by Skip Cohen
It's Marketing Monday, and here's a concept I wish I could make mandatory, at least to read, for every photographer in business!
I started this blog over ten years ago. Today there are thousands of posts, many of them guest posts or ideas I've shared, thanks to other photographers, educators, and business owners. One of them is good buddy Doug Box. Loaded with wisdom and outstanding marketing concepts over the years, he's never stopped sharing or helping artists maximize their business. Every few years, I like to pull one of my favorites from his archived past posts.
While I'd like to take credit for the foundation of today's post, it's all thanks to Doug. I first heard him talk about this concept with his bakery demonstration at least twenty years ago. So while I've written about it before, most of you need the reminder!
Paraphrased from Doug's presentation: Pretend you're a baker, and somebody calls and asks you, "How much are your cakes?" For most of us, we'd ask a series of qualifiers: How many people do you want it to serve? Sheet cake, layer cake, or ice cream cake? What flavors would you like? Is anything to be written on the top? Any allergies we need to know about? When do you need it? Will it need to be delivered? And the list goes on and on.
Why, then, when none of us own a bakery, do we know what we'd need to ask, but as artists, most of you ask almost nothing? For example, a potential client calls and asks, "How much are your 8x10s?" and most of you would answer with a price. That's it - nothing more to clarify what the customer needed, and no effort made to upsell with ideas of other products you offer, package pricing, cross-promotions with other vendors, holiday specials, etc.
While I originally shared Doug's concept as a preview idea for holiday seasonality, it's a practice you should use EVERY day. With that new focus on family coming out of the pandemic, there's an increased demand for portraiture and creating/capturing new memories.
Take a minute and think about everything you have to offer a client. From holiday cards later this year to prints to capturing memory-making events. When you're contacted, don't just answer their question. Instead, take things one step further and give them something to think about that ties back to your skillset and everything you have the potential to offer.
Another good buddy, Tony Corbell, has used Disney as an example over the years. If you ask a Disney staff member when is the Electric Light Parade, they'll answer you, but then include, "And you know where there's a great place to watch it?" They'll then give you a suggestion on where to be in the park to enjoy it the most. They never just answer your question.
Your success with every client is based on exceeding expectations and making yourself habit-forming, even when they're contacting you for the very first time. Don't just answer their questions - give them a little more to think about and help them understand why you're the best choice for their imaging needs.
The bottom line is simple - we've been experiencing it with every fast food order we've ever made...
"You want fries with that?"
by Skip Cohen
It's Friday, and I'm continuing this series with short ideas to help you fine-tune and build a stronger business. And I always consider them a "clean up" theme because, like weeds in a garden, many of you have ignored these areas for so long that what-not-to-do has taken over the what-you-should-be-doing.
So, as you roll into the weekend, here's a simple idea to think about - let's make your website/blog a community resource.
Jay Conrad Levinson, known as the "Father of Guerilla Marketing," always listed community involvement as one of the critical things great marketers should do. People like buying products/services from companies they perceive as giving back to the community.
You need to be involved, and it can be anything from capturing images of an event to helping a non-profit filling ketchup and mustard bottles for the Boosters Club at Friday night games. It doesn't matter what you're doing, as long as you're giving back.
Publish a Community Calendar: Here's the twist, and it's perfect for your website and blog. Start publishing events of non-profits in your community. The fun of this is obviously self-serving - by sharing information and the links to upcoming fundraising events in the community, you're showing support for each association/group. You're setting yourself up as an ambassador of goodwill for each nonprofit. In addition, many of the events will give you the opportunity to photograph the activities and the participants. And while you don't have time to attend every fundraising event, each time you can work on one, you've got new content for a blog post!
Here's an easy place to start - check with the local Chamber of Commerce about events that are coming up. Next, take a few minutes and look at the non-profits in your community and their websites. Look at the Senior Center, Alzheimer's Association, Breast Cancer Awareness groups, Programs for Veterans, support for the homeless, United Way...and the list goes on and on. Make a list to start building content for your community calendar.
There's one more great little benefit - the more frequently you publish community events in a calendar, the closer you get to becoming a clearing house for community activities. Your calendar has the potential to become a resource for the community, all under the umbrella of you giving back.
You're looking for the community to be good to you - so you need to make sure you're being good to your community.
"Beauty is in the eyes of the checkbook holder!"
by Skip Cohen
It's Marketing Monday, and as I sat down to write this morning, I was thinking about some of the questions I read in the various forums on Facebook. The ones that bother me the most are the ones where too many of you waste time worrying about what people will think. We all have our challenges with self-confidence from time to time, but when it impacts your business decisions, it's time to step back and collect your thoughts.
This isn't my normal kind of post under the marketing umbrella. However, unless you can put 100% into your creativity, worrying about what other people think will slow you down. The only people that matter are you as the artist and your client. So, do the best you can and keep raising the bar on your skill set.
Looking through the SCU archives, I found this guest post from my buddy, Scott Bourne. He puts the topic into perspective - stop wasting time worrying about what people think and focus on giving your clients and business your very best.
Exceed expectations and make yourself habit-forming!
by Scott Bourne
People ask me how/why I produce so much content. It doesn't matter whether it's photography, painting, writing, music, etc. It's always the same simple answer.
I've come to realize that my own effort is the only thing I can control in this life. Period.
I can't control what people think of my effort or of me for that matter. I can't control what others say about my effort or about me for that matter. So why worry about it?
I spend 100% of my time on that which I CAN control. My own effort. I do everything I do with gusto. I don't ever go half way. I don't ever ask for permission. I just go for it. For me it's always pedal to the metal, from sun-up to sun-down, seven days a week. And that's the way I like it.
As artists, it's none of our business what others think of our art. That's a rabbit hole and if you go down it, you'll never know how much work product you lost and time you wasted searching for empty compliments and dealing with vapid trolls.
So my advice is direct and to the point. Just do the work. Throw yourself into it 100%. Express yourself. Give the world your point of view without fear. Don't look back. When others hate. We create.
That simple philosophy has served me very, very well for more than six and a half decades. I hope it will serve you too.
