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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!

 

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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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I get in an email that says “I love your blog and I am so happy to hear that someone so successful is helping other people!” and I think “Successful?”  I just gave my children a lesson on how to use only one hand towel when washing their hands so I could save on paper towels this year.  (Seriously, watch it..it’s brilliant and my new party trick)

I remember our friend Zack Arias saying years ago that success to him was being able to pay for new tires without draining his bank account. I really can’t think of any more fitting analogy.

Am I “successful” as a photographer?  Sure, I guess.  I’ve won awards, I know how to work a camera, I’ve been in business a long time, I’m well respected and referred often in my market, I’ve taken some nice photos in my day and in general I make my clients happy. I really, really love my job.  If sucess is defined by loving my job and the fact I work from home and wear yoga pants 90% of the time, I am rich.  But in terms of numbers?   Line item 37 on  IRS Tax form 1040 tells me that I am not rich.

I talked about a really bad year in this post.  After that year, I decided I was really tired of not being rich. And by rich, I really mean “making a decent living wage” but for the sake of dramatic license, let’s just keep calling it “rich”. That shit sells better on the blog.  So I decided that I wanted to be rich, and decided to figure out what I was doing that was not making me rich.  I made all sorts of lists like

Not enough  money!

Not enough clients!

I should be blogging more!

I don’t know what SEO really means!

I should maybe have a goat farm!

The problem was I was not budgeting well.  I knew what my  COGS and CODB and FU were (that last one was to see if you were paying attention) and I really did price myself for profit, I knew that much.  I might not be rich, but I am not DUMB.

My problem was that when things were good, I had plenty of money and I didn’t pay attention to my money. I was at least smart enough after the “great tax debacle of 2007” (that’s a post for another day, but let me leave you with this number…17K) to put away for taxes and money in savings for the slow season, but I never really BUDGETED.  I mean I thought I did, I kinda did…

It took me so long to wrap my brain around the business side of all that whole CODB, COGS that I just wanted my bank account to STFU and figure it out for me.   Turns out, that doesn’t happen.   And every year I feel more like a failure because this shit just does NOT come naturally to me.

The good news is Wedding Wire just sent me a badge saying that I am one of the Top Photographers of 2013 so YAY ME!  I can’t wait to send that badge to my mortgage company in lieu of my February mortgage payment!

Every “Successful” photographer has something that they just don’t feel so successful at. In 2012 and 2013 I made huge strides in facing my fear of accounting, but it’s not over.  This year, I am going to lick it.

 

What’s your not so successful thing?

~Kim

P.S.  I’m now a big fan of the P.S.
P.P.S  Speaking of issues, Charo got a passel of emails in response to her post about ostriching when things were bad.  Seems like us artist types are a special kind of special and this is more common-place than we realized.  She’s working on a response , but as you can imagine that kind of post takes some retrospective thought and a lot of Jack Daniels. So stay tuned for that.
P.P.P.S   Marketog Ends TODAY.  If your something that you don’t feel successful at is marketing, then this is the course you need. Period.   If you’ve got a limited budget to work  with on your marketing, this course is designed to show you all the best ways to be using that small budget. Get on it, control your marketing and improve your business.  BAM!

 

 

 

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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.