time to find the right team members.

The second thing I’d say here is to hire the best people, and if you’re looking at their criteria I’d have their personal qualities as a more significant factor than their interior photography skills today, because we can teach the skills but things like their work ethic and their team focus and their resilience, that’s all stuff that can’t be taught.

Now I went through a LOT of photographers through my business, and the thing that caused the most problems was not their skill sets but their attitude. When I had people with the wrong attitude on my team it made a real mess and took up so much of my time and energy, and just added a whole lot of stress, like it was crazy, so this might sound weird but you want to look for the best people and not necessarily the best photographers.

Now hiring really good people and keeping them on your team is probably going to cost you because you need to be willing to offer a great salary or fee to pay a photographer to shoot for you. I mean, you can try and go cheap but there are few risks with doing that:

First of all, the A-grade people that are really going to take your business far aren’t going to be attracted to your cheap rates. Just like when you go cheap with your photography fee, when you go cheap with your wages you attract low-quality talent that are going to be harder to deal with.

Second of all, if you can somehow attract the top people on a low wage they probably won’t stick around for very long, and then you’ve got high turnover and you’ve got this cycle of constantly looking for new team members to replace those you’ve lost.

The third reason is around an issue that comes up a lot in this conversation – how do you stop people from leaving and going off to become a competitor of yours? One way to do that is to pay them well and provide a fantastic work environment.

You’re not going to be able to stop everyone, but if you need to hire photographers for your team then look for people that want to be photographers and not business owners, and honestly there are a lot out there. Some people are just happy shooting great images and being part of a business that appreciates their skills, and if you can provide that then your A-grade people will stick with you.

So how do you find the best people for your team?

To do that you might need to cast a wide net, and put some ads up on the job sites online, but you might also ask your photographer friends if they or anyone they know is looking for some work, check in with some local wedding photographers to see if they’d like some extra work during the week – this kind of work could be great for them especially if like you’re managing the clients and they just need to come in and shoot and get paid - and also try social media.

So if you’re not yet part of any of the real estate photography groups on Facebook for example then you might want to join some of those to find some ideal photographers, but wherever you go you want to see if there is anyone out there who would love to be paid well to just be a photographer or shoot videos or whatever it is you want them to do, instead of worrying about being a business owner.

And maybe that’s a question you would want to ask your team members – "What are your career ambitions? Are you happiest being a photographer, or do you want to be a business owner?"

So the people who just want to be creative might be the best fit for you, and I think there are a lot of fantastic people out there who would jump at the chance to be a photographer or a videographer and have some fun within a supportive team. That’s a pretty compelling offer, and if you can genuinely deliver on that then you should be able to attract some pretty awesome people.

Invest in them with your time

Having said that, the last thing I’d recommend you do is to invest in your new hire with your time. So rather than just bring them in and send them out to shoot for your clients straight away, I think you’ll get a better result if you’re absolutely thorough and clear with expectations so they know what you need from them. This whole communication thing is super important, and you’ll find that a common reason why good people don’t fit with a company is because the company wasn’t clear about what they should do.

You don’t want to do that, so give them your time and you’ll get it back in the end, even if it takes a couple of months to train them in how to work at the standard that you expect.

Fire them quickly if they don't fit

Now having said that, if your new hire doesn't meet your expectations then you’ll want to fire them quickly. That might sound harsh, but honestly, you don’t want to waste time on them if they’re not going to get there, so take it slow when hiring someone but move fast when it’s obvious you need to fire them.

I mean, you might feel reluctant to do that after you’ve invested a few days or a couple of weeks into training them and you’re hoping that they’ll get it eventually, but if they join your team and you see them in action and it’s clear that they’re not the right fit then I’d move them on and find someone else.

It’s all about getting the best people that you can on your team, not the best photographers but the best people, and sometimes that means you need to fire fast. I know it’s hard to sack someone because I’ve done it myself, but if your company is not a good fit for them and if they’re better off elsewhere, and if your company is better able to serve your clients with other people on the team, and that customer service element is so important, then letting someone go because they aren’t fitting in with you is just the right thing to do for everyone.


In wrapping this up if you want to build your team here's what I'd do:

First of all, know your numbers so you charge enough.

Secondly, define your processes before you hire.

Third, go slow, hire the best people and not just the best photographers, and fire quickly if they aren't right.

And finally, invest in your new team members with your time.