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trust, honesty, respect

I’ve been a photographer for a good long while, and while I can’t profess to being good at every part of it (I suck at maternity and refuse to do boudoir) for the most part I feel good about the “Professional” part that I put in front of my chosen career when people ask what I do for a living.

Yesterday my professionalism was sorely tested by Helicopter Mom. 

Helicopter Mom called a few weeks back looking for photos for her high school senior daughter.  In the space of 5 minutes I was informed  of the following things:

Her daughter was gorgeous, and I mean GOR-GUshhhhhhhh and any photographer that was lucky enough to point their lens at her would be a very lucky photographer, indeed.

Her daughter was a world class athlete, a VERY BUSY world class athlete, who simply had a very tight time schedule that needed  to be accommodated. Oh, and she is going back to school next week so her time is going to be even more limited.

That she  had lots of “connections” within her daughters Academy that could possibly mean “big business” for me.

I wasn’t keen on booking Helicopter mom’s baby  but I’m a whore smart business person and I treated Helicopter Mom the way I would any client. I went over the packages available, made some suggestions as to locations for looks she would like and followed up via email sending my Pinterest pages for clothing suggestions along with the online scheduler with my availability for the next several weeks.  I told her that I was very booked with other clients in the coming weeks, but if there was a chance the times I had available meshed with their schedules I’d be happy to work with them.

She booked two weeks later after I totally forgot about her. I groaned when I got the notification that they booked.

The senior girl was in fact lovely but extremely nervous and not especially good in front of the camera. This was made worse by Helicopter Mom’s constant barrage of “not that smile” and “Your hair is too puffy”.  I immediately went to my go-to technique for getting a mom to shut up, I gave her a gigantic reflector and had her hold it up so it blocked her view of her daughter.  You’re welcome for that tip, by the way.

It didn’t last, she yelled from behind the reflector.  At one point told me “Make sure not to do side views, her nose is really crooked”   I sent the senior to change into another outfit and tried to chat with her about taking it down a notch and letting me do my job when she pulled out the big guns.

She took out her phone and showed me that she had brought her daughter to the location the day before and she took photos of all the poses and locations that she liked and wanted me to recreate them.

Horrible locations. Dappled sunlight. Cheesy poses like her hands on her cheeks while she looked off into the middle distance.By this point I was losing patience and I was ready to hit her with the litany of this is not what you hired me for, you pay a professional for a reason, no I won’t do that, when something made me stop. I was so pissed and so flustered that I ran out of words, unusual for me.  But I stopped and I said

“What about these photos do you like?”

Her responses were that this pose was “youthful” and this one was “Innocent” and this one was “the smile that she does when she is really happy”

And I realized that Helicopter Mom was just a mom who was having a really really hard time with her kid getting older and she was one of those types that simply didn’t like not having control.  Professional or not, I think my attitude of “I know better than you” was hindering the relationship.

I looked her in the eye and said “My last kid goes off to college on Sunday. It’s hard, isn’t it?  And Helicopter Mom and I shared a teary moment.   I said ” I’ll do these locations if they work and a few of these poses I can work with too. But you have to trust me and let me take the photos.  If you can help and get that smile that she does when she is really happy by telling her how great she looks the photos will be awesome.”

And then, it was.

Stop: Yourself from making this about you.
Drop: Your tone and body language that is off-putting to an already defensive client.
Roll: With doing things that is a compromise without compromising your final product.

In this busy season I wish for all of you… Stay Sane, Happy and Profitable!
~Kim

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Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

~Bob Dylan

In case you haven’t noticed, shit’s getting real out there in the photography industry.  While it seems that there’s never been a time where more people were entering the industry, it’s also an unprecedented time of people leaving the industry.

 

Why?
They can’t figure out how to fight anymore.  And make no mistake,  it’s a fight out there.  But what most people don’t see is the fight is not with other photographers who are doing faster-better-cheaper than you. The fight is right there in your own studio, or your own basement office, or where ever you conduct business.  The fight is when you won’t make changes our of fear,or from being overwhelmed and the world starts passing you by.

I don’t know how to say it any more plainly that this: you cannot keep doing the same thing year after year in this business and be successful anymore.

Look around you at the people who are still in the game and doing well.  They are always evolving and growing.  Maybe they’ve  added on in-person sales after their engagement photos when they used to proof them online, maybe they’ve added in boudoir sessions to their studio, maybe they’ve revamped all of their marketing collateral to freshen things up.  The photographers that I know who are successful are ALWAYS busy doing something new.   They are always changing their pricing to be more profitable, they are marketing different,  they are networking in new ways,  they are speaking and teaching other photographers.  Whatever. Whatever it takes.

You cannot just do what you did last year and wait for them to come back.

