Viewing Business

Including Pets in Your Portrait Business

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

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Including Pets in Your Portrait Business with Norah Levine

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the July 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.

Pet owners consider their pets to be part of the family. They’re certainly part of mine. Pets are often included in day-to-day activities, brought along on vacation and some pets even go to work with their pet parent. Each year, Americans spend a tremendous amount of money on pet food, bedding, toys, daycare, veterinarians, boarding, training and grooming. Pets are a big deal.

Including pets in your portrait sessions is a smart way to add variety, additional income and a hearty challenge. While I am not suggesting that every portrait photographer needs to become a pet photographer, including furry family members in your work is a fun way to expand your offerings.

As a portrait photographer, you should always look for reasons to give clients a “call to action” for scheduling a session. This article gives some call-to-action inspiration.

Behavior (Yours and the Pet’s)

Before I jump into some of the ways you can filter pets into your portrait business, a note about behavior.

No matter what you do, pay attention to the animal’s behavior—how it is reacting to you, your gear, lights and the general situation. I won’t dive deeply into animal behavior in this article, but use good judgment. It doesn’t matter how incredible your idea is—stressing an animal or putting anyone in danger is not okay and won’t get you a winning photograph.

When I photographed a dog with a family recently, I quickly learned that the dog was terrified of the lights (the owners had never used flash around the dog before, and weren’t aware of this). While I was disappointed I couldn’t continue to use my lighting setup, I had to adapt and move on with the shoot. Adapting is a large part of photographing pets.

Pets and People

People of all ages are often calmer in front of the camera when they have their pet with them. Focusing on their beloved animal allows them to forget about the camera and let their true self shine. Self-conscious individuals often relax and children often forget about overposing for the camera when Fido is near. While adding pets to any type of photo shoot can add a layer (or three) of complexity, it’s well worth the effort.

Maternity Sessions

I always hear from new and expecting parents that their pet is their first baby. Documenting this transition professionally and creatively while their first pet baby is still the only “baby” in the house can be valuable. During this time, there is a lot of emotion and excitement involved in the shift in family dynamics.

Your client may not initially contact you about including a pet in their maternity session, but you can make the suggestion (also add it to your portfolio), and they just might be thrilled about the idea.

Not all of the images in your session have to include fur babies, but you’ll be glad to have more options for your client both from a creative standpoint and in sales. Consider photographing the whole family together, looking at the camera and also engaging with one another and their pet.

Create images where the pet is engaging with the momma-to-be’s belly. Hide a treat in the expecting momma’s hand or ask her to connect with the dog or cat using special words or sounds to capture the pet gazing at their momma. (You can also ask your assistant to give you a hand with the attention-getting.) These sessions can be a lot of fun, and the couple will look back at these images with fondness.

Newborn Sessions

I love photographing lifestyle images of families as they welcome their new precious baby into their lives. Your clients are in the midst of a huge adjustment in their lives, one that many couples want to creatively document. Since pets in the family are adjusting to the new addition, including them in the session adds a layer of challenge, but if the situation is conducive to it, give it a go.

I have seen many photographs with both babies and dogs, and they’re quite sweet—but they make me nervous for safety reasons. I prefer to include pets and newborns in more of a lifestyle situation where I am not holding my breath hoping that the dog doesn’t accidentally knock over or harm the baby. I love dogs and cats, but they are animals with instincts and a level of unpredictability I’d rather not take chances with.

If you decide to closely pose a pet and a newborn, clearly communicate with the pet parents. Have a spotter on hand (preferably one of the parents) to keep a close eye on the pet’s behavior.

Another solution is to ask Mom or Dad to hold the baby and have the dog or cat positioned on the floor, couch or bed. The pet may be super interested in the baby or not at all. Where possible, encourage physical connection of the pet parents with the pet. Including pets in the frame on any level tells the story of this family and this chapter of their lives.

New Pets

New-pet photo sessions can apply to families with young children, couples or individuals adopting their first dog or cat. When a new pet arrives, a bundle of new memories is created that deserves to be captured by professional photography. You can document the day of adoption or arrival to the home, or have a session just a few weeks after the pet has had time to adjust. This is a very special time, another valuable call to action to keep in mind in your portrait photography business.

