I love it when the real world provides perfect examples of how NOT to build a reputation. We've all been through the challenges of bad service in trying to contact many of the major corporations, especially when it comes to finding a person to talk to. Here's an example with a live body, face to face that left me speechless. But, thanks to the Union Station Hotel in St. Louis, it did give me something to share on this Marketing Monday.
Here's the backstory:
I ran out of deodorant while at ShutterFest. No big deal, I went down to the "Market" in the hotel where they have one of those small pegboard displays with toiletries. The way the store is set up, there's a series of products, from food items to cookbooks and souvenirs across the entire back wall and at the far end a Starbucks-like coffee bar which has the only register.
There were at least 20 people in line, and only one person working the register. Since the line only moves one custom coffee order at a time, I was not going to wait half an hour to make my purchase. So, I left the store with my deodorant and headed to the front desk to see if I could pay there. On the way, we caught up to one of the hotel managers.
When I asked if there was someplace else where I could make the purchase and told him he needed more staff in the Market, he couldn't have been more indignant. He actually said, "There are four people working in there now!" When we told him he was wrong, he listed the responsibilities of each, including stocking, inventory, etc. It didn't matter if they were in the back - there was only one person visible in the entire store who was working with customers.
But then he hit the motherlode of stupid comments, "You have to wait your turn! People expect to stand in line at Starbucks!" We responded - "We didn't go to Starbucks, we went to the Market! All I want to do is buy this!" In a huff, he said, "Well just keep it," and stormed away.
And there you have it, how not to treat a customer!
So, the next time you're dealing with an upset client, whether they're right or wrong, be empathetic. One of the very best neutralizers is to say, "I understand you're upset. The buck stops here. How can I help?" Then, kick back and listen.
"Your customer doesn't care how much you know, until they know how much you care!"
While the Union Station Hotel has some genuinely nice people working there, this last trip brought out some of the biggest mistakes in customer service. From the front desk to the restaurant, it was an adventure in what NOT to do. And, with this confrontation, all the manager had to do was agree to look into the problem and help me pay for my purchase. Instead he chose to argue and defend the concept of how they've chosen to run their store.
With every disappointed customer you have in your business, regardless of what the real issue might be or how serious, you have a unique opportunity to build the relationship. Listen, empathize and then solve the challenge and you'll pick up points every time for demonstrating how much you care.
It's Marketing Monday, and as we fed the koi in this pond outside our hotel, it got me thinking about the challenges in business and separating yourself from the competition.
Let's set the stage first - there are a few hundred koi in this pond with two vending machines for fish food. It's a quarter for a small handful of food and just dropping a couple of nuggets in the water creates a frenzy. It's a kick to watch, but the fight above was all over a half dozen tiny nuggets of food. All of the koi were competing for the same tidbit, and in the end, almost all of them went hungry, at least until the next person came along.
Now think about your market. You're competing for business with all the other photographers in the area as well as a few "Uncle Harrys." How are you going to make yourself look different? What are you going to do to build a reputation based on exceptional service, an incredible experience and exceeding customer expectations? How are you going to stand out from the crowd?
I have a print at home of the image on the right. It's matted, framed and hangs over our fireplace. There were only a few koi in the pond at the Emperor's Palace in Tokyo when I was there many years ago. The population was smaller, but it gave me a chance to watch them and appreciate the differences and the beauty of each fish.
The finished image was all thanks to a friend that turned a grab shot into a piece of art combining her skill set and NIK software many years ago.
But, here's my point - So many of you are competing with every photographer in your area for the same target audience. Unless you make yourself stand out, you're just another photographer, not an artist.
My buddy Terry Clark wrote a guest post a few years back, and he's responsible for one of my favorite quotes:
“The best thing to do to survive and thrive is find what everyone else isn’t doing and do that thing.”
Think about every aspect of your business - what can you do to make yourself different and have a reputation that stands out from the crowd? And in terms of the analogy with the koi, every fish in the shot up top is beautiful, but put them all together and they're just a bunch of fish!
Intro by Skip Cohen
My long-standing friendship with good buddy Scott Bourne goes back a lot of years and was founded on the respect I have for his business sense. There are a lot of things I do today, thanks to Scott's help, direction, and influence.
Today's post is perfect for this time of year as 2019 seasonality starts to take hold. It's one of the longest and most in-depth posts he's shared since helping me start SCU, and it's loaded with things to think about, especially the importance of being grateful for the career path you've chosen. I first published it in 2013, but there's no expiration date on wisdom and appreciation!
"Recognizing that the real reward of being lucky enough to be a professional photographer is the joy of knowing that you are protecting memories for others and those memories will last lifetimes."
I love that sentence from one of his last paragraphs - we're all part of a fantastic industry, and your clients deserve nothing but the best. If your heart isn't in it, then take a break and figure out what's missing.
You can't create images that tug at people's heartstrings if your own heart isn't in it.
by Scott Bourne
Zig Ziglar always used to say:
“Sales is not something you do TO someone. It’s something you do FOR someone.”
Zig honestly believed in his heart, that when we as salespeople (and if you’re a professional photographer - don’t kid yourself, you are (or need to be) a salesperson) were doing important work, folks sometimes needed a little push to get to yes. He knew in the end they’d be happy with what they bought.
I have studied that man’s thinking for 35 years and today I want to write a post about the thankful salesperson. It’s my homage to Zig. It’s also my second - to - the last post here at SCU and I want it to be a good one.
