Franchisees out, independents in

Real estate photography is gradually shifting toward independent businesses after years of franchises dominating the market.

Real estate photography franchises grabbed hold of the market from the early 2000s, with companies like TopSnap and Open2View spreading across Australia and New Zealand.

The franchises are fiercely competitive.

Many established real estate photographers struggled to maintain clients in the face of aggressive marketing tactics and low prices offered by franchise photographers.

The franchise business model streamlined entry for new business owners into real estate photography.

Open2View, for instance, has a two-week intensive training program to prepare a new photographer, teaching everything from capturing a photo through to sales pitches.

A franchise offers business management infrastructure for handling accounts, invoicing, and other time-consuming business processes. Post-processing is outsourced. It’s whizzed off to contracted graphic design and retouch houses in countries like India and the Philippines.

Again, this frees up the photographer’s time, allowing them to deliver a shoot within 24 hours and maximise the volume of shoots per day.

The franchise model also offers the photographer an established brand, and access to other perks like signboards, which can be offered as part of a real estate photo package.

But a franchise comes at a price – typically upwards of $10,000 as a one-off payment, with ongoing fees.

A franchisee photographer is assigned geographical boundaries and they cannot operate outside them. A franchise sets other strict business guidelines which must be closely followed, such as keeping to a pricing system – and paying the franchise a cut of profits.

Real Property Photography, a smaller Australian franchise, currently has a franchisee opening in Ipswich for $17,990. Top Snap, a leading local franchise, has openings in Canberra for $34,000. The Open2View Canberra area manager is currently offering a territory from Ulladulla and further down the NSW south coast for a hefty $60,000.

But thanks to the online marketing and an overall increase in professional photographers due to technological change, independent real estate photographer have managed to push back.

Chris Pearce is an independent photographer from Geelong, Victoria. He owns CK Real Estate Photography with his wife Kara, who handles bookings and floor plans for real estate campaigns.
‘The main reason we decided to start our own independent company was that we wanted to offer a personal and quality service that I felt was lacking in the franchises model,’ Pearce told ProCounter. ‘The problem I noticed with a franchise, is they focus on a large volume of shoots, rather than quality of work and the flexibility needed in the industry.’

Pearce said by having control over his brand, forging relationships with clients, and working to his own standard has allowed him to build and create a successful business.

A franchise even head-hunted Pearce, and offered him a franchise position for free.
‘Despite the generous offer, we obviously declined as we wanted to retain complete control,’ he said.

Pearce says that complete control means he and Kara work hard to stay on top of the business.

‘Having to develop your own systems of handling the media from shooting, processing and delivery [is one of the setbacks of being independent]. With franchises they already come equipped with back-end systems in place to get your photos uploaded and outsourced offshore to cheap processing companies,’ he said. ‘Being independent, you have to make your own infrastructure to accommodate growth. Creating an automated workflow that’s scalable is paramount, and once done this can free up time to work on other aspects of the business.’

Enter ImageCloud
Josef Nalevansky has founded ImageCloud, an online platform designed to streamline workflow for independent photographers.

‘In Australia, real estate photography is a commercial and viable business. But – and even today – unless you work for or buy into a franchise, there’s no software to run your business. You have to use Dropbox, Excel, and then find suppliers through various online avenues,’ he said.

Just like a franchise system, through ImageCloud a photographer can outsource retouching, prepare real estate campaign material, handle invoicing, build a mini website, use cloud storage and social media integration, as well as outsource other components of a campaign such as floor plans, video editing, and 3D rendering.

This screenshot shows a businesses invoicing status on the right, and Key Metrics on the left, which includes campaign numbers, pending invoices, active clients.

The software has around 45 vetted ‘suppliers’, who offer retouching services and other collateral used for real estate campaigns like floor plans, 3D rendering, and video editing.

Nalevansky says they vary in quality and cost. Some operate out of India, charging around $1.50 per image, while higher quality retouchers charge $6 and may operate in more developed countries like New Zealand.

RAW photos versus a final photo from a supplier.

‘They (suppliers) have to be good quality, ethical – meaning no sweat shops, responsible to employees and pay wages, use licensed Adobe software – everything you’d expect from a good retouching house,’ he said. ‘But importantly, we need good communication. We sign them into the software, and integrate with their systems, and we make them work with our system.’

As mentioned today’s real estate shoots usually have a turn around time of 24 hours, making it a top priority for the supplier to return the photos within a specified time frame.

If a photographer is being bombarded with shoots and overwhelmed with managing the business, ImageCloud may be of assistance.

It offers a workflow solution for a photographer wanting to remain independent while harnessing technology typically offered by a franchise.

But it, too, comes at a cost.

ImageCloud is available for $25 per month, $75 per month, or $175 per month with more features available by paying higher rates. That’s $300, $900, or $2100 annually.

While the software is designed primarily for real estate photographers, Nalevansky says it has potential for all kinds of photographers. His team is currently expanding it to the US, as well as other segments of the photo market, such as portraiture and weddings.

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