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OneFlare ‘pay-to-quote’ platform a gamble

Several professional photographers trialling OneFlare have told Inside Imaging that it is difficult or impossible to secure well-paid work via the Australian online job leads platform, as clients often seek rock bottom prices or are just ‘window shopping’.

The five photographers we spoke to said OneFlare wasted their time and money, with the platform charging between $10 – $20 simply to quote for a job.

‘Most of the clients on there seem to be bargain-hunters so if you quote the standard price for work, you don’t have a chance of winning it,’ Melbourne-based photographer, Simon Woodcock, told Inside Imaging. ‘From what I can tell, most photographers think it’s a con. I won’t be wasting any more money on it. It cost me $11 last week to quote on a job that was worth $100. I didn’t get it.’

Simon, from Man With A Camera, was testing OneFlare and spent around $40 on three quotes. None even led to a conversation.

‘I don’t usually go for these auction/name-your-cheap-price-style sites – it was curiosity and the fact that a videographer [I know] has had some success with it,’ he said. ‘As it it turns out, aside from one decent regular client he now has, most of his leads from there aren’t that great. I guess it depends on how desperate for work you are in a particular month! I know another photographer who burned through $100 in quotes ($10-15 per quote) and also got zilch from it.

This Google ad didn’t appear at the very top of the page, but at $40/hr it does grab the attention!

The problem is fuelled by OneFlare’s powerful Google AdWords campaign, which places it toward the top of search results relating to professional photography, and the ease for anyone to post an ad for free in minutes. It results in countless unresponsive leads leaving a Melbourne photographer, who asked for anonymity, convinced that some jobs were fake – simply designed to generate quotes which in turn generates income for OneFlare.

After telling OneFlare that we had only heard unfavourable accounts, they provided contact details for several photographers who agreed to be interviewed, including Sydney photographer, Fletch Ruddick, of Vision House Creative.

‘My major work outside OneFlare is shooting kids’ dance schools, but that’s seasonal and the end of the year,’ Fletch, who has used the platform for around three years, said. ‘OneFlare just gets me those extra little jobs that keep me bobbing along throughout the year. If I didn’t have it, my business would miss it. It brings in that extra work.’

Fletch has a background in retail, which helps him register when a job description is genuine.

‘I always assume the type of person on OneFlare has a tight timeline or budget,’ he said. ‘I always factor this in when I quote. You don’t go on OneFlare and give normal prices, you give OneFlare prices. That helps me a lot. They are different to normal, ‘real world’ clients. They’re OneFlare clients.’

What is OneFlare?
OneFlare is a Sydney start-up founded in 2011 that serves as an on-demand marketplace which matches service seekers with service operators. Photography is just one service among dozens, including trades like landscaping, cleaning, carpentry, removalists, and so on.

Rachel Sheils, OneFlare’s head of marketing, informed Inside Imaging there are roughly 250 photographers in Australia using the platform, and an estimated 350 photography jobs coming through each day.

Photographers register their business through OneFlare, which involves supplying an ABN and speaking with a salesperson to confirm registration. Public liability insurance is optional, but OneFlare prefers photographers to have it. This ‘vetting process’ goes beyond that carried out by competing and better-known platform, AirTasker.

OneFlare charges photographers to buy ‘OneFlare Credits’, with each credit costing $1. Service seekers post a job, which specifies details including an estimated budget and date. It’s almost too easy to post a job, with a wedding shoot ready to post in less than five minutes.

Photographers then pay Credits to quote jobs, with a maximum of three quotes per job. The cost-per-quote is different for each job, with the price calculated based on ‘150 different attributes’.

It’s easy to receive three free quotes, but would the window shoppers and tyre kickers make a post if they knew it cost small businesses up to $20 each to quote?

The client then goes through the quotes and selects, or doesn’t select, a photographer for the job. OneFlare exits the booking process once contact details are exchanged, and doesn’t keep track of how many job leads are converted to paid jobs. (Quick mathematics: 350 jobs per day x 3 quotes per job x $15 credits per quote = $15,750 from photographers per day!)

‘You’re quoting on a job for somebody, and you have to pay for the quote,’ said Brisbane photographer, Roger Arnaud, who used OneFlare for a month back in 2016. ‘Where does that happen in the real world?’

The five photographers felt the pay-to-quote system isn’t fair. Quoting was once a free service – for the client – and the consensus was that OneFlare takes advantage of a desperately competitive online marketplace.

‘Having used the platform, but now deciding not to use it, I have received multiple phone calls from one of their team wanting me to upgrade to a more expensive subscription plan,’ a Sydney commercial photographer, who requested anonymity, told Inside Imaging. ‘But I told them I can’t see the value in having to pay $15 or more per quote, with no guarantee of success and it just being a waste of time. What the team member told me is the cost-per-quote is computer generated and they have no control over that, which I found interesting. I told them maybe they need to change their algorithm.’

This job post is for real estate photography and videography, lasting one to two hours, with a budget less than $1000. $17.60 to quote, and three quotes have been submitted. It’s one of the better job posts.

