Saturday, 7 April 2012

The watchword in our Authority now is not 'quality', but 'cashable savings'.

"Thank you for taking the time to explain the pricing in detail. I do understand the costs and demands on a commercial photographer but I think you will find that as public services budgets continue to dwindle over the next three to five years clients such as myself with have less money to spend and will need to shop around to ensure the small amount of money we have goes as far as possible.

The sad reality is that the watchword in our Authority now is now 'quality' but "cashable savings", and we are being told that we must look to providing not the best service possible but a service that is "good enough". This is a sad state of affairs for many of us who have worked in local government for years, but given the state of public finances it is not surprising.

I think that at this point I should therefore get some other quotes and look at the other photographers out there, to see what arrangements they use and which will suit our needs best.

Thank you for your work with us over the past couple of years and all the best."

Great Scott! As I read this e-mail from a valued client, one with whom I have, (or had), an excellent working relationship, where the quality of my work was appreciated, and I would always go that extra little bit further for, my heart  hit my boots.

What on earth are cashable savings?

Government advice (Efficiency Technical Note January 2005) sets out 4 categories from where efficiencies might be attained:
  • Reducing inputs for the same outputs (Cashable)Reducing prices for the same outputs (Cashable)
  • Getting greater outputs or improved quality for the same inputs (Non-cashable)
  • Proportional Efficiencies (Getting more outputs/increased quality in return for an increase in resources that is proportionately less than an increase in output or quality.) (May give rise to both cashable and non-cashable savings).

I think that we can translate this into English as the following:
  • Get suppliers to do more work, for the same fee.
  • Pay less for the same or greater amount of product you buy in, regardless of quality.
So, for a small business such as mine, this leaves me with a dilemma.  Like all businesses, I have a minimum amount of return I must receive in order to maintain my over heads, and provide enough profit to pay the mortgage, buy food, and pay all the usual living expenses.  The clients photo budget may have decreased, but my cost of living hasn't, (actually quite the reverse), and like most other editorial photographers and photojournalists, I have been pruning my costs and over heads for years to keep up with client cuts and economies.

  • Do small businesses really overcharge?  
  • Is there any slack to be taken up? 
  • Should we be prepared to provide a poorer quality service and charge a lower fee.

For the first two I can put my hand on my heart and honestly say that I don't overcharge - far from it, and without question my operation has been pared almost to the bone.  I already run with less equipment, my stocks are lower, and in some cases this in itself means I can no longer provide some of the services upon which my business reputation was made

But should I be prepared to lower my quality, to enable me to charge a lower fee?  Would this in itself get me more work?  Would it make me more saleable, or would it simply put me into a pool of photographers who spend their business time undercutting each other and seeing their income lowering year on year?

I suspect that simply lowering my prices would not make me more saleable, nor in reality would it get me more work.  It would place me in that part of the market where my services were not respected, I would sacrifice client quality, and more to the point it would not make me any more able to pay my bills at the end of the month.

At some point, and I hope it is sooner rather than later, people will start looking at the visual products that they buy and will perceive that one product is better than another simply because it is of a better quality.  In a market place where the phrase 'good enough' is bandied about, and where quality is reduced, not in many cases to provide a cheaper product, but simply to maintain a high share dividend (some regional newspaper publishers may recognise themselves here). Where suppliers are squeezed, harder than ever before, forcing them to compromise on their own high standards just to maintain a business.

How soon will it be before the sheer quality of a product will again mark it out from the dross of its competitors, and that the impact of quality will cause products to be desirable again?

That pendulum has to swing back again hasn't it?

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