Starting tomorrow we are going to be doing Google Hangouts with photographers and people in the photo industry who are doing something right. We want to hang out with them and hear what they have to say about what they are doing to make themselves PROFITABLE.

PROFITABLE.  It’s not a dirty word, people.  In fact, it’s the word that will keep you in business.

First at bat, Joy Vertz our favorite Numbers Nerd will be joining us to talk about Beating the Winter Blues with some ideas on what you should be working on right now in your studio with spring around the corner.  Joy is one of the smartest business people I know despite her love of that stupid Washi Tape stuff.   The day I knew I wanted to be Joy Vertz when I grew up was the day a few years ago she told me ” I had a really good day because I figured out that if I raised my print prices .95 across the board this quarter I’ll make enough money to buy a hot tub”

My mind does not work like that. But you know what? I want to know people who do think like that.  Joy will be joining us tomorrow at 12:30 CST on a Google Hangout HERE.  Can’t make the hangout? No worries, we’ll be linking it to our You Tube Channel after the broadcast.

Next up miss Molly Marie, who is going to be talkin’ Boudie with us on Thursday Feb 6 at 1PM CST.  I cannot WAIT to talk to this sassy lass.  I  know squat about boudoir photography, but what I do know is that it’s one of the fastest growing segments of the photography world and I want to hear how she grew  her business in town you’ve probably never heard of in western Wisconsin. Think you can’t make it specializing in a niche photography like boudoir? You’re wrong and she’s just the gal to tell you why.  She’s going to give us the low down on what boudoir photography is (and isn’t) and how she is profitable shooting boudie.

Most importantly, these hangouts mean that Charo and I will have to appear on camera and also brush our hair.  That right there should tell you that we think  these fabulous woman  have something to say, because we really don’t brush our hair for many people.

~Kim

 

 

 

 

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February in the Midwest is a cruel month. The days are short, the weather is horrible, we’re SO over any semblance of “holiday cheer” and spring is months…and months….and months away.   We try to convince ourselves that it comes in March, but that’s rarely the case.  Most often it’s not really spring until Mid May, but like the pain of childbirth, we suppress that thought so that will bear another child or see another spring.

One particularly bad year we had so much snow that my kids were off school for several days when they were in grade school. It takes A LOT of snow to cancel school for days in a metropolitan city like ours, we ain’t no Atlanta, folks.  Home with two small boys I desperately wanted to find something to amuse them.  It was late January and Groundhogs Day was a few days away and I suggested that we get ready for “The Big Holiday”. Their eyes lit up and we began planning what would become our Family Holiday; Groundhogs Day.  We made shirts.  We made cupcakes. We researched Punxsautawney Phil. We decided to eat only brown foods for the entire week (that was gross and never repeated) we found Groundhogs Pencils and Tattoos online an ordered them and when they went back to school a few days later on Groundhogs Day, they brought in the cupcakes, gave away the pencils and and tattoos it brightened the day of all their classmates.

This went on for years.  To this day I can run into a classmate of my kids (many of them now in college) and they tell me that every Groundhogs Day they think of me and my kids bringing in cupcakes and making that obscure holiday a lot of fun.  My boys, now 17 and 20 years old, continue the love.  They wear shirts, hats and no matter where they are on the day…they call their mother.  They have no freaking clue when my birthday is, but on February 2, they call.

But here’s the truth about the Groundhog….he’s not a real popular dude.  In fact, he’s not even a very nice animal.  He’s mean, rarely right in his prognostications and he doesn’t even have the viral clout of the Honey Badger.  This year the poor dude has to share his holiday with some sportsball game that is a big deal to some people.

He’s a “B” headline at best and  almost always maligned. He’s not a lovable quadruped, Bill Murray be damned.

How many of us are feeling that way right now, not so popular?  I know lots of you are because I’m reading your status on the message boards.  Another client who said you were awesome but they “had to go with someone more affordable”.  Inquiries that you respond to that are never answered.  Great prospects that you felt a connection with that literally WILL NOT TAKE YOUR CALL now.

Anyone who tells you that when a prospective client rejects them that it’s” no big deal because there’s another client out there”  for them is

A. Lying.  B. And also, right.
It sucks. It’s horrible, it’s demeaning and it’s depressing.
But there is another client out there.

So what are you going to do about it? Are you going to lie down  and huddle up in your wah-wah Facebook Groups  and talk about how no one cares about THE IMAGE anymore or are you going to be like the Groundhog and say FUCK ALL Y’ALL I AM GOING TO BE HERE NEXT FEBRUARY 2 JUST LIKE I HAVE BEEN SINCE 1886, BITCHES!!

