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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!

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

blahblah

I’ve just come across yet another “Why do professional photos cost so much” post written by a photographer.

It’s a decent piece really.  Well written with great photos that illustrate how talented the shooter is, and some good points.  But here’s the thing…guess who cares about why professional photos are sooooooooooo expensive?

Photographers. And if that’s who you are marketing to, cool.  (Hey, right there with ya).  If you’re selling workshops, e books, whatever,then you go with your bad self.

Guess who doesn’t care?

Everyone else.

When I got the estimate from my dentist for a root canal I need he didn’t point to his degrees, talk to me about his overhead and his staffing expenses, his estimated taxes or his educational seminars he attends yearly to justify why the root canal would cost me a cool 2K.  I know that’s what I am paying for.  And I know that if I go down the street to the Dental School I’ll pay a lot less, and I’ll take a lot more chances that it will turn out okay.

So why do we think explaining things like “why our 8×10’s cost $65”  is important?  Answer? It’s not.  The clients who you are trying to explain that to are not your clients.  They never will be, no matter how much you blog.  It could be that they don’t value photography the way your clients do. It could be they can’t afford your prices. (Pro photographs are a luxury item, folks) It could even (gasp!) be that they don’t see the difference between your work and a $99 shoot and sharer.

If I walk into a Coach Purse store ranting and raving about how stupid it is to pay $300 for a purse when I could get one at Target for $30 do you think they are going to sit me down and educate me as to why their bag is so much more than a Target purse?  They might.  And maybe when they do that I’ll be the 1 out of 100 that changes my mind and pulls out a credit card and buys it.

However the time they would have wasted educating the other 99 before me who didn’t buy is not worth my sale. Their careful branding takes care that they appeal to people who want to pay $300 for a bag.  And their branding does not include justification on why they are worth it. 

Preaching to choir is just that.  Move on and work on something else you’ve been putting off that will bring you clients.

 

artistbrain

Ever done one of those Briggs Myers personality tests that describes your traits?  Pretty fascinating stuff.

Hey baby, I’m a ENFP, how ’bout you?

After being in the photography business awhile I’ve noticed similar traits with most of my friends who are in the biz who describe themselves as an “Artist” first and foremost:

Prone to periods of great bursts of activity and productivity, followed by periods of despair, self loathing, drinking and getting abso-fucking-lutely nothing done.

Read more…

whodoyouthinkyouare

Mike, Ellie and I just got back from an impromptu lunch date with former wedding clients who happen to be in town today.  They live a few hours from us, and have a newborn.  In the weeks leading up to their due date, she started calling and emailing around to portrait photographers up there, hoping to secure an at-home session when they brought the baby home from the hospital.

NO ONE CALLED BACK.

After her disappointment at being ignored by at least three different portrait photographers whose websites all indicate that they’re DYYYYING to photograph her new little one, she happened upon a photographer who actually DID call her back, and let her hand over some money for a (lovely) portrait session.

The point is, it shouldn’t have been that hard for her to get a call back.  We’re not talking about ignoring the call from the power company here.  The worst thing that could happen when you get back up with a potential client is, they don’t hire you.  The best thing that could happen?  Fucking MONEY.  Staying in business.  Having a great experience, creating beautiful images, meeting new people, getting referrals, making even more money.

What is wrong with people.

Read more…

burnout

The phone rings, I’m annoyed.

A client emails asking a question I’ve already answered and I’m muttering under my breath and pounding an answer out like Schroeder from the Peanuts on my keyboard.

It’s here, my friends.  Mid-season burn out.  Summer is coming to an end, fall is on the horizon and the next wedding-less week end seems as far away as the first snowfall.    Every Saturday the chicken is saucy, the dress is white, Beyonce wants him to put a ring on it, and the Black Eyed Peas Have a Feeling, they want to get it Started in Here.

I’m swamped.   The editing is piling up, the laundry is piling up, I’ve got weddings, portrait sessions, new client consults and for some reason I thought launching a business blog this month would be a good idea.  Idiot.   This is the stuff I was dreaming about in February and now that it’s here I’m annoyed by a client call because all I can think of is how I just need to get some damn WORK done and I wish they’d leave me alone.

Yeah, I want paying clients to leave me alone. That’s wacked.  Time to do some readjusting.

So let’s go over some plans to work through this burn out without alienating our clients and to keep spirits and creativity up.

Read more…

Here’s an honest question for you: why do so many wedding photographers blanket their marketing and branding in Jesus?