First Pets 

All pets leave their mark on our hearts, but first pets are a huge deal. This can be your client’s first pet as an adult, or an elderly pet with whom they spent their childhood. These animals have been there for them during their formative years, and the photographs from these sessions are like gold to them. This is an excellent reason for a portrait session.

Children Sessions

Pets are often like siblings to children. If you already specialize in photographing children, adding a pet to even part of your session can add a layer of sweetness and value for your client. Photograph the pet and child playing or cuddling together, or engaged in their favorite activity.

Depending on the age of the child, you can encourage interaction with their pet. Make it a game. Ask them to tell the dog a secret or offer the pet a treat if it sits. If you ask them to handle the pets in any way, encourage soft, gentle movements so as not to scare or annoy the animal.

Stock 

If you photograph stock imagery, consider using pets in your work. So many households own pets, and pet imagery resonates with them. You can create playful images of pets individually or pets being involved in everyday life. Pay attention to the commercial imagery you see that includes pets.

Attracting the Work

We all know by now that we need to show the kind of work we want to get hired to create. If you want to start including pets in your portrait business, start generating imagery that demonstrates your ability to do so. You may try it out and decide it isn’t your thing, but if you are an animal lover and are up for a challenge, consider these and other ways to expand your portrait client options.

Adding Fifi to the mix may require an extra hand and will likely lead to some new skills. Practice till you’ve learned how to conquer the challenges of working with lighting, composition, directing, camera settings—and a dash of fur.

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the July 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 Path to Success

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

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The Path to Success with Sal Cincotta

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the July 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.

As I sit here preparing to write my article this month, I am in awe of what we have accomplished in this short five years. You see, five years ago, I made a decision after my column in Rangefinder magazine was canceled that would change the course of my career and my company.

I was so pissed off when I got the news. I was told that my column was one of the most popular in the magazine. It was so popular that they’d offered me a second column. I was so proud and excited. It was still early in my speaking and educational career. Then, all of a sudden one day, I got the call about the cancelation. This was out of nowhere. I asked why, and the answer enraged me even more. I had too many companies and was becoming too successful, and that was a concern to some advertisers.

I would love to go back in time to see what I looked like when I heard that. I was so angry. I hung up that phone, looked at my team and said, “I want a solution for a digital magazine within the next 24 hours!”

Shutter Magazine was born 24 hours later. Not many people know our origin story, but there it is. Shutter would go on to be one of the largest professional photography magazines out there, with over 100,000 monthly subscribers.

So, who cares? Well, you should. There is a lot you can learn from my journey. Hell, there is a lot I have learned from my journey. Let’s dig into some of the things that I think can help you no matter where you are in your career.

Throughout the article, I will use growth and success interchangeably—to me, they are so intertwined that I am not sure how you achieve one without the other.

The path to success is painful.

Make no mistake: If you want to grow as a person or as a business, the path is going to be a painful one. It is going to make you uncomfortable and force you to do things that are way out of your comfort zone. I have to constantly remind myself and my team of that reality. If it were easy, everyone would do it. I know how cliché that sounds, but it’s true.

Most people give up when they start feeling pain. Not necessarily physical pain, but any type of physical or mental discomfort. It’s uncomfortable, it’s outside the norm, therefore it’s painful for you on some level. That’s the moment I push harder. Trust me when I tell you this is all mental. If you talk yourself out of it or if you are a pessimistic person, you will quit on yourself and your dreams.

Instead, I embrace the discomfort. I realize that if I am not uncomfortable, that means I am just coasting along, and that forces me to push harder. It’s like being an adrenaline junkie. I need to feel the pain to know I am growing and pushing myself. We can all relate to that pain.

Find that place that makes you uncomfortable, and push the gas peddle. What you will find is that over time, less and less will make you uncomfortable and the things that once made you uncomfortable are now easy for you.

The path to success is not an accident.

