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Archive for May, 2014

Puppy Poses 1

As I sit at my computer filling out the financial aid forms for my youngest son to go to UW Madison in the fall, my almost 14 year old dog wanders upstairs on shaky legs.  Her grizzled gray snout looks over at me, and I can see the lumps and bumps on the side of her ribcage, the fatty tumors that have popped up more and more in the last few years.  She had a scare a few months ago, and I paid more than I every thought I would to save her at this age.  She wags her little stumpy Springer Spaniel nub of a tail at me, and squats and pees on the carpet next to me.  She does it with no remorse  and without asking to go out as she has done since she was trained as a pup soon after we got her.  When she is done, she goes to lay in her dog bed near me.   I sit silently not reproaching her and go and get the carpet cleaner that’s been used almost daily lately.  Despite the noise, she sleeps through me cleaning up the mess.

Suddenly I know that by fall not only will I have an empty nest with no kids, I will have one less dog.   How did this go so fast?  How did my life go from lunchboxes and field trips and dog park runs and exhausting midnight to 3AM editing sessions (because that’s when the house was quiet) to grown men going off to college and the end days of my freckled-faced pup?

“You’ve gotten so big!   They really do grow up so fast, don’t they?”

Remember when grown ups said that when you were young and how eye-rolling  STUPID it was?

Turns out, they were right.  Now I have to use reading glasses more often than not, and I am constantly asking my son if he doesn’t need a light on to read his book in the living room.   At 47 I’m starting to seriously think about retirement because if those damn kids grew up THAT fast,  then I bet my AARP card and Depends are right around the corner.

TMI Public Service Announcement: You know who else was right?  Doctors.  Do your Kegels, ladies.  Just trust me on this one.

This isn’t meant to be depressing. My dog has had a long life and has been well loved, and that’s the best gift we can give to an animal.  My boys are smart and handsome and independent and will go on to do great things with their lives.  And if I pee a little when I sneeze now, my friends still love me.

In examining the last 18 years that seemingly has gone by in minutes, the same holds true with my business.  If I had listened, had really listened to the “grown ups” when it came to my business, I would have done a lot of things sooner.  I talked about my great tax debacle here so let’s start with that:

Taxes:  The minute you start taking pay for your photography services is the minute that you need to start considering that some of that money does not belong to you. While this will vary by your state, country, etc, you need to get it right sooner rather than later.  Pay someone who knows what they are doing to tell you what you should be doing. Set up a  separate account and get into the habit of automatically funneling money into that account so that when the taxman cometh you have money set aside for it.

An Accountant: Seriously, just get one.  I know your husband usually does the taxes, but unless he is a CPA convince him  not to. For less than $500/year you can get a good one and the benefits and write offs you are probably missing are worth it.

Roth IRA: I cringe when I think how late I started mine.  Part of it was that I got divorced, and I had counted on the retirement fund of my now ex husband. So yeah, I’m gonna say it… some things just don’t last forever and it wouldn’t hurt to have something of your own in case.  You  need to talk to a licensed tax adviser to find out the ramifications for you and your business.

HSA: Sometimes it feels to me that my head will explode if I have to tackle one.more.thing. that I don’t understand like something that is so outside my comfort zone like insurance and health care.  It boggles me like a 9th grade calculus exam.  But after I started my HSA (Health Savings Account) I was boggled that it was that easy.  Basically a health savings account is a place where you put money to pay medical expenses and that money is not taxed.  It didn’t seem to me that it would make a big difference, but I was shocked last year at how much it did save me with co-pays and medical expenses, glasses prescriptions and prescription drugs. There are some limitations to some, so you have to read over what is included and not included.  But it’s as easy as a checkbook and debit card that you use to pay expenses.  And there are also certain write-offs on it you can take as a business owner, ask your accountant about that.

Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University:  This is a bit of a weird plug.  (And no, it’s not an affiliate link but one can dream) I took this class a few years ago and it changed the way I looked at money and how I ran my business. Not being a numbers nerd by nature, I have to be hit over the head to understand.  It took me years to understand that some of that money was not mine for taxes, and apparently another few years to understand that just because I had 5K in my checking account didn’t mean I could go for a week in Key West.  I will warn you that it is a Christian-based class, but the church-y parts didn’t really bother me as someone who is non-practicing.  The classes are inexpensive (around $100 per couple) offered at many different places (usually churches) and consist of watching Dave Ramsey’s videos (and he’s a funny, dynamic speaker) and then breakout groups.  While I don’t abide by every principal he teaches, the simplicity of it is amazing once you apply it to your life.  And right now my Key West envelope has over $800 in it!

Stop Being a Gear Whore: Just stop.  Stop buying lenses and lighting that a commercial studio would not invest in and more bags and bigger and better bodies. Make do with what you have unless what you have is so dismal that you cannot make photos.  And if you can’t, borrow or rent.   As time has gone on I’ve found myself using less and less and being a happier photographer.  Dave Ramsey says I can’t have that 5D Mark III until spring of next year and numbers don’t lie.  For now, what I have will work.
What have you learned over the years?  What do you wish you had done differently? Leave them in the comments, we’d love to learn from you.

Stay Sane, Happy and Profitable,
Kim

P.S. Here’s some great management tools for your buisness that you might want to check out:  Modern Tog’s Easy Client and Money Manager, Joy Vertz’s How to Price Photos Video Series,  The Free Book Find the Right Price for your Business and Zack Prez’s Business Planning Cookbook (available for $20 off only a few more days!  Ends May 20)

 

 

 

gively

Here in the Midwest on the day after your wedding we have this weird ritual called “A Gift Opening”.   Basically what it is is that you go over to the bride or grooms parents house and have brunchy food like cheesy potatoes and tater tot hot dish and open all your gifts in front of immediate friends and family and your bridal party. There’s always one member of the bridal party who is so hung over that they show up green to the opening and they look miserable the entire time they are there.  I’ve never liked them, and when I got married 20 some years ago, I refused to have one.   I wanted to get the hell out of town and head off on my honeymoon, and I had no interest sitting around baby-shower style while people oohed and ahhhed over my new pot holders.  My stepmother was appalled and brought up for YEARS that I didn’t have a gift opening.  At Christmas time for years later I’d open a gift that I already owned and she’d say “Oh, do you already have TV trays/A blender/A set of wine glasses? I’m so sorry, you must have gotten it for a gift, but you see I didn’t know….”

If I had a gift opening, do you know what people would have watched me open?  Picture frames. Glass ones, brass ones, wooden ones, carved ones….we received 23 picture frames as gifts.   I’m sure in the guests heads this made perfect sense, why not give a photographer picture frames!  Genius!!   I think I just used the last one up a few years ago, re-gifting them to people with photos of my kids and their kids.

Welcome to 2014 .  I just spent 30 minutes setting up a wedding registry site for my associate wedding photography clients from Gively.   I’m thrilled with how easy it was to set up, and my clients are freaking out about how cool it is.

What Gively is

  • Full customizable  website that seamlessly integrates with your branding.
  • You control the items you want to include in the registry.
  • Options to have different price lists for different clients.
  • Pre-scripted emails to send to clients, and for them to send to friends and family.
  • Very easy for clients to set up, all they have to do is add the number of services that they wish to be gifted.
  • All payments handled via PayPal directly to the photographer (no percentage of the sales go to Gively)

 

Some of the things I included on the registry was additional hours on the wedding day, engagement sessions, album upgrades and then the thing that has been the biggest hit for me, generic credits that the clients can use towards any product or service.     If Aunt Judy has a budget of $100 for Barbie and Ken’s wedding gift she can buy them two $49 credits  that they can use for any product or service my studio offers.  Clients can even use the credits towards their final balance if they wish.

Want to see what a personalized registry looks like? 