Now you may be wondering - “How the heck does being thankful connect to sales?” It’s a good question and my goal today is to answer it.
You see I believe if your heart is in the right place, i.e. you put your prospects’ needs ahead of your own and you sincerely believe in what you are selling, you can and should be thankful for the opportunity. Come on - how many people get to do a job where they are really helping people? It’s a great honor to be a high priest of memory protection. So with a hat tip to John Paul Caponigro (who turned me on to some of these quotes) here are some ways to be inspired enough to be a thankful salesperson.
Albert Schweitzer said:
"At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
For me, this has happened many times. And for some reason, when it DOES happen, it’s related to photography. I remember selling one of my first weddings. For some strange reason the bride’s mother really liked me. She said they moved their daughter’s wedding date so they could save up to hire ME to shoot the wedding. That spark in her - that happiness that she was going to have someone she believed in shoot her wedding left me very excited. My flame was indeed lit and I think I did a pretty darn good job at that wedding.
Shakti Gawain said:
“Whatever our individual troubles and challenges may be, it’s important to pause every now and then to appreciate all that we have, on every level. We need to literally ‘count our blessings,’ give thanks for them, allow ourselves to enjoy them, and relish the experience of prosperity we already have.”
I hear many photographers lament the fact that they don’t have the best gear or that they wish they had the money for an assistant or a better studio or whatever. Gawain’s quote served as a reminder to me that some of us go through life missing out on the best stuff because we think we need something else. Yet the best “stuff” is only the “best” if it helps us achieve some human connection. When you make a portrait of someone and they place it on their mantle, for generations to come to see and enjoy, NOBODY is going to wonder whether you had the best camera that was available that day or what version of Photoshop you used or whether or not the equipment van you drive is the latest model. All they will note is the fine expression on their loved one and the memories THEY have of that subject. That’s plenty of motivation for me to be thankful for what I have and not worry about what I don’t.
None other than Albert Einstein said:
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
I can’t tell you how much this resonates with me. I’ve been around the world with my camera. I’ve been toe-to-toe with Arctic Wolves, Coastal Brown Bears, Moose and Great American Bald Eagles. I’ve been mere inches from a wolf pup, a mountain lion cub and baby black bear. I’ve met and photographed famous rock stars, movie stars, politicians, race car drivers, beauty queens and plenty of spectacular regular “Joes.” And if you’d have asked me as a boy if I thought I’d have that kind of life, I would have said “Hell no.” I am the least among you yet I’ve been allowed to have all these experiences because of my camera. What a miracle. If you’re looking for miracles - take this approach to selling. It works.
Oprah Winfrey said:
“What you focus on expands, and when you focus on the goodness in your life, you create more of it. Opportunities, relationships, even money flowed my way when I learned to be grateful no matter what happened in my life.”
I’m not proud of every decision I’ve made. I didn’t always have it “good.” My parents beat me, (I probably deserved it,) I made lots of bad decisions as a young man, I’ve suffered serious health problems, I’ve crashed every kind of motorcycle and race car you can think of, and there’s been plenty of bad. Oprah’s quote reminded me that through it all, you have to take it all in - the good and the bad - to be a great story teller. You have to learn to be grateful for night to understand the beauty of daylight. When you can do that, your photography will absolutely, positively improve. Her quote led me to translate what she’s saying from a photographer’s point of view. Light illuminates - shadows define. Focus on the good things you can do with your photography and I am certain that you will find happiness and the business success that goes with it.
Denis Waitley said:
“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.”
Believe it or not, I have come to learn that photography, practiced at its highest levels, is a very spiritual pursuit. I am not talking about religion. I am talking about spirituality. There is a difference. Recognizing that the real reward of being lucky enough to be a professional photographer is the joy of knowing that you are protecting memories for others and those memories will last lifetimes. That transcends owning the coolest camera or the coolest anything. It’s a payday that the tax man can’t touch. It’s more valuable than money. But here’s the rub. If you are truly happy. I mean really, truly happy, then what ends up happening is that your sales skills increase. People want to do business with you more than ever. The money flows, not because you sought it. But because you did not. Master sales people are happy at their core. They are happy because they know the thing they are selling improves people’s lives. That knowledge is power and that power leads back to more happiness and more success. It’s a perfect circle. I hope you can find it.
I hope this lesson reaches some of you. I am grateful just to have the opportunity to share it with you because it has powerfully impacted my life.
Go out there and be thankful that you get to do this job. That you get to use your cameras to protect memories.
As always Skip and I are rooting for you.
Today's post makes fifty-three in the Fast Food Friday series and what a series it's become. Every day it seems there's another new challenge to write about, not to fill up space, but to get you thinking about things you could be doing differently to help build a stronger business. After all, that's what Fast Food Friday posts are all about - ideas to help make 2019 one of your very best years in business!
So many of you are right-brain creatives - you're artists with the drive to create, not run a business. At the same time, you know you need to pay more attention to the business, but technology and your creative genes keep pulling you away from the operational details.
Well, today's post is going to hit both your creative genes and your too often dormant business/operational genes, and it's all thanks to so many questions I got this past week regarding my upcoming ShutterFest programs.
The challenge has been photographers trying to decide what classes to sign up for during the two-day conference. ShutterFest has one of the most extensive and diverse program lineups in the industry, and so many attendees go into analysis paralysis when it comes time to make a choice on classes.
