Real World Numbers About Freelancing

We all hear the complaint, the wailing, the gnashing of teeth, the disbelief. Why the high prices? Why do I have to pay so much for your work? Well, sir/madam, I am an independent business owner, not an employee. With the work I perform, the services I provide, I must make a living. Simply put, I must be able to provide for my home and all that comes with it, my business and all that comes with it, and protections for me and you in the form of insurance and other measures.


I’m not a small part of a larger organization. The documents I filed with the Secretary of State and the IRS list me as the owner/manager/CEO. No one else.

But that’s not the primary reason you may think my fees are too high. Sure, I account for the value I bring to your project in the creative fee I include in my project estimate. Wouldn’t you? My creativity, my problem-solving skills, my efficiency, my professionalism, my ability to provide you with the thing you need has value; this is what you’re hiring me for, isn’t it? Otherwise, you could ask anyone to fulfill your request. You probably have a staff person who’s handy with a camera and who might be able to figure out how to accomplish the task. Do you have time for that? Do they have the equipment or facilities ready at hand? Can you spare them from their normal duties? What will it cost you in actual time and salary to shift them from their regular job to this project? What will it cost if you have to do it all over again with a professional? But, that’s another discussion.

Here’s the primary reason you think my fees are too high. This refers back to that single word following the first paragraph and the fact that my business is mostly a Business of One. Kind of like the Army, except without all the support. Here’s a breakdown of real world numbers showing both the actual cost of being self-employed and the assistance provided by an employer. When you look at these numbers, imagine if your employer suddenly decided to stop its sponsored benefits and you had to provide them on your own. That’s me.

If you’re just starting out as as a self-employed person, or considering the jump, look at these numbers and halt your leap for a moment. Have you considered all your costs and expenses and factored them into your fee structure? If you haven’t calculated your cost of doing business, have a look at this online calculator. It doesn’t have all the fields you may need and it may have more than you need, but it will get you started. You can create your own calculator in a spreadsheet using these fields and make it as extensive and inclusive as you need for the independent needs of your own business. Have a look: NPPA Cost of Doing Business (CODB) Calculator

Here are the numbers I was talking about (these are amounts from 2015 employer rewards statement data, your specific numbers will vary). I’ve rounded the figures for visual clarity and ease of calculation:

Let’s begin with a base employee annual salary of $46,000
This is the amount you earn before taxes, whether it’s through an hourly wage or salary. It includes other compensation like paid holidays and sick leave. This is the amount you enter into the CODB calculator as your desired annual salary (or whatever amount you’d like).

If you are an employee, your employer pays for some things and you pay for some things. These are “voluntary” benefits. Your company could take these away:

Employer Sponsored Benefits
Medical Insurance
Employer pays: $9800
Employee pays: $2450
Dental Insurance
Employer pays: $500
Employee pays: $275
Vision Insurance
Employer pays: $0
Employee pays: $160
Life Insurance
Employer pays: $110
Employee pays: $0
Long Term Disability Insurance
Employer pays: $224
Employee pays: $0
Business Travel Insurance
Employer pays: $2
Employee pays: $0
Employee Assistance Program
Employer pays: $20
Employee pays: $0
401K (matching and deferral)
Employer pays: $1400
Employee pays: $3200
401K Contribution
Employer pays: $2300
Employee pays: $0

Total Employer Contribution: $14,356
Total Employee Contribution: $6,085
Total Contribution: $20,441

The government also mandates that employers provide some benefits (these your company can’t take away):

Government Mandated Benefits
Social Security
Employer pays: $2900
Employee pays: $2900
Employer pays: $670
Employee pays: $670
Worker’s Compensation
Employer pays: $350
Employee pays: $0
Unemployment Insurance
Employer pays: $260
Employee pays: $0

Total Employer Contribution: $4,180
Total Employee Contribution: $3,570
Total Contribution: $7,750

So, to tally the numbers, for an employee with an annual salary of $46,000, an employer will pay $46,000 for the salary, $14,356 in employee sponsored benefits, and $4,180 in government mandated benefits. The employer actually pays for their employee a total of $64,536.