I’m not the Groundhog but if I were I’d tell you to start here:

1. Stop looking at other photographers work and comparing yourself.

2. Stop stalking old/potential clients on Facebook to see who they are using for photography.

3. Start reading books about the psychology of sales and marketing.

4. Stop buying gear until you have the clients to support your habit.

5. Start a To-Do list AND TO DO it. Every day. Update it every. single. day.

Peace, Love and and early Spring,

~Kim

 

Monday is the big day for us, folks.   Hold us?  Or at the very least, tune in, call in and ask stupid questions to make us look smart.

 

 

 

201380060162DrunkFriends

I “met” Charo in 2002 on an online photography forum called Zuga. She was funny and snarky, and I loved her responses to people from the moment I read them. I curiously poked around on her website to learn more about her. Her website was not funny (A Thousand Words Photography…oh, the cliche!), it was the standard website of 2002, containing lots of dreamy grainy black and white photos with sloppy borders arranged in a collage-style fashion of the day. She might have even used Papyrus font, but she’d probably deny that.

But her “About Charo” ?  She had, just as I had,written her about me in a style that made me feel like I “knew her”.  I can’t remember it exactly, but it was FUNNY and  it went something like she was in love with Eddie Vedder, she talked too much because she was Portuguese, she knew she paid the phone bill because it rang today, and that she couldn’t smell things without her glasses.  This fit in perfectly with my about me where I disclosed that I love bananas but hate banana-flavored things, that I don’t think Mel Brooks movies are funny but like people who think they are, and that I have a superstition about driving behind car carriers on the freeway.

Without knowing it, we were embracing a marketing style that later Jasmine Star would become famous doing;  Personality Based Marketing.  That’s right, we were doin’ it before Jasmine AND David Jay.  And who can retire from photography now? Not us.  Idiots….

This marketing that we didn’t know we were doing brought us oodles of clients.  Clients who would write us effusive emails, who would hug us like an old friend the first time they met us and  potential clients who asked about our kids BY NAME on the phone.   For both of us it was genuine and not contrived,  it just made sense to us that anyone buying something as personal as wedding photography would want to know us personally, right?

Our blog posts were full of the wonder of our wonder of our clients love and how wondrous our lives were for  getting to know these clients who allowed us to have this amazing, wonderful career.  We were partners!  We weren’t VENDORS…noooooooooooo, we were FRIENDS.  We were Friendors!

Until suddenly, some clients were not so wonderful.  The lines blurred, things went wrong.  We started pet naming our bad clients, the very same clients we NEVER saw warning signs with when they hired us.    There was “Light Switch Bride” who sent Charo a 62 page printout of other photographers’ images she’d found online that she liked better than Charo’s work.  I had “You Made Me Look Fat” bride  who accused me of sabotaging her wedding photos to make her look fat after I lost a bunch of weight before her wedding when she specifically hired me because “I was a chubby chick”  like her.

I started struggling with blog posts. Most of my clients WERE wonderful. But some of them…weren’t. They weren’t awful, they were just like that girl in high school who was perfectly nice, you just had nothing in common to talk to her about other than other high school friends. And while their photos were beautiful, I didn’t have 3 paragraphs of things to say about them and their weddings. Then came the day when one bride called me on it and it was one of the worst emails of my career. I thought about pulling it up to share it verbatim, but even 9 years later, I’m still cowed by it and I really don’t want to read it again. Basically, she said that she loved her photos but she wanted me to know that while she knew her wedding wasn’t probably as “interesting” as my other weddings, I could have worked a little harder to fake it in the blog post because it was one of the things she hired me for and she was embarrassed by my “dialed in blog post” (this part I remember vividly) in comparison to the other weddings I blogged.

Ouch.

And also, WHAT??!!  Clients were hiring me for my BLOG POSTS?

Charo began having similar problems, many of which she talked about in this blog post.   Lots of “But I thought you said” and “Oh, but you don’t mind, do you’s”, because you know you guys, FRIENDOR.

Without knowing it, we made our USP (Unique Selling Proposition) more about us than about our work. And when the shit hit the fan, our clients were saying “What about the relationship you promised me?” when all we thought we had to do was give them pretty pictures that fulfilled the terms of our contract.

Making the switch to a more professional demeanor without having a business lobotomy was harder for me than for Charo (she’s more of a recluse than I am). It required me to take a step back and begin presenting myself as a photographer and a professional before my personality, which I have always kind of relied on. Because when people love you, they don’t notice that your photos suck quite as much :)

Next week we’re going to be speaking at the Online Teleconference Dream Bigger where we are going to go in detail about dealing with clients who may not speak your language, clients who don’t read anything,  and how to learn to take your ego out of the equation when dealing with difficult clients.  We’re going to take all that we learned from the mistakes we made in our combined 30 years of the Wonderful World of Wedding Photography with clients  and give it to you straight about  how we corrected them.