Growth Only Occurs Outside Your Comfort Zone!
Registration for ShutterFest has been open for months. However, the majority of attendees decided to attend months ago. At that point, everyone should have been thinking about where they need the most help in their skill set, marketing, workflow, etc.
The other night I got an IM from a photographer who wanted my opinion, "Should I take your class or ______?" As much as I understood her frustration at trying to decide, it's just not a question I could answer. Why not? Because, while I know from experience how good my programs are, I don't know her background, her skill set, how long she's been in business, the market she's in or what her weaknesses are?
All of you know what you do well. We all love the aspects of this business we do best. It's our comfort zone. When going to conventions, we naturally migrate to presentations about topics we know well. Rather than step outside our comfort zone, we take classes in areas we already know, looking for something we might have missed along the way.
Well, my headline says it all - you're only going to grow if you push yourself and step outside your comfort zone. You can't grow as an artist if you keep fine-tuning the same old skills. Here are a couple of easy examples:
The request I had the other night was from an artist trying to decide on my class which is ALL business and marketing versus a hands-on shooting class. Obviously the hands-on is going to be more fun, outside and with a group of photographers. My program is inside, a lecture and even though I pride myself on my presentation style and how painless I make the topic of building brand awareness, it's still a business program and outside the comfort zone for so many photographers. But...what good is creating the most magnificent images of your life if nobody knows who you are? What good are stunning images if you can't earn a decent living?
Here's one more example, so many wedding photographers need to take a course in macro photography. But, put the topic on the agenda at any photography convention, and you'll only see serious hobbyists or outdoor/wildlife photographers. Yet, having a better understanding of great macro work will help with all the details shots in a wedding album especially ring and hand shots, which are vital elements to tell the story.
You've got three quarters of the year ahead of you with so many educational opportunities for classes, videos, and posts online along with other conventions/conferences. At each one look for those programs that will help you where you need it the most. Step outside your comfort zone; expand your skill set with and without a camera in your hand and build a segment of your network with people having different skill sets from your own.
And to answer my earlier question, of what do you call the ability to create stunning images if you can't earn a decent living? A HOBBY!
It might seem like a lazy way to blog, but this post is out of the SCU archives and I've updated it and shared it every three years. We're an industry where there's no challenge in finding something new to write about, especially when it comes to marketing and business, but this check-off list has the ability to help so many of you change your approach to business.
I's Marketing Monday, and for most of you, business is starting to ramp up. I meet and talk to so many photographers who blame everything bad that happens in their business on the economy, technology, etc. They never look in the mirror! Sadly, they miss so many great opportunities to improve their brand awareness.
With Spring seasonality about to take hold, it seems like a great idea to give you a checkoff list of things to consider in building a more successful business. Another way to look at this is your report card, but instead of waiting until the year is over - let's get your grade NOW so you can make the changes you need to make this year a success!
1) Do people know who you are? Remember, it's not who you know it's who knows you. Press releases, being involved in the community, giving something back, advertising, marketing - they all play a role in building brand awareness. Being involved in your community will do some incredible things to speed up your growth.
2) How's your reputation in your community? If it's terrible, then you need to back off for a little while, get involved in some charity events and look for ways to change your "rating." Most important of all, pay attention to what people say about you and then work on those areas that need improvement.
3) Are you producing outstanding images? This is all about the finished product. Are you a great photographer or does your work look like everybody else's? I've written this a few dozen times in other posts: Look at every image in your online gallery and portfolio and ask one question, "If this was the only image I could show, would I get the job?" If "YES" then it stays, if "NO" or even questionable, don't show it!
4) Are you a one trick pony? You need a little diversity in your skill set so you can expand outside your specialty. You never know who's going to walk through your door and what kind of help they're going to need. You should be working to develop a couple of strong secondary specialties.
5) Are you competitive on what you offer for your services, prices and finished products? Everyone always thinks they need to lower prices to beat their competitors, but lower prices change the dynamics of the entire market and most often, NOT for the better. In a guest post a few years ago, my good buddy Cliff Mautner wrote:
"I felt the need to add a bit of value to their collection in lieu of reducing my pricing – which I was dead set against. I added an hour here, a flexible payment plan there, and things fell into place nicely."
6) Are you involved in your photographic community? Virtually every community has a group of photographers who get together once a month, to talk about the business. Often there's a guest speaker. One of the best groups I've ever worked with was the Dallas PPA. In virtually every major market programs are coming to your community where you'll not only have a chance to listen to a great guest speaker but meet other photographers.
7) Do you follow a few different blogs? I appreciate your support, but there are a lot of other great blogs to add to your list, many written by photographers in your area of expertise. There are so many different resources and some of the best are photographers who are writing about the challenges of being on the front line every day. Check out Photofocus, ProPhotographerJourney, WestcottU and Succesful-Photographer just to name a few.
8) Are you attending every possible program and workshop you can? Besides PPE, IUSA and WPPI ShutterFest is coming up in two weeks. There are more things coming and being announced almost every day and they're not hard to follow if you make it a point to keep a lot of key players in your tweet stream. JB Sallee is hitting the road for a national tour; Bob Davis is teaching in the Chicago area every Thursday night in May and the list goes on and on. You need to pay attention to your market.
9) Are you spending too much time "negative selling"? Negative selling is talking more about how bad your competitor's work is instead of talking about how good you are. Don't compare yourself to your competitors; it'll only backfire.