If you find yourself wishing and hoping for your big break or looking at others and making excuses for their success, shame on you. People show their ugly side sometimes because of their own internal issues. Don’t be that person. Don’t be the photographer who looks at other photographers in their area and says, “I am better than him!” Who cares? No one gives a shit if you are better than them. You are not entitled to success. You have to go out there and grab it by the balls. If you want it, it is there for you. I can tell you that firsthand.

If you want success and growth, it’s not going to just fall in your lap. It is not about “paying your dues.” It is not about anything other than working longer and harder than your competition. So, if you see someone who is killing it and surpassing you, maybe, just maybe, they are working harder than you are.

Growth for me was not an accident. I wanted it bad, and, to this very day, everything I do I want to be the best at. That is my mindset. It forces me to work hard and plan. Where do you want to be today, next week, next month, next year? Getting there will not just randomly happen because you put it out there in the universe. What is your plan to get there?

You need a dose of reality. You need to surround yourself with people—friends, family and peers—who will shoot straight with you and not just be “yes” men. That is useless. I love having people around who push me and challenge me to plan for bigger and better things in life.

Start planning for success and putting together the blueprint for getting where you want to be. Work harder and longer than your competition, and you will start growing in leaps and bounds while everyone else stands around scratching their head at your success.

The path to success will force you to reevaluate.

This is something I have had to go through many times over the last 10 years. There is no right or wrong answer here. Ultimately, it’s up to you. But make no mistake, you will have to ask yourself some tough questions along this journey. You will be forced to reevaluate everything you thought you knew, everything you thought you wanted. I know, because I have had to do this over and over again. Not just as a photographer, but as a college graduate who had a huge career in corporate America. I had to ask myself: Is this what I want?

The career question is the easiest of them. Are these the friends and people I want in my life? Are they cancer to my dreams, or are they lifting me up and helping me achieve them? These are all tough questions, ones that will undoubtedly impact your path.

This process is ongoing. I have to do this every few months to make sure the ship is on course. I do this for my business and my personal life. Get in the habit of searching for your own meaning. It will help give you some clarity on the path you are on and what you need to do to get to your destination. Now, you may never figure out the meaning of life, but this exercise is an important one on your journey. What is important to you? What do you want from life, career, family?

The path to success requires change.

This journey will force change upon you. There is no other way to tell you this. I look at the person, leader, employee I was 20 years ago and the person I am today, and they are very different people. I still have that fire in my belly. I am still extremely competitive, but I am also different. You will learn a lot about yourself. You will learn your strengths and weaknesses, and you will be forced to change in order to achieve those dreams.

If you are not where you want to be in your life or career right now, that means it’s not working. Translation: Something has to change. Change your mental state. Change your surroundings. Change the people in your life. Change your attitude. Change something.

If you keep running into the same wall expecting a different result, well, we all know how that story ends. So, the choice is yours. You can sit there and bitch about other people. Hate on them for their success. Be that person who posts random passive-aggressive digs on social media. Or you can make a change in your life. The latter is by far the toughest. In fact, most people can’t do this. That’s your advantage here. A majority of people are incapable of this change. It’s easier for them to blame the world and be negative.

Rise above this. Make the changes. And remember: This is a lifelong journey.

The path to success is a lonely journey.

Trust me when I tell you this journey of success and personal growth is a lonely one. I don’t say that as a bitter person reflecting negatively on his life. I couldn’t be happier with my life, career or future. I have never been so excited about where things are going.

But this journey is not for everyone. Throughout my career, I have been fortunate enough to work with some of the most talented, creative and giving people you could imagine. It’s been an amazing ride, but not everyone is going to be on this ride with you. People will come and go. It’s okay. This is not their journey, it’s yours. Don’t ever forget that.

The first thing you need to do is stop trying to make everyone happy. That has got to be one of the most exhausting endeavors known to mankind. Not only is it impossible, it’s exhausting. You spend so much time trying to make everyone happy, and in the end, you will have failed everyone, including yourself, because you are still not happy. And isn’t that the entire point of this journey—your happiness?

Whatever you do, don’t lose sight of that. I know it sounds selfish, but you have one life. Live it for you. Live it for the people in your life who matter. The rest is just noise.

How to Make Sure You and Your Clients Are Speaking the Same Language

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

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Be Understood: How to Make Sure You and Your Clients Are Speaking the Same Language with Vanessa Joy

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the July 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.