In this conference there will be  more on “Light Switch Bride”, oh yes there will be. And “You Made Me Look Fat Bride”, and even…wait for it…”You didn’t Capture the Light of Jesus in my Son’s Eyes”  Mother of the Groom.

More information HERE.

 

 

 

 

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I didn’t get into photography to become a business owner.  I got into it because I loved it. LOVED it.  I loved creating the photos, seeing my clients faces when they saw the photos.  I got into it because it filled that place in my soul that I didn’t even know existed before I picked up a camera. I wasn’t a BUSINESS owner, I was a photographer. Sound familiar?  Maybe not for some of you.

Maybe you fell into photography one way or another and enjoy it, but in the end you think of yourselves as a business owner first, and a photographer second.  You’re probably a numbers nerd like my friend Joy and you actually like spreadsheets.  I am not one of those people. The people side of this business has always come more naturally to me and I’ve always struggled with what I call “The Math Side”. I’ve invested a lot of time and money to teach my recalcitrant left brain to grasp what comes easier to the Joy’s of this world.  Seminars, ebooks… Because at the end of the day time is money and the less time I spend on the “math” and the and the more time spent with “the people side” the  happier I am in my business.

 

Here was the shocker that I had yet to learn in the early days of my business; Being a “people person” didn’t prepare me for having to be a buisness person who has to deal with people.

 

So why do so many photographers have clients that suck?

1. They don’t know how to price themselves for profit and become resentful of their clients demands because they feel overworked.
2. They don’t know how to market to the right clients and accept anyone who will give them money.
3. They don’t project authority and let the client dictate what they want (AKA:  The customer is always right)
4.  They can’t take their fragile artist ego out of the equation when things go wrong to honestly appraise why it went wrong.

 

In a few weeks, Charo and I are going to be speaking at the Dream Bigger Conference on “The Absence of Awesome: Dealing with difficult clients”  In between stories of “Light switch Bride”, “You Made me look Fat”, bride and “You didn’t capture the Light of Jesus” Mother of the Groom, we’ll help you find the words to use when speaking with clients. You’ll be better equipped to identify who needs that extra hand holding before your work with them and how to deal with clients who have problems after your product is delivered.

 

What you will learn by listening:

  • If you’re having the same issues over and over, what’s the common denominator?
  • How to speak to a client who just doesn’t speak your language
  • When to take yourself out of the equation
  • No one reads anymore: how to get your clients to stop asking questions you’ve already answered

You can listen to the conference live, or you can download to listen later.  The speaker line up is awesome, I can’t wait to tune in for a bunch of them.   Hope to see you there!

 

P.S Speaking of my friend Joy, she’s starting a new course called “3 Weeks to Pricing Perfection” soon.   If you want a freebie preview of what a freaking Numbers Nerd Genius she is, download her free Pricing for Profit ebook.   More information on her 3 Weeks to Pricing Perfection coming soon!

 

5952516-a-whole-pecan-pie-on-a-white-background

You wanted to know, and the story goes a little bit like this:

1996: Girl starts a photography business with nothing more than A Camera and A Dream.  Married, she has two small boys.

(Sidenote:  I have a penchant for buying random urls for funny phrases I like in case it makes it big time. I purchased www.acameraandadream.com  after a random drunken post in a forum yelling at newbies about how “How photography was more than A Camera and A Dream” back in 2010, some 3 years before this blog was birthed.  I also own www.masonjarsandgazebos.com and www.almostsusanstripling.com.  Please contact me for detail on how to purchase)

2003: Girl leaves her part time job at a studio as a printer/photographer to pursue her dream as a photographer for her own business.  She is at the pivotal point that she is losing business because she is working at the studio, and it’s becoming a clear conflict of interest .  She is clueless about her business and her spouse handles all of the “math stuff” that she likes to avoid.

2004:  Business explodes and Girl doubles her pricing . This is the year both her babies are  finally, blessedly, in school full time. She works like a dog to grow the business. She knows that this is her calling, and what she was meant to do.

2005: Girls marriage is failing  (married too young, blah blah blah).  They call it quits.  Ex spouse hands over the spreadsheets for the business with his usual  admonishing statements of “THE PIE IS ONLY SO BIG KIM, YOU CAN’T JUST KEEP IGNORING THIS STUFF”, which is exactly one of the reasons it didn’t work out, all his harping about that kind of thing.   I mean geez, ART, do you not understand my ART?

2006:  Girls business explodes. She doubles her prices AGAIN.  The divorce is now final and she is a single parent.

2007: She surpasses the amount her spouse used to make and feels like she’s the Queen of the world.  She’s shooting awesome weddings, taking care of her children with a killer income.

However, the Girl…she didn’t really count on one thing.  That killer income? She wasn’t paying the proper amount of estimated tax.

Turns out, the fucking pie really is only so big.