Years ago Rollei ran an ad in the major professional photographic magazines. The headline said, "While Hasselblad has slept, Rollei turned dreams into reality!" They even showed a picture of a Hasselblad in the background, on a pillow! Remember, I was president of Hasselblad at the time and couldn't have loved the ad more. I even called their ad agency and offered to pay for more runs of the ad. The ad was a significant contributor that year to helping us continue to build awareness for Hasselblad!
I know how frustrating it is to have competitors in your face, but that's what keeps you on your toes too. If you're a tennis player, people always say your game improves when you play with somebody better than you. Well, in business it's the same. A tough economy and competition force us to look at things we should have looked at a long time ago in our marketing efforts, running our business and even the way we photograph.
10) How's your customer service skill set? It's all about exceeding client expectations. If your customer service is bad or perceived as bad, because you didn't respond fast enough or people feel bounced around, then you've lost the battle before you even had a chance to fight it.
I guess it's just a great day for the world according to Cliff Mautner and I can't think of a better close than his quote:
"I still believe there’s no substitute for busting your ass. I’m working harder than ever to stay working hard. I don’t think that will change. It’s the survival of the fittest out there and this is no time to chill. Sharp skill sets, innovative marketing, and top notch customer service will always prevail."
Illustration Credit: © Sashkin
On April 8 registration opens for all the ShutterFest classes. I don't want to junk up the SF Forum on Facebook with a please come-to-my-class pitch, so I decided to do a quick explanation of what I want to do this year.
My Tuesday program is listed as a double program with two sessions: 4:30 - 6:00 PM and 7:00 to 8:30 PM. I seem to perpetually draw the short-straw on the schedule, but it's sure not a problem this year.
I want to turn this into a full-blown business and marketing workshop. We're in the same room for both sessions so I'm turning the hour in the middle into something more personalized and address specific challenges you're having in your business NOW.
ShutterFest only comes once a year and your time is valuable. I want to give you as much help as I can and want to customize the additional hour. As always, I'll be there afterwards as well. So, once you're registered for my Tuesday class, give me your biggest challenges in an email to skip at mei500 dot com. (Your identity will not be shared, but your question will be.) Note: I don't expect anybody to go without something to eat - so we'll take care of that too.
We are looking forward to catching up to so many old friends and making new ones! See you in St. Louis!
It's hard to believe we've been able to share a new Fast Food Friday almost every week since last February! And, while it started as a way to share quick ideas to help you raise the bar on your business, today's blue-plate special is a lot more than just "fast food."
Today is a full entree, but it's also an opportunity for you to change one aspect of your business - how you communicate with your customers.
Just like the Internet changed the way we share photographs, our phones have changed the way we communicate. We're all texting more and more. I'm using text messaging all the time. From our local CVS Pharmacy to dinner reservations to updated airline information when we're traveling, texting is fast becoming one of my most efficient methods of communication.
Why? Because it's fast, and when done right I have instant fulfillment to my questions, along with a visual copy to refer to later on if needed.
Texting is here to stay, but sadly, so few of you understand the benefits and the many things you can do to engage customers faster, improve customer service and establish an ongoing system for demonstrating customer appreciation.
Five Things that STOP Potential Clients from Making Contact
In the last few weeks I've been introducing you to Phototexting.com, a new SCU partner. I'm excited about what they offer and in fact, I'm using one of their applications myself when teaching/speaking. While they're an incredible developer of marketing apps for photographers, they're really a communications company and they're changing the lives of business owners every day.
I "borrowed" the five points below from their website introduction to share in today's Fast Food Friday, the top five things that stop potential paying clients from contacting your business.
1. Today's consumers do not like email and will avoid filling out forms. Solution: Potential customers may not be ready to engage in a personal call with you, but they will text you. The option to text your business phone number is faster, easier, and preferred by consumers. Texting starts more conversations, more conversations means more bookings.
2. Consumers want answers to their questions NOW. Solution: Answering inquiries instantly is expected and offers great customer service. With PHOTOtexting Text Chat, you are notified instantly that you have a business text and you can respond immediately from your phone, from anywhere.
3. Consumers dislike waiting for additional company information they're promised. Solution: When a lead is asking for more information about your pricing or services, they are close to making a buying decision. PHOTOtexting provides you unlimited smart apps of all your services that you can instantly send to their phone.
4. Consumers appreciate follow up and will respond. Solution: Once a consumer contacts you, they are automatically added to your company mobile list. This makes it easy to send automated alerts and promotions to consumers, keeping them updated and engaged with your company.
5. Consumers want a deal. Solution: Let's face it, everybody wants a deal. A simple added value can move a potential customer closer to booking your business. Need a spike in your business? Send out a text blast alert or promotion to all of your leads with one touch.
I know there are plenty of skeptics out there, but here's a statistic I shared in a post a few weeks ago: 82% of text messages are read within 5 minutes, but consumers only open 1 in 4 emails they receive.
Check out everything PHOTOtexting has to offer. There are so many different applications and ways for you to build stronger brand awareness, increase sales and expand your reach.
Check out four of my favorite ways to use PhotoTexting.com and test drive the process yourself with a text to the number below.
"If you don't sacrifice for what you want, what you want becomes the sacrifice."