The employee will pay $6,085 for their share of employer sponsored benefits and $3,570 for their share of the government mandated benefits, for a total of $9,655.

However, the employee’s share ($9,655) comes out of their earnings, reducing their annual salary from $46,000 to $36,345, before taxes, which will take out another chunk for the federal government, state government and, in some cases, local or city government.

But, the self-employed person would actually need a gross income closer to $74,000 (the employer contribution of $64,536 plus employee contribution of $9,655) to cover all the listed benefits and deductions, just to cover the $46,000 ($36,345) annual salary. And that doesn’t account for the higher costs for individual business owners for things like insurance and taxes, and additional overhead expenses like studio rental, equipment, continuing education/training, marketing and promotion/advertising, etc. And this is where the pain resides.

A large company can distribute costs across its operation, especially if it provides multiple services or products. The self-employed creative individual has limited options because they have limited resources of time and individuals. It would be great if I could split myself into three or four pieces, each handling a separate aspect of my business while I concentrated on the most important task. But, because I am a Business of One, I have to set aside time for making calls, preparing marketing materials, preparing estimates, quotes, and invoices, bookkeeping, meeting with attorneys or accountant (which is a cost), chasing down late invoices, researching and chasing down copyright infringement, registering images with the copyright office, researching and developing new products or services, web designing, social media engaging, networking, learning, researching and purchasing/replacing equipment, eating and sleeping (hopefully at least twice a week), all of which take time and are not usually billable to a client. I don’t get paid for the day to day administrative upkeep of my business. If I did, if I wanted to be paid every day of the week, like an employee, I would need to charge you, the client, even more than you don’t want to pay now.

So, when you see the fees listed for the photographer, don’t freak out. It’s ok to ask questions and for the photographer to explain all this, if necessary. Just remember, we don’t have an employer, we’re not a small part of a large company. We have to provide all our own benefits, our own incentive bonuses, our own Christmas party, our own marketing, our own company vehicle and office space, our own existence.

If you like what we do, if you appreciate the value our work brings to your project, all we request is your understanding and that you look beyond price. Because, we provide more than a necessary cost of operations (an aspect of your own cost of doing business), and while we are able to negotiate and hopefully reach a win-win situation, and while we would do the work for free if we could survive doing it (I think I speak for many creative business owners with that thought), we can’t lose money every time we take on a project. We can’t stay in business if we’re essentially paying you to do the work you request.

Again With The Watermarks

In response to the ongoing debate of “To Watermark or Not To Watermark?”:

If a photographer is a photographer because that’s their chosen profession, career, and livelihood, their desire to protect their work should not be lessened by this debate. Why not also decry people who lock the doors of their homes or their cars? I don’t know of any restaurants, doctors or auto mechanics who “brand” their services and products then allow free use (theft) without pursuing some recompense if it does happen. If they do offer free stuff, it’s on their own terms, just as it should be with photographers and other artists. We shouldn’t be “required” to give up or give in just because people love our work so much they’d rather not pay to have it. While I also agree art is an important component of a healthy society, why are artists compelled to “gift” their livelihood to that society and others are not? Honestly, I (and other artists, probably) would do this for free if I could live without money. Perhaps artists should be exempt from paying for anything in return for gifting their work to the world. I’d go for that.

I know this is an old, old debate, and there are photographers and artists who are consumed by it, which impacts their ability to do their work, blunts their creativity, and generally makes them grumpy. I do watermark my images so people know who the maker is, not really for theft avoidance because, as you say, if they want it they’ll take it. Just like locking your doors when you go out doesn’t deter the determined thief. I do agree that obnoxious watermarks are overkill (Would you like a photograph with that watermark, sir?). During a workshop I attended in 2001 led by Jay Maisel, during an image review session I showed some images with watermarks (during a workshop, yes) and Jay stopped and told everyone he didn’t know why anyone who posted their work online would not watermark their work, simply for the ability to be able to identify the owner, if nothing else. So, I see no downside and I don’t really care if someone doesn’t like it. It’s my work and if they want to purchase a photo for themselves I’m happy to provide them with one minus the watermark. The watermark also becomes the only identifying, traceable, means to find the owner when embedded metadata is removed (by services like Facebook, for example).

