Archive for the ‘Inspirational’ Category

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.

Again, sorry for the lag in posting.

I came across this post the other day in my google reader. I was pumped for some guidance in this area, because I have basically always been underfunded. I was looking forward to getting some guidance in to how I could spend what little capital I have. The post was a total waste of time, though. Jim guides you through some very wise gear purchases that, yes, add up to $2000. But the premise that someone who does not own a camera would seriously consider becoming a professional photographer is pretty silly.

More likely, when you’re ready to turn pro, you already own an assortment of gear that, to some extent, works for you.

The problem with Jim’s post is that once you’ve got your gear, though, you still don’t have any business. Unless you’re starting out as a weekend warrior, that means you won’t have any income. If you have $2000, period, the worst thing you can do is blow it all on upgrading your gear. I’ve said it before: renting equipment is absolutely the way to go for beginners. You get gear far better than what you can afford for a fraction of the price. If you’re shooting commercial photography, equipment rental is a billable expense. Time your gear rentals for commercial shoots so you get to keep it over the weekend, and shoot personal work with it then.

So, how would I spend that $2000?

Every dime of that money would go to marketing. The way I see it, unless you have customers, not just now, but in the future, you’re toast. My plan: book the work, rent the equipment, stash the profits away until you can afford the gear. Here’s a breakdown of where my time/money would go:

Buy a domain – $100 – You’re a professional? Not on flickr, you’re not. Make sure you’re hosted without ads, too.

Get an awesome website with built in storefront – $200 – An online portfolio is an important impression, and not a place where you can really pinch pennies. I would hire that work out. Find a college student if you have to. The storefront really makes it easier (nay, possible at all!) to sell prints to wedding and portrait customers.

Print portfolios – $250 – You should have at least 3 copies of your portfolio. If you have multiple portfolios, you should still have 3 copies of each. 2 are always sent out somewhere, and one is always at home. Keep those 2 in flux. They’re not getting you business sitting at home. New photographers shouldn’t worry about getting a really fancy book. Focus on great prints in a nicer than average binder. No one is going to pick the crappier photographer with the prettier book. That said, get decent binders.

Print business cards – $100 – I like moo cards because they allow me to show off my work in an unexpected way, but use what you like. Make them memorable, and pass them out like candy.

Join local professional organizations – $200 – Some of these are free, others aren’t. Don’t shy away from the paid groups. The trick is to actually attend meetings, and stay after to talk with people. This is where it all happens. If you’re not selling, you’re not in business. That’s what so many of these ‘how to be a photographer’ posts miss. If you want to do weddings, partner with vendors in related fields. Shoot their product line in exchange for their endorsement of you to their customers. If you want to do commercial photography, work for these and other small businesses directly.

Buy FotoQuote – $150 – Great pricing software. The trickiest thing for me as a new photographer was learning to price my work in a way that would allow me to stay in business. FotoQuote eliminates a great deal of anxiety.

So far, we’re only at $1000. Let’s keep going. At this point, it starts to depend on what industry you want to move into.

Weddings & Portraits? Spend that money on creating a booth and getting into one or two big bridal shows. If you’re leveraging yourself with other vendors, and your work is good, you should be able to get some work.

Commercial photography? Spend that money on mailing lists and mailers. Do your research and create a short list of about 100 or 200 possible contacts. Send them a card a month for 6 months. Call after three months and again after six.

With $2000 invested in marketing, it is not difficult to book enough work to recuperate your losses and establish your business. As you can, begin to buy up quality, long term investment gear. Skip the Sb-26s and save up for profotos. Skip the ‘prosumer’ crap and save up for L lenses. Think of the money you save by not spending $900, and then $2000 (or whatever) on nicer and nicer camera bodies, when you rent, and then save up for top of the line gear.

Anyway, that’s enough. I will, again, try to post with more regularity.

Hey folks,

I just wanted to say that now is the time to subscribe. Here’s what’s coming up:

Depth of Field: A series of interviews with top-level pros. We’ll learn how they got to the top, and what new photographers should do to get there, too. I’ve got some really cool shooters lined up for this!