Rachel says the pay-to-quote system should be viewed as a form of marketing and lead generation, with OneFlare presenting better value than other avenues.

‘It really depends on what the cost-per-acquisition is for a photographer. For instance, if you know you’ll make $1000 off a job, and pay $13 to quote it – I and OneFlare believe that’s a worthwhile cost to win the $1000 job,’ she said. ‘You can decide whether it will work for you. We believe that has a better value to photographers than other (marketing) service types, like handing out flyers, buying a stall at a wedding expo, or using Google Adwords. It’s a form of marketing. It’s leads.’

When asked what his conversion rate is like through OneFlare, Fletch responded that he also sees OneFlare more as a marketing platform. Since using OneFlare he stopped spending money on Google Adwords.

‘I tend to use OneFlare more as a marketing tool, rather than purely for getting jobs. It gets me in front of people, and I’m choosing where my money goes,’ he said. ‘I know the person (posting jobs) is a real customer that needs photos for something, and I can choose whether I’ll try to win that customer. While I don’t rely purely on it (OneFlare), I do trust it. ‘

Fletch said OneFlare jobs have also landed him repeat clients and quality referrals. Two jobs worth a few hundreds dollars led to major event shoots worth a couple of thousand.

‘Even though you might lose a lot of those $17 quotes and not get the maximum amount of money for a job, in the bigger picture I’ve landed repeat customers and that alone makes it worth it,’ he said.

Fletch understands why other photographers are frustrated with OneFlare, but it’s a double-edged sword that comes back to OneFlare’s major online advertising campaign and the ease to post a job.

On one hand, Fletch navigates the high volume of jobs being posted and successfully allocates his OneFlare Credits to earn a profit. On the other, many job posters may have unrealistic expectations, or no real intention of hiring a photographer. They might be scouting quotes or just mucking around.

And there’s no indication to the potential customer that the ‘free quote’ will cost up to three small business owners $20 each.

While only a portion of ‘photography seekers’ may actually follow through, with one of three photographers winning the job, OneFlare stands to benefit the whole way through. OneFlare’s business model is all about a high volume of job posts leading to paid quotes, so there’s no incentive to vet and weed out the illegitmate leads. In fact, one could argue the opposite motivation applies.

When considering the business model and the high rate of job leads going nowhere, it’s understandable why some photographers feel ripped off.

Rachel, and the OneFlare team responding to upset reviewers, recommend only responding to ‘verified leads’ – customers who have confirmed contact details or have used the platform before.

Photographers with a Premium Listing can claim credit refunds, but it comes at a cost. While Rachel says the Premium Listing varies based on the quoting habits of the business, Fletch said it will cost him $990 annually. It comes with other benefits, like a limited number of free monthly Credits and improved profile features and exposure.

Fletch says that it sounds ‘a bit hefty’, but the value is there for him and he will likely take it up.

Oh, and one last bizarro thing worth mentioning.

Snappr, Australia’s ‘Uber of photography’ which offers rock bottom prices, has multiple OneFlare accounts.

The Snappr sales team sits in its high tower sniping OneFlare jobs, deploying sales reps to win over a OneFlare client, and then assigns independent contractors to shoot the job. Fletch says Snappr have a big presence on OneFlare and, as a one man operation, the on-demand start-up is a serious competitor.

‘I asked clients all the time how they liked using OneFlare and what my quote was like compared with others,’ Fletch said. ‘Some will tell me “there was this one photographer who kept bloody ringing me called Snappr”. I think that’s really confusing for the client, and frustrating for other photographers like me.’

3 Comments

  1. Roger Thompson Roger Thompson August 1, 2019

    I too am a photographer and have tested this what I call a ‘rip off’ website. I chose the $99 premium, and used all my credits up in no time with ZERO quote wins, so you’re throwing $$ at Oneflare for nothing. Im sure you may win something if you went in under-priced, but thats a race to the bottom for sure! I tired emailing the clients too, chasing up etc, no-one ever responded!?
    I feel the biggest issue, is that the people requesting quotes are not tied in to chosing ANY quotes from oneflare (Oneflare support staff confirmed that to me), and Ive only seen the cost to quote increase over time, even up to 17 credits at times, which is almost $17!

  2. Nate Nate August 4, 2019

    Good day from New York,
    I am a real estate photographer, and I would stay away from any of such business ventures that leech on freelancers. In the US, there was an identical venture a few years ago. I don’t see them around anymore, although they might be lurking in the dark alleys still. Back in time, I gave them a try. I found fake job postings, scams (“I’ll prepay you with a check… Oh, I accidentally put an extra zero, can you return the difference”) etc., and not a single legitimate inquiry. Eventually, it earned such a bad reputation that I was able to get a chargeback through my bank. If you lost money trying this Oneflare, you might be able to make a case with your bank to get your money back.

  3. Jon Jon August 15, 2019

    I think a better model would be to charge both the consumer and the supplier half of OneFlare’s fee each. Then the client is paying for quality quotes, the supplier for quality leads. This would keep the tire-kickers out of the job posting business.

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