A Word About My Process

Other than repeat clients that have been working with me for a long time, most of my new business comes from people who have done a Google search for the phrase “Photoshop Expert” and my name has come up. They look around my site, like what they see, and decide to reach out regarding their project. Though the projects are always very different, the approach I take is generally the same. So, to answer some questions before they are asked and to give potential clients a heads-up about what to expect when they contact me I thought I would provide a general rundown of the process.

First, an email is sent to me through my site’s contact form. These emails usually fall into one of the following categories:

  1. Unsolicited, spammy requests like someone offering to write a guest post on my blog.
  2. “I have a project but [enter reason here] and I don’t have a lot of money.” Or (and I’ve actually gotten this) “I’ll even pay you for it.”
  3. Consulting requests to give my opinion on this or that photo about whether or not it’s been manipulated. Or interviews by students.
  4. “I’d like you to photoshop my pictures.”
  5. “I work for X and would like to talk to you about doing X, Y, and Z for our next marketing campaign. Here’s what we have in mind and we need it by this date.”

Usually, email #1 gets thrown right into my email trash. They are generally only looking to load up my site with links or spam or something like that and I’m just not interested. I get these maybe once a week and I don’t have the time to waste crafting a form response to a form email that someone has sent me.

Email #2 is fairly common, too. Someone recognizes that they can’t do what they want to do on their own, but they also don’t have a lot of money to do it because they are either a student, not-for-profit, community organization, doing something for a friend/family member, or the dreaded “we don’t have the budget to pay you but you would get some great exposure.” Sometimes, I’m caught in a generous mood and the project is simple enough that I might just do it for you, or at least reduce my rate just this one time. But most of the time I quote my rate and never hear from them again. I’m not heartless, and I can certainly relate to people who don’t have the budget, but I am running a business – and you wouldn’t believe how annoying it is to remind people that what I am doing is, in fact, a business – and the services I provide have value and are not given away for free. I design book covers for my dad, a sci-fi novelist, and he pays me at my normal hourly rate, not because he’s my dad and wants to give me money, but he understands that when you want to have a professional do a job, it’s not going to be free.

Email #3 comes in every couple of months. Depending on what it is for, I tend to say “ok” and offer my advice or opinion. It helps establish my standing as an expert in the field and usually it’s a fun exercise in photographic investigation and it’s fun to be a resource for design students learning about the tools, strategies, and ethics of the trade. I know there’s no money in it, but if I have the time available, I’m more than happy to help.

When emails like #4 come in, I’m fairly certain that this is going to be a “one and done” situation. In these situations, it’s on me to do all of the leg work of asking questions to help them figure out what it is they want. Before I even offer a quote, I am asking for files to look at what I would have to work with and get a sense of the difficulty of the project. Depending on the request, I act as educator to inform the potential client of what is involved in the process and to explain why I think it’s going to take 3 hours to do instead of simply opening the file in Photoshop, pressing a couple of buttons, and spitting out something you’d see in the latest high-end marketing campaign. I don’t want to bog them down with all of the details – they don’t need to know and usually don’t care to know – but I feel like I need to temper expectations a little bit. I need to disclose to them that even though I am good at what I do, I’m not going to make a cellphone camera picture of you taken inside a dark club look like you were posing with Brad Pitt on the red carpet at the Oscars taken with a professional camera, in different lighting, at a different perspective. People come to me expecting perfection out of far from perfect pieces. I’ve been known to make my share of silk purses out of sow’s ears, but sometimes it gets really hard to make the purse not look like a sow’s ear.

I’ve had more than a couple of clients get mad at me, and even not pay, because even though I gave them my standard speech about what needs to happen in order to make a composite look realistic, they refused to hear me out and the picture in their head didn’t match the reality of the end-product despite my best efforts at being an educator. I get a lot of emails like #4, and most of those clients are pleasures to work with. But for some, it can be a challenge.

For many of these types of emails, we get to the point of a quote and they didn’t expect me to charge what I do. Now, I’m not even close to what many people charge, but I’m not giving my services away either, and when I send out my quote there are many times when I don’t hear from them again. It happens. The project might have been fun to do and the extra paycheck is always nice to have in my pocket, but, it happens.

Emails like #5 are my favorite! I like when someone has a clear plan in mind, a budget, and they are able to conduct themselves in a professional manner with an understanding of the costs associated with having the project done right. For these clients, I can really shine. They have a grasp for the life cycle of a project, they are willing to pay a fair quote, and they either have quality source materials or are at least knowledgeable of the fact that they are going to get the best that can be gotten with what they give me to work with. These clients have great potential to be repeat customers, pay well and on-time, and they respect that I am a professional.

Each project is different and demands a unique approach suited for the given situation. However, they all start of the same way as one of the above emails and how far and fast they proceed through the following process varies but this checklist has be followed for any successful project.

  1. Parameters of the project must be clearly defined by the client. Explain the goals, identify the target audience, provide reference material so I can assess what I am working with when generating a quote, and give me a time frame so I know how soon you need to have the final files to you.
  2. Once I know what the project needs to look like, what I have to work with, and by when, I’m able to provide a quote that is either based off a standard hourly rate (plus any rush fees) or a single price for the project.
  3. Regardless of the size of the project, a minimum of 50% is due upon signing of the agreement – 100% up front for smaller projects, more to protect me from situations where the work is done and someone drops of the face of the earth. Putting some money down helps the client take ownership of the project, literally and figuratively, and it helps define the process as a partnership rather than setting me up as “the help.”
  4. Work is done. I tend to be collaborative in my approach and will ask questions along the way and even send “work in progress” files to make sure the client and I remain on the same page throughout.
  5. When the project is complete and the final version is approved, I request the balance of the payment (if not paid in full already) and then send the final files.

There are obviously many intermediate steps that are taken along the way, and after a project is done, but this gives you the broad strokes and lets you know what to expect when working with me.

So, what can I help  you with?

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