There is the distinction between professional and amateur photographers as it relates to watermarks and interest in copyright protection. But more often these days companies are approaching amateurs, using their work, for the very inexpensive fees (if any at all) amateurs are willing to accept (because they are uninformed).

I’ve also wrestled with the “clients hate watermarks” issue. Some art buyers hate to see them (just like they hate websites with black backgrounds). Again, if the mark is obnoxious, I understand. But I feel less inclined to remove them from my website display. If they want comps they can have a watermark-free image via the download process.

There will always be two groups in this debate. I prefer to be identified for my work when the purpose of my posting work is to easily identify the work as belonging to me. Watermarking might afford some small amount of theft protection, but even if the photo is used and the watermark retained, I am still identified as the owner of that image and that is more important than “sharing”.

Freelance Job Sites, Are They Worth Your Time?

A few months ago, I spent some time looking over 3 – 4 websites posting freelance job opportunities for photographers. I’m also looking for editorial writing jobs, so I checked out sites for writers as well. For this post, I’ll be talking about my experience with the freelance photography jobs sites, but it also applies to the writer site. I had my suspicions but rather than dismiss them entirely chose to do some research. Unfortunately, my suspicions and misgivings were mostly proven. I found many potential clients were looking for very cheap rates from probably amateur or beginning pros who didn’t know how to price out work. Not a very positive experience. Each freelance job site operated in basically the same way. A freelancer searches for opportunities by keyword and/or category, reviews the available jobs and bids on the ones they’d like to do.

Today, I went back to one of the sites and browsed the listings. I was again appalled by some of the requests being made. I’ll outline a selection below so you can see for yourself what’s out there and what the expectations are of some “clients” when they contract with a “photographer”. On average at this site, the payment per job was less than $1000 with most less than $500. The work requested for this fee varied from a single, simple product photograph to multiple images of products (products the photographer would need to acquire, presumably at their own expense) including retouching and resizing. These kinds of jobs seemed to be from studio photographers too busy to do some tasks and looking to outsource some of their work, and companies or individuals needing photographs of products or other subjects for a website. More often than not, the expected budget was low, with specific image requirements. In particular was a request for product photos for a website selling various electronics equipment. The budget was for less than $500, the requester listed a website as an example of “exactly” the style of photography required, the photos were needed ASAP, and the photographer needed to have “Access to items like mobile phones, laptops, ipods, mp3 players, cameras, etc is essential. Not own worn/scratched items.” For this job, the photographer, not the client, was expected to provide the products being photographed.

For the most part, these sites are catering to the client who is looking for the best price and the jobs are “work-for-hire”, which means the “client” gets all rights to your work produced on the project. Competing on price is relatively easy for Wal Mart and Amazon, but difficult for individuals like you and me who are not selling on quantity, but on quality.

My conclusion is that I found freelance job sites to be unproductive and not very promising prospects for freelancers to find consistently well-paid creative work. You might, like on Craigslist, come across a gem in the rough, but it takes more time to do that than it would to apply for and work at a non-freelance job.

**The sites post jobs and you can bid on them. Inevitably, someone will underbid significantly and get the job. Therefore, if you want to work for far less than you deserve, this is the place to go. You’ll get arguments from bidding site regulars that it’s a great place to find work. Of course, defining “work” for most people means fair compensation. Sweat shops are also great places to find work, but would you really want to apply? Proceed with caution and always get money up front if you work with anyone other than a well-known company. Unfortunately, the number of quality postings does not match the number of quality freelancers looking for work.**

Review: 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More

I think I’m an organized person. I’ve even been told that by my friends. And I am, compared to some, but not so much compared to others. I’m also, some would say, strongly independent. I’m not a fan of books by authors who are telling me what I should do because most of the ones I’ve browsed (and there have been many) are more about the author and how great they are than about any practical or useful solutions, programs, or processes I can use (or understand) in my own life or business. But, please read on.