In theory, the slow season is officially over and with April, business for most photographers starts to ramp up. As I was looking for a quote to share this morning the one above stood out and ties directly back to a couple of threads I was reading in one of the forums as well as two personal conversations with friends over the last few days.
It's a short post this morning, so please stay with me!
All the answers, along with the tools to help you build a stronger business and make 2019 your best year to date, are out there. But if you don't take advantage of them and make a sacrifice to get them, then the road to success becomes more difficult and a piece of your dream, at least in terms of a better business, becomes the sacrifice.
I know there are times when life gets in the way, but when an aspiring pro writes about a conference or workshop, "I wish I could go, but just don't have the time right now," or "I just can't afford it," growth and an opportunity to thrive are on the path to the slaughterhouse!
And there's my point - Nothing beats hands-on education especially at a convention/conference. ShutterFest is the next one up this month, followed by state and regional conventions, workshops like JB Sallee's, Photoshop World, and ClickCon in August. Then there are online programs, blogs to read, YouTube videos to watch and the list goes on and on. And there's new educational material out there all the time, like Tim Kelly's Master Photo Techniques, just recently launched.
If you want to thrive in the year ahead, then you have to invest time and sometimes money. A great skill set isn't just about capturing great images and creating stunning photographs - it's also about marketing, building your brand and continually raising the bar on your reputation. It's about a strong network and staying on top of consumer trends and new ways to present images.
You've got to invest in your future. And, when it comes to money, there's ALWAYS a way to pay for a conference. All it takes is learning one new technique, adding one new friend to your network, or figuring out a new way to market your business and the trip pays for itself!
"If you don't build your dream someone else will hire you to build theirs!"
Come on you guys - you know how to hold focus on your camera. Isn't it time you held focus on your dreams?
Intro by Skip Cohen
This is a perfect reminder for Marketing Monday and where your focus should be!
Scott Bourne shared this post several years ago, and I brought it back in 2016, but recently after reading a few absurd discussions in some of the Facebook forums, it's the right time to share it again! Too many of you are wasting time arguing and having pointless discussions with your peers, rather than building relationships with your clients.
If you divide your activities into thirds - then one part should be building your skill set. Another is building relationships with your clients, and the last is everything else. Obviously, that's simplified, but my issue is how much time, so many of you waste working on things that don't matter rather than putting the energy into building a stronger business.
Your greatest marketing tool is relationship building, and I've tagged Scott Stratten's book more than once in previous posts. His tagline for his book Unmarketing says it all. Stop marketing. Start engaging.
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.
It might not feel like it weather-wise, but according to the calendar, we're into the first week of Spring. And, with the next few months comes the second biggest hit of seasonality in professional photography. I write just about the same post every year at this time. Sadly, too many of you will play the you-snooze-you-lose game and miss an opportunity to create a little excitement as well as revenue to kick off the new year.
Everyone thinks of the first quarter as the slow season, but it's only as slow as you want it to be. Wrapping up the first quarter, opportunities are everywhere for you to create strong brand awareness, partnerships, a sense of giving back in your community, and let's not forget revenue!
And there you have it - seven topics to help you make this Spring a record-breaker. But, nothing happens if you procrastinate through April, May, and June and the "should" on yourself as you look in the rearview mirror and say, "You know what I should have done?"
It's Marketing Monday and technically the last week of the "slow season" because business starts to ramp up in April. This is your last week to procrastinate about cleaning up those corners of your business you've ignored for too long.
As a kid, I remember being told I couldn't go out to play with friends until I cleaned up my room. Later as an adult, I remember one of my dive buddies being told by his wife he couldn't go on a scuba trip until he cleaned his home office! Somebody reminding us to clean something up seems to follow us throughout life! LOL
Well, this morning it's my turn, reminding you that it's time to clean up your website, blog, Customer Service issues, your gear or maybe it's outside your office or studio and time to make sure your reservations for an upcoming conference are all set.
The list goes on and on, but here are some things to think about before business picks up substantially and you're running too fast to do maintenance.
No one single post can include everything, but without any hesitation, ALL of you have something you've put off doing to make your business stronger in 2019. Don't let the year start out with a flat tire! In the same way, you'd check everything out on your car if you were making a long road trip, do the same with your business.
And, at the risk of doing a little shameless self-promoting - I'm speaking at ShutterFest April 23 and 24 doing two programs. The first is a double and is going to cover all the ideas above, and more - it's all about low-hanging fruit. Many of the ideas I'll be sharing will be things you can do almost immediately to build a stronger business. The second is all about fine-tuning your blog and making it an asset to your business instead of a liability in your growing list of responsibilities as a small business owner.
If you get stuck trying to figure something out, you know where to find me, and I'm happy to help. We're all too close to our own businesses and sometimes it just takes another set of eyes!
One of the biggest challenges for every photographer is pricing. Whether you're new and just starting out in business, or you're a seasoned veteran offering new services and products, maintaining a healthy profit margin is critical to not only survive, but thrive.
Last week I joined my co-host from Mind Your Business and Beyond Technique, Chamira Young to talk about some of the mistakes photographers make when setting their prices as well as a few solutions. There's a lot of good content in this new podcast and thanks to PhotoTexting.com we expanded the topic into what is the next big thing in marketing and relationship building.
Think about how your clients communicate today versus ten years ago, or for that matter just five! Technology is changing every day and along with the changes come some remarkable opportunities. Understanding how texting can help you grow your business, reach more clients and reinforce your client base with a stronger sense of customer service is so essential to your success.
