So the news isn’t all bad. We heard back from so many more people than we expected from our last post about the state of the photography industry and if all of this is just arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Not just a line or two, well-thought out emails from photographers around the world. There were a couple different themes we saw over and over in the emails and responses on our Facebook Group.
No one thinks this is easy, but many are still willing to fight the fight.
~”I recently completed Joy’s pricing workshop & am in the process of working through Jaime’s 6 week Marketing Bootcamp . . . my stomach has been in knots for over a month now. As a maternity & newborn photographer, I know two things: 1) I love what I do SO much & very few things bring me as much joy as photography and 2) I simply don’t love it enough to do it for free anymore. This isn’t some egotistical journey for me. I started a business because I love giving people the joy that I feel when I stand and stare at the frames on my walls. It’s so sappy, but so true. That’s when I discovered the crappy business side of business . . . the side that so often tries to crush my joy. So, my prices are going WAY up, I’m gonna work my fat butt off this year, and I’m secretly installing life preservers under each one of my beautifully arranged deck chairs.”
~”I’m much more content with attracting those who get it, and who truly appreciate it…. I’ve since priced myself in alignment with that as well – although most of the kick-ass clients I would connect with on a personal and artistic level – simply don’t have the means to allow me to be outside of the ‘deal-seekers’ circle either… So – It’s yet another losing battle in that regard. However, I’ve decided I’m worth it – and I’m willing to work fewer weddings for a slightly higher yield per wedding – as I refuse to sell my soul to this bloody and puke-laden industry. Do I sound a bit disgruntled? Well – I’m actually not. But I am speaking my mind with full transparency! I figure you’d appreciate that.”
The ones that are surviving admit to having made radical changes to their marketing and lifestyle.
~”As a family we have greatly reduced our costs and last year I gave up my studio. I know the problem is partly my own doing – I got lazy during the flush years but some days it feels like I fell asleep on the beach and woke up surrounded by a sea of photographers. But I’m not giving up — not without a fight ”
~”I don’t need Cloud, the latest camera body etc etc. What I have works just fine thank you very much. Let. Go.”
~It’s only encouraging me to even further stylize my work and make it look completely different from the rest of my market. Which is a good! It’s also forcing me to streamline my marketing strategy so I get the brides in the door I actually want”
The division in the ranks is tearing down the industry, and people are REALLY getting sick of it.
~””To add insult to injury – rather than everyone teaming up to find the cause and patch up the leaks, or at least be supportive of one another as we scramble to do our best to deal – most (not all, obviously – but definitely most) – are scrambling to gather as many deck chairs as they can for themselves, even if it means throwing somebody overboard to get them… The cut-throat tendencies within this field make me want to puke over the deck railings, and I’m not talking about sea-sickness here! I’m talking pure disgust. Love my art. Hate the industry.”
~”I can’t stop the shoot and burn momtographer down the street from doing mini-sessions for $50 and a disk (seriously) But I can stop paying attention to what she is doing and stop letting it eat me alive. If I don’t then I might as well go back to that soul-sucking day job I had. I had to finally realize that there is a great number of photographers who like to spend their days bitching about the newbies or the grumpies or whatever the freak the name is for the hated photographer of the day and I had to stop being one of them.”
There was not a single email where someone claimed to be “super happy and profitable, no problems here!”
(But then again, we probably don’t tend to attract the bullshit shoot and share live your dreams photographers on this blog) Photographers see what’s happening, their eyes are open. They are making changes, making choices.
So what do you think? Are you inspired to make changes now?
Last summer on one of those hot nights where all you can think about is ice cream I walked into one of those fancy ice cream places.. You know the ones, they have the rhyme-y names and the super cute logo with a cone that dances around on two legs? Yeah, one of those. And when I went in, I was assaulted by 10 different flavors of soft serve ice cream and a wall of cookie and candy related bits that made me dizzy. The options…were endless and overwhelming. Looking at the board overhead I tried to decipher what I should be doing. The store was crowded with parents with their little kids and the line was long, so I tried to make my decision quickly but I was paralyzed by making the WRONG decision. Chastising myself for being such a loser, I asked the teenaged worker “What would you suggest?” She stared at me for a second and said “I dunno, put one of those flavors in your cup and then you know, just add the toppings that you want”
I left with a cup of vanilla with M&M’s sprinkled on top. I don’t even really like M&M’s, but it seemed like a safe choice.
The next time I went in a few days ago and a different worker noticing my reticence came over and asked if they could help. I said yes, and she said ” Really quick, first answer that comes to mind, what’s your favorite ice cream flavor?” Quickly I answered “Coffee”. This ice cream goddess then made me a fantastic concoction of coffee ice cream, crushed Heath bars, pecans and caramel syrup.
It was everything that I didn’t even know I wanted.
I used to do something similar to my clients. After their wedding, I’d send them a gallery of 600+ images and say ” Hey, pick 75 of your favorites and let me know what they are and I’ll make you a delicious album!” I’d shoot a portrait session and proof it online and tell my client to pick all their favorites and buy buy buy!
