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Is It Time to Expand Your Product Line?

Monday, May 1st, 2017

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Is It Time to Expand Your Product Line? with Skip Cohen

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the May issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

 

The hierarchy of why people hire a professional photographer in the portrait/social categories goes brides, babies, pets. With brides in the number-one spot, weddings represent a huge potential for a never-ending demand for your work, plus an incredible opportunity to sell new products and services.

 

I want to get you thinking about some fresh ideas along with a few tried and true standbys to increase your revenue. Let’s offer your clients a greater selection of add-ons.

 

Before I hit you with a list of things you should be offering, let’s talk about pricing. I bet that at least half of you have priced your product too low. As Sal Cincotta once said in an old video, and I’m paraphrasing a little, there’s no greater way to screw up your business than to wrongly price your products and services.

 

Review all your costs. Compare what you’re offering with your competitors. Understand the margins you need in order to eat something other than macaroni and cheese every night. Expanding services and products won’t help your business grow if you’re already running below an acceptable level of profitability.

 

This is a shameless plug for my Lynda.com videos: Search my name on Lynda and check out my video on pricing. I had a lot of fun doing it, and it’s loaded with solid tips and other resources to get you on the right track.

 

If you don’t have a solid profit foundation to start, none of these ideas will help you very much.

 

Engagement Shoots

 

Not every idea I want to share this month is new. Here’s an old idea—one that I’m amazed more photographers don’t use.

 

The primary reason to always do an engagement shoot has nothing to do with expanding your product line. It’s about establishing trust with the client. An engagement shoot gives you and the couple the chance to get to know one another. It’s about relationship building. On the wedding day, you’ve already established trust, so you’re more likely to get the natural expressions you want during the shoot.

 

Videos, Posters, Save-the-Date Cards, Stationery

 

If you do a great job on the engagement shoot, you should have plenty of images for the couple to share on social media. Here’s your chance to demonstrate pure creativity.

  • Engagement videos: It’s the perfect extension of your storytelling ability as a wedding photographer. I’m a big fan of Photodex and ProShow Web. Create a slideshow from the engagement shoot, and you’ve got a great first chapter of the story of a new couple. What’s even more exciting is taking full advantage of technology and bringing together a few short video clips with still images and great music.
  • Posters: Two years ago, Marathon Press launched Bella Art Prints, which offer a great way to promote the love story you’ve been hired to capture. Think about a Hollywood movie poster starring your bride and groom. If you don’t have the design skills, find somebody in your community who does. Bella Art Prints gives you a way to create an affordable poster that becomes an extension of your product line and an amazing surprise gift to your clients.
  • Save-the-date: Use your still images to create a postcard, video or stationery in a format your clients can mail. I know this isn’t a new idea, but it is if you take control of the process. You’re the one who implements the idea, working with a local printer/design company. Marathon can help you through each step of the process.

 

Holiday Cards

 

A holiday card is the perfect addition to the albums you’re going to create for the client after the wedding. As you’re shooting the engagement and wedding images, look for that opportunity to shoot something spectacular for the couple’s first holiday card.

 

Shooting for the Silver Frame

 

I’d love to take credit for the idea, but it belongs to wedding photographers Justin and Mary Marantz. The “silver frame” refers to an image that’s so outstanding it can stand alone, outside of the album. It’s the image the parents will have on the piano or fireplace. It might be a classic portrait or simply something unusual. This is a quality image with impact that shows off your skillset.

 

“What’s New?”

 

All it takes is one phone call to your lab to ask that question. Labs are always coming up with new products and ways to share images, but you won’t know about them if you don’t ask. While walking ShutterFest gives you a chance to see new products firsthand, you don’t have to wait until April every year.

 

“What’s Old?”

 

It’s not a typical question you’d ask your lab, but while you might be tired of canvas prints, many of your clients have never seen one, let alone owned one. I have two oversize canvas prints in my home, and I’m always surprised by the response from friends who visit.

 

We might be tired of canvas prints as members of the photographic community, but the public isn’t close to getting bored with the idea—especially when they’re the subject in print. A great lab can print on virtually anything. This is an opportunity for your creative skills to shine.

 

One Big Print

 

When a couple is scheduled to come in to see their proofs, wedding photographer Joe Buissink creates a special surprise gift. He picks one of his most favorite images and prints it nice and big. He frames and hangs it in his studio before the couple comes in. It’s his gift to them before they even begin thinking about their album.

 

Here’s one more piece of brilliance from Joe. He always signs the print. Why? Because he wants them to remember he’s an artist, and artists always sign their work.

 

Jump Drives, Proofs, Prints and iPads

 

Technology has given you the ability to do whatever you want with digital files. One of my favorite digital content companies is PhotoFlashDrive.com. It offers an ample collection of creative ideas for the packaging of jump drives, prints, etc. You’re the only one who can create the excitement around the services you provide. If you don’t elevate the value of the images to the level they deserve, nobody else will.

 

First-Anniversary Sittings

 

Here’s an idea I learned from photographer David Ziser years ago. He would do his best to contact every bride within a reasonable travel distance of his studio on the couple’s first anniversary. He always wanted to be the first to wish them a happy anniversary. His special gift was a complimentary portrait sitting.

 

The younger the bride, the more friends she has who will be getting married. This is a word-of-mouth business, and a surprise call from the photographer who shot the wedding is going to spread to every friend and family member of the bride. You couldn’t ask for better PR.

 

All of these ideas can help you build a stronger wedding business, but don’t forget your skillset comes before pricing. You’ll never be able to justify your pricing if your skills aren’t better than Uncle Harry’s. Your clients deserve the very best, and so do you. You’re not just working to be an outstanding artist, but, in the wedding world, the ultimate storyteller.

 

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the May issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

Wedding Video for Photographers: 5 Tips for Getting Started

Friday, April 28th, 2017

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Wedding Video for Photographers: 5 Tips for Getting Started with Ning Wong

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the May issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

 

When I started my wedding photography business seven years ago, I never imagined I would become a videographer as well. The Canon 5D Mark II had recently been announced, and the DSLR video revolution was born. When Canon added the ability to capture video on the DSLR, it was a game changer: Now you could create cinema-quality films using your DSLR, lenses and accessories.

 

After a dozen or so requests for video, I felt that I should start adding it to my business. I was tired of losing these leads to others. So, about five years ago, I went for it, and it was one of the best decisions of my life.

 

I apprenticed under a local videographer, took workshops and learned through trial and error. The learning process never ends. Even now I am still learning new techniques and ideas that help elevate my wedding films to another level. I encourage you to reach out to fellow videographers. On-the-job experience is extremely valuable, teaching you things you can’t read about online.