When I was asked to review Stever Robbins’ new book 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More, I was initially reluctant, since I think I’m biased against “self-help” type books. I had never heard of Stever Robbins (the Get-It-Done-Guy) but, luckily, I was given a preview site for the book ( After reading a sample chapter, viewing a couple videos, and listening to a podcast, I agreed. I liked his style and thought he was worth a closer look, especially from the point of view of a freelance photographer. Maybe this guy did have something useful to offer.

In my experience (personal and otherwise), creative people would rather be creative than be organized. The business aspect of being in business is boring and takes away from our ability to create by distracting us with minute details, rules, paperwork, marketing, networking, managing our time, and other activities not related to the actual creation of the work we do. But, unfortunately, if you’re in business these are the things you must take care of or you won’t be in business very long and you won’t be living a happy, successful, creative, life. Freelance photographers (even staff photographers) are already struggling with organizing, tracking, and archiving our digital files. How much time does that take away from actually photographing? We need to be organized and lead a somewhat structured life to maximize the time we have available to photograph and just enjoy ourselves; even if that structure is fairly simple.

Stever Robbins has written a book photographers can use.

9 Steps to Work Less and Do More is just over 200 pages in, coincidentally enough, 9 chapters, each covering one of the 9 steps. This book is a guide to help you figure out what works for you, not someone you don’t know telling you how to fit your life into their “formula for success”. Ultimately, you are the only one who can make the decisions about what works for you and what doesn’t. Stever Robbins breaks down this process into easy to understand and very doable processes you can integrate into your daily routine. His writing style is conversational and reads like a transcript to one of his videos or podcasts. Stever is an entrepreneur, author, professional speaker, business coach, involved in some major business start-ups, and dabbles in stand-up comedy. It’s easy to imagine this book as a personal lecture from Stever.

The chapters (steps) go like this:

Step 1: Live on Purpose. This isn’t an exercise to “discover or craft your life mission” but to identify the goals that mean something to you and your life, then doing that stuff and not the stuff that isn’t helping you reach those goals.

Step 2: Stop Procrastinating. We all want to find ways to avoid procrastinating (can you actually do that?). Stever suggests several easy approaches to altering our behavior and staying on track.

Step 3: Conquer Technology. Technology can be a real time sink. In this chapter, you’ll learn some simple things to reduce the time spent messing around with it.

Step 4: Beat Distractions to Cultivate Focus. How to manage interruptions, set boundaries, saying no, organizing your work week.

Step 5: Stay Organized. File organization, tossing clutter, organizing your stuff, and tracking projects.

Step 6: Stop Wasting Time. Doing work that matters, the 80/20 rule, overcoming perfectionism.

Step 7: Optimize. Dumping useless productivity systems, using feedback, getting help, listening to yourself.

Step 8: Build Stronger Relationships. Don’t be happy with a mediocre life. Building close relationships, cutting the small talk, preventing conflicts and ending them quickly, taking responsibility.

Step 9: Leverage. “Getting outsized results without having to put in more resources or work”. Using your strengths and skills that come naturally to your advantage.

This book is an easy read with useful, simple, practical and common-sense suggestions to getting your life more organized so you can “work less” (spend your time more productively) and, thus, “do more”. If you need a friendly kick in the pants, you should check this one out.

9 Steps to Work Less and Do More, book release

One of the biggest issues facing freelance photographers is managing our time. As a sole-proprietor (unless you have a staff), we’re responsible for planning and executing photo shoots as well as attracting and keeping clients, accounting & bookkeeping, negotiating and servicing contracts, processing photos, maintaining a website, archiving and backing up digital files, networking, developing new and creative projects, upgrading and maintaining camera and computer equipment and software, learning new photography techniques, learning new business methods, filing, cleaning and organizing the office and studio, traveling to and from photo shoots and meetings, various kinds of research, continuing education about things not directly related to photography, keeping up with industry trends, goofing off, and a host of other tasks and activities.

Keeping up with this plethora of seemingly endless, often repetitive, and sometimes boring tasks can drive a person mad. Unmanaged time can create such a jumble and confusion that everything suffers. How do you keep it all in line? For most of us, having an organized life is not something that comes naturally. Growing up, we had parents to tell us what to do, then it was our teachers, then our bosses, then our spouse(s). As a freelancer, we’re on our own. Freedom! Nobody to tell us to do anything. And now we’re in trouble because we’re not organized and may not know how to be.