Armed with overwhelming choices of photos, they chose the safe choices. They let everyone they knew weigh in on what they “should have” and “had to have”, and ultimately chose those. I was designing albums with some of the most boring photos of the day and I hated the design, but yannowwhatcouldIdo? I was making my clients HAPPY. I wasn’t selling wall portraits because an 8×10 was big enough for them.
And then came the day that a client posted a review about me that said that she loved her photos and working with me but that I took over a year to get her album to her. The fact was, it took her nearly 7 months to choose the photos, and another 3 months to approve the first design, another 2 months to approve the second, and another 3 months while she dithered about paying for extra spreads and upgrades on the cover. But online, it looked like it was my fault. It wasn’t my fault!!
Or was it?
When I contacted the client to clear things up she said “I loved everything about working with you except the album process”.
I realized that by giving clients that much control, I was doing them a disservice. I’ve designed hundreds of wedding albums in my career, they’ve only even every seen a handful of wedding albums in person. So I took away (most) of the control. Here’s the steps for albums in my studio now
From the very first point of contact, I sell myself as the expert in the design process. I talk about the albums, but in really general terms. Remember that they are likely seeing other photographers and by the time you get around to album design time it can be a year or more in the future. If they ask specifics I always answer them but I let them know that I will be guiding them through the process and will make sure that they get an heirloom that they are going to love passing down to their children. I talk more about the feeling of their album than the process.
During the wedding as I am shooting I plant the seed for how certain scenes are going to look great in their wedding album. “These sunset photos are going to look killer as a panoramic page in your album”. (You can do the same thing during portrait sessions “This series of all three kids tickling each other would make a fantastic wall grouping to remember how silly they were at this age”)
After the wedding, they come in to view their photos in a slideshow format and I mock up a few pages of their wedding album with some key impact images. Seeing their photos displayed on a page always makes them gasp because it’s everything they didn’t even know they wanted.
I send them home with a link to their photos online that includes a special folder called “Photographers Favorites”. I tell them “If I were making a sample album to show people your wedding, just like the ones you see here in the studio, these would be the photos I would choose to show the story of your wedding day photographically. You are welcome to go in and take out as many photos as you like and replace them with your favorites. I’ll make a design that I am sure you will love, but if you want to swap any of the photos out, that’s not a problem”
Since I started doing this 4 key things have happened
1. 80% of the photos I chose are used.
2. My album up-sells (more spreads, upgrades to covers, etc) have increased $300 per album since 2012.
3. 70% of my clients approve the album with no changes at all. The others have minor swapping of photos that take me minutes to do.
4. My clients have their albums in their hands in as little as 2 months after the wedding. A few dilly-dally a bit more, but I also now have a clause in my contract that says if they don’t choose the photos within a year of the wedding I choose for them and send the album to fulfill the terms of the contract.
Sometimes less is more. Sometimes, it’s even MORE BETTER.
Stay SANE, make your clients HAPPY and be more PROFITABLE.
Recently I met with a couple who is looking for a photographer for their summer 2014 wedding.
(Side note: WTH is with the 2014 clients? I’ve never had bookings this late EVER in my career.)
Engaged just a month, they were planning the wedding quickly, but that’s not super unusual. As we chatted about their wedding photography, I noted that they used a lot of industry jargon in describing what they wanted. So I asked if they had done a lot of research on photographers.
The bride lit up and said “Yes! We started out with a list of 80 that we contacted. Of the 80, 60 were available. But only 30 were in our budget range, so that’s who we are meeting with”
And I thought to myself, no…no, she’s saying it wrong. “You’re considering 30, or you are meeting with 30?” She and Groomie exchanged a “Oh I know I am so silly, but OMG you are so adorable” look and she confirmed “Meeting with 30. Photography is VERY important to us”
I wish with all my heart I had some hidden camera video of my face when she said this to me. All I can recall for sure is thinking “Keep your eyebrows down and don’t let your mouth hang open”. In that moment, I knew that this was not going to work out. I’ve had some consultations that went bad, like the douchecanoe client, but this couple was NICE. They really though they were doing their due diligence. They cheerfully admitted that they were seeing 5-7 photographers PER WEEK and planned on making their decision by the end of the month.
So I asked. I asked why they were spending the equivalent of one work week interviewing photographers. They looked perplexed and the bride said “Well, like I said, photography is VERY important to us. We are meeting with people because we understand that pricing is very different and we want to make sure we are getting the best bang for our buck ”
I nodded. ” Can you tell me specifically what about the photos on the website that spoke to you?” She asked me to clarify. I pointed out that of those 30 photographers I was sure that they had very different styles and some photographs on their sites must have appealed to her more than others.
She shrugged and said “Well sure, some of the websites were nicer and easier to get around. But as far as if any photos stood out? Well, I like the ones where the light is behind people. You do that, right?”
And then, I wept for my industry.
Photography is not the most important thing to this couple. What is important is getting photos at the price point that they desire. To them this is no different than shopping for a car. The features may be different, but the end result to them is the same. They pay monies, they get photos.
This is going to happen more and more as professional photography becomes more “mainstream” to people. The art of photography is not the mystery it once was.
“Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic”.
You know what I’m talking about. Revamping your website every three months because the last three months of inquiries were dismal. Adding albums to your middle packages because maybe THAT will get them to buy. We’re not sure if the ship is sinking, but dammit, these chairs are gonna look GREAT if we go down!
Are you rearranging deck chairs?
Full steam ahead?
Or jumping ship?
*This blog post is sourced from a popular email-only content sent to subscribers a few months ago*
It’s been a busy week end here in Brew City, AKA Milwaukee Wisconsin, Charo and her husband came to visit. We needed to go over our business plan for the blog and it seemed like a good idea to go over things in person before busy season hits for both of us.
And of course, it seemed like a good idea that there should be beer when we were done working. Because, you know, beer. So in between us doing our very first pricing review together (here and also here because The Google crashed in the middle. It wasn’t the Rum Chata’s fault) we hit up a few local distillery and brewery tours. We have a lot of history in this cold city I live in, it’s one of the perks of living in an old industrial city. It’s also ridiculously cheap to drink here in comparison to the beach town Charo lives in so there was that.
Instead of the predictable large scale Miller Brewing tour we decided to concentrate on the smaller guys in town and it was really fun for me to see the history behind some of these places. Seeing the actual line from the scene from Laverne and Shirley at Lakefront Brewery, sitting on the chairs from the late 1800’s from the old beer hall at Pabst Brewery and tasting some of the most damn fine gin and vodka in the world from Great Lakes Distillery. The tours were a chance for the people who run the craft places to tell us why they are passionate about what they do. We heard lots of stories of someone having some Yeast and a Dream…people who took a chance on making a living what they loved the most.
Sound familiar? It was inspirational. Motivational. But it didn’t REALLY tell us what kind of nitty gritty it takes to open and maintain the day-to-day operations of that kind of business and the challenges they face in their industry. It wasn’t supposed to, it was supposed to entertain while we quaffed some delicious beverages, and it did.
But what if we went on that tour every week? Would we learn how to open a Brewery? No.
There are lots of blogs you can read that will give you inspirational and motivational advice on photography. We decided in the course of the week end that we are not going to be one of those blogs. Why? Because that shit is easy. In fact it’s so easy we challenged ourselves to do nothing but talk in inspirational cliches for one entire hour.
“This meal is delicious. It’s nice to be able to appreciate the finer things in life”
“I appreciate having a good meal with good friends. You make new friends you keep the old, one is silver the other is gold”
“Sometimes you have to just go for it”
“You are so right. There is no can’t in American”
“Sometimes you have to think outside the box!”
“We’re so happy to have had you here. We’ll be sorry when you are gone!
“We hate to see it end, but home is where the heart is!”
“Visiting here has been like a dream”
“A dream is a wish the heart makes”
This went on…the entire..week end.
That’s the kind of blog we don’t want to be. I’ve been to too many seminars where I walked out realizing that the speaker talked a lot and said NOTHING. I looked at my notes and the few I had scribbled were not worth the ink on the paper. For us, this also carries in to the products that we affiliate in the photography market. Because if we are going to say something is worth buying we have to be able to say “Seen it, would buy it myself, would make me some monies if I implemented this stuff”.
While affiliate sales provide us with some cash to keep the blog going, at the heart of this we really do it because we are passionate and feel blessed by this industry.
Kidding! We do this because we know that a lot of you feel like we do, that this industry is changing so fast that we want some real world advice on how to make it. How to keep our jobs and stay Sane, Happy and Profitable at photography.
With that, we’d love to hear from you dear reader. What would you like to see on this blog?
Do you like the pricing reviews?
Want more meaty how-to stuff?
Want more photos of my bunny?
Leave some comments below, won’t you? We like to know that it’s not just our moms reading this.
P.P.S. We’ve pimped this class out before and for good reason. It’s one of the most popular pricing series out there, Joy Vertz’s Pricing For Profit. It’s a much more intensive 3 week course that will walk you through your entire price list to make sure you are profitable start to finish. If you’ve got some major work to do, this is where you want to start. Watch the informational videos here.
In 2002 I went to my very first WPPI conference in Vegas. I had been in business officially for 5 years at that point, but in truth it was really my first year of treating it like a full time business. It was the first time I got on a plane alone to fly to a city I had never been to to meet people that I met on the internet who were photographers like me. Writing this now I still remember when I first caught sight of the Vegas skyline thinking in a panic “What if they aren’t real?” What if I had been duped by an elaborate internet ruse? I knew so few photographers in my area, just a handful. Suddenly I was being dropped off in the middle of HUNDREDS of them. I wonder what the actual numbers were of attendees at WPPI 2002, but if I had to guess I’d say 2 or 3 K. Now the average attendance 12 years later is 13-16 K depending on where you read it. Doesn’t really matter what the actually numbers are, anyone that has gone for many years can attest to the changes in the industry and how it’s grown.