 

If I could go back in time and give myself five tips for getting started in wedding videography, here is what I would tell myself.

 

  1. Know your gear.

 

Knowing the ins and outs of your gear is crucial. You don’t want to be fumbling around on a wedding day trying to figure out how to change the ISO or white balance. If you know how to use your gear, you can concentrate on shooting the wedding.

 

If you aren’t confident with your gear, practice whenever you can. Go out, shoot stuff, read the manual, look for tutorials. Practice makes perfect. Look at it like this: If you were a concert pianist, you would spend countless hours practicing your music before a concert. You wouldn’t wait until you got onstage to start practicing.

 

Think of the concert like your wedding. Don’t practice when you are “performing” at the concert. Spend all the time before your event to practice so that when it comes to your client’s wedding day, you are ready to perform.

 

  1. Use a tripod or monopod.

 

Shaky footage is not your friend. One of the biggest beginner mistakes is to not use proper support for your camera. Whether it’s a tripod, monopod or gimbal, use something that will help keep your footage steady.

 

If you want a simple way to add production value to your film, keep your footage stable. While you’re at it, once you have a good shot lined up, focused and exposed on your tripod, leave your tripod and camera alone. Quit fidgeting with it—you don’t want to ruin a perfectly useable shot just because you couldn’t keep your hands off your camera.

 

  1. Shoot for the edit.

 

When you’re shooting different kinds of shots throughout the wedding day, keep in mind what each shot will be used for. Don’t just take a shot that doesn’t have any purpose. You want each shot to help drive the story of the wedding.

 

Shoot for transitions. That means using a slider or a pan/tilt movement to bring your viewer into the scene.

 

I encourage everyone to edit their own footage. That way, you can critique your shots and work on improving. If you do the editing yourself, you’ll quickly learn how to shoot certain shots and shoot for transitions, and how to make your life easier.

 

  1. Anticipate the unexpected.

 

A wedding photographer should be able to anticipate when the moments happen—things like the first kiss, a relative crying during the vows and the first look.

 

Shooting video is tougher because you have to be ready to shoot the moment something happens. If you always keep your eyes peeled and ready to go, you’ll be able to anticipate the unexpected.

 

Of course, make sure you still shoot the safe shots first so you get what the client expects. But you also want to wow them with those creative shots they weren’t expecting.

 

  1. Shoot B-roll.

 

B-roll (for “background roll”) is extra footage that is used to enhance your film. Some great examples of B-roll are audience reaction shots, your groom/bride getting ready and funny bridal party portrait shots.

 

B-roll boosts your storytelling. Instead of having talking heads yakking throughout the film, cut to B-roll for depth.

 

B-roll also helps you cover up messy transitions or unusable shots. You can cut from your main shot to B-roll, and then back to your main shot. That allows you to smooth over a jump cut or missing footage. You can also use B-roll during a voiceover to control your storytelling.

 

Bonus tips:

 

  1. Show up early.

 

The early bird does, in fact, get the worm. If you want to get a head start shooting the day, show up early.

 

You’ll quickly learn that videography takes a lot more gear and prep than photography does. Take the extra time to get your gear ready, to shoot B-roll and details, and to establish rapport with the wedding party before anyone else gets there.

 

  1. Use licensed music and content.

 

When you create your client’s wedding film, you may be tempted to use the latest song on the radio. But if you can’t properly license that song, don’t use it.

 

Musicians are artists, just like us. How would you feel if someone ripped off your work? Don’t do that to someone else—use only licensed music.

 

Several websites offer great licensed music. One of my favorites is SongFreedom. They offer mainstream artists like One Republic, Imagine Dragons and Lady Gaga, along with a plethora of new and upcoming artists.

 

I purposely didn’t tell you to know your audio and lighting, because these are basic things you should know before you start offering videography to your clients. These two elements are just as important as knowing how to shoot video on your camera. Learn how to properly capture audio, and use lighting to mold your wedding films.

 

Hopefully these tips will help you get started in the world of wedding videography. There will be so many things you’ll have to learn and adapt to, but if you’re willing to do it, you’ll be able to start offering wedding videography to your couples too.

 

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the May issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

5 Common Wedding Mistakes

Friday, April 28th, 2017

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5 Common Wedding Mistakes with Melanie Anderson

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the May issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

 

This month, we look at how to keep your gear lightweight, items to pack for care kits for your bride and you, one of the most important mistakes that wedding photographers make, and how to showcase images and create suggestions of products at the sales session.

 

Preconsultation

 

A preconsultation is so vital in wedding photography. This is the only genre where I meet with potential clients before doing business with them. This is the opportunity to find out if we are a good fit, to learn their needs and personality, and to educate our clients on the importance power of the print. Showcasing albums and wall portraits allows us to presell products and create an awareness that not only are you there for the day of the wedding, but that you actually care about creating heirloom products for them. Explain how important it is, that years from now the investment will be one they will not regret.

 

I pour everything into the wedding day—this is a day that I too cannot get back—so I want to know that my investment in time is worth it. I also want to ensure that I actually get along with the potential clients.

 

Occasionally I learn that our product prices are too expensive for a potential client. This is a perfect time to suggest a gift registry for the after-the-wedding sales. We create a custom link with graphics for the couple to share on social media via their custom website if they have one. Most couples create these so their friends and family can keep up to date on wedding plans. Brides use the for journaling their experience. These custom sites are a great place to link a registry directly or via a link. We can link to our website and create a shopping cart in any denomination. This money is tracked and used for their albums and wall portraits. It’s a win-win for your studio and your bride and groom.

 

Encourage parents of the bride and groom to join in on consultations. They are often the ones paying for the wedding, and if you can make a connection with them, chances are they will be willing to increase their budget and include parent albums in post sales.

 

Gear

 

The gear musts for me include the Spider Camera Holster. I use the strap as well as the holster system. I had the company create a dual unit for me so I can carry two camera bodies at the same time. I don’t shoot without it. The Holster is an extension of me. Having my gear at my hips saves my lower back, shoulders and neck, and allows me to be hands-on with my clients. I can fix their hair and position them more easily. It alleviates having to set down my camera or having it swing from my neck all day.

 

Having two camera bodies lets me keep a 24–70 lens on one and a 70–200 on the other, giving me versatility throughout the ceremony and reception. The other lenses in my bag are a macro to capture the detail shots, a wide angle or fisheye for more create and cinematic imagery, and an 85mm for portraits. I like the 85mm, which I shoot wide open, allowing me to photograph anywhere.

 

I bring speedlights, which are portable, lightweight, durable and dependable. I like to have three speedlights so I can capture depth; I set up two or three side by side to overshadow the sun, creating more cinematic images and allowing the sky to shine through. Some lightweight stands, extra batteries and MagMod systems round out all that you need for any lighting conditions.