One of the hardest things for a photographer to learn is how to communicate with clients. Client communication isn’t normally taught at tradeshows, in college or even in mentorships. What you should say at consultations and sales sessions, and even how to answer the phone, are often overlooked skills.

One of the best ways to remedy this is to ask a fellow photographer if you can eavesdrop on one of their consultations or sales sessions. I usually offer this to my interns, who more often than not respond with, “Oh yeah, I wouldn’t have even thought of that!”

Effective communication between you and your clients cannot be taken lightly. This determines how pleasant your time with each client will be, not to mention a deciding factor for whether they will even work with you at all. If speaking to others isn’t your forte, change that about yourself. I am actually a very shy person. I often worry about what others think of me, and would prefer to hide away in my home rather than have to be outgoing in social scenarios. Do you want to know my trick to overcoming shyness? I pretend I’m not shy.

One method I used for honing my people skills is by talking to strangers. I know, Mom would be horrified, but hear me out. One of the best ways I learned to speak to people was by traveling alone. I’m not talking about cross-country, though that helped me as well. It can be as simple as taking public transportation one day and striking up a conversation with a random stranger. I often take the train into New York City and find people to talk to on the way there.

Doing this boosted my confidence in speaking to people, and it also taught me how to talk to just about anyone. It’s actually quite easy. First, I’d comment on an article of clothing they were wearing, or maybe a bag a woman was holding, just to break the ice. Then, I’d continue by asking them questions. It’s all small talk, but that kind of small talk is all you get when talking with clients. You get just one first impression, and it’s best to give it while not shyly stuttering. Just last month, I was on an airplane to Los Angeles. While I wanted to crawl into my hole and do my own thing, I decided to talk to the girl next to me. She turned out to be a food blogger with 235,000 followers on Instagram (@rachLMansfield), and I photographed her just last week. Score!

We’ll take a look at the basic points of communication with your clients and go over best overall practices for communication throughout the relationship.

Basic Points of In-Person Contact

Organize what you want to communicate, and then determine the most effective way of doing so. There are four main points of contact: the consultation, shoot, sales session and closing the relationship.

The Consultation

When I first meet with a client, I have two goals in mind. First, I obviously want to do my best to be appealing to them to earn their business. Second, I want to start setting expectations right then and there.

Setting the right expectations during this time is crucial. Talking through items like turnaround time, package contents and delivery schedule is the foundation for the rest of the relationship. Delineating realistic guidelines is how you lay the path to easily satisfying your clients and not driving yourself crazy later on.

During the Shoot

Obviously, most of this time is spent taking photos, but there is a great deal of communication here as well. I reassure my clients of the style and personality that they hired, and I never leave a session, engagement, wedding or otherwise, without giving them the next steps. Always be one step ahead of your clients so they’re not left wondering what to do or, worse, constantly emailing you with questions you should’ve already answered.

Sales Sessions

This is similar to the initial consultation where I’m attempting to make a sale and at the same time educate my clients on products and process. By this point, I know my client fairly well, so I’m talking up the products so they fall in love with them. I clearly explain package contents, product sizes and options so there isn’t any confusion about what they’re getting.

It can be hard to explain albums. I sell albums by the page rather than the picture. It makes the most sense to count album pages like you count book pages, but it can be confusing for clients when they’re looking at digital two-page spreads. I always reiterate this until it’s clearly understood.

Closing the Relationship

When it’s time to deliver your final product, it’s not just a “Here ya go, goodbye.” This is a good time to communicate next steps. Perhaps you’ll introduce them to a referral or repeat client program. For wedding clients, I usually send them off with a “Dear John” letter and goodbye gift.

Communication Protocols

Never assume your clients speak your photography language. Have you ever spoken to an IT person about a computer problem and it seems like they’re speaking French to you? Photographers often make this same mistake by speaking to their clients in photography terms that most people either don’t understand or misunderstand.

I’m not saying you need to talk down to your clients like an IT guy telling you to restart your computer (I hate that!). But you do need to make sure they comprehend the words coming out of your mouth.

