by Skip Cohen
It's an old African proverb, but the more I read it, the more I'm in awe of how much these seven words really say. They sure seem to fit everything we learned over the last few years about business.
Think about it. The economy was horrible and you worked harder than you've probably ever worked in your life. If you didn't make some serious changes in the last two years, you at least are giving them serious thought. Changes in marketing, business, workflow and even your shooting style - nothing is sacred when you're worried about survival.
What's most exciting to me is the new energy focused on marketing. Years ago we used to laugh, because Don Blair would get a thousand people in a posing and lighting program with a few cute models and I'd get ten people in a marketing workshop and five of them were relatives! Okay, I'll admit his topic was more exciting, but my jokes were better! Today, every marketing, business and workflow program is packed and people are taking notes. That's the way it'll be with Zach and Jody Gray's program in August at the Summer Session of SCU. In fact, that's the way every program will be, since even a hands on session, because the class is ONLY 20 people, brings out questions about marketing, business and promotion for each instructor. (Yes, it's a shameless plug for what used to be Skip's Summer School, but only because this program really is that good!
In spite of the challenges and the number of photographers who may have stepped away from their businesses over the past two years, we're a stronger industry than we've been in a long time. As the economy continues to improve we'll see some of the friends we lost come back into the business, but with a stronger focus on diversity, creativity and marketing.
Scuba diving is a major passion of mine and I remember a dive when I first started, in horrible water. We had 6-8 foot swells and we were in a small boat - I was diving with my buddy, Bob Nunn. The captain looked at us and said, "If you guys can dive in this you can dive in anything!" I came off the boat green and my Bob left breakfast a half mile off the Florida coast, but it really did make us better divers. It also gave us something to laugh about
Well, as an industry we've survived a couple of tough years, bombarded with a bad economy and trying to keep up with technology, but the key word is survived.
The proverb says so much that to keep talking about it becomes trite...the point is we've all learned to sail in rough water and as a result we're better sailors!
Give yourself a pat on the back - your passion for photography is alive and well and you've got more tools to make this an amazing year! As we keep saying at SCU - it's time for you to THRIVE, not just survive!
by Scott Bourne
If you want to sell photography (or anything else) you should spend more time caring about what your customers care about and less about everything else.
Your customers don't care what your Klout score is, which of your lenses is the sharpest or which brand you shoot with. Your customers care about having photographs that make them (and their families) look good. That's it. That's all.
The online camera forums are full of discussions about photography but, not the people who buy photography. Want to stand out? Want to get ahead of your peers, including those with nicer gear and more experience than you? Simply start caring about your customers. Put all your focus (pun intended) on them and their needs. This is NOT about you. This IS about them. The sooner you realize that - the sooner you'll start to thrive as a professional photographer.
Let the nerds in the photo forums duke it out about which lens is sharper. You go out and make your customers happy by paying attention to their needs and making them look their best. You'll win every time.
Illustration Credit: © Rafal Olechowski - Fotolia.com
Social media helps to hold your network together, but don't underestimate the power of meeting people face to face. A solid handshake still trumps the click of your mouse!
by Skip Cohen
Every convention, workshop, monthly meeting of a local PPA chapter you attend building your network is critical. In fact, it's been one of the biggest benefits year after year at our summer program. So much so, that today there are almost 300 photographers who are part of a small, but incredibly strong forum called "Skip's Summer School" on Facebook
I know there are still people who think a good stack of business cards is all you need to build a good network! Sorry gang, if you're just collecting cards that doesn't cut it any more. I'm not sure it really ever was very effective, but here are some thoughts that might help you think through how to build a great network:
- At every program/workshop/class you attend make it a point to get to know the people sitting around you. If you're all there to listen to the same presentation, then right off the bat you've got something in common.
- Never go to breakfast, lunch or dinner by yourself and never go with the same people every time. Getting together with old friends is terrific, but see if you can bring a new person into the group each time you head out. You don't have to make it into a major event - just the casual time over a meal.
- Get to know the people who sell the products and services you need. If for example, you just started working with Venice Album, then how great would it be to put a face with the name of the person you've talked to previously at the company? This industry is built on relationships. Actually meeting somebody you've worked with will buy you so much in the long run. Even better is meeting the key executives of the companies whose products you use. These are the people driving the bus and they're at these shows because they want to meet and talk to professional photographers.
- Diversity is the key to having a great network. Work to develop a network of people with skills who compliment each other. For example, let's assume you do a lot of commercial work, but lately have had a few requests to shoot weddings. Get to know a few wedding photographers whose work you respect, so you can refer business to each other and also learn from each other.