 

One last piece of equipment I always bring is a stepladder. It’s useful for special dances and cutting of the cake, where I might want a higher angle.

 

Self-Care

 

Lack of self-care is one of the most important mistakes photographers make. We stay so focused on the bride and groom along with everything around us that we might forget to eat and hydrate. You are no good to anyone if you don’t feel well. I keep Pepto and Advil in my arsenal. An extra set of clothing is a good idea. Accidents happen. Someone could spill something on you, clothing could rip or you could sweat through. Changing before the reception keeps you looking and feeling professional. I also keep water, soda and small snacks on hand.

 

I also keep a mini notepad and pen for any last-minute changes that I need to remember, such as a family member requesting special shots that the bride and groom had not mentioned, and that I will do my best to accommodate if time permits.

 

Bridal Care

 

I keep a bridal care kit with me that includes bobby pins, safety pins, clear nail polish and hairspray. I also pack small snacks and water for the bride.

 

Post-Wedding

 

This is the most common mistake wedding photographers make. Always invite your bride and groom and their parents to come back to your studio to view the art prints and album options. Otherwise, you are leaving money on the table. You can make more money from product sales than the wedding coverage. It starts with educating your client at the consultation, where you explain your process and the importance of printing their images and creating heirloom products.

 

Action Plans

 

  • Create a gift registry.
  • Create a self-care kit.

Create a bridal care kit.

 

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the May issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

Adapting to Changes in the Wedding Photography Industry

Friday, April 28th, 2017

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Adapting to Changes in the Wedding Photography Industry with Michael Anthony

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the May issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

 

Change happens. Some of us love it and others hate it. Change can impact your business for the better or worse. Change can be something as small as new colors that are trending at weddings or something large, like the rapid transition from film to digital that occurred in the early 2000s.

 

Now, the thing about change is that it benefits some and is detrimental to others.
I don’t write about business a lot, but we have a very healthy photography business, shooting over 100 weddings a year. In business, I have learned one thing, no matter what: Change is inevitable. Those who learn to adapt to changes quickly are the ones who will have the most longevity in our industry. Think about businesses that failed to adapt to change, such as Kodak, Blockbuster and BlackBerry—the list goes on and on.

 

I had an ex-employee who used to complain about the number of changes I’d make to our studio policies. As a business owner, I keep my ear in tune to even the slightest shift in consumer behavior. If something seems off in your business, trust your instinct, because you’re probably right. That employee didn’t understand that the changes I made to our policies were in response to the consumer behavior I was sensing.

 

If something is broken, it needs to be fixed, and sometimes the fix is staring you right in the face but you fail to see it. My pet peeve is when a business takes too long to fix something that is obviously broken. I am guilty of violating my own pet peeve, and my business has suffered because of it.

 

After we started our associate program Studio 23 last year, there were glaring problems with the structure of the program that needed to be fixed, specifically regarding personnel. We had problematic employees who were causing our clients grief. I had already assigned these employees to shoot weddings, and didn’t want to switch them out on our clients. But waiting until it was too late to make a change could have severely damaged my company. In the end, it worked out, and we changed Studio 23’s structure, while at the same time cutting down our costs and providing a better-quality product. Had I held out replacing my bad staff, it could have caused irreversible harm to our business.

 

Changes in the wedding photography industry are happening swiftly, and those of us who are not ready for change could get left in the dust. I run a very active wedding studio and believe that anybody you learn business from should be running an active and profitable business, so understand that the trends I point out below are from my own experience.

 

  1. Wedding photography is getting more expensive for consumers.

 

This is a good change—for you—but you must understand that regardless of trends, when prices go up, so do client expectations. According to The Knot, the average price of wedding photography is up 8 percent this year, which is ahead of the rate of inflation. This is a good sign for photographers, and can be attributed to people like Sal teaching photographers how to run a profitable business, along with an exodus of people who are not running a profitable business.

 

While this is seemingly a good thing, let me explain why you need to be concerned. With anything in life, if the price goes up, the value needs to go up with it. Clients’ perceived value of your product can be objective to them, but you need to address their needs so that clients feel like they are getting a lot for their money.

 

When a client tells everyone you are expensive—and if you are charging a profitable rate, they probably will—it must be followed up by, “They were totally worth it.” If that is not the follow-up that you receive, those potential new clients won’t reach out to you. Nobody wants to pay too much for anything. It doesn’t matter if they are wealthy or not: Clients want to feel they are getting value for their money.

 

  1. Clients are becoming more demanding for a professional level of service.

 

Gone are the days when you could respond to your clients in two to three days. You have a life, maybe kids and a lot of other clients to deal with, but in your bride’s mind, she expects to be your only client. This may be a result of generational mentality, but I think it must have more to do with the fact that big businesses are providing value with exceptional service to justify increasing costs. This is good for the consumer, but a single photographer doesn’t normally have the resources to provide immediate service. When a big business like AT&T runs into customer service issues, they are often a result of a misunderstanding or mishap, and are sometimes the fault of the consumer or the business. AT&T understands that keeping a customer happy is a better option than having an upset customer (but keeping a $49 activation fee).
Today’s consumer knows this, and many push for a concession that is ultimately granted by a large company that benefits more from a happy customer than the small charge being disputed.

 

Bring that back to photography. If there is a misunderstanding on your pricelist or with a delivery time, most photographers aren’t in the position to give away a print or album for free, because we often work on low volume and high margins. You can’t simply say no to a client without offering a reason and a solution.

 

If that solution is not a form of concession, it is more difficult to maintain a happy client, regardless of whether you are right or wrong.
If I told you I didn’t run into customer service issues, I would be lying to you. You simply cannot always operate at 100 percent efficiency. Clients are less forgiving than they once were.

 

The answer isn’t simple. You must increase the efficiency in your business and be extremely responsive to clients. Many brides like to be contacted weekly, and if that means setting an auto reminder to shoot a client an email to check on them six months before their wedding, then so be it. Understanding this trend is the first step to getting ahead of it. Larger markets like New York City and Los Angeles see these trends before smaller markets, so keep that in mind if you are not seeing the same thing.

 

Here are a few things you can implement to bump up efficiency. First, get a solid CRM. 17Hats is amazing at helping you get the job done, and Ally, its lead management, will help with your responsiveness with prospective clients. Next, automate everything that you can. We use email templates for everything from initial inquiry, to follow ups, to upselling parent albums. We have some available on our website for photographers.