Admittedly, there are a ton of self-help books out there touting the Next Best Thing in personal professionalism, organization, networking, making a bazillion dollars with a toothbrush and handful of safety pins, etc. I’ve looked at a bunch of them and my primary complaint with many of them is fluff; lots of words (testimonials and case studies touting how great the author is to have saved so many people from disaster, personal stories and name-dropping that are peripheral to the point, etc.) to fill in the space around a few pages worth of helpful or sort-of-helpful hints.

Stever Robbins, a veteran of 9 start-ups including Intuit, FTP Software, and HEAR Music, has released a new book, “9 Steps to Work Less and Do More” (sample chapters and podcasts available for download on that page). My full review of this book will be coming soon, but it appears on first glance to be very capable of providing useful help to unorganized freelancers to the point without the fluff.

Stever has posted several videos on YouTube that are informative (here’s one on negotiating):

So you wanna be a model?

If you’re an aspiring model, male or female, and you’re not careful, you could get ripped off. This is old news to some, but there will always be a new bunch of boys and girls, men and women, who want to join the ranks of the Next Top Model. Really, it’s very simple.

Research the agency. In this day and age of the internet, why not take a few minutes and check them out? Just Google the name, followed by “reviews” and you’ll probably get several sites with comments. If you don’t, there might be something fishy about that outfit. The search will also show if they have a website, and a professional-looking one. While a professional-looking website doesn’t guarantee legitimacy, it’s a start. Look beyond the home page. If there are cracks, that’s where you’ll find them. Missing links, poor navigation, lack of information, cheap sales tactics and grand, sky-high promises will be indicators you should look elsewhere. Look for references and where models from that agency have worked. You can tell the caliber of agency by the jobs they get, local, regional, national, international, Mom’s Crochet Emporium or Vogue.

Up-front fees. If you have to pay an agency to join, walk away. Agencies make their money from the commissions they receive from the work they get you. If they think you’ll make them money, they’ll sign you up without requiring a fee. Some agencies also offer “training” classes for a fee and may charge a small membership fee. Look at these closely. Ask around. Do they provide a good service for a reasonable price? If you need some help with your posing or runway walk, these classes might be for you. But make sure you’re going to benefit from them before making a payment.

Don’t join an agency “on credit”, which would be an offer to take the initial fee out of the commissions you’d get from jobs. This could also come with an exclusivity clause that locks you from getting work elsewhere. Then, the ‘agency’ doesn’t get you work, but you still owe them their fee and must pay it to get out of the contract.

Review all contracts carefully before signing. Don’t be pressured into signing right then and there. Take the contract with you and have an attorney go over it with you before signing anything.

If you need If you are told you must pay the agency and use their photographer for headshots and portfolio images, and they won’t use the ones you already have in your book, be cautious. Many scams get you to pay $1500 or more for headshots then stop communicating with you.

Be wary of photographers, too, who make pie-in-the-sky promises and compliments. Ask for references and check them out. If you can, meet the photographer at their studio with a friend or in a neutral location like a coffeeshop before committing to anything.

Watch out for big promises and high pressure sales tactics. If you think you’re buying a used car instead of signing with a model agency, you probably are.

If you’re asked to do something you’re not comfortable with and are pressured into it, like posing topless or in lingerie or swimsuit for an unclear reason. Walk away.

If someone promises you guaranteed work, turn around and walk directly out the door and to your car. No agency can guarantee you work.

Check your Better Business Bureau website or call. If you do get taken, make a complaint to the BBB.

In the end, it’s your life and your decision. You have ample opportunity to do the research, take your time, and save your money. Take care of yourself and you’ll end up where you need to be.

Measure of Success

What does it mean to you to be successful? A hundred self-help books start with that short sentence and it has, in my opinion, become a cliche often treated superficially by authors and readers alike. But, it really is a fundamental question leading to actions and beliefs by you that influence your satisfaction with your life as an artist and, ultimately, with your life in general.