- Use social media to set up meetings in advance. Whether you're on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google+ whatever - use social media to find out who's going to the same programs you are. Social media gives us all incredible reach, but it's even better when you can actually shake somebody's hand who you've been talking to on line or reading about.
- Talk to the speakers! I know most people get a little shy when it comes to a Q &A session at the end of a presentation, but there's nothing stopping you from going up to a speaker after the program and introducing yourself. There are even a few speakers, who make it a point to get to know as many people in their program as possible, BEFORE things even get started.
- Stay in touch! This is the hardest part of maintaining a good network, but you've got the most vehicles, e.g. Twitter and Facebook especially, to make it happen. Stay connected - and it can be done so easily.
You've got to network to build your Network! The Summer Session of SCU
is the next big event coming up. Meeting other photographers, from your own backyard or other parts of the country and world, is one of the very best reasons to attend any workshop, but remember you snooze you lose! You've got to get involved in every possible program you can and introduce yourself to an industry loaded with creative people willing to shareIllustration Credit:
© jojje11 - Fotolia.com
I can't believe it's almost June. Lately I feel like I'm trapped in an old Jimmy Stewart movie and the hands of the clock are just spinning. Now I have the challenge of explaining to too many of you who Jimmy Stewart was! LOL
The big questions on everybody's plate are always the same: How can I grow my business? What do I need to do differently this year? The list goes on and on.
So, while wandering in and out of cyberspace I found a site called Quoteland
and after a little mining uncovered the following gem from Charles Chic Thompson
. While he obviously added some humor to the concept, think about each of his ten points. More than likely you'll agree that he's dead on.
Top 10 Creative Rules of Thumb
1. The best way to get great ideas is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away.
2. Create ideas that are 15 minutes ahead of their time…not light years ahead.
3. Always look for a second right answer.
4. If at first you don’t succeed, take a break.
5. Write down your ideas before you forget them.
6. If everyone says you are wrong, you’re one step ahead. If everyone laughs at you, you’re two steps ahead.
7. The answer to your problem “pre-exists.” You need to ask the right question to reveal the answer.
8. When you ask a dumb question, you get a smart answer.
9. Never solve a problem from its original perspective.
10. Visualize your problem as solved before solving it.
Illustration Credit: © peshkova - Fotolia.com
I found this post in Scott Bourne's archives and loved sharing the approach as part of "Marketing Monday." Every photographer can relate to the idea of starting over when it comes to something not working the way you want it in your images, but why is it so hard to think the same way when it comes to your marketing? As I wrote in my post this morning, if something didn't work then it simply didn't work and it's time for a change. Changes are just part of your growth as a business and an artist. Don't be afraid to hit the rest button! Skip Cohen Copyright Scott Bourne 2010 - All Rights Reserved
by Scott Bourne
I had the pleasure of working in my studio last week with one of the artists from the Cirque du Soleil show “Love.” Delphine is a powerful young woman who works on the trapeze – aka a “flier.”
She has amazing red hair. As we were shooting, I realized that in some of my images, her hair was photographing more brown than red. This was fine for some of my shots, but I also wanted to make sure to really capture the fire red of both her hair and her personality in some of the images.
I made a few exposures, checked my LCD, and realized that the problem was simple” There wasn’t enough light on her hair. To show color you need light. But yet, for a minute or two I kept on shooting. Rookie mistake time folks. I knew better. I stopped and heard the words of one of my very first mentors in my brain – newspaper shooter Jack Russell used to say to me all the time. “If you don’t like the light kid – change it. It just isn’t rocket science.”
It’s funny how those lessons we learned sooooo long ago can escape us. While it’s no big deal to burn digital pixels, there’s also no need to waste time. I just wasn’t happy with what was going on. So I remembered Jack’s words and changed the light. I added a strip light in the form of a bare bulb against silver reflector in an uncovered soft box. I moved this very close to her head – and just out of the frame. This allowed me to add some real pop to her hair.
I also remembered the rest of Jack’s words said to me that very first day he worked with me.
“If it isn’t working. Stop – reset – change everything. Go back to step one. Zero everything out and start over.”
I’ve heard great ones say the same thing my whole career. Whether it was Rocky Gunn, Dean Collins or modern day photographers like Joe McNally – I’ve heard this stop – reset – change advice. It’s good advice and even I should take it some times!