 

  1. Aesthetic preferences are changing.

 

The days of rustic and vintage weddings are dying—slowly, but still dying. The film-look craze that has replaced natural-light shooting is also on the way out. Clients are looking for more cinematic, romantic and artistic imagery that is technically well executed, well lit and with modern post-production. To be clear, I am not saying clients are looking for off-camera flash in the middle of an epic scene. I am saying their taste in photography is improving, and they are looking for photography that stands out. Vanessa Joy and Sal Cincotta both have completely different styles of photography, but they both produce images in line with all of these qualities.

Clients are more in tune with what makes a good photograph. They are not always correct, but they are paying more attention. “Fake it till you make it” doesn’t work anymore. You need to up your skillset and push yourself to try new things to stand out.

 

This means you need to practice, and if your portfolio from your paid shoots is not keeping up with aesthetic trends, you need to stylize shoots. We stylize bridal sessions bimonthly to make sure we are creating good content for our clients. Those sessions feature dresses, lighting and scenes all in line with the modern aesthetics.

 

Here lies the threat to your business. Other photographers are seeing the shift in clients’ preferences to be more in line with that of the photographic community, but that means increased competition.
Off-camera flash is getting easier and easier to learn, and simply underexposing a background and correctly exposing your subject with flash isn’t enough to make your work stand out. Like Sal says, innovate or die.

 

  1. An album is no longer an album.

 

Including a wedding album in your packages is no longer an add-on, it’s an expectation. I used to get inquiries from people who told me they did not require an album. In recent years, those inquiries have turned into people requesting an album. That means your competitors are all offering albums. If you are not offering albums, you are selling your clients an incomplete story, limiting your profitability and not standing out among your competitors.

 

Your albums must be different, just like your photography. I am talking paper options, larger than normal sizes, multiple cover choices, etc. Most important, your storytelling ability must be on point and able to evoke emotion in your clients.

 

Our studio uses a combination of Signature Collection Albums, Graphistudio Wedding Books and MillersLab.com for our different levels of albums. All three offer unique albums with exceptional customer service.

 

  1. Traditional advertising is a turnoff to the modern bride.

 

I will get flack for writing this, but you need to modernize your marketing. The days of paying for a magazine ad are over. Your bride is not finding you on Channel 7 during Judge Judy, and you are certainly going to turn off a lot of people if your ads are pretentious (“We care about you, the bride, not like all those other photographers who only care about their portfolio”).

 

What works today? You need a well-rounded strategy based on (but not dependent on) multiple sources of lead generation. Let’s look at some popular ad methods.

 

Social Media and Google

 

Facebook was very successful for us in 2013 and 2014, but, as it became more popular to advertise on Facebook, users have become numb to it. This is an example of traditional advertising. The problem is that the same ads are displayed repeatedly to the wrong people, and that’s ineffective.
Where Facebook and other online ads do work well is in retargeting people who have visited your website. This can be done by installing Facebook Pixel on your site.

 

If you have a large following of other photographers or have nontargeted people visiting your website, this could be a difficult strategy, but there are workarounds you can explore to make sure you are showing ads to the right people, such as targeting visitors to a landing page.

 

Instagram ads are the way of the future. Organic reach is still high, but I have found that as of today, these ads are ineffective.

 

What’s more important than where you advertise is how you advertise. People want to get to know your brand and studio. Bombarding them with offers and discounts does not work like it used to because they see that all the time. Consider making a promo video offering free advice for wedding planning, and offer that to brides in exchange for their email. Once you have the email, you can use it to retarget your brides and send your offers and discounts. They will be more receptive this time because they already know you.

 

Referrals and Vendors

 

Word of mouth is your best friend, but vendor referrals can sometimes fall on deaf ears. You want your past clients talking about you. If you are like me, you don’t have time to go on a weekly tour of your community with cookies and gifts, hoping to get on a vendor list that more and more venues are charging to be on.

 

While it’s a good thing to work closely and be referred by vendors, if you invest too much of your time with that, once that catering manager is replaced, you must start all over. Instead, make sure you are talking with your good vendors once a month, but don’t expect anything from them in return. Sincerity goes a long way, and if you are friendly and helpful with your vendors and clients, they will be more likely to refer you. People base referrals on their experience with you, your brand and your team. It may seem like shop talk to bad-mouth that difficult client to a wedding vendor, but you are placing doubt in their mind as to whether you can handle their client.

 

Treat your clients like gold. Spoil them. Take care of their timeline and don’t let them have a single bad experience on the wedding day. If you do it right, they will refer you to their friends and family like clockwork. Referrals are by far our best source of new leads and bookings.

 

Paid Directories
Directories like WeddingWire and The Knot can work if your price point is lower than that of your competition and your quality is higher than average. These websites pit all vendors against one another in a free-for-all; without getting to know your brand, all they have is your imagery and your price, which both sites encourage their vendors to display because research shows that clients want to see price before shopping. The problem is that when price is a talking point, it will be highly considered in the decision process. Without showing value through your products and personality, it will be hard to charge an adequate amount for your services.

 

These websites work in conjunction with other marketing techniques to provide confidence in your brand and products. But they can be expensive, and shouldn’t be used for starting your ad campaigns.

 

Email Marketing

 

Email marketing can be incredibly effective, but first you need a quality list to send to. It takes a lot of time to build a list, and because of the nature of what we do, brides will need to be moved to a separate list after their wedding. Use free content to encourage brides to sign up for your list. Your content must be engaging. Brides who don’t care about what you are offering won’t sign up with you.

 

  1. The industry is becoming more competitive every day.

 

When I was the new kid on the block five years ago, I remember being dismissed by local photographers. We are now one of the largest Los Angeles wedding photography studios by volume and sales. This came from hard work, perseverance and making tough decisions. It also came though relentlessly adapting to changes in the market.

 

I see many competitors that have the same fire and determination that I did. The difference is that I do not dismiss them. I watch my competitors every day to make sure that wherever they are going, I am already there. It may sound harsh, but business is cutthroat.
In a first-season episode of House of Cards, Kevin Spacey’s character breaks the fourth wall and says, “The higher the mountain you climb, the more treacherous the path.” It’s great advice, and so true.

 

When Jen and I were starting MAPhoto, we looked to the larger businesses to see what they were doing, and went unnoticed by many of them. Today, we can’t make a move without every photographer in L.A. knowing about it. It has been harder and harder to get help or advice from local colleagues since we are seen by many as one of the targets to knock down. We have heard stories from vendors about other photographers badmouthing us (we make it a point to be in those venues with prints on the wall). We have had clients tell us that competitors and ex-employees were badmouthing us (we always book those clients).

 

Once you’re successful, others will try to tear you down. You must resist the urge to sink to their level. If you are reading this article, you care about the success of your business, and that means you must do everything to protect it, even if it means swallowing your pride when you run into these situations.