My Beauty Book: I am entering the fashion and beauty photography business, and I’m going to show you how I do it. I will show you where I find models and what to look for. I will show you how to put together a large-scale shooting project, scheduling models, makeup artists, hair stylists and wardrobe stylists. I will post about the shoots themselves, and dissect the post-processing. Lastly, I will assemble the images into my final beauty portfolio and begin marketing it in the summer. At the end, you’ll have a step-by-step guide to assembling your own fashion portfolio!

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Historical Portraits Book: This is my personal project. I am assembling a series of “Time Magazine” portraits of famous historical figures, using actors, models and historical enthusiasts. The idea is to take a ‘modern’ look at significant people through history. I’m going to get authors and historians to write essays about the characters, and put the whole package together into a book! In the meantime, the images are interesting portraits that will provide fodder for my marketing campaign.

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So stay tuned. This blog is going to get pretty awesome. I am going to show you that new photographers like you and me can make it. With creativity, a good business plan, legal smarts, and a little bit of what the French call les boules, we can become successful without going broke.

Wedding photographers should sell based on value, not price. Getting business by undercutting everyone else is the fast way to the bottom. Bargain hunters don’t have any loyalty, and there’s always going to be someone even more desperate than you are.

What other choices are there for the new photographer, who can’t afford to attend bridal shows, or send out bulk mailers? First, you need a hook, otherwise known as a Unique Selling Proposition (UPS for short). Anything you do that is uniquely yours and adds value can be a hook. The trick is finding something that you can offer that costs little, but creates value for the client. It’s just like investment: buy low, sell high.

Let’s talk today about guarantees, a great way to create extra value from services you already offer, or can offer for little to no cost. First, think about what you do and pick out something that could be turned into something interesting. Do you always get your images processed and uploaded to your website (or wherever) in 2 weeks? That can be a guarantee. Next, pad that time (just in case) a little bit.

Your guarantee is now “Your images uploaded in 20 days or…”

Fill in that ‘or else’ statement with something that raises your client’s eyebrows and you got it. How about “or your wedding album is free.” That’s pretty good! However, it’s good to make this personal. A guarantee is an offer to trust you, so you should make it come from you. If a big corporation has a spokesperson, that person is the one who makes the guarantee. You go to Wendy’s, and you get a guarantee not from Corporate Wendys, but from Dave, their calming, grandfatherly (now dead, but that’s not stopping him) spokesman. Personal guarantees hit on an emotional level, not an intellectual one (Emotion trumps logic every time), and that’s good.

Anyway, to make it personal, we go from “Your images uploaded in 20 days or I buy your wedding album for you!” That sounds pretty good! And it doesn’t cost you a dime as long as you hit that mark. The best thing about guarantees is that if you always hit your mark, you get all the psychological benefit of your ‘or else’ statement without having to lay out any actual money or effort. You’ve just added value, and your wallet is still firmly entrenched in your wallet.

Here’s my UPS and where it came from:

I was on my way to a shoot the other day, and I saw a billboard for a used car sales place. The billboard said “We will beat ANY advertised price, or we’ll give you the car for FREE!” Well that’s catchy! AND bullshit! Think about it: How much variance in price will there be amongst themselves and their competition? Probably not much. It’s all based on local economics and that particular car’s Blue Book value. At what point would it be better to give away a (let’s say) $12,000 car, rather than take a (let’s say) $1500 loss to beat an advertised price?

Never. This got me thinking: what guarantees can I offer that don’t cost much (or anything), but generate a lot of value?

Here’s what I’ve come up with: All my bridal clients get free christmas pictures for the first 5 years! That’s pretty cool, and it doesn’t cost me a darn thing. After all, how much do you spend on your portrait sittings? You’ve got shooting time, processing time, batteries, gas and reminder emails or mailers. And what do I get from this? I get clients eager to come back to me, regularly. I become a pattern and a off-the-top-of-the-head referral. That’s good!

