I’d like to put in my .02 on this set of posts from strobist, chase jarvis and john harrington (1, 2 and 3, you gotta watch that video). Strobist and Jarvis seem to think that as long as you get SOMETHING for your time, like unique access or circumstances, working for free can be a good deal. By the same logic, if you find a fist-sized diamond on the sidewalk, and sell it for a $1, that is also a good deal.

You’ve got to be able to monetize those images somehow. Think like shareware software. The best shareware is useful enough to hook you, but make you want to buy the full version. If it’s commercial work, slash the licensing rights. If a customer wants some shots for their website and can’t pay much, that’s fine. But if they need it for their brochures, print ads, display materials, that’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax. If you want to give a free portrait session, fine, but sell the prints.

There will always be free work available. Don’t take any of it. If you want to work for free, do it on your terms. Decide what you want to do, find the people you want to do it with, and don’t make any compromises. I’ve wasted plenty of time shooting other people’s events for nothing, doing tfp shoots with models and such. You know how much real business that stuff led to?

None.

All of my paying clients, however, have come by way of referral from other paying clients. Imagine that.

It’s crazy that “hey, i should post to my blog” turns into a month of no posts. Back to the drawing board, re: getting this thing to occur regularly. Nevermind that, though. You don’t come here to listen to me beat myself up, so I won’t bore you with it.

I’ll be honest. 2008 was a tough year for me. There were long periods where I wasn’t getting enough business to stay afloat, and I took a second job to make up the difference. It helped, but until I started getting enough business to allow myself to invest in marketing, I was basically floating. This lack of money caused a lot of problems. I think I’m over that hump now, though. I have at least one steady client that brings in a few grand a month, and that income is going to be heavily leveraged towards marketing. I don’t want to float in a customer-less limbo again.

I spent a lot of time working on things outside my specialty, things I am not good at. Hand-made invoices, flyers, and hand-coded websites stole a lot of time that should have gone elsewhere. I thought I was too poor to outsource this stuff, but I was too poor not to. 2009 will be different in this regard. I figure a well-written, well-designed flyer, made by people who do it for a living, will be better than whatever I can crank out in the same amount of time.

I spent a lot of money on online advertising in 2008, with dismal results. If I am to drive traffic to my site, it is essential that I quickly make myself relevant to the viewer. So, I am going to be adding some landing pages aimed at appealing to specific markets. It seems basic now, but really, I’ve been scrambling just to get something decent up that I hadn’t worried about it, yet.

I can afford to make smarter decisions in 2009, even if some of them are mistakes, and that’s the best progress I can hope for.

I read this really awesome post over on freelance folder recently, and immediately took to the idea. Basically, the idea is that you should offer customer tiered services options, like small, medium, or large. It’s not just tiers, though, it can also be varieties of service, like chocolate, vanilla or strawberry.

I’m interested in the idea now, but I haven’t always been. For example, I was wary of limiting my portrait services to a few chintzy packages because I didn’t want to limit my offerings. I pride myself on the unique nature of each portrait session I perform. I didn’t want people to think I could *only* do the things listed on my sales sheet.

My experience has shown, though, that this “I’ll do anything you want” mindset is flawed. More often than not, I have had people tell me that the idea of figuring out what prints to order was daunting. And so, they don’t order. The problem is that people have no idea what they want. Not until they see it, at least.

Create options that scratch a majority of your customers’ itches, and you save your customers the trouble of figuring out what they need, and then effectively communicating that desire to you. I am still offering my unique portraits, but I am now framing that offering as a set of choices. The uptake, I hope, will be that customers find it easier to order from me. Once they’ve decided to buy, we can then discuss the details of our portrait session. Much easier than trying to negotiate prices and logistics on the fly.

Earlier this year, I did a few shoots for a local magazine in exchange for advertising space. The advertising went no where, and the tears were crap, so I broke off the relationship. My wife picked up a copy of the magazine and was flipping through it. I happened to look over her shoulder, and happened to saw one of my images smiling back up at me from the advertising section. Here’s how things went down:

In March of this year, I did a shoot for a local restauranteur for the magazine, and heard the editor say to the client “we’ll be happy to turn these images over for you to use” or something like that. I pulled her aside and told her that that was no bueno. I told her I was licensing the images to her magazine to use for one issue. She said that was fine. The next month, I did another photo shoot for the magazine at a Montessori school. This is the shoot from which the unlicensed images came.

Shame on me for not getting a nice contract signed for this work. I chalk it up to inexperience, and now I’ve learned that I don’t press the shutter until I have a signed contract.

So, I reached out to the magazine this morning, but the editor was in a meeting. At this point, I need to know how long the image has been running so I can bill the school for it appropriately. I spoke to a manager at the Montessori school and she was completely surprised, which surprises me not at all. She said the editor handed over the images specifically for her to use in the advert. I told her the next person she should call is the editor who handed over my work. She seemed to understand my perspective, which is a relief.

The publisher screwed the pooch here, but it’s the school that owes me money. I told the manager at the school that the publisher really took advantage of both of us. It’s unacceptable for a publisher to act with such disregard for photographers.

Update:
Just got off the phone with the publisher, who apologized, but she’s pretty clearly miffed, saying that she hasn’t had this issue with other photographers. that’s unfortunate. She is going to get back to me with the number of issues in which my photo ran.

Last few months, I’ve been experimenting with the concept of a loss leader. Basically, you use a low-priced or free item to draw customers in, and recuperate those losses on the higher profit stuff that comes with it. Grocery stores do it by putting sale items and necessities at the furthest reaches of the grocery store, so you have to walk past all the higher profit items in the middle, and hopefully pick some up on the way.

While I am not advocating that you ever do work at a loss, photographers can use this concept. Try offering an introductory photo shoot at a low rate for new customers, and then present them with an opportunity to buy a multi-shoot package, or an upgrade on a print package.

Sure, you’ll get some customers that don’t upgrade, or buy something else. You’ll get customers that don’t call you back next time. But, you’ll also get those that do. It’s important to not concentrate on the reactions of each particular customer. Deliver excellent photographs promptly and professionally, and the averages will work out.

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