 

Hopefully these tips will help keep you in tune with today’s market and bride. Stay in tune with the market, and you will see continued success. Don’t be afraid to make changes when things aren’t working.

 

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How to Defuse Bridal Bombs: 4 Tips for Avoiding and Dealing With Client Catastrophes

Friday, April 28th, 2017

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How to Defuse Bridal Bombs: 4 Tips for Avoiding and Dealing With Client Catastrophes with Vanessa Joy

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The first time I had a bride complain about me was when I shot my first wedding, for which I’d charged just $500. Long story short, the bride didn’t like the pictures. Looking back at those pictures now, nine years later, she certainly had every right to complain because they just weren’t that good. It was also my fault because I didn’t provide her with clear expectations of what she should expect from my photography.

If you’ve ever had a client upset with you, you know that it can flip your life upside down. You can’t sleep at night. All you do is worry about it and talk about it to people who really don’t want to hear it. Thankfully, there are a lot of ways you can avoid client catastrophes, especially with brides. There are ways to handle these unfortunate events that will leave your bride happy without letting her walk all over you. Brides can be the most difficult clients, but if you follow the steps below, you’ll be able to breeze through transactions with or without confrontation.

Tip #1: Set realistic expectations.

Setting expectations is where it all starts. If you set expectations for your photos, your customer service, your product delivery and anything else that involves clients and what they receive, you won’t have a problem meeting those expectations. If you don’t set them, you run the risk of your client subconsciously setting them for you—and likely setting them beyond your capabilities.

Setting expectations starts with your website. The second they come to your site, they subconsciously create expectations about your brand, your photos and what they can expect from their wedding pictures. When I meet with clients, I talk about their wedding day and show them pictures that look like what I envision for their final product. If they’re having a church ceremony, I show them how I photograph in that setting. If they’re not doing any of their photos until after sunset, I show them a winter wedding.

Setting expectations early on means you will be able to communicate with your clients more effectively and they will have realistic expectations of what you’re going to deliver to them. Set expectations for quality of the product and turnaround time as well.

Always give yourself a buffer in turnaround time. I tell my clients their proofs will be ready in around three to four weeks, even though I know I’ll have them done in one to two weeks. This gives me two possible outcomes. I’ll either deliver the product early to them and they’ll be happy that I’ve exceeded their expectations, or, if some things are holding me up on the backend and I deliver past my normal one- to two-week turnaround, they will still get their photos “on time.” It’s a win-win either way.

Tip #2: Keep lines of communication open.

Your clients should always be able to get a hold of you via email or phone. You should also be easily approachable. If they’re having a problem, you want them to feel comfortable coming to you. When they come to you at the beginning of a problem, it’s easier to resolve it. It also ensures that your client isn’t getting madder and madder, while you are completely unaware something is even wrong.

Throughout your relationship with the bride or groom, email them asking how things are going and if there’s anything you can do to make things better. This may open up a can of worms, but it will help diffuse problems before they begin—and it gives you the chance to rectify existing ones. Create a client exit survey that can help you avoid problems with future clients.

Tip #3: Sympathize and listen.

When a client comes to you with a problem, you need to be able to respond favorably. I realize that half the time clients come to you with a problem, their expectations or demands are petty, and you want to roll your eyes at them. Don’t do that.

When they talk to you about their concerns, sympathize with them. Tell them you understand how they feel and you are sorry about it. Repeat what they say back to them in different words so it’s clear that both parties understand what is going on. (These techniques will not only help you with your client relationships, but pretty much any relationship you have.)

Tip #4: Ask them what they want.

It might seem like a really bad idea to ask a hypersensitive, emotionally unstable bride what she wants. Give clients the benefit of the doubt. When you ask a client how she wants you to compensate for a problem, verbalizing the problem will help make them more rational. Ask them what you can do to make things right, and you’ll often arrive at a practical solution.

When you do reach a reasonable solution, overcompensate. Offer an additional free canvas or some extra pages in their wedding album. Your goal is to turn unhappy clients into very happy clients, and one of the best ways to do this is by overcompensating.

If you’ve never had a bridal bomb explode in your face, trust me, you will. I’ve been in business for almost a decade, and I’ve had my share of client confrontations. These methods have helped me manage clients in a way that keeps them happy throughout our relationship.

 

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Engagement Sessions

Friday, April 28th, 2017

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Engagement Sessions with Craig LaMere

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Engagement sessions are one of my favorite sessions to shoot for a few reasons. You get to use almost any shooting technique you want. You can shoot in natural light or in the studio. You can shoot with off-camera flash. You can shoot editorial style. Another reason I love shooting engagement sessions is because the clients are so in love. They want to show the world, and are eager to try about anything at the shoot.

 

The engagement session offers one of the best ways to build rapport and trust with your future bride and groom. It’s a fantastic calling card for future business. You have to do engagement sessions with a strict game plan, or they can get away from you. Let’s look at four big things to keep in mind when shooting future married couples.

 

Digital vs. Prints

 

One of the biggest gaps in photography is between shooters who are cool with selling digital files and those who are not. My studio is product-based. A tangible product is far superior to a digital file. As technology progresses, digital imagery is likely to become obsolete in its current form. Eight-tracks, cassette tapes and compact discs are gone. But digital images have a place on our menu. Engagement sessions for me, are one of the genres where digitals make sense for me to sell more than prints.

 

When I first started shooting, I was firm on not offering digitals to engagement and wedding clients. Without fail, each person who contacted me wanted to know about digital files. They all wanted them for their announcements. I would tell them the studio offers announcements. They would be so excited right up to the point of finding out what their investment would be on the 400 announcements they wanted. I lost a lot of business because I held tough to not selling digitals. Then I realized if I wanted to capture some of the business that was walking away, I would have to change what I was doing. I decided to offer digital files to my engagement sessions.

 

I implemented a per-file rate, with price breaks on volume orders. The files were formatted so they would only print up to an 8×12 before they started to break apart and pixelate. My clients could use the images for announcements and to print out images to place around the reception tables, but they could not use them to make large prints. I decided that if my clients wanted big prints, they would have to go through the studio.

 

Appetizer vs. Main Course

 

One of the other pitfalls I fell into was spending way too much time shooting sessions. When I started shooting engagement sessions, I treated them like a main course and not an appetizer. I had my clients bring three to four clothes changes and we would go to a bunch of locations. I shot 300 images per session. After culling the images, I was showing 100 to 120 images at the view session. What I did not understand was engagements are just a teaser to the wedding, and the wedding is the big show. I was putting all that effort and time into the engagement session and putting my clients through it all too; I found out pretty quickly that it was not the right approach for a couple of reasons.