The Girl owed 17 THOUSAND DOLLARS to the IRS.

The IRS?  They don’t play.  They’d like their money NOW, thanks.  Otherwise they do most unpleasant things like levying your bank accounts and attaching liens to your home.

That year, I became a business owner.

You never, ever, know where life is going to lead you.  My best advice to anyone now who is entering in this field  would be to become a buisness owner first, and a photographer second.   For every moment you spend looking a photo blog wishing you could have a 1.2 lens to have that buttery bokeh spend the same amount of time on a marketing and sales blog.

 

Open your mind not just to the art, but the BUSINESS of the art.

 

The business is not nearly as glamorous as those 23 likes on Facebook from your friends and family for a killer photo that you post, I know.  Artists crave acceptance like pie.

Me? I now like my pie with a big ole’  serving of bills paid Ala mode.

 

~Kim

P.S.  My favorite pie?  Coconut Cream.  Yours?  Leave it in the comments!

 

P.P.S.  I paid off that debt in full in 2009, the IRS gave me a payment plan. They charged me monstrous amounts of penalties and interest but they did work with me.  When I made the final payment on the phone the agent said “Would you like to know the total amount of penalties and interest you paid over the terms of this agreement? I answered “No, it’s probably best that we don’t discuss that so  I don’t kill myself” To her credit, she laughed.  To this day, I honestly do not know what that amount is.  Some things are just best left alone.

 

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Charo

I spent more time contributing to photo forums than working on my business: Hey, when you work alone, you’re LONELY… and the photo forums of days past were my water cooler.  I spent most of my working hours reading, writing, and socializing on those boards, and wrongly believed that all the time I was spending there was fruitful.  But instead of gleaning knowledge from other photographers and applying it to my own business, I just got swept up in drama, social cliques, and the relentless quest of proving how much smarter I was than everyone else.  Even after quitting all the photo forums, I still found myself wasting days away on Facebook, caring WAY TOO MUCH about what some guy ten states away was doing with his business (or how someone I wouldn’t recognize on the street stole something from someone else I wouldn’t recognize on the street), and letting the mechanics of my business fall by the wayside.

I let my clients become friends: Now, this isn’t evil in and of itself, but we all know that lines get blurry once you move past a business relationship and into one of friendship.  Because they were my friends, I was lax on policies.  I gave away my time without compensation.  I was vague on terms and conditions.  Clients had a longer rope, and I let them pull on it because FRIENDS.  And, worst of all, those friendships I’d cultivated turned quickly back to business-only when I was late on an album design, or when I didn’t get a shot on their stupid shot list (that I claimed not to accept, but FRIENDS do stuff for friends, right?)  I still have client-friends, and I’ll never treat a client like a “prospect” – but I’m a lot more careful to set the boundaries right from the start of the relationship, and to complete our contractual arrangements before considering them to be my “friends”.

I ostriched myself when the shit hit the fan: I had a bad year.  I really hate the overuse of the word “epic”, but 2005 was bad in EPIC proportions.  By October of 2005, every last client from that year was mad at me.  I’d received no less than five letters from attorneys demanding things I was contractually obligated to provide, but too poor/depressed/fucked-in-the-head to work on.  And rather than facing the bad year head-on, I hid from it for months, letting clients get angrier and angrier, and digging a hole so deep it took me till 2008 to fully dig out.  I couldn’t muster the will to make a single phone call to an angry client, because I was afraid of being told that I was awful.   Hiding from my clients when things got bad was a natural response for someone who was raised by a woman who wouldn’t open the bills because that would mean she actually DID owe money that month; but it was the most damaging thing I could do during a critical time in my personal and professional life.

 Kim

I believed other photographers on the internet were more successful than me:   Because really, who wouldn’t based on what they said?  Truth: anyone who has been in this business for a decent amount of time has had days where they questioned their worth.  Worried that they were going to be found out for not knowing off camera lighting (or whatever).  Worried  that the IRS would come after them.  Had a consult where they knew that clients retainer would make or break their rent payment that month. The ones that tell you it’s never happened to them?  They are lying, or they have another source of  dependable income.  Living on a variable income is HARD.

I thought it was all about the photos: It’s not. It never will be just about the photos, not anymore.  Yes, your photos have  to be decent.  How many photographers do you know that you see their work and you shake your head?  THAT photo got 3000 likes?  It’s not just about the photos, it’s about the marketing, the customer experience, the way you make people feel about your photos.   Anyone can make what the public now perceives as a great photo. You can rail and call the name of Ansel Adams in vain, but the truth remains that unless you can use both sides of your brain, the creative and the businessperson side, you will struggle.

