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Archive for December, 2013

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!

 

 

 

youproof

When I started in-person sales for portraits in the olden days we had to walk uphill in the snow one way for a mile to sell to our clients.

I invested in some really pricey software that was pretty much the only player in the game at the time.  I then invested a full day to learn to set it up, paid for a conference to delve into the advanced features, and it has since required pricey upgrades.  While it’s a great program, it’s really more suited for a high volume studio for it to really “pay for itself” but as I said, there wasn’t any other option.

Enter the new technology of iPad  and You Proof and BAM!  You can be off and running doing in person sales in under an hour.  Not kidding, it’s that easy.

The interface is clean and simple and I think it would be perfect for someone who is interested in doing in-person sales but is a bit intimated and hasn’t made the leap. They have short, easy to understand tutorials and you don’t even need a studio space to do the sales. You could do it in the clients  home, in a coffee shop…all you need is an iPad and you are off and running.  I’m planning on using this for my out of town portrait mini sessions that I have once a year!

So how about you get your New Year off to a great start and win yourself this nifty app?  We’ve got a few free download codes to give away.  Winners will be chosen at noon on December 31 and you have until midnight January 1 to use the code.

How do you win?  Easy.  Just leave us some blog love in the comments and be sure to leave your email address. Tell us why you want to try this app, tell us your dreams and goals for 2014 or whatever you’d like to share. Two winners will be randomly chosen!

Disclaimer Stuff: Winners will be notified via email with their download code shortly after noon on December 31. The download must be redeemed before January 1, 2014. You must have an iPad 2nd generation or higher running iOS6 or higher to use YouProof.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0429

This past blisteringly cold Saturday while I was enjoying the fact that I did not have a wedding, this email came in:

Hey Kim,

You did our pics almost 10 years ago. Wouldn’t you know that I wait until now to use the CDs to create a 10 year anniversary book for hubby that I find the online company sent us the wrong CD. The CD’s are labeled correctly but the pics are definitely someone else. I guess shame on me that I never looked at the pics but I am pretty sure you have no images from that far back now?

Thought I would drop you a note, hoping you or the online company might have them?”

As I stumbled down into my basement to my “archives” thoughts raced through my wedding photographer brain

“10 years.  WTF.  She didn’t even LOOK at the photos for TEN YEARS? ”
“I hope my contract was solid back then…did I have an archiving clause?”
“If I don’t have them, too bad for her…10 motherfreaking years, what does she expect”
“Seriously she didn’t LOOK at them for 10 years, were they that bad?”
But mostly…over and over…

 

“ohmygodohmygodohmygod I hope I have them, I hope I have them, ohmygodohmygodohmygod”

 

 

By the time I reached the Rubbermaid bin that holds The Ghosts of Weddings Past, I was sweating despite the -7 windchill outside.  My heart raced as I flipped through the CD’s of names I barely recalled.

I had them.

After some trial and error with bad naming and having to coerce my computer to read a 10 year old disk of images I had them.  And as I looked through them trying to place the wheres and whens of that wedding and to see if the photos truly sucked, a memory struck me.

This was the very first wedding that I used off camera flash on my formals.  I remember it because it was at a swanky venue in a nearby resort town that I had always wanted to work in. In fact, back in the day it was one of Hugh Hefners infamous Playboy Clubs.  I spent weeks learning how to perfect my lighting, reading online and taking seminars, and was a shaky mess setting up the strobes, lugging the heavy battery packs. I worked alone then, and this was a big endeavor for me.   In fact, truth be told I was a “natural light” photographer because I didn’t really understand strobes.  In my head, learning this one key piece of information that terrified me so (math does that to me) turned me from an amateur to a real live photographer.

I nailed those formals.  Now, we won’t talk about the fact that I had yet to have a great grasp on posing, had an unnatural love for Gaussian blur, tilts and Becker’s Sepia and Blue Split Tone Action, or the fact that my color balance sucked ass…everyone has their dirty secrets and it was one of the first years of digital, a girl gets a little carried away. But those formals…I learned something, and something with math.  It clicked.

But the most surprising revalation was this: How much I’ve invested financially and personally in other peoples memories.  How much it means to me to preserve them.

Yeah yeah, “the photos are the only thing that’s left, the cake gets eaten, blah blah blah”.  I’ve always hated that sentimental wedding bullshit photographers use in marketing, just as much as naming your packages “Gold and Silver” or “Rome and Tuscany”.  WTF does Tuscany have to do with a wedding in Milwaukee, Wisconsin?

In my Grinchy heart, I really do believe photos are that important.  This brought me back around to the nagging question:

Ten years.  She didn’t look at them for ten years.  Why?

Maybe because I thought a tilt and a sloppy boarder was “Art” back then?IMG_0212

Maybe because I thought this action would convince someone  that this was shot on Chrome?

 

IMG_0112

 

Or maybe because I actually charged her cash money for this piece of shit:

IMG_0558
So I decided to ask.

Moving. Kids.  House.  Job changes.  She looooved her photos, and cried when she looked at them again, she assured me.  Artist Angst pacified, thank you 10 lb 9oz baby Jesus.

Excuses.  We’ve all got them, right?

And then clear as day it came to me:  I decided that if my clients won’t safeguard their own memories, I am going to do it for them. I’m no longer going to offer only a shoot and burn package where I turn over the disk because despite my rationalization that “no one” would put a 3K disk in a drawer for 10 years, someone did.

Moving forward, all of my packages will include an album, no matter how rudimentary.  They’ll still get their damnable digital files, but they are not walking out of my studio without a tangible printed item to show their children (or their dogs, or strangers on the street…)

Yes, it will increase my pricing.  And I’m okay with that.  You may disagree with me, or tell me “In MY market that would never work because, blah blah blah”.  I’m okay with that too.  Every passionate business model has a “Unique Selling Proposition” and in that moment I knew what mine was.

I feel at the bottom of my soul that my job is to preserve memories and that’s what people really pay me for.