Photojournalism is one of my favorite examples of this photog/client language barrier. I don’t recall where this buzzword came from in the wonderful world of weddings, but somehow most brides think of it as the opposite of old-school wedding photography. You might be on one side or the other here. You can hit all the right keywords during a wedding consultation hoping they book you. Or you can educate the client, letting them know that some parts of the day are more candid, while others are more posed.

Check out the video to find out the three most commonly misunderstood photography terms. You’ll want to set these straight to avoid setting unrealistic expectations for your clients.

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the July 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.

Creating Behind-the-Scenes Content That Sells

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

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BTS on a Budget: 3 Steps for Creating Behind-the-Scenes Content That Sells with Phillip Blume

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the July 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.

I remember standing on my tiptoes staring down in shock and awe at the man squatting in the dirt. I was nine years old, and he was Javier Lopez, star catcher for the Atlanta Braves—and my hero. What is it about celebrity that turns a man playing catch in the dirt into a cultural icon? It comes down to face time. I saw Javier everywhere I looked: on TV, baseball cards, even on my T-shirt and lunchbox.

As photographers and business owners, we need to be celebrities of a sort—potential clients need to know and trust us so they feel confident enough to hire us (and rave about us to others).

It’s time to start creating your fame through behind-the-scenes content. Here’s where to start.

Start Small

If you mistakenly think of behind-the-scenes content creation as producing a reality show, you’re likely to become overwhelmed. Don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself. Even if the content we create never approaches Hollywood caliber, that’s all right. Our viewers understand that we aren’t operating on a million-dollar budget. In fact, they’re more accustomed than ever to consumer-grade content blended into their professional entertainment and nightly newscast.

So if you’re a perfectionist like I am, loosen up on the “If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all” attitude. I’ve taken that mantra too seriously throughout my life, and it just causes me to freeze up. My new mantra—the one that has found me a lot more success—is “Done is better than perfect.” Go get it done.

Where do you start? Pick up your camera. You’re a photographer, so you’re already ahead of the curve. Yes, we’re going to discuss more of my favorite gear for behind-the-scenes (BTS for short) content creation next. But you can start now, with almost any camera you have.

Start with still photos—especially on Instagram, where BTS photos of you at work should make up about 10 percent or more of your posts. But remember, video is king for online content. Video intimidates many of us, but hear me out. My first ever video camera was a Flip HD. Do you remember that camera, with its max 720p resolution, easy one-button recording and built-in USB adapter? No one dared imagine Wi-Fi for such devices back then. Flip was a hot commodity before iPhone showed up and transformed the market.

We apprehensively attempted our first video project in 2011, armed only with my old Flip and a new consumer-grade Nikon video camera. The Nikon D700’s we shot professionally then did not even have video functionality, so you can see our Flip footage interwoven into most of the BTS promo videos on our About page at www.blumephotography.com/about.

Even as we advanced to DSLR filmmaking, video was so much easier to learn than I had feared. Some of you already know the story, how our freshman attempt at video shockingly resulted in a feature-length documentary that toured the U.S. and helped a cause we believe in. That experience alone was enough to inspire me to keep doing video production forever.

But there’s more to the story that few of you know, an unexpected ending that I can only tease you with for now. Later this year, a Hollywood movie is coming to theaters near you inspired by the story we told through video—and even containing our original video footage. The screenwriter honored me with a cameo speaking role, too; but that was probably against the casting director’s better judgment. Don’t worry, closer to the movie’s release date, we’ll share more and give exclusive behind-the-scenes access to all of you who are part of our Blume photography online community.

Get ready for big possibilities when you simply take action and put yourself out there. You don’t have to create a feature film to sell people on the value of your business, or even to change the world. Just pick up your iPhone and go.

Watch my video segment at the end of this article to see how I shoot for the edit with just my phone camera.

Gear Up

Of all the gear I’ve purchased or have received on loan to test, here is what I like best. I’ve compared so many options, and for my workflow, these tools are the most cost-effective, portable and simple to use. And I get killer results. Watch my video segment at the end of this article to see me demonstrate each.

DJI Osmo Mobile.