 

One of the reasons this approach was bad was because I was asking so much of my clients. They were stressed out about all the clothes they had to bring. The time investment was hard on my clients. They would come to the studio all pumped up, and by location three, they were pretty tired. At the view session, they were overwhelmed looking at that many images; they quickly started to all look the same, so my clients started to second-guess. The biggest problem with my approach was that my clients did not want the number of images I thought they did. In my mind, I was shooting the session to sell an album, which at my studio would be around 20 to 30 images. My clients wanted just five to 10 images. I found that my clients didn’t budget a lot for the engagement because they were allocating the lion’s share of their money to the wedding and the wedding photography.

 

Nowadays, instead of four clothes changes, we do two. One is casual and the other is formal or semiformal. We go to two locations and we shoot around 60 images for the entire session. The session is an hour or less. At the view session, I show no more than around 40 images. My clients are happy and I’m happy.

 

Makes the Wedding Day Easier

 

I love shooting engagements, but the goal is to book and shoot the wedding. I look at the engagement as one of the best ways to set yourself up for a successful wedding shoot. I have shot weddings where the bride and groom had someone other than me shoot the engagement. But shooting the engagement is a fantastic lead into the wedding day for a couple of reasons. When you shoot the engagement, you establish a rapport with the couple. The day of the wedding will be crazy, and it helps when they trust you are going to take good care of them.

 

The engagement session also prepares you for their personalities and tastes. Time is of the essence at a wedding, and with nerves and stress levels so high, it is a huge advantage to know how the couple likes to be shot, how they take direction, if they like structure or if they are more in the moment. All these factors help you use the time you have to your best advantage.

 

Incentivize the Shoot

 

Because shooting the engagement is so important and because our end goal is to book the wedding, we use the engagement session as an incentive for clients to book the wedding. In some of our packages, the engagement session is built in. Or, if my client is at a certain spending level, I offer the engagement as a bonus after they have booked.

 

I know it seems strange to give something away once they have agreed to pay for it, but I know I’m going to do well with the wedding and I think it goes a long way for a value-added experience. Giving away a few hundred dollars is worth the word-of-mouth returns.

 

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The Wedding Exit Plan

Friday, April 28th, 2017

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The Wedding Exit Plan with Moshe Zusman

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Shooting weddings can get to the best of us. Maybe it’s when we are waiting for all the family members to come together for a big family photo in the middle of a wedding reception. Perhaps it is one of those moments when your bride turns against you. Or maybe the lifestyle of a wedding photographer has just become too much. Whatever it is, all wedding photographers face deep frustrations.

 

For me, this realization came around the time my first kid was born. I was shooting 40-plus high-end weddings a year and second-shooting as well. In addition to weddings, I photographed high-profile events and portraits.

 

Two months before Noah was born, I was living on top of the world, running a successful photography business in Washington, D.C. I was about to become a dad and was working harder than ever to get ready for it. I had doubled my prices and my bookings every year for the past few years to get my wedding photography business to where I wanted it. The first few years of being a family of three were life-altering, but not in the way most people describe. Sure, your Lexus is now a babymobile, and there are those sleepless nights too.

 

But the biggest change is the rest of your life. Weddings suddenly occupied a bigger part of my life than just another Saturday night. I was in denial that I’d become disenchanted with shooting them.

 

I was ready for a change.

 

I was getting that undeniable urge for an all-in moment to make a better life for my family and me. That’s when I decided it was my photography that needed to change. I had built this wedding photography business from scratch after moving to the U.S. from Israel, but now I had my wife and son hiding in a closet while I was trying to meet with clients. Noah was only just learning to walk, and I knew I never wanted to miss his baseball games.

 

Aside from the burnout of shooting weddings, this just wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted anymore. I wanted to be able to call out sick and not get sued for it. I wanted to be there when my kid was sick, and for it to be just a matter of rescheduling some clients for another day and not missing the most important day of someone’s life.

 

The idea of breaking into a new genre was terrifying. I wasn’t just afraid of failing, but afraid of failing my family. I knew that shooting in the studio would allow me to create my own weekday schedule and take control of my time. That’s when I started moving into fashion, portraits and headshots.

 

If I were to talk to someone doing what I did, I would tell them to treat this new business like pulling off a Band-Aid. First, get your portfolio together. Learn what you need to about studio photography. Unlike wedding photography, you don’t need to spend time second-shooting and doing styled shoots because you can practice headshots a lot more easily than you can practice weddings. You need only about 12 images, maybe 20, to create a full headshot portfolio.

 

It takes endless practice, but the learning curve is way shorter with headshots and portraits—primarily because of the difference in what I call “liability.” For weddings, you pay a great price for small mistakes. With studio work, it’s different. I called my friends, family and even past brides to come in and let me experiment with their headshots, all in one day, creating a portfolio I used on my website.

 

From there, I created a pricing, scheduling and a workflow structure that was seamless and hands-off. I changed the look of my studio to look more fashion-based, and started building my business from there.

 

I used Squarespace to design my website because it was fast and easy, and I was already using it for my wedding photography. I got a separate URL, HeadshotDC.com, for headshots and business portraits. I’ve created such a streamlined system that it takes me only an hour from the time the client looks at my website and decides to book me until I photograph them and deliver their final headshot. I make about $500 an hour this way, which is way better than photographing weddings. Weddings require a total of 40 to 50 hours from start to finish. I limit my bookings to a month or two out, eliminating that daunting feeling of being committed to jobs for the next two years.

 

Moving to studio photography was one of the best things I’ve done for my business and my personal life. If you have the chance to get to hear me speak at places like B&H Event Space, PhotoPlus Expo or Headshot Bootcamp, you’ll hear more about my story and how I get clients to book, pay and show up without having to send out a single email. When they come in for a basic headshot, I spend 10 to 15 minutes with them as they select their final images on the spot. I send the selected images to my in-house retoucher, who delivers the images in 24 to 48 hours. That’s it. No more culling through hundreds of images or waiting up to eight weeks to deliver proofs. And there’s no more chasing down clients for album choices years after their wedding.

 

In the studio, I shoot with a Canon 5Ds and the Canon EF 70–200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens. I use Profoto D2 and Profoto light shapers, Savage Universal Backdrops and Tether Tools. There is a little crossover in switching from weddings to studio work. Your existing camera and lenses will be a good start, but it’s the lighting you’ll want to invest in the most.

 

I don’t hate weddings. I still do a few every year, and have recently rediscovered the fun of second-shooting, which is how I got started. But wedding work is the most physically and mentally challenging genre of photography. They demand too much of my most precious asset: time. Now, I spend most of my time photographing headshots for politicians, businesspeople, yogis, pageant contestants and health professionals in the D.C. area. I get to spend more time being creative on each individual picture, and that inspires and pushes me to be a more fine-tuned photographer.

