Had a pretty busy labor day weekend, with 3 family portraits and some live music. All my portraits this weekend involved small kids under 2 years old. My sister, Tara Miller, blogger and knitteratus, and I have been working on a neat project creating a youtube video advertising her totally awesome neighborhood: Tributary, in Douglasville, GA. Douglasville is a bit out in the sticks, but this neighborhood is like a Shang-ri-La. Great architecture, wonderful community, lots of activities that aren’t a token gesture and a complete waste of time. Poker nights here are great; some of the best hunch punch I’ve ever had. People really chip in and help each other out, sharing baby gear, business networking and just great relationships.

So, we planned on making our video a photo montage of lifestyle and portrait photography: kids playing in the park, folks walking their dogs, having a neighborhood cookout, etc. I was going for a ‘documentary-with-spin’ kind of vibe – show all the things that are inherently awesome about the place, and show them in a good light. String the photos together, with some CC-licensed music and sound bites of the residents, and you’ve got a great video! So, Tara sent out an email to the Tributary Women’s Group looking for folks willing to pose for some family photos for the project, in exchange for a free 8×10 from the shoot and a signed model release. A ton of folks signed up basically right away.

Things were coming together nicely, when the whole project got canceled right out from under us, for reasons unknown. Total bummer. I really didn’t want to let go of this body of potential repeat customers, though. Instead of canceling the free photo shoots, I decided to re-fashion them into a new promotion for Tributary residents: a free, on-location portrait sitting for all-first time customers. Anyone who signed up before the contest was cancelled still gets the free 8×10.

Lemons -> lemonade. This is going over great.

I generally think it’s a bad idea to give free work now on the promise of paid work later, but I think this is different. First of all, the ‘free work now for paid work later’ garbage generally comes from businesses, not consumers. If a business can’t pay for you now, what makes you think they will want to budget for it later, once you’ve shown them they can get it for free (and if not from you, then someone else)? Consumers are different, though. Build a relationship with a family, and they will keep coming back. It may hurt a bit on the first shoot, but if I do my job right, these folks will all be repeat customers. Think of the freebie as a loss-leader.

Moreover, the work I am shooting now is not free. Thanks to my awesome store-front provided by Smugmug, print sales will (hopefully!) defray my shooting costs and time. This is, of course, a risk. Maybe nobody buys any prints. I am banking on the hope that parents will want to buy pictures of their kids. A pretty safe bet.

Finally, I am getting a lot of value from the pre-existing social networks here. Tributarians are closely-knit. Since they know each other, they listen to each other. By focusing on them, I am generating a positive feedback loop of cumulative buzz (coined!). Given the non-existent results online and print advertising has provided for my business, I am now focusing 100% on generating word-of-mouth recommendations, and I am starting right here.

We’ll see how it goes.

Anyway, next up, I’m going to post a few of my favorite shots from my shoots this weekend. Stay tuned!

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