I did just that. I stopped. I changed everything. I realized this young woman needed to move. She needed to flow WITH the camera. She wasn’t good at sitting still. So I started moving her. I changed the pose. I changed the angle of the light. I brought in more specularity. I moved the hair light closer. And I love the resulting picture which you see at the top of the page. If you knew Delphine for 15 minutes, you’d realize this shot captures at least one side of her personality perfectly. Were it not for those who went before me giving me that simple advice – “If you don’t like the light – change the light…” I wouldn’t have gotten this shot.
It’s my turn to pass it on and hopefully save at least some of you from the same frustration. If things aren’t working. Stop what you are doing and just start over. Maybe you’ll end up with an even better idea!
It might be time to make a change in your business strategy, but you're the only one who can set the pace.
by Skip Cohen
Just like everybody, I go through stages of focusing on one particular aspect of the challenges of being in business. "Failure" the "F Word" is simply not an option, but it's come up a few times in posts over the last few weeks.
Failure is way over-rated and can only happen if you fall and don't bother to get up. Yeah, I really do believe it's that simplistic...because it's all in your mind or what you let other people put in your head. Success on the other hand is a whole lot harder to define.
I have no idea how "I Am" did as a movie, but the trailer about Tom Shadyac pretty much says it all, because by most of our definitions he had it all. He was definitely successful, but still wasn't happy.
We all define success differently, but a few of my favorite quotes seem to help on the topic...
David Brinkley: "A successful person is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him!"
Bill Cosby: "I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is to try to please everyone"
Woody Allen: "Eighty percent of success is showing up."
What prompted this short rampage on the success/failure theme was the increasing number of comments lately where I'm hearing photographers who are spending too much time focusing on the slowness of reaching "success". They're acting like they think they've failed!
Well, I live with a very special lady who absolutely refuses to let me even use the word, "failure". If something didn't work, then it simply didn't work, but nothing in life is a failure until you stop trying. So, the challenge today, in terms of your business is really very simple. Notice I'm saying "simple" - not EASY...it still takes work.
Try out the following exercise:
1) Shut off all cell phones, your computer and anything else in life that interrupts your thought process. That might mean locking the kids out of the house for a couple of hours.
2) Find your most favorite place in the house.
3) Whether you like wine, a cup of coffee, a soda, a beer or a martini makes no difference - get yourself something to drink and get a pad of paper - that's right - we're going to do this long hand.
4) Ready? Just start writing down ideas and brainstorm the challenge - write every idea down and no idea is a bad one. What ideas? Let's start with things you could do to get people to know about your skill set, business and passion for photography.
Example: You're a wedding photographer and business is down. What things could you be doing to raise awareness for you and your business?
Do more local advertising? Put together a direct mail campaign? Purchase a list of brides? Take the owner of the local bridal gown store to lunch? Do a Saturday bridal shoot at the store? Who's the biggest hair salon in town - they know everything that's happening especially in small communities. Look at your brochure or website - are the images the best they can be? Would you hire you, based on the information on your website?
How about a joint mailing with several other vendors in town, e.g. a limo company, a florist and a caterer?
5) My suggestion is to spend an hour doing this and then bring somebody else into the discussion, be it your spouse, associate or a friend who knows you well. We're all too close to our own business. I'm always amazed when a photographer shows me something about their work to critique and they're so surprised over my suggestions to make a change - it's because it's the easiest assignment on planet earth - to review somebody elses work/project when you have no direct involvement. So, don't underestimate the value of one of your friends, who's not in the business, to just come in and join you in the process of looking for new ways to attack the challenge.
Most important of all, let's ban the word "failure" from our vocabulary. Nothing is a failure, just a life lesson or an FGO (Friggin' Growth Opportunity) - sorry can't take credit for that last little gem!
Thomas Edison: "I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work."
Illustration Credit: © jojje11 - Fotolia.com
You're working hard to build your brand - don't start changing key components just because you think everybody is tired of it!
by Skip Cohen
Over the years I've repeatedly seen photographers, as well as manufacturers, change their advertising because they were tired of a specific ad.
A great ad gets dropped because the manufacturer was tired of looking at it. What everyone forgets is how many times you have to hit a consumer before they remember your ad or your product. Often there are still thousands of people out there who haven't seen the message.
Years ago there was a professional photographer who changed her logo three times over three years because, "I'm tired of it!" Meanwhile, every time she was starting to build up brand identity and a little momentum, she pulled the plug and essentially started over. All because she was tired of the logo - but her fans weren't and neither were all those people who had never seen it before.