And because now you can’t go 3 feet without meeting another “photographer” these days, the way we learn has changed vastly. Saving up that 1K years ago to to go WPPI was my educational fund for the year. It’s where I took classes, went to shoot outs and entered print competition. It was where I learned marketing techniques and had late night pow wows with other photographers who have grown to be trusted colleagues. Now there is a dizzying array of places to find advice on photography marketing, shooting, branding….. this blog included. What’s even more interesting to me is that with the massive advances of information out there, photographers are more cynical than ever about where they get their advice. Coming from a background where it was just accepted that you paid others for their expertise, the shift now is more of the battle cry of “You don’t need to pay for that, you can find that out by just doing some research on the internet”, and “those that can’t shoot, teach!”
If I took a seminar that was amazing, it was awesome. And if I took one that was not so amazing, I consoled myself with finding the nugget.
The nugget is that one piece of information from anything you are learning from that you can apply to your business or your life.
As long as I got one nugget, I considered it a win.
Then came my Nugget journals. They first started when I was going to seminars to write down notes. I’ve always been a person who needs to learn visually, so the act of writing things down so that my brain can process information is important for me. I can’t do it on a computer, or with a voice memo…it has to be in the written word. I think it’s the conscious slowing down, of putting pen to paper that makes a difference for me. In the rare times that I do not have Big Nugget or Little Nugget journal (who resides in my purse) I’ve tried voice memos, emailing myself…none of them work as well for me. I’m still trying to decipher the voice memo I left myself three weeks ago when I had no Nugget at hand to jot my thoughts down on that says:
“Don’t forget to write something on yoga pants and the fashion industry and how photographers need to brand like they do or don’t dress”
Yeah. I am sure it seemed brilliant at the time thanks to a endorphin rush after yoga, but don’t look for that blog post any time soon, because I don’t know what the fuck I meant. Namaste.
Now with the blog, Big Nugget and Little Nugget have taken on a different use in my life. Now they don’t just contain photography stuff, but also life stuff. Quotes from books I am reading that make me stop and read it again. Quotes from inspirational Ted talks. Observations on human nature. Things I want to try out in my business. Some of them I pay for, some of them I find along the way. But in every single thing I read or watch, there is a nugget.
Kim. Not much money but lots of time= get your networking on.
So let’s say you’re a little fish in a big pond. Or you’re a new fish in a big pond. Maybe you’ve jump-started your photography business, or moved to a new location, or added a new service to your photography business that you’ve never done before. Do you: A: Go online to photography groups and ask for lots of advice.
B: Get out there and start meeting and greeting new people.
The answer is, a little of both. The net is a great place to start, especially when you have no idea where to start and marketing dollars are a precious commodity. But those people behind the screen don’t know your business. They don’t know your personality and they don’t know your market. It’s YOUR job to figure that out.
If I had a dollar for every post of some photographer whining that they’ve “reached out” to other established photographers and “no one responded” and the resounding choruses of “that’s so terrible, they should remember what it was like when they started” I’d be able to retire.
It doesn’t work that way. You cannot expect learn to run a for-profit business for free.
In the beginning stages of my business, I put my face in front of people as often as I could in networking situations. Any chance I had to say “Hi, I’m Kim and I’m a photographer” and give them my elevator pitch I did. It was the only thing I could afford to do. With that, I formed real, in-person, in my town relationships.
Gather round kiddos, because Imma gonna tell you a story. Right now in my inboxes I have 4 requests from various local photographers that I have never heard of asking to “buy me lunch and pick my brain”. On average, I get about 5-7 per month. If I met each of these 7 photographers for a 90 minute lunch that would mean spending 10.5 hours with them. There would inevitably be follow up emails asking me to look over what changes they implemented, or phone calls or emails. It easily could turn into another part-time job.
And frankly, I wish it would. Because I LOVE meeting other photographers and help them strategize their business plans and problems which is why I love blogging. But guess what? They very rarely want to pay me for my time and expertise, they’d just like to buy me lunch. I like lunch a lot, but I can’t make it a part time job.
If your area has networking meetings for photographers or other event professionals then that’s the best place to start. Meeting someone face to face is a group setting is always a better way to begin, then you can ask to meet privately. If you don’t have anything like that in your town, how about you be the one to start one? Even a once a month networking lunch at a restaurant is a great idea.
Be an advocate for your business, value other peoples time and realize that there is no ONE magic bullet when it comes to marketing.
Charo: Build your brand but don’t stay married to it when it’s not working.
I built my brand around the wallet scene in Pulp Fiction
Jules: I want you to go in that bag, and find my wallet.
When I started shooting was just when the era of wedding photographers having different styles was emerging. It was right around the time Denis Reggie popped on the scene and it kind of set the wedding photography field on it’s ear. Suddenly there were “Photojournalists” and “Fashion Based” and then your plain old traditional photographers. It was pretty cool, actually. You could really see a difference in not only in the work but in the branding of the websites.
And because my branding was based on not being like everyone else, it worked. I attracted clients that I wanted that shoot for, which were not clients who based their weddings on some Style Me Pretty fantasy they had in their head, my clients were badass. They were Rockabilly, Tattooed, Alternative Lifestyle people, but like me had a soft spot in their heart for weddings and romance. It’s a weird combination, I know.