PhotoTexting.com's Mobile Price Lists App helps you book clients faster. See how it works for yourself! Text "pricing" to 800-240-6909 to see a sample price list. You'll receive a text with a sample price list so you can experience what your client would experience if you were using the Mobile Price Lists app. NOTE: You won't be spammed, and you're not signing up for anything!
The Mobile Pricing App can include your pricing, specials and various options for prospective customers to book your business with one tap on their phone. And, you can customize your mobile presentation to be unique to your business and style.
The Mobile Pricing App is just one of a dozen or more apps to help you build a stronger business. Isn't time to check it out and learn what all the buzz is about?
The Internet has changed the way we share images. Mobile technology along with texting has shared the way we communicate. Put both vehicles together, and your target audience has the greatest selection of purchase options in the history of consumerism.
That makes one of the biggest challenges in marketing for photographers finding ways to make your work stand out from your competitors. While the Internet has made the world a smaller place, allowing us to communicate with other artists all over the world, from a consumer position it's made your world much larger.
In just the United States alone, Internet penetration is at 95% of American households!
When you take a hard look at the trends in the various photographic specialties under the portrait/social umbrella, the most significant changes have occurred in the high school senior market. A senior session is a lot different than when I was a kid. (Yes, this is that time of year when I drop in my high school senior shot, and my buddy Scott Bourne asks if Matthew Brady was the photographer! LOL)
An estimated 3.6 million students are graduating from high school this year in the U.S. And; they're graduating from approximately 37,000 public and private schools. If you're focused on the senior market in your community how are you going to make your work stand out?
The average consumer has access to thousands of photographers today, making it critical for you to build a strong brand in your community and within your niche. As a senior photographer, you've got two targets, Mom and the seniors themselves. Remember though, Mom still makes 98% of the purchase decisions to higher a professional photographer in the portrait/social categories.
So, when it comes to targeting Mom, I love the tools Marathon Press is giving you. For example, right now there's a special BOGO offer on Grad Cards. I ordered a Senior Grad Card Kit and from the packet in the top corner of the photograph below came 19 samples from their forty-five graduation card collection!
And, if you don't have a design idea in mind, check out the designs already in the pipeline to help you through the process. Plus, Marathon has a fantastic staff of experts, all dedicated to helping you set a standard with your clients that helps make you habit-forming. If you get stuck in the process, they're available to help you with the best customer service in the business!
Your greatest marketing tool as a photographer and small business owner is relationship building. It's a non-stop process all year long, but there are plenty of things to talk about, especially if you're target is the senior market. Marathon has so many of the tools you need to build a stronger business, and with a BOGO offer right now on Grad Cards, they're even helping you to be more profitable!
The first post in our new PhotoTexting series talked about your first step in the process of taking your business to the next level, being assigned your own exclusive 800 number. Well, this week let's jump into mobile brochures.
Wandering into Google, I asked a simple question, "How many people text?" General information from several different sites showed some incredible statistics**:
Twenty years ago I helped two friends design a product brochure and a workshop piece. I put what seemed like endless hours into creating and writing text for both brochures. And, while they both looked okay, they were printed pieces, expensive to produce because they were being printed in small runs and couldn't be easily updated. We had to guess at quantities. With one we printed too many and the other not enough.
A printed piece is still a necessity to have, especially when meeting directly with clients but the world is changing. In the same way, we share pictures today with the Internet we're communicating differently.
PhotoTexting.com is a new SCU partner, and I'm excited to not only be on the cutting edge myself but be able to share their apps with all of you. Having the ability to keep your company brochure updated with new images, text, and links to contact, special offers and pricing information is at your fingertips and easily changed/updated.
Most of you know I refer to myself as the "Low-Tech Poster Child" of the industry. Well, if I can do this stuff so can you. At WPPI last week I used their App as a speaker. Instead of giving people a handout of notes from my presentation, with one text message to my number they automatically got back my notes and a link to my website, exclusive content and two short videos. They could choose what they needed.
And here's one more important statistic about texting**:
82% of text messages are read within 5 minutes, but consumers only open 1 in 4 emails they receive.
Check out everything PHOTOtexting has to offer. There are so many different applications and ways for you to build stronger brand awareness, increase sales and expand your reach.
And nothing changes from my goal - I don't want you to just survive in 2019 - let's make sure you thrive!
**Sources: StasticBrain, CTIA, Pew Research, Gallup, FlowRoute
We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give!
Sir Winston Churchill
I've written a lot about the importance of community involvement over the years. It's so important to give back to your community, and being involved is one of the best ways to build brand awareness. Here's how I stumbled upon a wonderful non-profit here in Sarasota.
We moved to Sarasota in 2011 to give my Dad a hand with my mother who was fighting the battle with Alzheimer's. That's when we discovered the Caregiver Resource Center, and we started attending the weekly support group for caregivers.
With our very first meeting, Dad started to change. He learned it was okay to be angry and feel frustrated; he learned he wasn't alone; and discovered it was okay to share everything he was feeling, something his generation was taught NOT to do.
My relationship with the Friendship Centers is going on eight years. And, Sheila's also involved, having volunteered repeatedly along the way. They're a seventeen-million dollar nonprofit providing support to thousands of people to thousands of people in south Florida.