I asked for help way too late:   Pride is such a shithead, and I thought it was just me who was struggling.  Once I opened up my  mouth to ask for help from some colleagues  that I had known for years I found out that they were having similar issues. From that point on, it became like Team America in my town. I know you are saying “Oh, the competition in my town is way too fierce for that, no one would ever share their stuff “. You know what?  That’s bullshit. Last month one of my competitors Riitta  gave a  super low cost seminar on In Person Sales for weddings to any photographer in our Facebook group who wanted to come.  Why?  Because in her view if we all required this it would set the bar high for photographers in our town. If you don’t have a Riitta in your town, you be Riitta.  Make some calls, plan some coffee dates and make some photographer friends. My frenemy Doug (who I talked about in this post)  put it this way ” The better we, the professional photographer community, are collectively, the less likely we’ll lose work to non-professionals.”  

(Awww.  He’s so cute with his million bajillion Facebook fans. Too bad he doesn’t know how to use a comma)

Here is the thing we want you to most understand about why we are here with this blog:  WE GET IT. Gah, so trite.  But really, Charo and I both landed lucky 13 years ago when we hooked up with a group  of professionals that to this day we can reach out to online, on the phone and by IM.  Many of you are telling us that you don’t have that.  That you feel isolated, alone and like everyone else gets it and you don’t.

That. Has got. To suck.

Join us, and let’s talk. We’re going to be implementing more interactive things like Google Hangout chats and podcasts and hell, who knows what else.

P.S.  Last days for our friend Jamie’s class on Marketog. By the time this  post goes out, it might even be sold out, because  it usually does and when Jamie posts stuff she blows up the internets :)  If there is still room, we URGE you to consider this class if you need to change the entire face of your business.   It will rock your socks, guaranteed, or Jamie will give you money back.  We will not give you money back because we are giving you this shit for free.

You’re welcome.

 

 

Rowing and Canoeing

From the moment the couple walked in, the dynamic was weird.  They barely responded to my warm you up chit-chat  “Did you find parking okay” and “Have a seat, can I get you something to drink?”  They  bee-lined over to the couch and started pawing through albums.   By the time I sat down and started with the “So, tell me about your wedding plans”  he had out a printed Excel spreadsheet and was peering across the line items and asked me “Is this the album that is included in the 8 hour package?”  When I said yes, he scribbled some notes on the spreadsheet and began peppering me with questions, completely ignoring my question about the wedding plans.  I tried to steer the conversation towards finding out more about them.

She said not a word and just quietly looked at albums.

He was having none of it.  He ignored my every attempt to find out about the wedding plans, instead bringing every question back around to pricing and what they “got”.  He then showed me where I landed in his spreadsheet of photographers. I was 41st  out of 50 .”This is arranged by price, so we need to know exactly what we get as you are almost the most expensive one in town”

That’s when I was done with them.

I smiled and said ” If you’re looking for the cheapest photographer, I won’t be one of them”.  He scoffed and said he knew that, but what he didn’t understand was why my albums were so much more expensive than other photographers. I told him I had no idea what other photographers costs were.  He waved the spreadsheet and said ” Well, I can show you if you want.  Then maybe you’ll be able to explain how your albums are twice as expensive as some of the others on here”  I said ” This is not a commodity.  If you don’t see value in my work, then it’s probably best that we part now so we don’t waste each others time”

They stood up and left.  She never once made eye contact with me and the entire consultation lasted 7 minutes.

What would have left me shaken and upset  back in 2003 was nothing more than a good story to share with my photographer friends later that day.  I’ve marketed to NOT that client for so long that getting one  felt like being punked because I’ve carefully crafted each part of my online presence  to not appeal to Mr Asshole Spreadsheetface.

Online forums and Facebook groups are full of photographers whining about how they are being treated by clients and their unreasonable demands and how they can’t seem to break away from the price-shoppers and blah blah blah blah blah.  All their clients are assholes, it seems.

If something keeps happening to you over and over in your business that you don’t like, there’s one common denominator and it’s you.

 

Going from that namby-pamby photographer who drove across town on Christmas Eve to the one that wasn’t going to waste 10 minutes of her time on a client I could never make happy was a process that involved a lot of self-discovery and a lot of research on how to market to the clients I wanted.   Believe it or not, before I found out how much I love telling photographers on the internet how wrong they are, I was a pretty nice person.  In fact, I was kind of a pushover.  So what changed?

I stopped thinking that saying yes to everyone equaled being a good person.

How did I find this out? I figured out that saying yes wasn’t making everyone happy, and it sure as shit wasn’t making me happy.  In fact, the more I said yes and buried myself in work, the more resentful I became of my clients.

I realized that discounts had no worth when I gave them just because someone wanted one.

Instead of being grateful for the “great deal” I gave them, clients asked for more.  More discounts.  More time on the day.  More retouching for free.  They were like children who had a parent who always gave in, and they pushed every button they could to get more out of me.  More resentment.