Then, as all things do, the market changed. Photographers flooded the market, and suddenly all the template websites looked the same. Since the majority of my clients are not from my transient area, I meet very few of them before the wedding. All of a sudden I was showing up to weddings with a bride I’d talked to on the phone and who loooooooooooved my work and her wedding would be full of sorority sisters and they’d have a giant Kenney Chesney cut out (Not kidding, this shit really happened) that they wanted photographed with all the guests.
What happened? Why was I all of a sudden attracting these kinds of clients? And as you might figure, after the wedding they were not happy with their photos. They all claimed to love my work, but gave me 19 page shot checklist before the wedding. They wondered why I didn’t have them do that photo where the groomsmen picked up the bride after they got their photos even though there was nothing remotely like that in my work. I went through a year of hell and really almost threw in the towels on weddings. I was pissed. It was all the damn newbies. It was because no one read anymore. It wasn’t my fault.
Except, you know, it was. I was Lazy Marketing.
I had to kick my own lazy ass into gear and re-brand because I could not rely on my old branding to work. It was really hard, I really loved aspects of my old website and I wanted it to be as easy as it had been to get clients, you know? But it wasn’t working, and I had to set myself apart in a new way. I had to adjust my branding and my attitude on how to attract the right clients.
Mentally getting my head around HOW to make the changes was way harder than actually making them. I should have done it earlier but you kind of get paralyzed, right?
Sometimes you have to stop being married to things and rebuild.
If you’re looking for course that will help you learn to network, rebuild and re-brand today is the last day for Marketog before it closes until fall. When it re-opens it will be at least $300 more for this kick-ass course that will change the course of your business. We’ve mentioned this before, but we cannot recommend it enough. It’s got a 45 day money back guarantee and if you’re too busy to get to it now, you have lifetime access and you can start the course any time you’d like.
I’m not generally a big fan of learning from books. I’m a visual learner (as I think many photographers are) but I also am not a big fan of those “shoot out” style workshops where photographers crowd around a subject jockeying for position while their 70-200’s clang together and their Kelly Moore bags smash into my hips. Those workshops make me want to sneak out and drink instead….
I was really surprised at how much I got out of Laura Siebert’s Get Real. Authentic, Emotional Outdoor Family Portraits workbook. I figured I’d give it a skim and put it in the “thanks but no thanks” pile for reviewing and affiliating. In fact, a few weeks ago I received a copy of a pretty well known bloggers book (No, I won’t tell you who it is) and while the content is good, I keep losing interest because the formatting is so hard for me to read. It’s sounds a little childish and pedantic, but when you dealing with visual people you have to write how they read.
In chunks of sentences.
In memorable sound bites.
With pretty pictures here and there. Get Real did all of this.
Because the book was so readable for me, I read it cover to cover. I studied the photos. She’s not a prolific, flowery writer which I really like. She doesn’t say a lot of words without saying anything. What she does do is give you clear and concise plan on how to make incredible (seriously, go look at her work) authentic lifestyle family portraits. From the posing to the games to how she gently guides people into poses that MAKE SENSE to their family she leads you right through how she does it.
We’ve all heard the term “boutique studio” versus the “JCPenney Portrait Studio” mentality. If you had asked me before I read this book I would have told you the portrait side of my studio was boutique, and I would have been wrong. Step by step, from the first contact with the clients through the session itself she explains how she is able to capture the kind of photos that she does. It became very clear to me that THIS mentality and this way of capturing clients is why she is boutique and my studio is just a more uppity cousin of the mall Portrait People.
And here’s another thing Laura gave me in this read: I’ll never, ever ignore hands again. I had no idea how they can make or break an image. Mind. Blown.
A few months ago I had a family portrait session that yielded me one of my favorite family photos I have taken in a long time. It was a tough shoot, very cold, drizzling rain and so wet and I couldn’t pile mom and dad on the ground with the kids, so the family shots had to be done standing. My first attempt was this:
Lame-O. Boring. If this was the only family shot I got, mom and dad probably would have bought it. They look good, the kids are smiling…but really is it a fantastic portrait? No. It’s a professional snapshot.
Then, I got this one. This was the MONEY shot. The photo that mom described as “The photo I know I will hang in my house for the rest of my life”
With apologies to Laura (whom I don’t know and might not be as potty mouthed as me) I believe I Sieberted the shit out of that photo. This kind of posing is what she teaches. How to get it, and how to get it consistently. I dumb-lucked into it. I believe that I could not have replicated that pose again before reading Get Real, and now I could.
I now understand why this photo is successful and why the other one wasn’t, and how to create more photos like this.
Better photos=more monies.
So count me as a fan, and I’ll be investing in her other workbooks too. I might even consider a workshop with her, if she promises beverages on site.
Not too long ago Charo and I posted about the Things that sucked about being a Self Employed Photographer. Because it seems that most of our readers are as as dark and cynical as we are, it was one of our most popular posts. Y’all are very aware that this blog is not an airy-fairy-you-can-do-it blog, you can find plenty of that information anywhere on the internet. And while the woo woo might pump you up for awhile, guess what the woo woo don’t do?