My phone is my favorite camera for BTS. It’s always handy, it’s easy to use and the results are high quality. The only thing it lacks for video is cinematic motion and stability. That’s where the Osmo comes in. It’s loaded with the best gimbal technology from DJI’s famous drone family. It’s basically a motorized handle or selfie stick that attaches to your phone. For stability, it’s so intuitive that you’ll use it out of the box like a pro. But the features go way beyond that. With Osmo and the DJI app, your phone camera is suddenly able to track your movements, too: Mount it, and the camera follows you and stays focused while you’re in action shooting or pacing. You can create precision motion time-lapses, something I couldn’t do before without investing thousands of dollars in high-end sliders and custom motor tracks.

I prefer the Osmo Mobile over its bigger brothers (Osmo+, OsmoPro), mostly because of the cost difference. It’s just $299 compared to $600 to over $2,000. They’re similar, but Osmo Mobile doesn’t have the small built-in camera; it uses your phone. There are a couple cheap Chinese competitors on the market that I’ve tried, but their less reactive software and cheap plastic build aren’t worth the small savings. Osmo Mobile is made of sturdy aluminum alloy and just works. Because it’s not limited to a DJI camera, my Osmo Mobile is upgraded (not outdated) anytime I upgrade my phone.

Zoom H1.

If you’re looking for a pocket-size quality audio recorder, I have several for sale. That’s because I’ve purchased quite a few makes and models that were recommended to me. Not that there was anything wrong with their quality, but I found the H1 to be the most compact and intuitive to use, without sacrificing quality. As a perk, it’s also one of the more affordable in its bracket, and its stereo-positioned dual microphones are well protected when I toss it in my backpack. I have two of these, one of which I tape to the side of a mic during wedding toasts as audio backup so I’m not at the mercy of a DJ’s unpredictable soundboard. If you want to hide the recorder and add a mic, be aware it has only a 3.5mm line input and no quarter-inch XLR. But that’s no problem if you use the next item I’m recommending.

Rode smartLav+ (and adapter).

Rode designed this quality lav mic (the kind you clip discreetly to your shirt) to fit the unusual headphone jack on Android and Apple smartphones. Yes, using your phone’s voice memo app is a legitimate option of audio recorder, but not useful if your phone is already tied up as a video camera—the drawback of a multifunction device. At about $79, it’s a good value among lav mics. Also get the $15 SC3 adapter so you can use this lav with your H1 and other recorders, as well as smartphones as backup.

Whatever you do, don’t miss my hack for wireless audio in the video. It might save you $1,000.

GoPro.

There is nothing like a GoPro for all-terrain, wet-and-wild, creative BTS shots. I’m a big fan of the new touchscreen models, but I still don’t own one. I’ve been happy with my old Hero, which must have been out of date when I got it because it came free with a Vimeo subscription. The simpler ice cube-size Hero Session is now just $149. So worth it. With adapters to clip the GoPro to your camera or shoulder strap, you’ve got first-person perspective of your photo shoots in the bag with no effort at all. I love the integrated GoPro adapters Spider Holster is introducing for users of its camera holster systems. (I’ll show you my unexpected solution for a GoPro stabilizer in the video below.)

Mobile phones and accessories.

We’ve already established that your smartphone is a multimedia studio in your pocket. Take advantage of it. But treat it kindly. Invest in a good protective case. If you’re a heavy BTS shooter, keep a good power core nearby for recharging on the fly.

Cell carrier plans are getting more competitive. Verizon now offers us a phone upgrade every 12 months, something I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t happen to walk in last week, ask about it and leave with a free iPhone 7 Plus. I’m loving my free new camera with 4K and stabilization. Check your plan.

DJI Spark.

Drones are dropping fast—and I don’t just mean GoPro Karma Quadcopters falling from the sky. They’re dropping in size and cost. Drones like DJI’s brand-new Spark are shaking up the industry. It fits in your palm and shoots stabilized HD with hands-free features that track you as you go. That’s good for BTS footage. But battery life is still low, only 16 minutes in-flight for the Spark. Yes, aerial footage is now expected in many videos, but think before you bother with it for BTS. Unless you have just a couple specific shots in mind, the price, starting at $499, may not work for you. But prices for new technology are always coming down.