Promoting it as a free service from our company has been really well received from clients, especially when they find out that all they have to do  to share the site is hit the mail icon where it has a pre-scripted email to send as well as easy links to social media with direct links to their registry.   I suggest to the client that if they feel odd about soliciting people to put in the hands of their most outgoing bridesmaid to help spread the word!

I’m excited to see how this increases our add-on sales this year!

This is the first wedding registry service of it’s kind that I have seen that is easy to use and fully customized and since we love it so, Gively has offered a special price to our blog readers of $14.95 a month instead of the regular $19.95 per month!  Just use this link to sign up and you’ll be on your way.

You can even offer picture frames on it!  :)

Stay Sane, Happy and Profitable,

~Kim

 

 

 

camship

So the news isn’t all bad.  We heard back from so many more people than we expected from our last post about the state of the photography industry and if all of this is just arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  Not just a line or two, well-thought out emails from photographers around the world.  There were a couple different themes we saw over and over in the emails and responses on our  Facebook Group.

No one thinks this is easy, but many are still willing to fight the fight.

~”I recently completed Joy’s pricing workshop & am in the process of working through Jaime’s 6 week Marketing Bootcamp . . . my stomach has been in knots for over a month now.  As a maternity & newborn photographer, I know two things:  1) I love what I do SO much & very few things bring me as much joy as photography and 2) I simply don’t love it enough to do it for free anymore.  This isn’t some egotistical journey for me.  I started a business because I love giving people the joy that I feel when I stand and stare at the frames on my walls.  It’s so sappy, but so true.  That’s when I discovered the crappy business side of business . . . the side that so often tries to crush my joy.  So, my prices are going WAY up, I’m gonna work my fat butt off this year, and I’m secretly installing life preservers under each one of my beautifully arranged deck chairs.”

~”I’m much more content with attracting those who get it, and who truly appreciate it….  I’ve since priced myself in alignment with that as well – although most of the kick-ass clients I would connect with on a personal and artistic level – simply don’t have the means to allow me to be outside of the ‘deal-seekers’ circle either… So – It’s yet another losing battle in that regard. However, I’ve decided I’m worth it – and I’m willing to work fewer weddings for a slightly higher yield per wedding – as I refuse to sell my soul to this bloody and puke-laden industry. Do I sound a bit disgruntled? Well – I’m actually not. But I am speaking my mind with full transparency! I figure you’d appreciate that.”

 

The ones that are surviving admit to having made radical changes to their marketing and lifestyle.

~”As a family we have greatly reduced our costs and last year I gave up my studio. I know the problem is partly my own doing – I got lazy during the flush years but some days it feels like I fell asleep on the beach and woke up surrounded by a sea of photographers. But I’m not giving up — not without a fight ”

~”I don’t need Cloud, the latest camera body etc etc.  What I have works just fine thank you very much.  Let. Go.”

~It’s only encouraging me to even further stylize my work and make it look completely different from the rest of my market. Which is a good!  It’s also forcing me to streamline my marketing strategy so I get the brides in the door I actually want”

 

The division in the ranks is tearing down the industry, and people are  REALLY getting sick of it. 

~””To add insult to injury – rather than everyone teaming up to find the cause and patch up the leaks, or at least be supportive of one another as we scramble to do our best to deal – most (not all, obviously – but definitely most) – are scrambling to gather as many deck chairs as they can for themselves, even if it means throwing somebody overboard to get them… The cut-throat tendencies within this field make me want to puke over the deck railings, and I’m not talking about sea-sickness here! I’m talking pure disgust. Love my art. Hate the industry.”

~”I can’t stop the shoot and burn momtographer down the street from doing mini-sessions for $50 and a disk (seriously) But I can stop paying attention to what she is doing and stop letting it eat me alive. If I don’t then I might as well go back to that soul-sucking day job I had. I had to finally realize that there is a great number of photographers who like to spend their days bitching about the newbies or the grumpies or whatever the freak the name is for the hated photographer of the day and I had to stop being one of them.”

There was not a single email where someone claimed to be “super happy and profitable, no problems here!”