Your website is the center of your digital eco-system,
like a brick and mortar location, the experience matters once a customer enters,
just as much as the perception they have of you before they walk through the door.
by Skip Cohen
The whole idea behind this Friday series of cleanup suggestions is to give you things to think about and consider working on to build a stronger business.
Recently I was on a well-respected photographer's website. It was slow to load, and there was no logic in the content he was sharing. Plus, I had to mine for some of the most important information.
There are over 300 million Internet active households in the US. As of 2022, that was 92.0% of the population. And globally, Internet active households are over 5 billion! Your website is your most important piece of real estate, but you have to keep it fresh and make a visit to your site a great experience.
“Great web design without functionality is like a sports car with no engine.”
What fools call wasting time is most often the best investment.
by Skip Cohen
It's "Hump Day," and for whatever reason, I wandered into cyberspace to check out when the expression got started. Here's what Google gave me:
Wednesday first came to be known as hump day since at least the 1950s. The expression figures Wednesday, the middle of the workweek, as the hump people get over to coast into the weekend. Throughout the 20th century, Wednesday was especially referred to as hump day in an effort to liven up the drudgery of the workweek.
If you think about it, there's no middle of the workweek any longer. In the 50s, Saturday was a coast day, and no businesses were open on Sunday. Today most retailers run seven days a week. Plus, if you're a wedding and event photographer working Friday - Sunday, there is no "coasting" into the weekend.
But here's how I use "Hump Day:" I have several ongoing projects. On Wednesdays, I like to waste time. "First and second Tuesdays" (see my previous post) are always a little insane. By Wednesday, I want to look at what I've done and what I have coming up, and I'll often take time to kick back a little to think through my game plan. I review my calendar, check out any deadlines I have coming up, and then do some of the prep work for specific things I'm working on. It's a day to reflect a little and then ramp up for things I want to complete by Friday's end.
We all should have our routines, but sadly, for those of you just starting out, it's natural to be reactionary. You're trying to be all things to everybody. You'll eventually lose focus, and that's when something gets missed. It took me a lot of years to recognize my own limitations versus my available time. I had no choice but work to get a little more organized.
Learn from my mistakes so that you can make new ones of your own. Establish a few standard routines you do each day that involve various aspects of your business. And while marketing is a category that needs to be ongoing all the time - remember, your greatest marketing tool is relationship building. Make sure you have time allotted for customer contacts and building a brand that demonstrates your accessibility and passion for the craft.
Intro by Skip Cohen
Over the last ten years, I know I've shared this guest post by my good buddy, Scott Bourne at least twice before. While it's out of the archives, it couldn't be more relevant to so many of you. I follow hundreds of photographers, and speak to dozens every week. Many of you are making these mistakes over and again.
But the best thing is, they're all avoidable and can be corrected. Some immediately with your mindset, others with practice, more fine-tuning of your skillset or a better understanding of your target demographics.
And when Scott wrote about having a "killer portfolio" consider your online galleries. Stop showing work that anybody's Uncle Harry could capture. Make your work standout and only show "Wow" images - photographs so strong you'd only have to show one to get hired!
by Scott Bourne
(While these mistakes also encompass other areas of the professional photography business, at their core, they are marketing mistakes. See if you are making any of these mistakes and what you can do to correct them.)
1. Don't think about selling your image to the masses. Think about selling to people who live in your own zip code. Trying to start out like you're Ansel Adams with big gallery sales all across the country isn't going to happen. Just own your own zip code and don't worry about your images going viral.
2. Don't spend money on a studio, lights, camera gear, backgrounds, etc. until you actually have a customer. You can rent all the stuff you need to do a shoot. In fact, the big shots mostly rent everything when they are shooting big jobs. Why should you aim to be any different?
3. Don't focus on launching until you can sell. Focus on sales. Spend your time selling. Learn everything you can about the sales process. Read every sales book you can get your hands on. Expect to spend way, way more time selling than shooting. If you're doing it the other way around you're going to end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
4. Don't worry about a business plan if you don't have a superb portfolio. Develop a killer portfolio before you worry about building a business plan. Make sure you have honed your craft. Make sure you know what you are doing. Don't worry about the big plan. Worry about being a great photographer with a great portfolio where every single image rocks your world.
5. Don't think you can run a photo business just because you are a great photographer. You need to be good at all the things that go with running a business, or get help doing those things. You need to have good bookkeeping, inventory control, accounting, legal, marketing, branding and sales on board before you even think about entering photography as a business.
6. Don't run your business with a negative mind. Too many photographers spend their time and money trying to build a wall around their photo business. Don't write 100 page contracts. Don't treat your customers or prospects as if they are out to cheat you. Just have a good attitude and move ahead.
7. Don't fake it until you make it. If you can't carry your weight, you'll ruin your reputation. So if a client says "can you do aerial photography?" and you've never even been in an airplane, don't say yes. You may want to partner with someone who can do that, you may want to refer the prospect to someone else, but don't claim you can do it if you can't because you will suffer from a bad reputation with that prospect and all their friends for all time.
by Skip Cohen
It's Marketing Monday! - As usual this time of year, things have slowed down for some photographers, while others wish they had a thirty-hour day! For example, if you're a wedding/event shooter, you should be flat out with business.
Through the ups and downs of business, there are ALWAYS ideas you should have on a back-burner ready to initiate when the timing is right. Here are just a few to think about:
Here's my point for Marketing Monday - you can never slow down on building brand awareness. There are so many different opportunities this time of year to help you expand your reach, but nothing happens if you don't make the initiative. Procrastination is not a marketing strategy.
by Skip Cohen
We just got back from a change of command ceremony involving our son, who's moving on to a new assignment with the army. While I love the flexibility of being in the private sector, I realized something as I met many of his staff and associates - everybody knows what their job is and what's expected of them. There's an infrastructure of responsibility in place that's well-defined.
That got me thinking about each of us as entrepreneurs and sole proprietorships. Nothing is defined, and while it's great to be flexible and be able to pivot, does everybody in your company understand their role? Many of you are like me - a one-man band or one-person band if you want me to be more PC. Even if you're the only person in your company - have you defined what needs to be done with every customer?
