A little while back I sat down during a quiet patch and did some number crunching. I was interested in finding out what my “hit rate” was – how much of my work was actually fitting in with what I want to be shooting, how much ends up in the portfolio and so on. I split the shoots into 5 categories:
Utter Crap – Shoots which I have no intention of ever doing again, and was only doing for the money, or because I felt obliged in some way or other.
Non-commercial – This covers shoots for charities, as well as the occasional “favour” for friends which I don’t charge for.
Tests/Personal – Experimental work intended for the portfolio, as well as stuff that goes towards personal projects.
Bread and Butter – The sort of work that comes in all the time, and although it doesn’t set my world on fire, I’m quite happy to shoot it, as it’s generally a pleasant way to earn a living.
Desirable jobs – All the commercial shoots that “tick all my boxes”, jobs that are creatively fulfilling, properly produced, and allow me to exercise some creativity.
I counted up every single shoot from 2007, and this is what I came up with:
Utter Crap: 16 shoots/12% – Of which none made it into the portfolio
Non-commercial: 11 shoots/8% – Of which none made it into the portfolio
Tests/Personal: 25 shoots/19% – Of which 4 made it into the portfolio
Bread and Butter: 36 shoots/27% – Of which none made it into the portfolio
Desirables: 44 shoots/33.3% – Of which 13 made it into the portfolio
Now, there’s all sorts of things I can draw from these figures, in fact I’ve been surprised at how useful this exercise has been. Firstly some general trends. The proportion of personal/test work is particularly high because I was working on my yearbook up until the end of May. Commercial work (crap, bread and butter and desirables) makes up over 72% of my shoots – but then as a working pro this is how it should be if I want to carry on paying the mortgage! I’m trying to remove as many of the “utter crap” jobs as possible from my diary, as they have no redeeming features besides the cash when the invoice gets paid, but it’s encouraging to note how small the percentage is already. As far as the overall number goes, I’m fairly happy with the amount. 2007 was an average year in terms of turnover, plus some of the shoots actually represent a whole week or more of shooting, although to balance that out, some only represent about half an hour or so!
On a positive note, desirable work already seems to be the biggest chunk of what I do, and it has the highest proportion that ends up in the portfolio. This would seem to be a very positive, reinforcing trend, as besides the fact that I already want to do more of this kind of work, there’s the added incentive that more of it will end up in the portfolio, therefore will enable me to attract more of this kind of work, and so on. I’m slightly disappointed in how few personal and test shoots ended up in the portfolio, but on reflection that’s because so much of it was devoted to the yearbook, rather than the more conventional method of shooting tests specifically to get new work into the portfolio. I find it odd that not a single “bread and butter” shoot got into the portfolio. I think I’ve obviously reached a stage with jobs like this (think golf instruction, fitness instruction, basic portraits etc) where I do a decent job, but have stopped investing gallons of creativity into it, as I’m usually wasting my time if I do!
Moving forward here’s what I’m planning to do based on these results:
Completely remove any “utter crap”. I’ve pretty much already ticked this one off, as I’ve not only got rid of the few clients who used to give me this sort of work, but when clients call out of the blue, I’m very careful to find out what the shoot entails before I say yes.
Plan and execute test shoots more carefully to ensure that more of them end up in the portfolio.
See if I can get more out of “bread and butter” shoots, even if it means shooting extra stuff alongside the job.
Keep aiming for those desirable jobs – they’re self-reinforcing, and great to shoot anyway.
This exercise took about an hour all told, all you’ll need is an old diary, and I can highly recommend it!