(But then again, we probably don’t tend to attract the bullshit shoot and share live your dreams photographers on this blog) Photographers see what’s happening, their eyes are open. They are making changes, making choices.

So what do you think? Are you inspired to make changes now?

~Kim

Expert Vs Novice Two Way Road Sign Skills Experience Expertise

Last summer on one of those hot nights where all you can think about is ice cream I walked into one of those fancy ice cream places.. You know the ones, they have the rhyme-y names and the super cute logo with a cone that dances around on two legs?  Yeah, one of those.  And when I went in, I was assaulted by 10 different flavors of soft serve ice cream and a wall of  cookie and candy related bits that made me dizzy.  The options…were endless and overwhelming. Looking at the board overhead I tried to decipher what I should be doing.   The store was crowded with parents with their little kids and the line was long,  so I tried to make my decision quickly but I was paralyzed by making the WRONG decision.  Chastising myself for being such a loser, I asked the teenaged worker “What would you suggest?”  She stared at me for a second and said “I dunno, put one of those flavors in your cup and then you know, just add the toppings that you want”

I left with a cup of vanilla with M&M’s sprinkled on top.   I don’t even really like M&M’s, but it seemed like a safe choice.

The next time I went in a few days ago and a different worker noticing my reticence came over and asked if they could help.  I said yes, and she said ” Really quick, first answer that comes to mind, what’s your favorite ice cream flavor?”  Quickly I answered “Coffee”. This ice cream goddess then made me a fantastic concoction of coffee ice cream, crushed Heath bars, pecans and caramel syrup.

It was everything that I didn’t even know I wanted.

 

I used to do something similar to my clients.  After their wedding, I’d send them a gallery of 600+ images and say ” Hey, pick 75 of your favorites and let me know what they are and I’ll make you a delicious album!”   I’d shoot a portrait session and proof it online and tell my client to pick all their favorites and buy buy buy!

Armed with overwhelming choices of photos, they chose the safe choices.  They let everyone they knew weigh in on what they “should have” and “had to have”, and ultimately chose those.  I was designing albums with some of the most boring photos of the day and I hated the design, but yannowwhatcouldIdo?  I was making my clients HAPPY.   I wasn’t selling wall portraits because an 8×10 was big enough for them.

And then came the day that a client posted a review about me that said that she loved her photos and working with me but that I took over a year  to get her album to  her.  The fact was, it took her nearly 7 months to choose the photos, and another 3 months to approve the first design, another 2 months to approve the second, and another 3 months while she dithered about paying for extra spreads and upgrades on the cover.   But online, it looked like it was my fault. It wasn’t my fault!!

Or was it?

When I  contacted the client to clear things up she said “I loved everything about working with you except the album process”.

Wow.

I realized that by giving clients that much control, I was doing them a disservice.  I’ve designed hundreds of wedding albums in my career, they’ve only even every seen a handful of wedding albums in person.   So I took away (most) of the control.   Here’s the steps for albums in my studio now

  • From the very first point of contact, I sell myself as the expert in the design process.  I talk about the albums, but in really general terms.  Remember that they are likely seeing other photographers and by the time you get around to album design time it can be a year or more in the future. If they ask specifics I always answer them but I let them know that I will be guiding them through the process and will make sure that they get an heirloom that they are going to love passing down to their children. I talk more about the feeling of their album than the process.
  • During the wedding as I am shooting I plant the seed for how certain scenes are going to look great in their wedding album.  “These sunset photos are going to look killer as a panoramic page in your album”. (You can do the same thing during portrait sessions “This series of all three kids tickling each other would make a fantastic wall grouping to remember how silly they were at this age”)
  • After the wedding, they come in to view their photos in a slideshow format and I mock up a few pages of their wedding album with some key impact images.  Seeing their photos displayed on a page always makes them gasp because it’s everything they didn’t even know they wanted.
  • I send them home with a link to their photos online that includes a special folder called “Photographers Favorites”. I tell them “If I were making a sample album to show people your wedding, just like the ones you see here in the studio, these would be the photos I would choose to show the story of your wedding day photographically.  You are welcome to go in and take out as many photos as you like and replace them with your favorites. I’ll make a design that I am sure you will love, but if you want to swap any of the photos out, that’s not a problem”

Since I started doing this 4 key things have happened

1.  80% of the photos I chose are used.