The list goes on and on, but I want to keep with my Friday Clean Up Series, and this is an easy one for you to work on. The bottom line is easy - take the time to think about what it would take to make your business run like a well-oiled machine. And when something does go wrong, what do you have in place to resolve issues quickly?
Even flying solo as a business owner...it still takes a village!
by Skip Cohen
I've shared the illustration to the right several times over the years, but today it's all about your reach as a photographer and business owner. You have so many different paths to reach your target audience, and their effectiveness changes regularly.
At the same time, as your ability to reach more people has grown, so has the individual consumer's. I want to talk about negative reach first...
I'm defining negative reach as the impact of an angry customer on your business. I went off to Google in search of some statistics and hit the "mother lode" in an article by Abby McCain at zippia.com. Click here to read the entire article.
Those are scary numbers, but they also represent an opportunity for growing your business and staying proactive. We'll do a more in-depth post on solving customer problems on another day, but each bullet above represents another segment of your target audience who you have the potential to reach.
From your blog to all the platforms in social media, direct mail, and community involvement, your reach is growing daily.
But none of the above are effective if you're not consistent! With your blog, post at least 2-3 times a week. On the other platforms like Twitter and Facebook for example, post regularly and be involved in some of the forums related to photography that are more consumer targeted. You're looking for places your target audience is visiting, not professional photographers.
Most important of all, with everything you post, just be helpful! It's so easy and just being nice will help you build momentum, readership and obviously reach!
by Skip Cohen
It's Friday, and I'm doing my best to stay true to one new suggestion each week to help you build a stronger business. Here's one that will seem a little off the wall, but it's so on point.
ALL of you have gear you don't use anymore. It could be an older camera body, a lens, a tripod, studio lights, on-camera flashes, a point-and-shoot, or even a camera bag. And look around your support equipment - many of you have printers, scanners, and even older computers you no longer use.
Now think about brand awareness for your business. At the top of the list of things you should be doing is being active in your community. People like buying products from companies they perceive as giving back to the community. You're looking for the community to be good to you, so you better make sure you're good to your community.
Well, there isn't a school system on the planet that isn't hurting for funding. And what are the first programs to get cut when money's in short supply? It's always the arts, and photography is right at the top of the hit list. That means all that gear you no longer use has so much value to kids interested in imaging.
A few years ago, I wanted to help a teacher just south of me here in Florida. He taught photography in a school with minimal funding and just about no camera gear. I contacted a friend at one of the major camera companies and got him 20+ point-and-shoot digital cameras, memory cards, and chargers. The cameras were older models, mostly samples from trade shows, but would give his students a greater experience than using their phones.
There's one more way you can help - schools are often looking for guest speakers, especially when it's part of a career day event. If you're a working professional photographer, then you're qualified to speak to a class about what a career in imaging is like.
And here's the best part of all this - use your blog and social media to share what you're doing. Publish pictures of you with the kids in the school or the instructor. Help to spread the word in the community and help rally more help, and in turn, more equipment for the students.
Here's my point - you're sitting on a mini-goldmine of support for your community and establishing yourself as the expert in photography! It's great branding and also cause-related marketing with minimal time but maximum relationship-building potential!
by Skip Cohen
It's Marketing Monday and one of my good buddy Scott Bourne's most helpful guest posts. While it was shared many years ago, EVERY point is relevant today. Marketing doesn't really change, and over the years from my own posts to guests, each of these golden rules have been shared before.
And for those of you who will roll your eyes at the idea of pounding the pavement and going door-to-door...it can be so effective. What I hear most often is, "I'm a wedding photographer, it won't do me much good to go into a real estate office!" NOT - here's why. Every realtor has other needs outside their business. From a new headshot to family events and weddings of their own kids, to support for community events they're involved in, there's a never-ending demand.
Walk in, introduce yourself and say, "While my specialty is wedding and event photography, I'm here in the community to help you with any of your photo needs. I have a great network, call me any time." That's it - no hard sell and nothing more you need to say. Leave your card and head to the next business.
It's not rocket science - just good old relationship building, which is your very best marketing tool!
by Scott Bourne
Everyone who competes with you may be a better photographer than you are, but if you know these seven golden rules of photography marketing, you'll outsell them most of the time.
1. Be true to yourself. Be you. Be authentic. Don't pretend to be passionate about something you are not. Your prospects will bust you every time. Worry about finding prospects who like YOU and what YOU do,. not trying to make everyone happy who walks through your door. If you try to please everyone, you'll please nobody.
2. Network, Network, Network. Every single time you spend money in your zip code, you should also hand your business card, or portfolio post card to the owner/manager of that business. If you are spending money with them, then you have won the right to be heard, and it's not unreasonable to expect that they may want to do business with you.
3. Go door-to-door. This old fashioned method is harder than it used to be but can still yield great results. Start with businesses (even the ones you don't frequent) in your zip code. Make it a point to visit at least 20 of these each week. Introduce yourself. Let them know that you are their "local photographer" and leave contact info with them. Follow up by phone, email or snail mail every quarter. Eventually they will need a photographer and by then you'll seem like an old trusted friend.
4. Work with your indirect and even direct competitors. I coined a phrase 20 years ago that has served me well. "Coop-etition." I cooperate with people who are in my business by referring them jobs I can't do or don't want. I share marketing materials with them by going in on direct mail campaigns with them. We buy ads together, especially if we do something similar but can articulate something different. Work with these people. They are your best allies if you approach it with an open mind.
5. Become a helpmate to a local charity. Pick ONE. Don't try to get involved in everything there is. Pick one. Be the dominate photographer who helps that one charity. You'll meet tons of like-minded people who will automatically give you first dibs when it comes to photography work because they are familiar with you and what you do. It reduces the due diligence and shopping around time that costs everyone. Be charitable. It also builds good karma.
6. Collect data on everything. Get people to give you their business cards. Then use a contact management program to collate and mine that data for outbound marketing.
7. Join your local Rotary, Chamber of Commerce, or other service organizations and volunteer to be the newsletter or event photographer - especially if you are just starting out. Then all the movers and shakers in your town will see your name associated with every photo they encounter at the organization and you'll be a natural choice when THEY need to hire a photographer.