I'm not writing to toot my own horn but reminding you how important it is to be involved in something in your community and the industry. I've heard so many photographers comment, "In my community, there aren't very many things to be involved in!" Seriously? There's a level of pain, frustration, and a place for photographers to lend a hand in EVERY community. Try these on for size:
Those are two of my favorite photo-centric organizations who are involved on a national level that will keep you engaged but let's move to the local level. Here are just a few ideas of resources to identify where you can help.
I know many of you are outside the US, but in every country and every community in the world, there are groups of people needing help. Your community, wherever you are, needs to see you as more than just another retailer. You're looking for your community to be good to you - so you need to be good to your community!
“You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”
I don't pull posts out of the SCU archives very often, but it's Marketing Monday and a perfect way to remind many of you that great marketing doesn't trump your skill set!
I wrote most of this post three years ago, I had just come back from WPPI and was surprised at the number of new photographers I met who thought they could rush the process of becoming a pro. I heard somebody comment as they were watching Michele Celentano during a live demo say, "That's easy for her to say!"
Not one of today's icons started iconically. They didn't just wake up one morning as if the Success Fairy wandered in during the night and sprinkled success dust over them and *poof* they'd made it to the top. And, if you talk to any of those people who we define as iconic, they'll tell you how they're still practicing, learning and experimenting. They never stop attending programs for the benefit of boosting their own skill set.
Don Blair at 74 was once asked, "What's the most incredible portrait you've ever done?" He immediately responded, "I don't know, I haven't made it yet!" Even then, considered one of the finest portrait artists in the industry, he was always experimenting in his search for the ultimate image.
Years ago Michele spoke at GoingPro Bootcamp, a program Scott Bourne and I put together. Her opening comments said it all, "Twenty years ago I was sitting right where you are now, wondering how long it would be before my work didn't suck!" She then proceeded to share some of the worst bridal images I've ever seen. I got her to send me a couple of them featured above.
So, for those of you trying to rush the process, and thinking success is all in how creative your marketing can be - here are three things to think about:
"Envy comes from people's ignorance of, or lack of belief in, their own gifts."
And, there's the most significant part of the problem. Many of you are so gifted, but you've spent too much time following the icons. Just for a second today look in the mirror and if you want to envy somebody, check out the face staring back at you. If you've got the passion for the craft and the desire to be a great artist, then give it the time it deserves and start believing in your own gifts. Stay focused on what's in your heart and, accept as an artist; there's no such thing as overnight success.
Most important of all, know there are a whole bunch of us out here rooting for you and believing in your goals and willing to help when you need the support.
I first wrote about this topic five years ago, but after following a thread in Facebook Wedding Photographers recently, it's time to bring it back. Yes, things have changed a lot over the years, but usually, when somebody makes a statement about how much things have changed, it's negative. It's made out of the frustration of things not being as easy as they used to be, and they always sound like the sky is falling!
Yes, things have changed in different areas: You have to work harder today to get through the noise, build brand awareness and establish your reputation. Technology, the Internet, social media have changed the way we market ourselves. New gear, pushing you to expand our skill set, is being introduced regularly. But at the same time, your reach is the strongest it's ever been and you have the most creative tools in the history of photography!
While certain aspects of photography have changed, the principles behind a successful business haven't moved an inch! A new photographer starting out today has the same challenges as if they started twenty years ago. The questions are the same...How do I close the sale? Should I advertise my prices? How do I get people to know I'm here? Then there are questions on insurance, promotions and the importance of never compromising on quality.
My point is, the foundation of a strong business as a photographer NEVER changes:
Last but no least, your work still requires a passionate eye, a great heart and a quest to always look for that decisive moment. Ansel Adams once said,
"Sometimes I do get to places just when God's ready to have somebody click the shutter."
And that's one more thing that hasn't changed - as a professional photographer you're still part of an incredible legacy of creative spirits like Ansel, Avedon, Scavullo, Karsh, Eddie Adams, Herb Ritts, Mary Ellen Mark, Arnold Newman, Dean Collins, Don Blair and Monte Zucker, just to name a few. They may have passed away, but the legacy they left behind hasn't changed. It might sometimes be challenged by technology, and even the economy, but it remains a powerful tribute to pride, quality, creativity and art.
So, that old quote still applies...as much as things change, some things never change!
It's Marketing Monday, and over the last few years, I've repeatedly written about using your own images for your holiday card, thank-you notes, and stationery. As professional photographers, you need to show your work at every opportunity, and nothing is easier than a great holiday card.
Because of an incorrect address in her files we got a pleasant surprise in today's mail from Sarah Petty. If there was an award for the best holiday card of the season this year, here's the presentation that would win hands-down. From the very first panel of this black and white fourteen-panel accordion style card to the last, it's a celebration of photography, family and Sarah's ability to walk the talk!
From the cover shot of her twin daughters, right through to her son and the two girls in 2018, Sarah's sharing her journey as a proud parent and Mom! Every page is worth savoring - beautiful photography combined with great expressions and Sarah's ability to tell the story.
I grabbed a few pages to share with you, just because it's so outstanding.
Sarah's sharing a seventeen-year body of work spotlighting her three kids. I can't think of a better way to remind people what she does best as a photographer, artist, and let's not forget Mom and parent! Her last page below brings everything together. I called and asked her for permission to share these images, and she sent me the pdf, but on the card I received she topped it off with a hand-written wish for a happy new year.