I learned to rarely say no, but rather to say how much.

When clients asked for special favors I learned to say that it would be my pleasure to include that service for “x”.  In fact, if you have kids you likely do this negotiation all the time without realizing it.  When your toddler demands a snack and wants a cookie you say ” You can have an apple or a piece of cheese.  Cookies are only for after dinner.  Would you like the apple or the cheese?”   It sounds simplistic but it works.  “I’d be happy to change little Johnny’s shirt from red to blue in photo #12.  The fee for the artwork for this is $25.  Would you like me to add it to your final total or invoice you separately for it?”

I learned that I am the boss of me and my business.

You can thank me later for this.   Here’s the phrase I use when a client comes back and questions a procedure that I have in place, 99% of the time one that they were told about in advance:

“It’s my studio policy”

 

It’s my studio policy that I do not proof portraits online.

It’s my studio policy that I do not discount wedding packages for Fridays and Sundays

It’s my studio policy that if you do not place your album order within one year of your wedding I will fulfill that album for you and ship it out to you.

It’s my studio policy that I do not do engagement sessions on the week ends.

 

And you know why it’s my studio policy?  Because it’s my freaking business and I said so. This phrase is not nearly as threatening as “You signed a contract and I am holding you to this”. You can pull out the contract card if you have to, but using the phrase “studio policy” first implies that this is how you treat all your clients fairly across the board.

I turned 40, and I learned it wasn’t personal.

I urge you not to wait this long if you are nowhere near 40.  But there is something to be said for age being empowering and it sure is a lot easier to say no to clients who are closer to my kids age than they are to me.

 

Starting today, our pal Jamie at The Modern Tog is opening an amazing class called Marketog.  If you’re feeling like you’re struggling with this issue of not reaching your ideal clients, you need to check this out.  It’s an intensive course, and starts at week one with this particular problem that many of us face, but branches out into so, so much more.  Stuff that literally took me 10 years and heartache to mire through Jamie covers in 6 weeks.  It’s everything you need to be doing in your marketing: defining your clients, getting your website up to date to attract those clients, turning inquires into clients, and more.

It’s the new year folks, this is the PERFECT time to get on this.  It’s self guided so you can go at your own pace, and there is a money back guarantee.  I also want you to know that it’s studio policy to disclose to you that this is an affliate link which means if you sign up  we get a wee bit ‘o income so we can pay the hosts and such for this blog so I can continue to tell photographers why they are wrong on the internet. It’s kind of like you are paying for my therapy, so you can probably write that off, too.  Ask your accountant about that.

 

ALSO…tomorrow at NOON we do the big giveaway for You Proof…Get on it, people!  We’ve got two free downloads to give away!

 

 

 

nachos

My death row meal would be nachos.  In the last minutes of my life, I want a giant plate of crispy tortillas, gooey cheese, salsa, beans, meat and extra sour cream and jalapenos.  I want to wash them down with a gigantic ice-cold beer.

But I’ll also eat those nachos that they sell in gas stations. That’s right,  those disgusting ones that come in a paper boat with the orange cheese food pumped on.  Go ahead, judge me.  I will eat fantastic nachos, okay nachos and even shitty nachos.  If you put enough sour cream on a shoe and told me it was nachos, I’d probably eat it and proclaim it “pretty good”

This same theory has been my marketing plan for a good part of my career.  Start with the base and throw things on it and sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s just okay and sometimes it’s a fail with a lot of sour cream. I often feel like I am just guessing with no real idea of what I doing will work, throwing jalapenos at the wall and hoping they will stick.

Like a toddler stamping their feet all I want to do is put up a website, show pretty pictures and have people hire me.

Setting a marketing plan is hands-down my least favorite thing to do every year (taxes notwithstanding). It’s the one piece that frustrates me, eludes me and paralyzes me to the point of inaction.

 You know what I mean by inaction, right?  Those are the days you spend surfing Facebook and watching You Tube Videos of kittens while eating cookies and feeling the self-loathing bank fill up. 

 

And because I live in the Midwest this also generally happens in the deep of winter when there is very little sunlight and blistering cold and snow.  Add in days of wearing the same pair of yoga pants and  not leaving the house and some cheap Costco vodka and BAM!  Welcome to my world, hope you have a strong liver.

This feeling is by far the worst part of being a business owner for me.  When I started doing in person sales (That’s IPS if you want to use the lingo the kids use these days) my big hang up was “I didn’t want to be pushy”.  I don’t like being sold to, and I didn’t want to be seen as some money-grubbing-used-car-salesman-photo-pusher.   Not only was I hung up on this feeling, I was feeling  overwhelmed at the amount of “stuff” I’d have to invest in like a flat screen, projector, and the costly software. “You’ll get it back after a few sales”  is all well and good, but what if that investment is going to wipe out my savings RIGHT NOW? Excuse me while I am a bit skeptical of that argument when I’d like to be able to keep the heat on in December in Wisconsin.

