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Fall Foliage and how it made me want to punch my clients

When I was a kid I remember grown ups saying things like “I can’t believe the holidays are here!” and I was confused.  I mean, Christmas and New Years are on the same day every year, right?  Yet somehow these grown-ups were surprised every year when it “snuck up” on them.
This, my friends, is how I feel about Fall Foliage. For those of you not in an area of the country where the leaves do not change in a  spectacular way before the onset of winter you may not understand. But here in the Midwest, when this happens for portrait photographers it’s the biggest time of the year.

A day in the fall where it is 65 degrees and sunny with no wind for portrait photographers is the equivalent of that day that you finally hit your goal weight, on your birthday, on the same day the Packers win the Superbowl.

Unlike Christmas or New Years, we never know when that date is going to be.  The date dances somewhere between the first and third week of October, with some flirting with early November.  Mother nature dictates the when by mixing a special cocktail of rain, wind, plunging temperatures and hard frosts with some Indian summer days mixed in and serves it up hard when she damn well feels like it. And on some perfectly terrible years, she serves it not at all by blindsiding us with high winds and rain for a week straight stripping all the deciduous trees of their beauty leaving a wake of sobbing photographers with clients who will now send them emails that say things like “I know there are not many leaves on the trees anymore, but can you make it look like there are?”

Every year, I loathe and love fall because of this. Every single year I would find myself stressed out as shit as I tried to juggle my wedding and portrait schedule in the fall at the end of the season when I was at my highest burn out point.  Last year, I had enough.  And like everything else in my life and in my business I knew it was my own fault it had gotten that way and I began to implement changes.

Ask. Listen. Educate.

This phrase totally jumped out at me as I was reading Laura Siebert’s portrait e book series last week;  Step Inside, Get Real, Lighten Up.  Besides being chock full of amazing posing suggestions, games to play to get kids to help make great photos and some down and dirty technical information on shooting and post-processing she talks a lot about what she calls the social science of photography.  About conveying yourself as the expert with a quiet authority that gets people to listen.

BAM.

A few weeks ago I talked about how one turn of phrase completely changed the course of a senior portrait session (Update: The sales session was a $1700 sale.  Yesssssssssssssss) I sat down and made a list of all the things I hated about the fall season and began to brainstorm on changes.  That phrase made me realize that not only do I need to Ask, Listen and Educate my clients to find out what their needs are, I need to ask myself the same things.  What changes do I need to make this season?  After all, I can only afford so much Vodka to get through it.

It came down to 4 things. Yes, I know my handwriting is crap and YES that is an Orange Sharpie on a steno pad.  They are my favorite when I am brainstorming.photo

4 things needed to change.  Here’s what the changes are going to be:

Crammed Schedule+ Crap weather:  I sat down and looked at my calendar and picked the dates I am available from now until Mid November.  I picked a variety of dates and my favorite times of the day and locations  around the city to photograph at. Then I implemented an Online Scheduler for my clients.  I created an email blast to my clients with the link to the scheduler saying

Brown Deer Park click here for dates
Whitnall Park, click here for dates
South Shore Park, click here for dates
Doctors Park, click here for dates
For Sessions at your home or a different location, click here

When they schedule their session, it will inform them of the rain date.   Now you don’t have to use an online scheduler, but I’ve used this one for a while and my clients are used to it. They like the automatic reminders and so do I. But it just as easily could be done by calling your clients or emailing them to contact you directly to schedule.  Let’s circle back to the rain date thing, as this is new for me and I’m going to give it a try.  The rain dates are days I have blocked off on my calendar in case a session gets cancelled.  This year I am going to assign clients a rain date for every session.  If it doesn’t work for them that’s fine, I can let them know the other rain dates I have scheduled and they can choose one of them.    If I have a day where no rain dates are needed, I get a day off.

So right now I can look at my calendar and I know exactly what days I am going to be shooting now through November 14  (With an appeal to mother nature on this. Help a sister out, wont you big momma?)

Cheap Asses: No Mini Sessions.  I’m going to address mini sessions in an upcoming blog post.  There’s nothing wrong with minis, but at this peak time of year I decided that I am not offering them.  Why would I when I can book full sessions?

Sales Sessions Hard to Schedule:  This problem was a direct correlation to the fact that if I am shooting portraits in the evenings (when most people are available)meeting with prospective wedding clients and shooting weddings on the week ends, I was having a hell of a time finding time to schedule in person sales. My new schedule solves a lot of these problems by building in more time for sales sessions but I am taking it a step further and I’m going to take the leap and train someone to do my in person sales this year and see how it goes. Won’t lie, I am both terrified and totally LOVING the idea of handing my sales off to someone.  My friend and Numbers Nerd Guru Joy Vertz gave me a sneak peek into her new Photo Biz Recharge video series that talks about this in depth and got me excited to give up the part of my photography business that I don’t love, the sales process.  Photo Biz Recharge opens for reals on September 22, so go sign up to learn more.

This fall I’m taking charge of my schedule and my life, and getting my fall back.  I plan on being Sane, Happy and Profitable…and maybe stress eating a few less bags of Candy Corn because of it.   Nah.  I freaking love Candy Corn, who am I kidding?

What changes are YOU going to make?

~Kim

 

3 Comments

  1. Haha! I live in the midwest and COMPLETELY understand what you are talking about, fall can be a fickle little devil. Great advice on tackling the things that make us all cringe. Especially love the automatic rain dates, they are a must for Ohio.

  2. You know what’s even better? The client that wants you to move them every which way because of the ONE tree they didn’t see before to capture the New England fall colors. This “one tree” is always about ten more steps down the path toward the blueberry fields in rural Maine, and it was all capped off when night came faster than they expected and a bat dive bombed one of their heads, putting a nice and rather effective end to the session, where they agreed to go over my proofs once I had them finished, …. begrudgingly. And it wouldn’t be a big deal if they didn’t fall into the “cheap” category and paid the equivalent of about 40 cents an hour.

    I need to take your advice.

  3. super interesting. I wasn’t sure if I needed to read this since i’m in florida and have no fall foliage but this really works for any peak time

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