The woo woo does not help you focus on changes that have to be made. While it may “pump you up” the woo woo is poo poo unless it gives you plans for CHANGE.
The age of photography Rockstars is over.The new Rockstars are sharing hardcore business advice and you know what? They don’t like being called Rockstars. They like to be called “Photographers”
So, on to marketing mistakes. We’ve complied a list of the top things we did collectively and individually.
1. Not having a realistic marketing budget: You know that diamond advertisement/commercial that tells people that a engagement ring should be 3 months salary? The one that the DIAMOND industry came up with? Your marketing budget should be in proportion with your INCOME. And yes, conventional wisdom will tell you that 10% of your income is right and proper for marketing. But that means nothing if your income is 10K and you need 20K to pay your bills. That percentage comes AFTER you are profitable, not before. Before you are profitable, you get out there and hustle your ass off to promote yourself in ways that don’t take money off your table.
2. Offering products and services that you think you should because someone else has done well with it: This is huge with photographers and we’ve both been guilty of this. You go to seminar and you get revved up. The beach portrait buisness (Charo), the Boudoir sessions (Kim) that were something we saw someone else do (Damn you and your accent, Sue Bryce) and thought “Hey, I could do that” and quickly found out that A. We hated doing them and B. We were really not very good at them. It’s find to dabble in other areas of photography to see if you are interested, but please…please don’t make a big showy launch until you have spent some time really exploring the craft and you know you want to pursue it.
3. Thinking that paying for advertising is marketing: “I gave The Knot 2K and I never got a single inquiry!”. Truth: we all advertise with a dud now and again. But the more often the truth is you didn’t do your homework on who you were paying. You seriously thought spending big money would mean big clients. It doesn’t, and welcome to one of the most expensive lessons you will ever learn in your business.
4. Ignoring SEO: It makes a difference. I hate it, you hate it , we all hate it. I hate it like those timed multiplication tables in third grade that have scarred me for life. But the truth is, it is important. So you have two choices: learn it, or pay someone to do it for you. Even the most rudimentary amount makes a difference. It’s boring monkey work, but it’s an important part of workflow. You need to stop ignoring it. Period.
5. We had to make peace with the fact that it wasn’t all about the photos: Yes, people do hire your for your work, but mostly….they hire you for the experience that they want to have. The feelings your photos will evoke. If you are a creepy jerk, it does not matter how beautiful your photos are, because all they will see when they look at those beautiful photos is what a creepy jerk they worked with.
Now let’s be clear, we all need a little woo woo. I like my woo woo in the form of pedicures, massages, photos of bunnies on the internet and vodka. Charo is way less girly than me and likes geeky things like…I don’t know because it’s geeky and there are games and things that bore me when she talks about them and she prefers whiskey. She can’t think of anything worse than a pedicure than maybe…maybe a tickle fight, and lip gloss. But she’ll woo woo all day over some band that I have never heard of and a craft IPA. We all have our escapes, right?
Stay tuned for the next post where we talk about the things that (shockingly) we have done right over the years marketing.
I stared at my computer screen trying to decide if I was upset or disappointed. Then I realized I was neither, I was…jealous.
Thanks for thinking of me for the fundraising chair but I can’t commit to something that needs as much time and attention as that position would require. I’d be happy to donate a gift certificate from the studio for the event, though! Just let me know where I should send it or I can drop it off at the next networking meeting.
Here I was, staring at my screen JEALOUS that someone I reached out to, (a personal friend no less) had said no. She didn’t whimper, or over-explain, or use her kids or her two very successful studios or her photography mentoring business, or her upcoming speaking tour, she just said no, she could not commit that amount of time or attention.
Straight to the point. Thanks for thinking of me, but no.
It was so brilliant I nearly fell out of my chair. Because do you know what I likely would have done? I would have said yes, while not really wanting to. I would have squeezed in yet another commitment while feeling resentful that I had even less time to do the things I need to do because you know HELP. The people they need HELP.
And I would have whined. Oh yes, I would have, because my altruism is apparently not all that freaking altruistic after all. I would have been on the phone whining to Charo about my BUSY BUSY week, filled with this appointment and that networking lunch and that this board meeting and then my clients, and my kids and my dogs not getting walked and OMG when am I ever going to have time to edit??!!!
I was the kind of busy no one really wanted to hear about. We’re all busy. Your busy is no busier than my busy, so really just shut up about how busy you are.
Instead of this
I’m sorry but….
I’d love to but…
I just can’t because…..
I’m unable to help with that project.
My schedule prevents me from attending, but thank you for thinking of me and please let me know of upcoming events (If I would really would)
That’s not something I am interested in attending, but I appreciate your email. (If it’s something I would not)
I can’t say that I still don’t have pangs of guilt, I do. The biggest surprise of all was that behind the pangs of guilt were these two rewards:
Relief and Time.
Relief that I didn’t have one more thing on my plate, one more thing on the To-Do List, one more thing I had been avoiding and was now having anxiety dreams about.
Time to spend on my own business, my family and sometimes even time to do NOTHING.