This is all common sense, but as I get older I realize there's nothing common about sense so I thought I'd share this list in case some of you needed a reminder. Go out and implement this stuff now. Don't wait. Skip and I are rooting for you.
Intro by Skip Cohen
I've written extensively over the years about your website's "About" section. Yet, every day I read statements by photographers written in the third person, talking about their awards and listing gear they use, classes they've taken, etc. Your target audience, for the most part, doesn't care.
I've shared my buddy Scott Bourne's artist statement before. It's the perfect example of the approach so many of you need to take. For most of you in the portrait/social specialties, your target is Mom! She's not interested in anything but why you love being a photographer. She needs to know if you can be trusted to capture the kinds of images she wants most. To get her to that point, you need to share why you love being an artist.
When Scott first shared his artist's statement below, he wrote:
Rather than give you a checklist of what to include in your statement, I'm simply going to show you mine. I don't think there is a right or wrong way to do this. I think you just have to write from your heart or be inspired by someone or something else who shares your vision. I re-wrote my statement a few years ago when some comments I received on my images helped me to see what others were seeing in my work, but which I lacked the proper mirror to see.
And there's my point - just write from your heart. Don't worry about being sappy. Share your passion for the craft and your clients. Write it all in the first person and finish with a facsimile of your signature. Make it personal because that's what your clients most often need to see the most!
Scott Bourne's Artist Statement
For me, wildlife art photography is about two connecting themes: extraordinary craftsmanship in terms of technical mastery of photography and a fundamental understanding of the dynamics of the nature behind the image.
At a deeper level, however, I pursue this art form because of its almost religious qualities.
One day, I can have a vision in my mind that represents a photograph I want to make. This vision exists only in my head and my heart – it’s a silent vision which has the power to bring me out into the field, month after month, year after year, for a chance to turn that vision into something tangible that I can share with others.
The other religious aspect of my work is focus and devotion to an idea over which I have absolutely no control.
I learn all that I can about the natural factors behind each photographic opportunity, but I never know how they will play out. My artistry focuses on the beauty of things which are random. Wildlife operates within its own free will. The bird flies its own path.
It’s different than working in a photography studio where I have control over the set, the model and the lights. As a wildlife artist, my gift is to know how to “show up prepared” to interact with beauty that I do not control. I must learn to be at peace with my subject on their terms, not on mine.
I struggle with finding the patience and the path. But when that struggle becomes the hardest, I remember my calling. I speak for the creatures which have no voice. Perhaps this is why the experience is so emotional for me.
Each time I get a perfect moment and capture that with my camera, I experience joy and sadness. I am joyful because the finished work provides me with a lifelong memory of a successful vision. But I also feel sadness that the pursuit is over.
After that moment, the cycle begins again, and I launch the pursuit of the next creative vision. I hope to share that vision well enough that others may someday wish to help speak for the animals too.
Image copyright Scott Bourne. All rights reserved.
by Skip Cohen
Back in my WPPI/Rangefinder Magazine days, I lived in southern California, outside LA. In June, the marine layer would roll in, and while the temp was always 75 with low humidity, everybody called it "June Gloom." Having spent most of my life in Ohio and the Northeast, I laughed whenever somebody whined about the weather. It was still beautiful for me, and at 75 degrees, there was nothing to complain about.
Well, June in the photography world is the gateway to possibilities for building your business. And while many of you think of it as prime wedding season - it's also a time to expand and build out your business in other directions.
Here's my point - you can make this one of your best years in business, but nothing happens if you don't use all the communication tools at your fingertips. From mailings to your blog to phone calls, texts, and posts on social media - you've got to plant the seed for new ideas.
Take a look at everything you offer on your website. Many of you have been doing the same things for years, and it would put a rock to sleep. Let's spice things up and make the summer of '23 one you'll talk about for years to come!
And if you're stuck - you know where to find me.
by Skip Cohen
Last Friday, I shared an idea about cleaning up your online galleries. Until I run out of ideas, I'm going to share a new idea every Friday about some aspect of your business that needs a little attention. And while I know business is back in full swing for many of you, none of these ideas are rocket science, but implemented will help you build a stronger business.
Your greatest marketing tool is relationship building. All of you have networks of people you've met, worked with, and appreciated. But a great network needs a little care and feeding. In the old days, we all had a Rolodex of business cards. There was no Internet, email, or social media outlets - just a collection of business cards on everybody's desk.
The advantage of building a great network in the first place is all about support - not just for you, but as a two-way street, both giving and receiving. It's about having resources to draw from when you need help and also being there to lend your expertise to people in your network.
Unfortunately, so often, we'll go to chase down somebody and have obsolete contact information or be embarrassed to reach out when we haven't talked to the person in a year since the last convention, first meeting, etc.
It's time to review your network. Think of your network as a target, with the center being those people you trust the most. The next circle from the center might be your closest associates, staff, etc. The next ring out should be vendors, etc. The second and third rings from the center of that "target" are your most important. This is usually where everyone is out of date regarding contact information.
Here are some ideas to keep your network vibrant and alive!
Happy Friday! Have a great weekend and to all you Dads out there, Happy Father's Day.
Images copyright Kevin A. Gilligan. All rights reserved.
Intro by Skip Cohen
Before you read on - this is the longest post I've ever shared on the SCU Blog, but it's for a great reason. We're back into great weather, summer, and many of you are going to think about showing your work in local galleries, shows, and community events. Even if you just scan the title of each tip, you're bound to find something relevant to help you raise the bar on showing your work.
In 2015, Kevin Gilligan did a guest post that's been one of the best we've had. Initially, I ran it in three parts. Today I'm putting all three of them into one post. And while here and there something might sound a little dated - there is no expiration date on relationship building as an artist with your target audience.
There's an incredible amount of helpful advice here as Kevin shared sixteen tips on doing a solo exhibition. Even if you have no intention of doing a photography show or gallery event, there's one tip after another to help you show your work better.
About Kevin: The real fun of this industry is the friendships that come from everyone's love for the craft. Ever had a friend who feels like they've been in your life pretty much forever? Well, that's Kevin A. Gilligan. We met in a phone call around 2014, and the friendship continued to grow, even though we didn't meet face to face until years later.