When I started dipping my toes in IPS, I came across this article from The Modern Tog that took the “big purchase” equation off the table.  Armed with nothing more than 5×7 proofs, I started my IPS sessions  and I tripled my average sale and instantly became another of those annoying blathering testimonials for why they work.  Clearly, I had to get past my own shit first.

With marketing you’re dealing with a lot of  complex unknowns.  I decided recently to only offer complete wedding coverage, meaning I am not offering shoot and burns for weddings any longer.  This is throwing me into a whole new genre of clients, and the unknown is scary.   This ultimately is where my fear is coming from, and my artist brain has rebelled by going on lock-down and refusing any more rational thought until quarts of Carmel Sea Salt Gelato are administered and I find another resource that kicks me into gear.

What’s your hang up?  Do the kids say “hang up” anymore?   What’s the thing you want to conquer in your marketing in 2014?

 

 

 

tab

Other than the two years I lived in the dorms in college, I have had at least one dog that lived with me.

Usually two, sometimes three.  And a cat…you know, here or there.  Oh those cats…they come, they go.  My last one walked in the door 10 years ago and announced he lived with me by jumping up on the couch and licking his balls as if he’d never left.  Despite being allergic to cats I admired his moxie, so he stayed. I’ve had 3 free range rabbits in my home and I’d really, really like a hedgehog.

So when Tab, my 13 year-old Springer/Brittney Spaniel started to age and had some failings I was very pragmatic about it.  “Well, you know, she’s just getting old, that’s what happens” I said.  Having had animals my whole life I’ve held some as they were euthanized and while it was difficult, I always knew was the right thing because they were very ill.

About a year ago, Tab’s bark changed and she did this annoying “Darth Vader Breathing” off and on.  It seemed to be just when she was agitated, like when I didn’t give her enough treats. Tab embraced old age like a Grand Dame demanding her due. She seemingly could turn this annoying breathing on and off according to her whim and the volume of Milk Bones administered until a few days ago.  When I saw she was gasping more than normal and refused a scrambled egg for breakfast I took her to the vet.  Immediately the diagnosis of laryngeal paralysis was administered by our hometown vet and she was off to a  specialist.

In the course of that 6 hour day from vet to vet, options and procedures were explained to me.  What became clear was that I had a perfectly healthy dog who was having trouble breathing because of a  common side affect of aging that could be reversed with surgery that put a small suture in her throat.  For $3600.  Or, I could put her down. Despite her age, she was healthy and I could not reconcile putting a healthy animal to sleep. But that price tag…I cannot lie, it still sickens me.

Every single time I turned around the vet called with an update and there was a suggestion of another procedure I “should consider”. $150 for “advanced blood-work” because her liver panels were “Oh, just a bit  elevated”.  $325 for an abdominal ultrasound “In case there is some kind of blockage”.  $325 for a “panel on her adrenal glands” and a suggestion for a dental cleaning that I stopped them from even quoting me for.

In each case, the Dr presented me with the options, but it was very clear that he would not make a decision for me nor would he guide me to the “what he would do” place. I finally got him to crack  when I bargained  for a free mani-pedi for her along with the procedure because if was spending that kind of money at least she could have pretty toes and the vet laughed and agreed to that.

I get that Veterinary Medicine is not an exact science and I know that these Doctors were covering their own asses as well as dealing with the what-if’s of a surgery on a older dog, but  I couldn’t help feel that at times I was being held hostage.  After committing to $3600, was I going to say NO to $3800? Of course not. I’ve done my own fair share of double-speak and I know when a Dr is saying ” This is your choice, and I can’t make it for you because you might sue me if I am wrong”.

That’s when it hit me.

Is this how our clients feel?  Mired in an emotional quagmire in a place they have never been before do they feel “hostage” to spending money on an event like wedding?  Do they feel like they have “no choice” but to spend thousands more than they planned on to get the photos that they want? Another $300 for those digital files, another $200 if you want an engagement session…

Do they understand what we mean when we tell them what a “file” or a “proof” is and are we taking the time to explain to them what the benefit our services are to them?

I’ve long been an advocate of the fact that photography is a luxury service.  You do not have to have a fancy wedding to be married, you don’t need photos to be married, and you do not have to spend $3800 on your dog to keep her alive to prove you love dogs.  These are, as the kids say, #firstworldproblems

So the next time I have a client sitting in front of me that seems overwhelmed or even angry at the process of hiring a photographer, I’m going to be a bit more sympathetic.  Maybe my price tag sickens them and I need to be a bit more sensitive to that.

Maybe I’ll even offer them a mani-pedi on the house.