Being busy does not mean you are successful, and saying no does not mean you are a meanie. This week, I challenge you to mindfully say no to ONE thing that you know you’d rather not do. Let us how it feels and leave a note in comments.
I met my friend Emily who is an amazing florist many years ago in our local NACE organization. So when she put the word out on FB that she was looking for some extra help on Valentines week making deliveries I thought “Well I could help her out with that, it’s February, my slowest month!” I sent her an email offering to help. I imagined showing up to her storefront, loading up some pretty flowers in the back of my trusty Honda Element on Valentines Day delivering smiles and happiness around town and being home by dinner. She responded with an OMG OMG OMG are you serious can your work like OMG OMG like 8-6 each day in the store ? I think you’d be so much more help to me in the store, would you, please please, yes?
I have no floral experience whatsoever but I will say this: two things I have learned from my mother are how to identify flowers and dog breeds. I can admire a Peony and a Pug from 1000 yards away so I figured how hard could it be? However, I am not a “Valentines” kind of gal. It’s not a holiday that has ever resonated with me, so I had no idea of the scope of this particular holiday, especially for florists. No. Idea. At. All. For your edification, Valentines Day at a storefront floral shop is the equivalent of Christmas, New Years, The Superbowl, Groundhogs Day and Your Birthday all rolled into one day. It’s that big of a deal, with Mothers Day being slightly close behind.
My first education had nothing at all to do with the shop. It had to do with the fact that I had not worked a job with a set schedule in…wait for it…14 years. While Emily was especially kind to me knowing I was not a morning person she gave me the “late start” which at 8AM was still a full hour before I was used to even getting up. Since I’ve been known for my rants to photographers about not being a lazy-ass and not fucking wanting it bad enough, I was appalled by how hard it was for me to wake up and get there on time, a shop that was a mere 15 minutes from my house. I had no idea how to budget for making time for drinking coffee, checking email and FB and let my brain fog clear, showering, eating breakfast (which I am not keen at early in the AM),dressing and putting on make up (what??) packing something to eat, traffic and parking a few blocks away. By Wednesday I knew this meant with a 8AM arrival my alarm had to go off at 5:45 for my 15 minute snooze so I was up by 6 for a 7:30 departure. By the time I got home at 6:30 PM ahead of me was answering my own business emails, the blog emails, walking my dogs, preparing dinner. I could barely function to do the most rudimentary work before I fell into bed by 11 which is generally 2-3 hours before I normally go to bed.
I’ve never fully appreciated how hard it must be to have a full time day job and run another business until now, and I don’t have the added quotient of small kids in the house! For those of you that are able to do this I salute you and bow in your general direction. Having to work when my own personal productivity was not being pandered to was also a slap in the face. I couldn’t take a break when I was sick of it, I couldn’t take my normal 4PM ish 30 minute nappy, I couldn’t decide that I really didn’t want to work today and watch back to back episodes of “Sister Wives” when I just wasn’t feeling creative.
My job was to take the calls for the clients calling in for Valentines Day floral delivery. This required me to understand two things: how to work the POS software and how to Talk like a Florist. The software was pretty easy and not hard for me to learn, but learning to “Talk Florist” was probably the most valuable thing I learned in my week there. Every full or part time employee in her shop is a complete wizard at talking to clients not only in terms of flower knowledge, but in how to intuit what kind of arrangements they could guide the customers to. Oh the pretty words they used! I learned to say things like Lush, Full, Tall and Airy, Full and Compact, Romantic/Valentines Color Pallets, and my personal favorite “Designers Choice”. Here’s a clue for you if you don’t know much about buying flowers: instead of going online pick up the phone and call your friendly LOCAL florist and give them a price range and let the designers choose and you will hands-down get the a more beautiful arrangement than simply ordering the “Hugs and Kisses” bouquet you see online. They’ll pick the best looking flowers and will create arrangements based on what message you are looking to convey to the person you are buying flowers for. In short, they’ll simply give a shit more if they get a little creative freedom to design, just as we do as photographers.
And OMG do flower people LOVE flowers. Despite working with them day in and day out, when these girls opened a box of especially lovely Heather from the wholesaler it was like someone had given them a Christmas gift. They comment and compliment on each others designs. They work on their feet, with hands rubbed raw from stems designing all day long while dealing with client questions and issues, uncomplaining and fussing over every arrangement like bridesmaids around a bride. However, they also have to work with parameters for being profitable. Throwing in one extra carnation (the cheapest flower available, about .40 wholesale) in an arrangement to “prettify” it costs money and labor and over the course of the year could mean thousands lost in profit. I had to learn to be specific with clients who would say “Oh can you put a few lilies in there too, she likes lilies” letting them know that at $10 a stem “a few lilies” would mean paying for a larger arrangement.
I’ve preached this to photographers too, that every single thing you do costs you money and you need to be aware of that. Saying “I stayed for an hour later than I said I would at that wedding because that doesn’t cost me anything and it made the client happy”. Yes, yes it does cost you something. It costs you time with your family, it costs you in wear and tear on your gear, editing and uploading time in front of your computer. That extra hour that you charge $150 an hour that you throw in to 10 weddings a year just cost you $1500 plus editing time and wear and tear so to be fair, lets say $2K. I don’t know about you, but 2K can buy me a pretty nice vacation. Value your time and your expertise, people.