Determining for yourself the criteria of success as an artist is a complex process involving both internal and external factors and obstacles, starting with the creation of a way of being and expressing, of life and living, a structure that is your own. Do you want to be a full-time artist, a part-time artist, or improve your skill as a hobbyist? Do you want to have a solo exhibit in a well-known gallery? Do you want to be published? Do you want to establish an art school? Do you only want to be personally satisfied with your work and don’t care what others think?

Creating the structure of your own life provides greater freedom and opportunities for self-expression and happiness. If you do not have control over the structure of your life, you will have to accommodate the structure created by someone else and their vision of what you should be and do, which puts you in a position of powerlessness. The people who would love to create your structure for you (and do) are friends, teachers, family, lovers, mentors, colleagues, employers, strangers, students, even enemies and rivals. When you have control, you seize the initiative and move forward confidently and deliberately. An artist’s life is made from the inside out.

Many artists (if not all, even secretly) want one (or THE) measure of success to be financial security. As artists, one of the things we look for in our audience is approval. Approval is an external factor dependent upon others liking our work and showing their approval by positive comments and/or a purchase or two. We can become slaves to approval, however, and stray from our intended path if we only create art that is approved of (purchased) or suppress our talent or experimentation because we fear risking disapproval or because the “easier” or “safer” art sells better.

The best life would be doing what you love and getting paid well for it. But, financial security isn’t a true measure of success by itself. I know of several well-known artists who are (or have been) unhappy, although very financially secure, because they lost control over their work and life for the sake of financial gain. I think a successful artist is in control of their work and their life, whether it’s making a million dollars or a thousand dollars a year as an artist. Establishing that balance is a tricky proposition. Our ego and the desire to be somebody special helps turn us into slaves of approval, which diminishes the quality and impact of our work and our overall satisfaction.

A very close relation to approval, is fear. Where approval is external, fear is internal, wreaking all kinds of havoc with our dreams and intentions. Artists are great self-doubters and second-guessers, destroying many opportunities and limiting our potential. Here is a list of the possible fears artists endure and fall victim to:

Fear of
1. Failure
2. Rejection
3. Reality
4. Losing identity
5. Pain/Sacrifice
6. Commitment
7. Making the wrong choice(s)
8. Not being in control
9. That it will never work
10. Success
11. Inadequacy
12. Being misunderstood
13. Perfection
14. Annihilation
15. Expectations

Overcoming Fear allows you to become independent, to divorce the wishes and desires of others wanting to control or influence your work, and to do the work you were meant to do.

Artists have many obstacles, external and internal, to overcome on the road to success. Creating a structure to your life around your art, overcoming fear, understanding and taming the desire for approval, and a host of other barriers, milestones, and rewards make up your criteria for success.

In the end, though, you are the only one that can determine whether you’ve reached your goal and met your measure of success.

Good Luck!

Save Frequently and Often

Back in the “Old Days” of computers, the mantra “Save Frequently and Often” was a hedge against the common system hangs and crashes of the day. While operating systems and software are much more stable these days, the mantra is still worth hanging onto and practicing for two main reasons:

1. Technology is not infallible
2. Human beings are not infallible

Computer operating systems and programs will crash and hang. Hard drives will crash and fail. Humans will format hard drives and memory cards thinking they’ve downloaded or saved the information stored on those devices. Humans will drop things they shouldn’t be dropping and misplace things they should be paying better attention to. It’s natural. It happens. However, if you can avoid that knot in your stomach when you’ve lost 250GB, 500GB, 1TB, or even 2GB of image files due to a hardware crash or other mishap, that’s a lot of stress and woe energy you can redirect to restoring that data instead of looking for the nearest window to leap out of.

Your job, if you value your digital photographs, is to make a practice of Saving Frequently and Often. There’s much more to this than I can squeeze into this little space, but let me point out some options (there are many) that can relieve the pain if such a disaster strikes you.