I'm not sure there isn't anything Kevin can't photograph, but the secret ingredient is his love for the craft. He's a writer, educator, artist, and a great buddy. Click on any of his images in this post to visit his website.
What I Learned From My First Solo Photography Show
by Kevin A. Gilligan
Landscape photography is one of my passions. I love the feeling of capturing a great scene, especially if I get to explore somewhere new while doing it. Photographers love to share their best images. We want others to enjoy and appreciate them, and hopefully, buy them.
In the past five years, I’ve shown my landscape and travel photography in a half-dozen group shows, and two museums. Last year I began to feel it was time to have a solo exhibit. I’m a self-taught photographer, and I was not planning to wait around for a gallery to offer me a show. I made up my mind that I was going to create my show. Over the course of six months, I planned and executed every detail of a solo show.
Deciding to do a solo exhibit is a large commitment of time, resources, and ego. Yep, ego, you are putting yourself out there, and saying come look at my work. You have to have the confidence to show it, and a thick skin for those who won’t like it. Photography is art; you won’t please everyone, nor should you try to.
The opening night of a solo show is exhilarating and worth all the work that goes into it. I learned a ton in the process. Here are a few tips I can share for those who are committed enough to put on their first solo show.
Tip #1 Try a Group Show First
Group art shows are a perfect way to ease your way into showing your work. You don’t need many pieces; you can often show just one. It takes less time and less money, and there is less pressure because much of the logistical work is already done. You don’t have to book a gallery space, and often someone will hang the images for you. The theme may already be selected. The group shows help you build your network of contacts: collectors, framers, printers, public relations folks. Hand out your cards, get the cards of others, send thank you notes.
Tip #2 Select Your Best Images
Learning to select your best images and editing them for a show is a big first step.
You must learn to be ruthless. I have over 40,000 images in my catalog. I showed 27. If you are thinking about a solo show, I am assuming you are already proficient in post-production using Lightroom/Photoshop, etc. Selecting your images for a show is much more than just processing your images. It involves selecting a group of images that go together in the show. You might have several groupings of images.
For my exhibit, I had 27 images in three groups. The first were aerial images of Los Angeles. I printed those on metal. The second were black and white photographs of Rocky Mountain National Park; those were printed on paper and framed and matted. The third group included some of my favorite water-related images, and a few black and white, or dark themed landscapes that complimented the Colorado images.
Tip #3 Print A Test Book
Once I had a semi-final selection of images, I printed a high-quality test book. The book was about 5x7 inches, and I did not spend a lot of time on the text. The point of the book was to see how the images looked together and to have the book to take with me when I met with galleries. It was also an inspiration to me to keep going. When I was tired or frustrated, I could look at the book and remind myself of my purpose. The book was something tangible I could hold in my hands. I also showed it to a lot of potential guests for the show. Printing the book shows you are serious, and it elicits a different reaction than, “Hey, look at these pictures on my iPhone.” Everyone has pictures on their iPhone, this is different, print a book. You will look at your images differently. It pushes you to do better.
Tip #4 Theme/Artist Statement
You need a theme. Your exhibit will need a name. Give some thought to what will describe your show to guests. This was hard for me, really hard. It took me a while. I read photography books, listened to podcasts, talked to my wife about it. I won’t lie, this took me months. Finally, I figured out something that worked for the collection of images I had in mind. ELEMENTS: SEA – AIR – LAND. Was it the best name ever, probably not, but it told the viewer what to expect, images of the sea, air, and land. As I got closer to the exhibit I wrote an artist statement incorporating the theme, and what I wanted to convey with this collection of images. Personally, I think this is an indispensable step to solidify your thoughts and connect with potential collectors. The theme was done early in the process; the artist statement came much later.
Tip #5 Find a Place to Show Your Images
Obviously, this is very important. You might even want to determine this first. Many decisions spring from this decision. You need to know what this space will look like so you will know how much space you have for images. How many can you show? How will you present them? The location is also an important consideration for your audience. How far will they travel to see you work? When the venue is available will affect how much time you have to prepare everything. If the location is a gallery or museum, it will likely have a lot of lighting, and it will be flexible to highlight best your art. If the location is not a gallery, you may need supplemental lighting. How much will the location cost to rent? Will you pay a flat fee or a percentage of your sales? Do they allow food and alcohol? Will they do marketing for you or will you be expected to do all of your marketing? Do they have a mailing list to promote you?
Finding the right space took months for me. I had been paying attention to the galleries during my group shows. I was ready to book one gallery and it closed. I was disappointed, and had to start my search over. I contacted real estate agents about vacant spaces, but that never panned out. The real estate agents always wanted too much money for a short exhibit, and they also wanted me to get insurance and pay for electrical hookups and the like. The logistics didn’t work out.
Ultimately I found a local gallery and was able to pay them a flat fee. They had lots of lighting, and they even helped me hang my images, which was great. I also found a very supportive group of artists who were interesting and fun.
Tip #6 Seek Show Sponsors
Putting on a show is expensive. Printing, framing, gallery space, public relations, food and beverages, a catalog….they all cost money. It’s thousands of dollars any way you cut it. Seek sponsors to help you reduce your costs, and give your sponsors billing on your public relations, social media, and gallery space. Hopefully, you have been building your connections as you have exhibited in group shows to this point.
Sponsors can also include local food and beverage companies who may be new and want to expand their client base. I was grateful to have Tamron USA, Pelican Products and a local brewery and chocolatier as my sponsors. You don’t have to provide a full dinner, but some wine and cheese, or beer and chocolate is in order. I did not drink during the show so I could stay sharp and attend to my guests.
Tip #7 Create a Show Flier
Once you selected the show name, images, location, and dates, it is time for a show “flier.” My flier had a key image for the show that would be on all the advertising, dates and times, and names of my sponsors, my website, and email address. I printed several hundred 4x6 postcards and carried them with me all the time. I handed out hundreds of these over the course of 3-4 months and left them at key places like my local photography shop.