Sarah and her team are regularly sharing outstanding marketing tips to help you build a stronger business. Click on any of the images in the post to link to her Joy of Marketing blog. And, if she's teaching at any conference you're attending, run don't walk to grab a seat.
It's no good running a pig farm badly for thirty years while saying,
"Really, I was meant to be a ballet dancer." By that time, pigs will be your style.
The other day in the Facebook Wedding Photographers Forum in commenting about a post that was up, a photographer responded with..." wedding photographers are considered the bottom feeders of the business." Yes, I'm taking it out of context, but it doesn't change the nature of the comment.
Having worked with professional photographers for the last 30+ years, I've got a lot of friends on the wedding side of the business. And, while I'll admit I consider photographing weddings one of the very toughest specialties in imaging, it's anything but filled with "bottom feeders." Sure, it's the easiest of the photographic specialties to break into, but that's also because it's got the highest demand with a relatively stable need of 2.5 million weddings each year, just in the US alone.
Wedding photographers, working on a day when Bambi Cantrell has described as, "Logic doesn't reign as king!" they have very little control over the event they've been hired to photograph. They work in some of the most difficult lighting situations, often with unreasonable time constraints and stress. Yet, many of them capture stunning images, tell incredible stories and create the first family heirloom of a new family!
However, what really bothered me was the way a comment like this can be perceived, and I went off searching through the SCU archives, because I know I wrote about being happy with your career choice several years ago. So, if you read parts of this post in 2015, my apologies, but it's too much on point not to share again!
On a fairly regular basis I'll hear a photographer comment about the things they don't like about their career choice. It's always the same tone as they look back and say something like, "I really wanted to get into fashion, but..."
No matter how long or short a time you've been in business, there's always the opportunity to change paths. Nothing has to be forever. And for those of you who are already rolling your eyes and saying, "That's easy for you to say," I know exactly what I'm talking about. I'm the guy who left a great job as President of Rangefinder/WPPI, because I was no longer happy in what I was doing. It wasn't easy, but had I stayed; it would have only been a matter of time until my heart just wasn't in it.
This year it will be ten years since I resigned from Rangefinder Publishing/WPPI and started my own company. It's been an amazing ride and continues to still have me jumping out of bed each day, smiling and filled with the curiosity of a kid on Christmas morning. Adapting isn't easy, but it's incredibly fulfilling. The industry is constantly changing; technology keeps expanding how we communicate and share images; and the world keeps getting smaller. I shared images in a spotlight post last week from Chad Pennington, who I caught up to while he was having lunch in Nigeria!
If you're unhappy with what you're shooting, then you owe it to yourself to identify what's missing. That applies to everything you do, including what's going on in your life. Find the time to stare into space and ponder the meaning of life.
What works best for me is to find a quiet place in the house. We've got this one chair in the living room that's incredibly comfortable. I'll typically get a glass of wine, put on some of my favorite music and kick back for an hour or more to think about a specific task or project. The key here is uninterrupted thought. I might even have a small notebook close by to write down some ideas. At some point, I'll have ideas for a solution, and that's where Sheila comes in.
You need a sounding board, and ideally, it needs to be somebody who knows you better than you do! This is about trust, understanding, and expression. Often, some of the ideas in my head are good, and other times they're horrible, but Sheila's insight helps me focus. This approach works for the significant challenges, as well as the small ones...the key here is being honest with yourself and living by that line from Shakespeare,
"To thine own self be true."
Remember, you can't create images that tug at people's heartstrings if your own heart isn't in it!
It's that time of year when, for most of you, things are relatively quiet. It's the slow season, but as I've already written numerous times before, that doesn't mean it has to be slow for you. Now is the time to be fine-tuning various aspects of your business. However, everything you're hoping to do in 2019 starts with your mindset.
There's a great one-liner I've shared before. While I'd love to take credit for it, I first heard it close to forty years ago from Ed Foreman, a terrific motivational speaker. I heard him speak back in my Polaroid days. I've quoted him easily a dozen times in the past in both live programs and posts.
"If I can see the world through my client's eyes, then I can sell my client what my client buys!"
So, before you continue to lay out the year ahead, plan your marketing strategy and start thinking about how you're going to grow your business, read that one-liner once more.
It goes a lot deeper than just putting yourself in their shoes. You've got to literally work to see things the way your clients do, and that includes their perception of you. It's all about building trust. It's about listening more than talking. It's about putting your mind's eye into high gear and visualizing how they want their images to look, and why they've come to you in the first place. You've got to sense their concerns together with their expectations and create products unique to them and express their personality, lifestyle, and passion.
When I interviewed Kirk Voclain many years ago for an article in PDN, he talked about the key to success in photographing high school seniors. It was all about talking with them and watching for the most natural expression when they hit a topic they loved. It was about creating an experience for them. I'm paraphrasing a little, but Kirk's comment really stuck with me:
"Skip, there are a lot of mediocre photographers out there who make a great living photographing seniors because they make the sessions fun!"
Think about that...now raise the bar and be more than just a mediocre photographer. Listen to your clients, see the world through their eyes and don't forget about "fun." "Fun" is that all too often lost word in business today and we all need to work to bring it back!
ClickCon 2020 Circle the Dates!!
It's rare that a first year conference has the power that ClickCon brought to the industry this past August.
The dates have been announced for 2020 at the Palmer House in Chicago. August 11-14!
What a kick!
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.