One thing for sure that I will put into my own business practice is simply asking “what’s your budget range” when talking to clients. Asking this simple question opened the door to help the customer understand what things cost. As photographers, we are dealing with a commodity that most people don’t buy many times in their lives so their idea of what is “reasonable”, “normal”, and “affordable” can be wildly different than what reality is and I found the same thing to be true with the flower shop clients. The next time a wedding client tells me that they want an “affordable” florist because “flowers just die anyway” I’m going to remind them that the food and the cake also “just gets eaten”. It’s true that the photos will last forever (something I unashamedly push) but there is value in every thing all vendors do.
The going rate for a dozen roses delivered on Valentines Day is about $100, which floored many people used to seeing the $20 grab-and-go section at the grocery store. The reasons for this vary from the type and quality of the flower, the labor to strip the thorns (not done for you with the grab-and-gos), arranging and putting them into vases, packaging and delivery costs and the fact that the wholesaler and florist also pays the growers a premium price for those roses at that time of year. (If you’re an entrepreneurial geek like me and like to understand how things are priced in other industries, here’s a really interesting article on why roses are at such a premium price at Valentines Day)
And let me tell you, small buisness owners ya’ll, they do it for the love. They really do. Seeing the amount of rabidly loyal customers Belle Fiori had was impressive. Every call started with me asking if they had ordered with the shop before (to pull up their client info in the database) and this often was met with scoffs and “Well of COURSE I have” like that was the stupidest question they had heard all day. Many times over and over people said things like “You’re the only place I order flowers from” and “everything I have every gotten from you has been beautiful”. These customers not only have a doctor, a dentist and a mechanic in their lives, they have a florist. Loyalty like that is gained only from hard work , a consistently beautiful product and stellar customer relations and that’s a good lesson for us all. Without getting too gushy about my friend, it’s clear a lot of that comes from how Emily treats her staff and their loyalty to her and the shop. Besides bringing in food and treats and buying lunches during the week, she made sure that people were out the door when their shift ended, and no one worked late into the night because she has in place a killer workflow that kept things going smoothly. When I arrived there on Monday they were dealing with a crisis of gigantic proportions, a very large floral order for an event had been placed in a refrigerated truck and someone broke into the truck at night and the battery died and thousands of dollars of flowers froze. The entire order had to be totally remade on the busiest week of the year.It’s a testament to Emily and her staff that the wholesalers nearly broke their necks getting her the replacement flowers and her staff scrambled to make the arrangements again. The flowers were delivered on time (and were beautiful) and the client never knew there was even a glitch.
Oh and the fun…the fun of dealing with the clueless men on the phone ordering. The guys who ordered two bouquets to be delivered to two different woman and made me swear that we wouldn’t mix them up (Dumbshit…order from two different florists if you are so worried). The guys who came in and paid for an arrangement for their wives with a credit card and another arrangement in cash. The ones who said “I can say ANYTHING I want on the card?” My standard line became “Nothing will surprise me, go ahead”. I badly wanted to tell them that they were not even close to being the first person who signed the card “Daddy”, but being a florist is kind of like being a priest, what happens in the flower shop stays in the flower shop. I had forgotten what it was like it to have co-workers to chat with, and all of them were great fun. I felt like a part of “Team Valentines Day”. We took bets on when the last person would call to try for Valentine’s Day delivery: 6:10 PM was the winner, the shop closed at 6:30. Here’s a small sampling of Shit People Said At the Flower Shop to me on the phone: How much for roses? You can’t be serious.
Can you deliver them to the Noodles right down the street in about 10 minutes? I am going there for lunch.
I’m not comfortable giving you my credit card before the flowers are delivered.
If I can’t get Peonies, then can I get something that will fool her into thinking they are Peonies?
I want her to know that I care, but only to a point, you know? So something in the $30 range but not too romantic. But still pretty. (Translation: enough to get me laid, but not enough for her to think I want to marry her)
HOW MUCH? ARE YOU KIDDING?
How many roses can I have delivered for about $20 to Racine? (A town 30 minutes away)
My son is an idiot and didn’t order his girlfriend flowers. Can you send some tomorrow and sign the card “I’m an idiot, Love, Joe”?
I know you can’t guarantee a specific time, but if I told you that she’d be there between 2-3PM would that help?
For that price she better get roses the size of my head.
If no one is home, can you just leave them outside? (It was -1 outside)
Basically, I just want all her co workers to be jealous she’s dating me. How much do I need to spend to do that? (Answer: $75 and up)
ROSES ARE HOW MUCH???!!!!
So to all my friends at Belle Fiori, thank you for a wonderful week of education, laughter and waaaaaaaaaaaay too much chocolate. My flower hangover is almost gone, I’ll see you next year!
(A short video from one of the slower times of the day on Valentine’s Day, with apologies to my talented videographer friends)