2. My album up-sells (more spreads, upgrades to covers, etc) have increased $300 per album since 2012.

3.  70% of my clients approve the album with no changes at all. The others have minor swapping of photos that take me minutes to do.

4. My clients have their albums in their hands in as little as 2 months after the wedding.  A few dilly-dally a bit more, but I also now have a clause in my contract that says if they don’t choose the photos within a year of the wedding I choose for them and send the album to fulfill the terms of the contract.

Sometimes less is more. Sometimes, it’s even MORE BETTER.
Stay SANE, make your clients HAPPY and be more PROFITABLE.

~Kim

sunbath chairs on cruise liner

I heard a great phrase today:  “Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic”.

From Wiktionary “(idiomatic) To do something pointless or insignificant that will soon be overtaken by events, or that contributes nothing to the solution of a current problem.”

More about that in a bit.

Recently I met with a couple who is looking for a photographer for their summer 2014 wedding.

(Side note:  WTH is with the 2014 clients?  I’ve never had bookings this late EVER in my career.)

 

Engaged just a month, they were planning the wedding quickly, but that’s not super unusual.   As we chatted about their wedding photography, I noted that they used a lot of industry jargon in describing what they wanted.  So I asked if they had done a lot of research on photographers.

 

The bride lit up and said “Yes! We started out with a list of 80 that we contacted.  Of the 80, 60 were available.  But only 30 were in our budget range, so that’s who we are meeting with”

I blinked.

And I thought to myself, no…no, she’s saying it wrong.   “You’re considering 30, or you are meeting with 30?”   She and Groomie exchanged a “Oh I know I am so silly, but OMG you are so adorable” look and she confirmed “Meeting with 30. Photography is VERY important to us”
I wish with all my heart I had some hidden camera video of my face when she said this to me.   All I can recall for sure is thinking “Keep your eyebrows down and don’t let your mouth hang open”.   In that moment, I knew that this was not going to work out.  I’ve had some consultations that went bad, like the douchecanoe client, but this couple was NICE.  They really though they were doing their due diligence. They cheerfully admitted that they were seeing 5-7 photographers PER WEEK and planned on making their decision by the end of the month.

 

So I asked.  I asked why they were spending the equivalent of one work week interviewing photographers.  They looked perplexed and the bride said “Well, like I said, photography is VERY important to us.  We are meeting with people because we understand that pricing is very different and we want to make sure we are getting the best bang for our buck ”

I nodded.  ” Can you tell me specifically what about the photos on the website that spoke to you?” She asked me to clarify. I pointed out that of those 30 photographers I was sure that they had very different styles and some photographs on their sites must have appealed to her more than others.

 

She shrugged and said “Well sure, some of the websites were nicer and easier to get around. But as far as if any photos stood out?  Well, I like the ones where the light is behind people. You do that, right?”

And then, I wept for my industry.

 

Photography is not the most important thing to this couple.  What is important is getting photos at the price point that they desire. To them this is no different than shopping for a car.  The features may be different, but the end result to them is the same.  They pay monies, they get photos.

This is going to happen more and more as professional photography becomes more “mainstream” to people.  The art of photography is not the mystery it once was.

 

“Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic”. 
You know what I’m talking about.  Revamping your website every three months because the last three months of inquiries were dismal.  Adding albums to your middle packages because maybe THAT will get them to buy.  We’re not sure if the ship is sinking, but dammit, these chairs are gonna look GREAT if we go down!

Are you rearranging deck chairs?
Full steam ahead?
Or jumping ship?

 

*This blog post is sourced from a popular email-only content sent to subscribers a few months ago*