This is new for me. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll be sure to keep you posted! Next, I’m going to talk about my kick-ass personal project!

I admit it. I TOTALLY thought of the title first. That said, I have put together some great ways to increase your sales, generate repeat business and referrals, and become irresistable to the opposite sex.

(As a quick side note, based on this awesome post here, I’m going to let “my” voice come through in my blog more. The content will still be there, but things are going to get a little bit sillier…)

Sell yourself – We photographers are a pretty ubiquitous bunch. A quick google search for “Atlanta photographer” gets 159,000 results. I checked several pages of results: 1, 4, 11, 19, 25, 32… all of them full of photographers. Clearly, we are not hard to find. So, what makes you different? For starters, none of those other guys are you. That’s all you have: your own talent, your own vision, your own personality. So, focus your business on selling yourself. Let clients know what you’re all about: your values, your focus, and your approach. We get hired based on our ability to apply our unique vision to a client’s needs. What do you do that’s different from the tens of thousands of other photographers who are so readily available?

Specialize – When I first started out, I pursued every possible opportunity to make money taking pictures. I freelanced for a local paper that paid $10/image. I shot my friend’s kids. I shot food, architecture, dogs, weddings, makeup, sports, real estate agents, bands, anything, anything, anything I could do to make a buck. I lacked focus. Figure out what you want to do, and concentrate on that. It seems a bit counter-intuitive to “turn away” potential business. Don’t get me wrong: If you’re broke, and a job outside your focus falls in your lap, go for it. (Ain’t nothing wrong with that!) The problem with being a generalist is that you are competing with specialists. You are a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. Specialize on the types of images you enjoy creating, focus your business efforts there, and give yourself a fighting chance.

Surprise your clients – Promise small, deliver big. Enthusiasm, I’ve found, is my best selling technique. I get extremely pumped about my client’s projects. Enthusiasm, though, can get you in trouble. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Hell, don’t even promise what you think you can deliver. Promise only what you have successfully done in the past, even on your own. Whatever you tell the client you can do becomes the bare minimum they expect of you. Don’t set that goal higher than you can consistently hit. In fact, with a little modesty, you can over-deliver! Who do you suppose gets called back: the guy who promised more than he could deliver, or the guy who delivered more than he promised?

Sustain your buzz – WHOA! PASS THE BONG! I’m not talking about huffing pot reefer or whatever the hell you kids call it these days. I’m talking about a sustained marketing campaign. However you do it, keep doing it. Send mailers. Stop by and say “Hi.” Show them new work you’re doing. Stay on their minds. If they don’t know you, they don’t call you. Nothing survives in a vacuum. That’s why they scare dogs so much.

Stay on top of your books – If there is one thing that will come back to bite you in the ass, it is your paperwork. I’m not just talking accounting. I’m talking contracts, model releases, invoices, all that stuff. You abso-tively posi-lutely must, must, must, must, must stay on top of this. If you can’t do it, hire or marry someone who can. Can’t afford an accountant? You can’t afford NOT to have one. Which is more costly, paying a couple hundred bucks for peace of mind come tax-time, or an IRS audit? Find some photographers that you respect and look up to. Ask who they use, and give them a call. (Be sure to note how that accountant just scored a new customer!)

Sign a contract – Respect the awesome power of CYA. A contract won’t keep a dishonest person from trying to take advantage of you. It will limit their ability to take advantage of you, and give you a leg to stand on when they do. A good contract just tells everyone involved what to expect from a pending business transaction. No big deal. Get some standard paperwork together so you can get all your ducks in a row quickly when a potential client calls. Make sure everyone knows what to expect as the project comes along. Clients like to be surprised with great pictures, not huge bills. Stay honest, get called back.

So, there we go. I managed to find six things, all starting with the letter S, to help you improve your photography business. I knew I could do it! Thanks for reading! And, hey, why not subscribe? Absolutely zero calories, and it feels soooo good.