Former Art Buyers and current photography consultants Amanda Sosa Stone and Suzanne Sease have agreed to take anonymous questions from photographers and not only give their expert advice but put it out to a wide range of photographers, reps and art buyers to gather a variety of opinions. The goal with this column is to solicit honest questions and answers through anonymity.
I would love to see a post on employee wages. I am looking to hire studio manager and a full time first or possibly a hi-bred and am curious what people get paid for this sort of work. It would need to be broken down by experience I guess – New Grads, 3 yrs working experience, 5 yrs plus or something.
I don’t have a studio manager now but I think that when I did I paid something like $130 a day.
As much as anything I think it has to do with where you’re hiring. A qualified person in New York is far more expensive than most places in the rest of the country. The high cost of living is part of it, but it’s also that people don’t move to New York to be studio managers or first assistants, so if you hope to keep them around for long you have to pay them well.
We have only had part timers that work hourly. Most with little or no experience that we train- attitude is the best, not as much experience. We also give perks of using our equipment, us showing stuff in exchange…etc.
Advice on hiring someone that would be beneficial to your company… it is a marriage.. use ones intuition when hiring. Look at experience, desire and sense of humor… then give direction and let the person make decisions, make mistakes, be accountable for all successes and failures and work together from a positive platform of teaching and learning each others strengths and weaknesses… trust, observe and encourage… that’s it.
I personally would not hire someone full time until I could pay them at least $16 an hour or $30,000 a year.
I think it really depends on where you live. We’ve only ever hired recent graduates so I don’t have any data on salaries for people with substantial experience.
Over the past 15 years, we’ve hired 7 people for full-time staff positions. Each time, we set the salary at a point that was pretty similar to an entry level admin assistant position (in our area right now, that would be $28-30,000 plus full benefits (health insurance, disability insurance, vacation, sick leave, etc.). We have not seen a big discrepancy between salary expectations for studio manager/in-house marketing work and full-time assistants, at least not among recent grads in this area.
Over time, we usually increase salaries by 5-7% per year and our employees have been content with that for several years. Employees that have stayed with us for more than a few years are also offered profit sharing.
One other thing that may be worth mentioning, especially since it sounds like your original query is from someone who may not have much experience with employees, is that the atmosphere of the workplace makes a huge difference. I stress, to feel good about their lives, people either have to make a lot of money or get a lot of personal satisfaction from the work they’re doing. So, if you’re not going to pay people at the top of the earning spectrum, you need to make sure you’re creating an environment where they’re able to get enough personal satisfaction out of the work they’re doing to feel good about working for you. Otherwise, you’re either going to have incredibly high turnover rates or a hostile and destructive work environment.
The question asked about a “studio manager” not a “full time assistant.” These are two different positions.
Unless you are shooting more days than not, keeping assistants on staff does not make practical or financial sense. I have not employed full time assistants for over 15 years, however I have two great assistants that work with me on a first option basis.
I have not employed a studio manager for over two years. My last two studio mangers had over 5 years experience each and were paid $60K annually plus health plan, pension benefits and bonuses. (Keep in mind that the actual cost of an employee is approximately 30% higher than their payroll compensation.)
The studio manager’s responsibilities included day-to-day office organization, billing, some client and vendor communications and production coordination. One on the studio managers had great PR experience, which provided considerable added value to her employment. Having someone in the office with good phone and client skills was important when people actually used the telephone, but 95% of all communication is now via email.
I have found that with agents on each coast and a great freelance producer, that a full time studio manager is no longer needed. My staff on a non-shooting day is just me and my retoucher. This means I need to pour my own coffee, straighten up a bit, pick up the phone, and do some office work, but that’s not a big deal given the gross savings from the overhead is nearly $100K annually.
This is the perspective of a busy advertising photographer that keeps a small studio, and typically rents production stages for most shoots. A photographer maintaining a larger and busy commercial space would likely need a full-time studio manager.
I don’t keep a full time person in house, but when I bring someone in for a non shoot day– I pay $200 a day or $15-25 per hour (depending).
We get asked this question in regards to billing clients for employees – so we reached out to an Art Producer to see how she feels about photographers charging for assistants (who are really PAID STAFF) on estimates/invoices:
I actually want to see these items outlined in estimates. I know ultimately I’m going to be charged for them anyway, rolled into the photographer’s fee or not. However, when they’re outlined I feel like I have more information and I’m able to see/get a feel for how many people will be on set without me having to ask/challenge the photographer on this. It helps me make sure that everything that I know my client is expecting will be covered. Also, when challenging budgets are presented, outlining as many aspects as possible really helps me see where I can cut, if needed.
Finding the right person to run your studio or work along side you – has a lot to do with their personality. Some of the best assistants and managers have been TRAINED in the studio and were hired because of their personality. Find someone who compliments not only your work habits, but also your personality and the personality of your STUDIO. They have to be able to work well with others and play the role of second in command (but still know how to take charge).
Call To Action:
If you are unsure if you can manage someone in your studio – take on an intern to test the waters (many interns will do it for free just for the experience). Put money aside as if you are paying them (for 3-6 months) and see if you can really swing it. If you can – then you have 3-6 months of salary already put aside.