It's a great thought for those moments when you have a little down time this weekend - if you're thinking about creating a new look to your branding, seriously consider how much exposure you've given your brand to date. Maybe it's time to make a slight change in your approach to the market, but then again, if you're doing it only because you're tired of it - remember you're not your target audience.
Illustration Credit: © OutStyle - Fotolia.com
If only jump-starting your business were as easy as a car!
by Skip Cohen
I've written a lot about starting a new business in photography. Even though some of the issues you need to address are the same, let's look at recharging an older business.
We've got to start with the definition of "jump start" or at least figure out what we want to do. Let's look at jump starting a business that's already established and stalled. If we had twenty, fifty or even a hundred photographers in the room right now and they had all been in business for a few years, the room would be split right down the middle between people having a great year in 2012 and those referring to it as the year from hell! Based on their experiences both groups would be right in their perception, but are there things the half having the harder time could do to change the outcome for 2013?
It all begins with getting focused on what it is you want to do. You've got to get yourself psyched up and be not only excited, but really motivated and proud of your career choice in photography. So, as simple as it sounds, it starts with your attitude. Photography is about your heart - and you can't create images that grab people's hearts if your own heart isn't in it.
This is about recharging your battery and right off the bat I'm going to do a shameless plug for SCU's Summer Session in August.
You need to get yourself out of the rut and get a good dose of optimism with lots of good ideas on how to change things. And if you can't make it to Summer Session then look for programs by some of the industry's leading icons to help get you pumped. Matthew Jordan Smith, Dane Sanders, Tamara Lackey, Michele Celentano, Zach and Jody Gray, Justin and Mary Marantz, Kevin Kubota and dozens I've missed, are all on the speaking tour from time to time and you need to tap into their energy.
Then there are specific things to do like launch your own publicity campaign, getting involved in the community, creating buzz for your business. You've got be proactive and offense is always more fun to play than defense! For example, a children's photographer should launch a new promotional opportunity. We're just coming into summer and it's perfect for themed sessions around baseball, 4th of July, summer vacation etc. A wedding photographer needs to do a mailing to past clients about "expanding", new products e.g. albums etc. anything that creates a little noise.
Maybe it's time for this same wedding photographer to expand and diversify into children's photography. How effective would it be to do a mailing to past brides who might be starting a new family and plant the idea for portraits of the new baby. Or let's say you're a commercial photographer and it might be a great time to remind your clients about the need for a good solid new business headshot! Something that goes beyond that old high school senior shot they've been using! Shoot wide angle and bring their business into the shot with an environmental portrait.
And let's not forget the whole world of social media. Are you active in Twitter, Google+ and Facebook, using them as marketing tools? Do you have a blog? Are you consistent in maintaining a constant presence? Check out Shutter Magazine this month for my article
on ways to make your blog more effective.
The point is your business stalled for a reason. I'm not minimizing the challenges with the economy, but too often that's become the scapegoat. If you look at businesses with challenges you'll find there are always things that could be done to turn things around.
Since this is a blog, I've only got so much room before the statistics say you'll lose interest and move on to reading something shorter. The issue is, no business is over until you give up and if you're worried and feel you need a jump start then get some help before you pull the plug. Remember... "It's not whether you get knocked down. It's whether you get up!" Vince Lombardi
These are difficult times with the challenges of the economy and technology both playing a role, but here's the best part! You're not alone in dealing with the challenges and there are lots of us out here willing to give you a hand!Photo Credit:
© Martin Green - Fotolia.com
Let's get out of the habit of procedures we create for ourselves that make us manage by the exception.
I wrote a post about this a few years ago, but it's one of those challenges that just doesn't change.
There’s a great anecdotal story and it's still so relevant today:
A child is watching her mother make a roast beef and she cuts off 3 inches of it and throws it away. “Why do you cook a roast beef that way Mom?” she asked. “Because that’s the way my mother taught me!” answered her mother. So, she went to the grandmother and asked the same question. The grandmother smiled and simply said, “That’s the way my mother taught me.” That took her to her great grandmother, who smiled and holding her hands about 10 inches apart said, “Because I only had a pan this big!”
How many times do you find yourself doing something, simply because it’s the way you’ve always done it? I’m willing to bet, like the majority of us, there’s at least something you’re managing by the exception. Something happened years ago and started you on a mission to avoid ever having the same problem again. Unfortunately with the economy and changes in technology all the paradigms have shifted. Nothing is the same, especially when it comes to your marketing plans. Times have changed, but have you?
I remember watching an old episode of 60 Minutes
and Andy Rooney was attacking the airlines and their policies. “Because one bad terrorist tried to smuggle a bomb in his shoes, millions of us have to take off our shoes to go through security!”