Publish Smarter

All your behind-the-scenes still and video footage is only worthwhile if it sells you. The first step to selling yourself is knowing where and how to publish. I live by the “80/20 rule.” Eighty percent of the payback you receive for your marketing efforts (time and money) usually comes from just 20 percent of the marketing channels you use. As you become more strategic, you can focus all your energy on just those channels that work best. Then you’ll experience huge returns, and almost none of your time or money will be wasted.

It helps to know that Instagram, more than any other social media site, is a lifestyle medium. Polls and research tell us users who interact there love BTS photos and stories. It’s why they’re on the platform. In other words, start telling your BTS story on Instagram, and you’ll gain a larger following. Otherwise, you aren’t using it to its fullest potential.

Facebook promotes video content now through its algorithms. Take advantage of that while you can. Ads that contain your BTS video footage actually cost less than photo ads with a similar reach.

Focus first on an “about me” video that makes potential clients feel like they’ve met you, which can do the job of an in-person first meeting. But don’t let that video sit and rot on your About page. Link to it in your email signature. Make it the featured video on your Facebook page.

Maximize your efforts. Don’t be shy if you feel the video isn’t up to snuff. Remember, done is better than perfect, and potential clients know the difference between your pro work and promo work. Done is better than perfect for BTS. In fact, it’s incredibly powerful.

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the July 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 Key Steps to Starting Your Business

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

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The Key Steps to Starting Your Business with Skip Cohen

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the July 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.

It’s the anniversary issue of Shutter Magazine, and that milestone is proof that time flies when you’re having a good time. I’ve written for every issue since the very beginning five years ago, and couldn’t be more proud to be part of the team.

Five years of continuous growth in the publishing industry is a remarkable accomplishment. Because it’s an anniversary, I started thinking about what makes a business successful and able to grow year after year.

If you’ve met Sal or know his reputation, you know that he is proof that hyperactive kids grow up and have careers. Sal never sits still.

Five years ago, Sal started with an idea of an online magazine that later expanded into one of the most beautifully produced printed publications in photography today. That vision of a successful “how-to” magazine grew into a live hands-on educational event with ShutterFest. ShutterFest expanded with the more intense Lunacy. While Shutter and ShutterFest were growing, Sal built a community, demonstrated by the ShutterFest forum on Facebook all day every day.

This review of Sal’s successes over the past five years isn’t going to help you directly to build a stronger business. But hopefully it’s inspirational. From virtually nothing, Sal and his team have established themselves as the leader in several industry categories. So, how can I help you think through the challenges of doing the same with your business?

A few weeks ago, I shared a classic guest post on the Marathon Press blog from one of ShutterFest’s favorite educators, Lori Nordstrom. The topic was about how to start building your own dream business.

Lori wrote:

“I hear from so many photographers who are ready to go from portfolio building to getting their business started, and even from established photographers who know they need to make changes in their business. The decision has been made, and the question is, where do I even start? 

“There is so much to do: marketing, pricing, selling, workflow, business management . . . so what’s first?

“Well, you’ve heard it before, and I’ll say it again: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Yes, now you’ve heard it one more time: It starts with a plan. It astonishes me that we will plan a party, a trip, lunch with a friend, but we don’t plan for a profitable business. Which is more important?”

There it is, the foundation for this month’s article on developing a business plan.

Sal called me a month before he launched the magazine wanting to know if I wanted to write for Shutter. I didn’t hesitate to come onboard. I won’t speculate on the steps Sal took, from his first vision of Shutter to a tangible product. But let’s look at the steps necessary to visualizing and building a professional photography business.

1. “What if?”

It’s my favorite question when I’m thinking about any new project, and it’s a part of how your dream probably got started. This is the perfect way to start any new project, business or career—allowing yourself to dream.

Just as photographers visualize an image they want to create, you’ve got to do the same with the dream of your business. Surround yourself with positive people. Share that vision and keep asking yourself: “What if?”

2. Setting goals:

I’m a big fan of targets. Each target is a stepping-stone to turning a dream into reality. Think of targets like the rungs on a ladder.