A second mantra is the 3-2-1 Rule:

3. You should keep 3 copies (at least) of any important files – a primary and 2 backups
2. Your backup files should be on 2 different media types (i.e. hard drive and optical media – DVD/Blu-Ray) to protect against different types of hazard
1. 1 backup copy (at least) should be stored offsite

The 3-2-1 Rule is really a guideline (like most “rules” in photography) and should be understood to be a minimum recommendation. You can never have too many backups (versus having no backup).

There are many more backup options now than just a few years ago and they range in price from around $5 to several thousand, depending on your needs. Let’s run through a general list:

1. DVD and Blu-Ray. The least expensive but probably the most time-consuming backup tool. DVD capacity is 4.7GB and Blu-Ray is 25GB (50GB for dual layer). The cost per GB is nearly the same for each with DVD at an average of $0.299/GB ($0.60 – $0.90 each) and Blu-Ray at $0.213/GB (about $5.00 each). The $300 cost of a Blu-Ray drive might offset any small cost-savings for now, until prices come down.

2. External Hard Drive Dock. These devices are relatively new, dispensing with the difficult-to-access enclosure for a simple “drop slot” for the bare drive. The BlacX SATA dock by Thermaltake connects using Firewire or USB and can read 2.5″ and 3.5″ drives and costs between $35 – $55 depending on the vendor. You do have to be careful handling the hard drive since it is bare, but the dock is a convenient way to quickly backup or transfer information.

3. External Hard Drive units. Large drive enclosures like the Seagate FreeAgent Pro or Western Digital MyBook are more for ‘permanent’ use as backup space or storage. Connecting via USB or Firewire, they range in price from $90 for 500GB to $200 for 2TB.

4. External Hard Drive enclosures. Sometimes called JBODs (Just a Bunch Of Disks), these enclosures are simply extensions of the disk capacity of your main computer, with from 2 to 6 or 8 or more hard drive bays. Some enclosures have removable hard drive carriers for “easy” replacement while others require the hard drives to be attached in the bay (like in your computer). Connecting via Firewire or USB, they can also be set up in a RAID, individual volumes, or as a large volume. Other enclosures are used for single drives and can be purchased with a drive or empty.

5. RAID and BeyondRAID. RAID is an acronym for Redundant Array of Independent (or Inexpensive) Disks and allows for the division and replication of data among multiple drives. Some cons for RAID is it’s difficult for the unitiated to set up and maintain (I think) and the volume is set by the smallest capacity. So, if you have a 250GB drive and a 500GB drive, the capacity is driven by the 250GB and you “waste” the 250GB from the 500GB drive. Also, if you upgrade capacity, you have to backup and reload all your data. Systems such as the Buffalo Terastation (2TB $730 – $900 empty, 4TB $1150 – $1400 empty) use RAID. A system called BeyondRAID, used by Data Robotics in their Drobo line, allows the use of multiple capacity drives and easy upgrading of capacity without the need to reload data. Drobo products range from the 4-bay Drobo (up to 8TB capacity, starts at $310 empty) to the 8-bay DroboPro and DroboElite (up to 16TB capacity, starts at $1250 empty).

6. Solid State Drives. This technology is very promising but still expensive. These drives have no moving parts and are very durable, like your Compact Flash memory cards. They use less power than conventional hard drives, run cooler, are smaller, and are faster. The downside is the price. A 64GB solid state drive is $200 and a 256GB solid state drive is $700. As with all new technology, the price will come down as the devices enter the mainstream.

7. Personal (or Portable) Storage Devices. These palm-sized devices are primarily for backing up memory cards. Epson, Hyperdrive, JoBo, Wolverine, are some of the brands that manufacture PSDs. They come in various configurations and capacities. Epson PSDs tend to be the most expensive, but feature rich. However, upgrading capacity requires the purchase of a new device and battery life is low. Hyperdrive makes a PSD with smaller color screen, but faster upload and longer battery life for about 1/3 the cost of the Epson. These devices are great in the field for backing up memory cards. They connect to your desktop or laptop via USB just like an external hard drive.

In addition to the backup devices, a regular program and procedure to backup your data is needed. Whether you backup every day, once a week, or once a month, doing so on a regular basis will save you a ton of grief if you ever have a crash.