 

If you’re ready to spend more time living than working, I recommend taking a look at headshot photography. Start out like I mentioned. Rip off the old like a Band-Aid, build a website and start marketing—which you can do in as little as 48 hours, like I teach at Headshot Bootcamp.

 

Grow your new business while stepping back from your other. Maybe you’ll love it, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll decide you still want to shoot weddings and do headshots on the side, or maybe you’ll change your life altogether.

 

The best thing about being a photographer is that we aren’t stuck doing something we no longer enjoy. We have the freedom to explore any genre we like and mold our lives how we please.

 

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Reshape Your Wedding Market: 4 Tips for Making Couples Want Only You

Friday, April 28th, 2017

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Reshape Your Wedding Market: 4 Tips for Making Couples Want Only You with Phillip Blume

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It may be the most common complaint we hear from wedding photographers: “My market is just too cheap. No one’s willing to pay real money for photography.” It’s a frustrating feeling, and I’ve felt it, too. There’s no doubt photographers (and “faux-tographers”) are everywhere—entering and exiting our markets with bargain prices and shiny new cameras they got for Christmas. How can photographers like us, who want to run legitimate full-time businesses, ever compete?

 

Compete is the operative word, isn’t it? We all tend to obsess over, scope out and compare ourselves to “the competition.” For good reason…right? I mean, isn’t it basic supply and demand? We’re afraid too many photographers will drown out our voice, and there won’t be enough newly engaged couples to go around. If you’re dealing with meager bookings and high advertising costs right now, your fears will seem confirmed and reinforce this pessimistic narrative about the “bad” market.

 

I’d like to preach some good news to you a better-informed narrative about how the market really works. It may give you hope. But more importantly, it will give you some practical direction in how to increase your income. After we got our heads around this concept, we found Blume Photography couldn’t keep up with all the inquiries we began to receive. To keep up, we had to open a new studio, Eve&Ever Photography, with more photographers, whose photos you see here.

 

Let’s look at four steps you can take now to reshape your approach to a poor market and discover new clients. After reading this, you may decide you need two businesses to handle the traffic.

 

  1. Accept responsibility.

 

As a husband-wife photography team who got our start in 2009, Eileen and I can relate to fear of competition. Back then we were the new kids on the block. When Blume Photography’s first amateur website went live, I bet studios in our area rolled their eyes and sighed, “Here come the newest low-ballers to ruin our business and sink the industry.”

 

That wasn’t how we felt. We were starry-eyed newlyweds looking to make our own way through the dream of self-employment. Soon, though, fear set in for us, too. Work was endless yet didn’t cover our bills. Then came a final crushing blow. We learned a cold fact about our local market that we’d been oblivious to. It was saturated with young photographers from local colleges (not a unique problem) and boasted America’s highest poverty rate (a unique and big problem). Our already small market was much smaller than we’d thought. We didn’t want to move away from our hometown and families. But how could we make a living here?

 

We didn’t give up on our market. Instead, we got smart. Because, guess what: The problem with our business wasn’t our market; it never is. The problem with our business was us. That’s hard to admit, but this fact tends to be eye-opening for many photographers we coach one-one-one. None of us can change our markets. But we do have the power to change ourselves and how we do marketing. Keep in mind that relationships with fellow photographers are your greatest asset, so overcome your fears and focus on community over competition. This is a choice you have to make. Reach out to your fellow photographers. If you offer an olive branch, they’ll become your best allies, lead sources and friends.

 

  1. Understand luxury clients.

 

The closer we grow to other photographers, the more we understand that we are not all competing for the same clients. Upstart photographers often make the major mistake of marketing their service as if it were a commodity. You are not Walmart. Stop acting like it. If you market a luxury service based on “best price” or even “quality of work” alone, then you are advertising “things.” Things (or commodities) can be purchased anywhere from anyone who has the same things to offer. If you advertise this way, you will be competing against a lot of other photographers for the same bottom-of-the-barrel clients. The wrong clients.

 

But who is the right client? And how do you reach her?

 

Researchers have known for decades that humans, for both psychological and physiological reasons, make important purchasing decisions in the limbic, or emotional, brain. The rational brain barely enters the equation.

 

There’s a huge, almost magical, business application here. Don’t miss it. There are people in your market who deeply value photography and will pay well for it. You may never have met them, but they are there. It’s precisely because they value photography that your discounts or facts and figures don’t attract them. They are seeking emotional value, not a bargain commodity. So you have to woo them with emotional marketing.

 

Have you unintentionally been targeting the very people who don’t care about your craft? Sure, everyone knows they have to find a photographer for their wedding, along with the cheapest chair rentals. (In fact, they may care more about the chairs.)

 

The solution? Am I saying a price increase will automatically bring you high-end clients? No. In fact, if you hike your prices without grasping this point, you’ll sink like a stone. The point is, we all need to stop talking so much in terms of price, discounts and the “amazing archival paper” our images are printed on. That’s all stuff. Talk instead about emotional experience.

 

Tell and show personal stories about your past clients on Instagram. Use your website’s About page to sell yourself and explain why photography matters. Use your talents to give back to community charities, where you’ll meet and connect with local change-makers over causes you all believe in. Invest the time to reach an audience that values you, rather than wasting money to run an expensive ad that desperately screams, “Please hire me!” to the unwashed masses.

 

  1. Define your style.

 

This seems easier said than done. Defining Blume Photography’s style has been our biggest challenge. For one thing, I’m constantly honing my technique, so my style is always in flux. Then consider trends. How can I stick to the same old thing if I’m also trying to stretch and meet popular demand?

 

I don’t pretend to have all the style answers. But I do see how powerful brand consistency is in the marketplace. Consistency gives your ideal clients the sense they “belong to” your brand (like a club) even before they inquire about your services. That equals very high conversion rates for new inquiries.

 

Our friends the Youngrens have done a fabulous job of this. They own three studios in the San Diego area that all take wedding clients. The fact that their first brand advertises specifically to “black tie and ballroom” clients keeps the brand consistent and attracts more people who like upscale weddings because they relate to what’s shown on the website. Their other brands target outdoor barn-style weddings and edgier affairs for hipster kids who like artsy images.

 

What kind of weddings do you love to photograph? Use this as a starting point in specializing, and you’ll be surprised how effectively you can now attract more of the weddings that look similar to your defined style.

 

  1. Peel back your market’s “layers.”

 

For our Eve&Ever associate studio, we’re starting the process of differentiating by style. It helps that we’ve already differentiated our pricing. Remember those couples who care about photography almost as much as they care about rented folding chairs? They may represent the bottom rung on the client ladder, but don’t snub them or the photographers who shoot their cheap weddings. There are three or four “layers” in every market where different consumer classes dwell—and they all need to be served.