And going through Tampa Airport two weeks ago I was stopped by TSA because my liquids were in a gallon freezer bag instead of a 2 quart bag! Management by the exception.
As you embark on what's already starting to look like a great year for so many photographers, let's do a little house-cleaning. I'm not talking about your office or desk, but things in your head, bad habits. Let’s get rid of comments like, “We tried that already!” or anything close to “Been there done that!” Take a look at your workflow – is it all it really could be or better yet should be? Is your marketing plan and material hitting the target you really want or are there some new targets out there for you to consider? Do you have all the skills you need to be able to handle whatever assignments come through your door?
And at the risk of being accused of plugging my own program, get yourself to SCU in August. The reason so many people refer to it as life-changing has nothing to do with me, but the quality of people involved from the instructors to the attendees. This is about being part of a community of people who are focused, who care and who help each other and watch each others backs.
It's about new ideas, new skills and new techniques.Whether you can join us or not,
most of important of all, let’s all stop looking back and making statements like “You know what I should
have done?” In short, stop “shoulding” on yourself!
Photo Credit: kikkerdirk - Fotolia.com
by Skip Cohen
I'm often asked what makes Skip's Summer School or this year's Summer Session of SCU
different from other programs? Why do I need to be there?Well here's one thing that makes any SCU program different - the people involved and the network you're going to build. In fact, check out Skip's Summer School, a page on Facebook, started not by me, but Brent Watkins, a professional photographer from Ohio, who set up the page last year. Today, it's supported by almost 300 photographers who all focus on helping each other.Another thing that makes SCU programs different - being a part of these live events puts several of us on your marketing team. For example, last year I reviewed approximately 150 websites, spending sixty to ninety minutes with each photographer on the phone and making suggestions to make their site stronger. I even wrote a number of new "About" sections for attendees.This is "Marketing Monday" at SCU and it starts with a terrific post, Marketing Basics for Photographers by my buddy Scott Bourne. Your website is one of the tools in that marketing toolbox Scott refers to, but sadly, so many of you have websites that are far from doing what you originally intended.Here are the six most common mistakes I've found in my website reviews to date:Galleries: Just too many images and often not enough with the "wow" factor. Your work has to be outstanding and you need to ask yourself with every image, "If this was the only image I could show, is it good enough that I'd hire me?" If the answer is "yes" then it's a keeper, but if not, don't put it on your site.About Sections: People hire you because of your passion and the why you're a photographer NOT because of what you do, your awards or your gear. Over and over again I read bios that simply weren't relevant. Nobody cares how you got started in photography. They don't care what gear you shoot with and they care even less about awards from associations they don't even know about. What they do care about is looking into your heart. They want to know they can trust you to understand the importance of your family and friends. They want to know you love people, capturing memories and being part of the human experience.Lack of Continuity: If you're target audience is bridal then show wedding images. If you're a children and family photographer then show images of children and family sittings. What I saw over and over again were too many photographers trying to be all things to all people. There's nothing wrong with your passion for landscape photography for example, but it doesn't belong in your galleries if your target is brides.Know Your Demographics: Women make 98% of the purchase decisions to hire a photographer in the portrait/social category. So, think about your target audience. So often I reviewed sites that were too masculine for the target audience. Or, they just lacked a little sex appeal. Pay attention to the graphic elements on your site.Functionality: Over and over again I reviewed sites that were difficult to navigate. I couldn't find some of the most important information about the photographer. I was buried in add-on clicks leading me to multiple steps when all I wanted was to look at images. You've got to focus on simplicity and make it easy for your target audience to find those things most important.Oops - What happened to the design of the site? If you were building the house or studio of your dreams, you'd pay attention to every detail. From colors, to window placement and even which wall light switches were going to be on, but
so many photographers have thrown together their websites with a total disregard to design. They knew they needed a website so they got one and that's about it! Well, today your website is the equivalent of your storefront. It's your business - your place on Main St. USA with the potential to have thousands of people walking by every day, but instead of something inviting that draws people in, they're going elsewhere. Scott put it best - are you trying to attract the Motel 6
target or Ritz Carlton
?This year, instead of reviewing attendee websites, I'm going to be doing a business review. I want to help as many attendees focus on what they need to be doing to build a stronger business model prior to even getting to Chicago. Then, when in Chicago, we'll find time to follow-up and look for ways to help each attend "Thrive - not just survive!"See you in August!Illustration Credit:
© XtravaganT - Fotolia.com