Tip #8 Social Media
As soon as you book the date of your show, send out a “SAVE THE DATE” on social media. Use the show flier on social media. Send it out to all your outlets: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, your mailing list. Your sponsors will appreciate it. Vary the message, talk about the process, show the location, your printing, and framing. Don’t overwhelm but give periodic updates. Ask your friends and sponsors to help spread the word. Post images of the show itself, friends having fun, and perhaps even images you sell. Be sure to reach out to people individually before and after the show. Take the time to demonstrate that you are looking forward to people coming to the show, and say thanks to those who do come.
Tip #9 Be Humble and Ask For Help
You are going to need help, probably a lot of it. So be humble and ask for help. I’ve always been a believer in shopping locally. I buy a lot of my camera equipment from local camera stores. Yes, it costs me a bit more in the short run, but in the long-run the help with equipment and questions is invaluable. Plus I like to support my local community. For this show, I spent quite a bit of time working with an extremely talented photographer and printer from my local camera store. She helped me with paper selection, printing and gave me many helpful suggestions. One of the best suggestions she gave me was to create a replica model of the show space.
Tip #10 Create a Replica of Your Exhibit Space
Grab a legal pad, a few pens, and a tape measure and go visit your exhibit space. Measure the dimensions of ALL the walls and draw a diagram while you are there. Next create a model of the space out of foam board. Make every foot equal to one inch and be sure the model is to scale. Height of the walls and distances included.
Write the height and width on each wall. Connect the foam board pieces using clamps and/or nails. You will want to be able to take the walls apart and put them back together again. You are going to print super-small copies of your pictures and post them to the walls using pin cushions. By doing this, you will be able to see which images go together on a wall, which images should be vertical or horizontal. You are going to measure out the distances exactly.
Did this take a lot of time….yes. Did I get frustrated doing this….yes. Was I delighted when I got to the gallery, and I knew exactly where each piece was going to go……? Absolutely. It cut down on a lot of stress on the day of installation.
Tip #11 Test Prints
This will be obvious to some, but test prints are critical. You need to know how your image will look on the particular medium that you are using. Half of my images were printed on metal for this show. I ordered several metal prints (dye fused on metal) from several print labs before the show. I experimented with several different finishes on the metal as well i.e. glossy, matte, etc. The paper prints were even more complicated. Each paper has a different print quality, price and displays the ink differently. “HELP”….my head was spinning. I spent many hours working with a printer to get each shot right. Finding the right framer, at the right price, can also be challenging. Your network can be invaluable here.
Tip #12 Installation/Hanging Your Images
Hanging images can be very challenging. Honestly, I hate doing it. Give yourself enough time. At least a day. If you have done your model (tip #10), then this will be much easier, you already know which images go together as a group, and where specifically each will go. Ask for help, bring a friend who has done this already if you can. Keep in mind that some galleries will hang images with wires and some galleries only want “D” rings. You should ask the gallery how they want the images before you frame them, assuming the gallery is going to help you hang the images.
Tip #13 Create a Catalog
Create a catalog of your work for the show. Include your artist statement, pictures of the images, the size of the images, the medium, and the price. I made 250 copies of the catalog, and it was well worth it. Hand it out at the show and let people take it home. This will help with your follow-up sales.
Tip #14 Sign-In Book
Purchase a nice leather bound book for the show and have people sign in and provide their name and email address so you can thank them for coming and invite them to future events.
Tip #15 Follow-Up
Follow up with your prospective purchasers after the show. Thank those who came to the show and especially those who purchased an image.
Tip #16 Hire a Photographer
Hire a photographer for the day, so you get images (with you in them for a change) and you can relax. You’ll be happy to have the images of your friends and for use in future marketing and social media efforts.
Having a solo exhibition is a landmark in your professional photography career. It says you are serious about your photography and willing to put in much more time and effort than the average photographer. Give yourself lots of time, six-nine months and enjoy the learning process.
Nearly 250 people attended my exhibit, I sold a third of my images during the show, and even more after the show. I met collectors and I'm building my mailing list. It was an exhilarating and somewhat exhausting experience. I couldn’t be happier I did it. I hope you do it too.
by Skip Cohen
Note to self: Don't stay in your home office when you're having a new roof installed!
That explains why I'm just getting around to posting this morning's post at 3:45 PM! But it's short and doesn't change the sentiment or, I hope, my ability to make a point.
Every morning, Sheila and I read something short and inspirational from two books we picked out for the new year. As hokey as it might sound, it often sets the tone for the day ahead. Here's one that hit home for me just a few days ago.
What do you want to accomplish today?
There is a full day ahead with a fresh canvas for you to paint a beautiful picture.
What will it look like at the end of the day? Consider what needs to get done
and sprinkle in something nonessential and memorable.
Our days aren't supposed to be a list of tasks...
Emily Silva, Sunrise Gratitude
And while usually, this would be a topic for a Sunday Morning Reflections post; it's relevant to most of us every day of the week. We get so over-focused on the challenges of running a business that we need to remember to add in a few things that most people might consider nonessential.
Listen to just about any Mind Your Business or Tamron Recipes podcasts, and you'll repeatedly hear some of the industry's most respected and successful artists discussing the importance of special projects. For the most part, they're projects that started just for the fun of it but evolved into support for your most important client, YOURSELF.
That brings me to wrap up with a point - if your day wasn't as stellar as you hoped, take a break right now. Step back and think through when the day started to go downhill. Then set tomorrow up with something to break up the tasks for the day.
This is all about putting a smile on your face and keeping passion in focus. You all know how to focus your camera, but sadly we all forget how often we need to focus our hearts!
by Skip Cohen
It's Marketing Monday, and while I might be a little late getting this posted, there's no expiration date on building diversity into your skill set for marketing. Specifically, while there are slight variances around the country, in many areas, especially the Midwest - NOW is the time to target the class of 2024 for senior photography.
Senior photography continues to be one of the fastest-growing specialties in imaging. Unlike when I was a senior (on the right), today it's all about capturing the subject's personality. It's about the interaction between the senior and the professional photographer.
If you've got an interest in the senior market, the first thing you need is to ensure you've got the skill set, not just with your camera. You need great communication skills and the ability to build a relationship with your subject.