In the ancient times (c. 2008 and prior), it was well known and accepted that your personal belief system had no place in your business marketing.

Smart businesses were businesses – not personalities.

While we all know that Steve Jobs was an atheist, we have no idea what religion Apple is.  I couldn’t tell you if Coca Cola worships the Christian God or Allah, or maybe Coke leans toward the Eastern zen beliefs.  Pepsi is clearly Taoist with that abstract yin-yang symbol, right?  Adidas?

But somewhere in the late 00’s, wedding and portrait photographers the world over seemed to decide that they were *personalities* and not businesses.

They showered their websites and blogs with Christian passages, prayers, symbols of their faith.  It was the complete antithesis to everything we’d been taught in business.  Those of us who chose to keep our personal lives personal and our business lives clean and simple, were dumbfounded.  Even the old-timers who were devout Christians found the new trend a bit distasteful.

Read more…

Charo’s story:

The scene: a 6th floor hotel room at the Hilton in downtown Wilmington.  The bride’s mom and friends are arranging the wedding gown so the bride can step into it.

I’m standing on a chair, wedged into a corner, one camera hung over my left shoulder, slapping my hip every time I move; the other poised for the moment when the bride is “decent” enough to hear a shutter click and I can get those beautiful, window-lit, iconic dressing room images.

Up till this point, I’d been feeling pretty great about myself.  I knew I was getting some awesome coverage, the bride and I were getting along like old friends, and even her bridesmaids seemed like they could be personal friends of mine – we’d all have fun over beers at the bar, you know?  I belonged.

Bride steps into her dress, and her helpers pull it up and start zipping it.

Her boobs aren’t quite where they need to be in the cups.

It’s a pretty common problem, and one I happen to know the quick fix for (every wedding photographer does).  I say, “Hey, pull the bodice down real quick, and bend over – like this (demonstrating) – and let them just fall into the cups!”

Her mom looks at me with this knowing smile and says “Oh, she doesn’t need ANY help in the boob department… her boobs are young and perky, they’re not sad and saggy like OURS.”

 

AWKWARD RECORD SCRATCH MOMENT

It ruined my whole day.

 

 Kim’s Story:

I’ve just had an awesome meeting with a potential client.  She’s funny, irreverent, exactly my target bride.

 We’re chatting like old friends and she’s talking about her favorite photos of mine on my blog from the last two years.

After 17 years of being a professional wedding photographer I am thinking “Yessssssssssssssssssssssss. The non-Pinterest inspired bride is still out there!  The one who really CRAVES real moments in photography.  She gets me. I get her. ”

Pricing was talked about and discussed like grown ups.  She reiterated several times that photography was the most important thing to her and what she and her fiance were willing to spend good cash money on.

For just a little moment, it was like it was 2008 again.  *sheds a tiny tear*

She calls the next day as promised and after a few BFF niceties she says “ So here’s one thing I have to ask of you.  I’m Italian and it’s really important to me to have pieces of my heritage included in my wedding.  So one of the things we want to have is a Gelato Bar”

I squeal, she squeals, we all squeal for…Gelato. I assure her that’s a brilliant idea, the guests will love it.

“So, here’s the thing.  The Gelato Bar is going to cost us $600. So I’m wondering if you can reduce the cost of your package $600 to help us out.”

I’ve mentioned that I’ve done this professionally for 17 years, right?

I’m the one friends come to when they want to learn how to say something to a client in a professional manner.

I’m the cool headed, been around the block, ain’t-no-chick-in-a big-white-dress-gonna-scare-me-kind-of-photographer.

 I honestly thought that nothing, nothing would surprise me anymore .  All of my moxy went straight down the drain as these words flew unbidden out of my mouth:

“I’m sorry, did you just ask me to pay for your Gelato Bar?”

The conversation went quickly downhill from there.  And as you might have guessed, she didn’t hire me.

 

We’re two photographers who’ve been around in this industry for a long time.

That used to be a good thing, remember?

Now we’re hearing the same thing over and over from long time veterans; that they can’t figure out where their place is anymore.  They can’t reach the brides, the work doesn’t matter anymore.

We have old saggy boobs and brides wanting us to pay for their Gelato Bars.

This job is funny.

Funny ha-ha, funny weird, and funny are-you-fucking-kidding-me.

But those two awkward record scratch moments were our own funny A-HA moments.

We’d love to hear about some of yours as we navigate our way in this brave new Instagrammed world trying to do the job we love in a rapidly changing market.