 

As my friend and world-class photographer Scott Robert Lim asks, “If you offered a simple shoot-and-burn package for just $1,500, do you think you could book 50 weddings per year? If yes, you could essentially earn $75,000 for one day of work per week. That’s the best job in the world.” Before you decide to structure a business this way, you need to ask a lot of big and very personal questions. For example, would you feel emotionally satisfied shooting so many low-end weddings? Different weddings offer photographers very different creative opportunities.

 

But the jobs are there. And there are layers in between the low-end and high-end markets. What matters is that you shape the service you offer to fit the price. Do the math. Let’s say you want to include a wedding book for all your clients because, like us, you want to ensure your work lives on as a legacy for families. You know you can’t afford to include a wedding book in a $1,500 package. So you increase your price to $2,400 and start including the book along with client “welcome gifts” and small items to improve the customer experience and increase word-of-mouth referrals.

 

Uh-oh. You may have made a big mistake. The middle-of-the-road market is often the hardest to crack. A more limited number of consumers exists in this budget zone, and even fewer of them care about a wedding book. But if they do like your offerings, your lower profit margin could put you out of business before you know it. Yikes.

 

Pricing strategy is powerful but complex. It’s a topic we talk about a lot with our students. At the very least, you need to make sure your wedding package prices fit both your local economy and the market layer you want to target (considering your values and goals). A great place to start researching your market in detail is www.theweddingreport.com. There is a fee to access the report, which is rich in information and worthwhile if you’re ready to strategize this way.

 

Conclusion

 

It’s become clear that virtually no market is a bad one. If there were a poor market, it would be ours—yet opportunity exists here. There are extreme exceptions. You probably can’t run a very successful studio in a two-horse town or on the moon. (Although if you’re a great entrepreneur, you could probably find a way to attract clients there, too.)

 

If you begin to feel as though all the leads you receive are “unqualified,” it’s time to reshape your market. Take the proven steps to attract qualified leads, and then enjoy the fruits of working smarter rather than harder.

 

Explore our free online photography group ComeUnity at www.blumephotography.com/photographers.

 

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Use Products to Create Photographic Longevity

Friday, March 31st, 2017

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Use Products to Create Photographic Longevity with Blair Phillips

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Today’s generation is one that is generally open and accepting to change. While that’s a good thing, it also has its disadvantages. Your business could be here today and gone tomorrow. This is something I have learned in the volume photography world. When working to acquire new business, it is frustrating for people to not be open to a new way of doing things just because it has always been done a certain way. If you are the one already providing that service, it is good to hear that. If you are the one trying to gain that business, it can be frustrating to hear that. I have found it best to create a product that they cannot imagine not having any longer if the client chose to hire someone other than me. That is exactly what we have done with banners in our market.

 

It is no secret that today’s youth like looking at themselves in pictures. They may not love how they look, but they sure take lots of pictures of themselves. The word selfie is now in the dictionary. We photograph all the team and individual images for every sport in every high school in two counties. That puts us in front of a ton of athletes three times a year. That is a large business, and I do not want anyone to take that away from me. These banners have helped secure my existence in this space.

 

We print an eye-catching banner for each individual senior in their sports environment. These banners hang wherever their sport is played throughout the season. The banners are printed on an outdoor material that withstands the elements. Seniors get to keep their banners at the end of the year. Most students tell me they take it home and hang it in their room. The banners have a brand-reflective look and design. If the images on the banners don’t get the kids excited, they won’t be as effective.

 

You may find that it seems impossible to convince the decision makers to let you photograph a sports team. I felt the same way when I began this venture. I went to the coach of a high school team and showed him an example of the idea I had in mind. I asked to borrow a couple of his star players to photograph as an example. This allowed me to do two things. It allowed me to show him what I could deliver to parents as an option for them to purchase. It also provided me images to work up into a banner that I could show as an example. The example is more powerful if you use one of the team’s players. Showing examples of rival teams just doesn’t get many prospective clients excited. When the coach was able to see the banner hanging on the fence and hear the response from the players, he told me that he had to have them. The icing on the cake was letting a few players’ parents see the banners. Once the parents got involved, the banners turned into a must-have product.

 

It is all well and good to create an awesome and highly desired product, but the toughest part is figuring out who is going to pay you for it. Some schools have booster clubs that raise a lot of money. For the schools with a good budget, the booster club buys them from me at cost. I am making my money on the team and individual images that I create and sell to parents. The banners are a way for me to give back to my schools with my skillset, rather than just writing a check that digs into my profits. The schools without much booster support have to have another option in order for the banner option to work. We sell the banners to these schools at cost too. The difference is that the parents have to buy their child’s banner out of their own pocket. If that is not an option, the students can go out into the community and fundraise from local businesses to help them hang their banner. I am a firm believer that where there is a want and a will, there is a way.

 

Our schools and athletes have grown to love and expect these banners season after season. We have a system and a rock-solid product in place that runs like a fine-tuned machine. The thought of them not having the banners any longer is not something that would sit well with the students, coaches, and especially the parents. I love going to the Friday night football games and eavesdropping on the families commenting about the banners. These banners have made it tougher for another photography company to step in and take the business from us. We offer the banners only to the seniors. This gives them a little more meaning. It also creates anticipation and gives everyone encouragement and motivation to make it to that senior year, when their banner will finally hang proudly. The banners represent more than just a pretty picture. We market them to stand for commitment, perseverance, dedication and skill.

 

The great thing about getting into the school sports market is the number of opportunities you have to sell to them. They have three seasons at the high school level: fall, winter and spring. In the fall there are two football teams, two soccer teams, two cheer squads, a golf team, two volleyball teams and two track teams. In the winter, there are four basketball teams, a cheer squad, an indoor track team, a wrestling team and a boys and girls swim team. The spring season consists of two baseball teams, two softball teams, a boys and girls track team, a golf team, two soccer teams and a tennis team. If you can acquire a decent number of these schools, you can make a good living photographing sports three times a year. The trick is to be quick, efficient and very friendly. You must deliver a product they feel they cannot live without.

 

Confidence is a game changer in our everyday life. It has to maintain a balance within our business lives. Lack of confidence keeps us from growing our business in the direction we want it to go. Too much confidence causes us to lose sight of what is important, which leads us to stray from the details that helped get us the business to begin with.

 

Confidence is something we create for ourselves. No one can take away from you what they never gave you to begin with. Let your confidence be the motivation that keeps the ball rolling. Confidence alone is not enough, though. You have to search for the right product offerings that help you stand out in your market. Only then can you apply your confidence and drive home the big sale.

 

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