I know, I know: you don’t even want to think about it. School just started back up, NFL is back on Sunday nights, and for a good part of the country, it’s still hot outside. The leaves haven’t even started turning yet, for Pete’s sake!
All of that may be true, but none of it changes the reality: whether you or I like it or not, the holiday season is coming up fast. And now is the time to start prepping for it.
Annoying as the whole thing can be sometimes, the holiday season represents a great opportunity for you as a professional photographer. The run up to Thanksgiving—and the weeks from there until the end of the year—can be one of the busiest, most profitable time periods for your studio. In fact, things could go so well, you may need a little extra help to handle the surge in traffic. This could involve, for example, hiring seasonal employees to lug equipment bags, set appointments and keep your schedule updated, tweak RAW images, or something similar.
Plenty of different businesses—especially retail—feel the need to bring on additional staff during this time; if it means more business in the long run, it’s certainly worth investigating, even if you end up paying fees. With seasonal employees, you typically save time and money by going through a temp agency. Not only do you avoid paying all the benefits for a full-time employee, both of you enter into the arrangement understanding that it will last only as long as the need: once things slow down, his or her employment will come to an end. That does wonders for eases the awkwardness when the time comes.
Having said that, there’s always the chance that things won’t calm down after the holidays. Using seasonal employees works here, too: it provides a great way to see if a person is a good fit for your business before incurring the responsibilities that come along with filling a full-time position.
In my experience, I’ve found that it’s in my best interest to not let seasonal hires aware that there is a chance of full-time employment down the line. That flies in the face of common advice, I know: I’m aware of many businesses that like to dangle that carrot as an incentive to get better workers, but people who do great work only to land a full-time job often slack off when that job is secured. People who willing to work their butts off for a seasonal position are the ones who believe in doing the job because that’s what they’re paid for, period. Those are the people I want working for me (and I am proud to say that is what I have).
It’s a tad Machiavellian, I suppose, but it has worked well for me.
Of course, it is one thing to talk about finding quality seasonal help without incentives when jobs of any type are scarce; finding part-time and temporary employees becomes much harder as the unemployment rate drops, which it has been doing consistently since 2010. Using a temp agency can really save time, as an agency will do all the legwork of finding and vetting qualified candidates.
That naturally works better if you’re talking about the types of positions that these agencies typically deal with: administration (filing, answering the phone) or unskilled labor such as painting a sweep or cleaning. Our needs as photographers, however, can sometimes be more specialized than those of a stockroom or warehouse worker.
Not saying either is better or worse, just that it can take a little more effort to find someone who can shoot b-rolls or use Photoshop. For these sorts of positions, your best bet is to keep a running file of people you meet who might be interested in the future (including any applicants from previous attempts to find good people). Get to know art teachers at local colleges who can put you in touch with talented students. Talk to the people behind the counter at art or supply stores. Check out social media, or sites like Craigslist. Browse the online portfolios available at job sites for creatives, such as Creative Hotlist.
Regardless of how or where you find the employees, be very sure that the person is the right fit for your company. I can’t emphasize this enough: check references, both personal and professional. A poor hire, even a temp employee, can do long-term damage in a very short time. When it’s your name on the door, every employee is representing your company and your customers…and your customers may not differentiate between a seasonal and a permanent employee. And the last thing you need is to have a seasonal theft or fraud situation come up. Taking the time to find—and check—the right seasonal hires can help ensure that your holiday season is merry, bright … and profitable.