Remember, for many seniors, this may be their first time working with a professional photographer. They're as nervous about getting a portrait done as they are in dealing with some of their own self-esteem issues. That means your listening and conversational skills must be as good as your understanding of exposure, composition, and lighting!
But here's the real point of today's post - you don't have to develop the senior market alone. Check out Marathon's "Power of 3" Senior Marketing program. It's direct mail at its best, with the expertise of the Marathon staff to watch your back and help you develop an effective program.
For example, check out the strategy/timing below of their 3-point program, as well as the option fourth "last chance" piece.
At the very least, finding out more about the program should be a no-brainer. It costs nothing for you to get more information. There's an unlimited combination of design components for you to choose from, but everything starts with your interest in expanding your expertise into the community.
Even better to help you build your brand as a senior photographer, the available design for each 3-part mailing is limited to only one studio per marketing area. It only takes a phone call to find out what's being done in your area.
Still have questions? Enjoy the conversation between Mark Weber at Marathon and Brian and Jessica Baer of Baer Studios. There's so much great insight shared in these two videos covering virtually ever aspect of building a senior business.
by Skip Cohen
Wrapping up the week, I always try and hit you with something to think about over the weekend. I try and keep it simple with a suggestion to focus on one unique aspect of your business. Here's an easy one - let's clean up your galleries.
Several times over the last few weeks, I've been looking at the galleries of different photographers while I had them on the phone. Each time they've apologized for their galleries and website being outdated. This is such an easy fix; it all starts with your mindset. Remember, procrastination is NOT a marketing strategy!
Here's the bottom line - Your home page and galleries are the two most valuable pieces of cyberspace real estate you own! Don't waste the opportunity for new clients when somebody walks by and looks in the "window!" It's all about the experience of visiting your business and liking what they see.
by Skip Cohen
A big thanks to so many of you who commented or hit the "like" button in the various forums where I shared this yesterday. Hopefully, you'll like the second half just as much. Part II gets a little more personal and goes beyond the rules of engagement, hitting on a few basic concepts.
The bottom line is simple - it's a long post, but pick the highlights that work best for you. And remember, we're ALL work in progress!
11) Never use the word "fail!" Don't be afraid to admit you screwed up, but the truth is "fail," "failure," and "failed" are all self-fulfilling negative words. You're dead meat the minute you use words like this. If you tried something and it didn't work – all that happened was that it didn't work. If you hadn't tried anything at all, then you'd be a failure.
So, strike the word from your vocabulary and get your internal spell-check going so that all derivatives of the word fail are removed. Success is about taking chances; failure is just part of your journey. As long as you learn from each situation, nothing can ever be a failure.
12) Recognize when you're on overload. Anybody with kids knows the signs of a sugar low. As adults, we're no different; we never outgrow that sugar-low mood swing. What does change is that as we get older, we're not only susceptible to a real sugar low, but we react the same way when we've just got too much going on. So you've got to take a break now and then and stay grounded with those things most important in your life.
13) Only claim your own work as yours - And don't share somebody else's work without permission: There's been a lot of talk in our industry over the years as some pretty well-known photographers have been caught using another photographer's images and text. If you can't come up with a concept on your own to write about in your words, then either ask for permission and quote the source or forget it! And when you're shooting behind your instructor in a hands-on class, stop claiming it's your image and sharing it in your galleries. Instead, take what you learned and apply it to your own photographs.
14) Keep in contact with friends. We all get busy. We all lose touch, but it's worth the effort to keep in touch with friends and people you've met who share your passions. And don't forget your network - Your network takes work to maintain, and you need to communicate with the core members regularly, not just when you need help.
14B) Keep in touch with your immediate family! I made this its own category, because it's so easy to forget the people closest to you. For example, Sheila can't know why mood swing just went south if she doesn't understand various aspects of my business. So, whether it's your spouse, partner or roommate - don't forget their stake/investment in your life. Share what's going on in your business with the people closet to you.
15) Listen to your staff. Your business is growing, and as it does, you'll bring on more people to help. You might outsource to other vendors. All these people, directly or indirectly, become your "staff." Learn to include them in discussions about your business and listen to their suggestions. You don't always have to incorporate their ideas, but at least let them know their input is valuable and is being considered.
16) Be realistic with your deadlines. Deliver on time or even early. Nobody is interested in your excuses if you come in late.
17) Be on time! It's pretty simple – show up when you're supposed to, regardless if it's a meeting with an associate or a client.
There's a great story about business writer Tom Peters many years ago. He was hired to speak at a conference of airline executives. There was a lot of angry tension in the room when he showed up ten minutes late. He opened with one comment, "By all your standards, this is an on-time arrival!"
18) Get to know your vendors. As a professional photographer, you need a great lab, an album company, a frame company, a reputable equipment retailer, and a marketing/planning resource. And, within each one of these vendors, there are additional resources with people there to help you succeed in virtually every aspect of photography.
But here's an engagement rule when you're at a trade show or convention: Don't be a stormtrooper! There's nothing more aggravating than when working a booth at a busy show, somebody interrupts your conversation to introduce themselves. It's okay if you want to talk to that person, but make an appointment in advance or simply wait your turn.
19) Be careful what you say and to whom! We're a relatively small industry. We all go to the same rubber chicken dinners together. I've been caught a few times at conventions, talking a little too loud in a restaurant and unaware of who might be sitting at the next table. Remember, you never know how many degrees of separation there are between the person you're talking to and the person you're talking about!
20) Unless you're willing to accept responsibility for a rumor, don't pass it on! Around year six of my twelve years at Hasselblad, I heard a rumor I traced back to a retailer that I was about to be fired. When I confronted him directly, he refused to tell me his source, yet he passed the rumor on to one of Hasselblad's salesmen. The rumor was absolutely not true. I found out later it was started by an employee who was simply mad at me. I was there for another six years and made it a point to remind the retailer every year that I was still on board.
21) Be involved in a charity and your community! I've written about this so many times – you're looking for your community to be good to you. Well, you have to be good to your community. It doesn't matter what you do to give back - even if it has nothing to do with photography. The point is to be involved as a business owner in your community.
22) Act like your grandmother is watching! It's a great quote from a photographer and good friend, Levi Sim. I use it most often when people can't seem to be nice to each other in some of the Facebook forums. So much of everything I shared yesterday and today is built on a foundation that most of our grandmothers wrote!
23) Don't just shoot for clients. My buddy, Terry Clark, wrote a few years ago: "Take Pictures for the love of photography. So many photographers I know, only pick up the camera when a paycheck is attached. What a shame. You need to keep your eye fresh. Musicians practice so they're ready for the performance, and athletes train for the big game; why in the world would a photographer not take pictures to keep their eye inspired and in tune?"
My list yesterday and today isn't meant to be all-inclusive. There are plenty more I could add to the list. I know it sounds pretty hokey, but we've all got the ability to make 2023 a year of peace, goodwill, growth, and fun. Remember "fun?" It's a word that's too often lost under the stress and baggage of running a business. But, with minimal effort, we've got the potential to make this year a sweet one!
And in terms of your business and personal life - exceed expectations and make yourself habit-forming! This applies not just to your clients but family, friends, and associates!
by Skip Cohen
I hate long posts, but now and then, it's necessary. However, I've written this first round with numbered bullets to highlight each point. I will have accomplished my goal if you only read the highlights.
While the Internet is partly responsible for many of the challenges, social media can't be blamed for bad behavior. Wannabe trolls hide behind the anonymity of their computer screens and send out a barrage of negativity they'd never have the nerve to share in person. At the same time, we tend to react quicker, especially when somebody challenges something in which we deeply believe.
There's nothing like the imaging industry. While we have our share of challenges with technology, the economy, and the changing face of consumer trends, with the exception of modern medicine, there isn't another group of people on the planet who have given the world more.
So, while I'm calling this the "Rules of Engagement," it's also my personal wish list of how I'd love everyone in the industry to interact with each other!
1) Follow Through: I'm tired of people and groups who promise us one thing and then never follow through. We're all guilty now and then, but a few people out there just don't stay focused. There's a big difference between forgetting to do something and never following through on what you promised. It's one thing if it's just between business owners and staff, but it's critical when you don't keep your promises to your clients and target audience.
"It takes roughly 40 positive customer experiences to undo the damage of a single negative review." Inc. Magazine - now think about that in terms of a customer who's upset that you missed getting back to.
2) Never Compromise on Quality: Whether it's an image posted on your website or just one of the hundreds in an album – if it's not your best work, don't show it. Nobody ever hired a photographer because of the number of images in their galleries! But QUALITY goes beyond just your photographs and videos - it's time to review all aspects of your business, from your website to your social media presence to your involvement in the community.
3) Don't be afraid to ask for help! It's one of the most important on the list. You're part of an incredible industry, and so many people are willing to help you through the challenges. But we can't help if you don't ask! So stop thinking everything you do needs to be a solo flight!
4) Don't be afraid to experiment! Now and then, you will have to go with your gut and try something new. If it doesn't work, you've got the opportunity to change and start again. But if you wait until everything is right, you'll never get going! Zig Ziglar is responsible for one of my favorite quotes,
"If you wait for all the lights to be green, you'll never get started on your journey!"
5) Call people back! If somebody has left you a voice mail, they deserve a response. Even better, use your phone now and then instead of email! It's called the back to your roots plan. I've blogged about it in the past, but a phone call rather than an email to a client or just about anybody can have an incredible impact. And if you've called somebody and they've returned your call, but you weren't available - don't let that return call slip through the cracks. Sometimes it's hard to avoid a volley of phone tag, but don't make it a habit.
6) Don't be greedy - but don't undervalue your work either: Price your products and services at a level in line with your market. Share the profit and the accolades with those people who have helped you grow. If you want to be a miser, realize you'll spend most of your life alone, even when people act like they're with you. However, at the other end of the spectrum is ensuring you don't undervalue your work. Remember ALL of your costs and price your work with a respectable margin.
7) Make your handshake mean something! The pandemic is behind us, and we're all back to shaking hands. But sadly, the younger generation seems to have forgotten how to do it right. My grandfather and father did business their whole lives on a handshake. I realize thousands of attorneys out there will tell me I'm nuts, but for the most part, I'm still doing business the same way. Sadly, we live in a litigious world, and you need contracts, but the symbolism of eye contact and a firm handshake still speak volumes. The same goes for the tone of your voice on a phone call or with Zoom, Skype, etc.
8) Smile More Bitch Less: It's that simple. Everybody has challenges, and there will always be somebody who can top your story about being miserable. But, even more important – if you're miserable, think about a plan to change whatever is dragging you down. And smile when you're on a call - it really does make a difference - you can usually tell when somebody you're talking to is having a great day or simply doesn't want to talk to you.
9) Surround Yourself With People You Respect. My grandmother used to say, "You're judged by the company you keep!" Photography and business are just like playing tennis with somebody better than you. Your game gets better as well. Look for people to bring into your network who complement your weaknesses. It'll give you a stronger "game." Success isn't exclusively financial - it's about your personal and family values, integrity, and keeping your skill set at the highest level.
10) Never Stop Learning: Technology constantly changes, and consumer trends are only a short step behind. You need to attend every workshop and convention you can. Take the time to watch webinars and listen to podcasts and READ. You've got to be on top of every change in your profession to be the very best. Never let your skill set stagnate, and remember - you'll always learn more outside your comfort zone!
I know it's a long post, but I'm still going tomorrow with Part II, which will get a little more personal. Here's my point: We're in an incredible industry - the job of helping people capture memories. If we work together, we can raise the value of that process and have more fun at the same time.
"Fun" is one of those words that's too often lost today in business. It's buried under the baggage of stress and poor communication. But it'll take so little to raise the bar and increase how often we smile each day. And as simplistic and naive as that sounds - what a kick if we do it!
Check out "Why?" one of the most popular features on the SCU Blog. It's a very simple concept - one image, one artist and one short sound bite. Each artist shares what makes the image one of their most favorite. We're over 100 artists featured since the project started. Click on the link above and you can scroll through all of the episodes to date.