3. Establish a timeline:

Nobody’s ever been successful with just good intentions. Each goal needs to be processed and completed. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some steps that take longer to reach than others, just that each one is a critical component of a successful startup.

4. Write a business plan:

This is all thanks to Lori getting me thinking about my own business plans over the years, and it’s critical to your success. So many of you launched your careers by establishing expertise in your skill set and then deciding you were in business without ever thinking through the steps necessary to being a success.

Can you run a business without a business plan? Of course you can, but you’re also going to waste time and energy, and will be eating macaroni and cheese every night.

Here’s a website that’s essential to your success: www.sba.gov. This site for the U.S. Small Business Administration provides all the steps necessary to writing a business plan.

Let’s look at the basics that site suggests.

  • Company description: Think through what the core of your product line is going to be. You know how to focus on your subjects, now it’s time to focus on your core specialty and the logical spinoffs in your business. Specialties include weddings, newborns, children, family, commercial and editorial.
  • Market analysis: This is one of the most critical components of any successful business. It’s also one that’s most ignored by new photographers. It’s important to examine the market, the competition, key price points and demographics. You’ve got to understand your target audience and the community you work in.
  • Organization and management: Even a one-person operation has to have organization and a support process or team in place. If you’re a solo artist, that means relying on your network, lab, systems support, etc. You’ve got to think through how you’re going to manage your business.
  • Service or product line: What are you going to sell? What’s involved in the delivery of the finished product or service? Here’s another point often missed when an artist establishes a new business. As a professional photographer, what are the products you want to sell, and do you have the support and expertise in place to deliver? This is where you should include prints, albums, framed prints, video and slideshows.
  • Marketing and sales: It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you that will make you a success. So, what’s your plan? How are you going to market your business? I’ve provided suggestions in just about every article I’ve written over the past five years, starting with your website, blog and community involvement.
  • Funding and financials: The SBA puts them in separate categories, but for this article, I’m lumping them together. How are you going to make money? How are you going to price your work and services? Who are the vendors you need to work with to get the support you need to deliver the very best product at the most reasonable margin?

Here’s what Sal said in one of the best videos I’ve ever seen on business practices: “Nothing can screw up your business faster than bad pricing.” You’re trying to build a business, not a charity. Remember, a business that doesn’t make money is a hobby.

5. Launching the dream:

This is where I wrap things up, because my purpose is to get you thinking about success. Once you’ve completed your plan, it’s time to revise your timeline and lay out the best route for your journey.

When you officially launch, the work really begins, and there’s no turning back. There will be changes along the way, and each component of your business—your website, blog, network, publicity, partnerships, communication, customer service, skill set, vendor relationships—all require care and feeding.

Owning your own business is a remarkable feeling. The keyword is owning. It’s about service, building relationships and, most importantly, faith. Even more important than your business plan, you’ve got to have faith in your ability to build your business.

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the July 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 Tips For Grooming the Perfect Assistant

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

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5 Tips For Grooming the Perfect Assistant with Alissa Zimmerman

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the July 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.

All photographers have to start somewhere. Maybe you just picked up a camera for the first time and realized your passion for photography. Maybe you’ve been running a part-time studio out of your basement for the past three years and are bursting at the seams. Maybe you’ve been a professional full-time photographer with your own brick-and-mortar studio for 10 or more years and you’re ready to take your business to the next level.

At some point in the journey of the creative professional, we need to bring in another body, whether part-time or full-time. It is the most responsible decision to be made for future growth. Hiring and grooming an assistant is one of the most daunting tasks for creative business owners—our businesses are our babies, our livelihood. How can we possibly bring in some stranger to manage the back of the house so we can focus on doing the things that bring in money?

There is an art to grooming and managing the perfect assistant. Let’s be clear on what I mean by the perfect assistant. There is no such thing as perfect when it comes to an employee, but there sure as hell is a level of perfection for what you need to make your business more successful.

As the tables begin to turn for me, and I find myself in a position where I am looking to hire my first assistant, I have taken a great deal of time to reflect back on the top five most important elements of Sal’s training process that molded me into the person I am today and the key role I now play within our organization because of it. These tips can be used in any profession, and if they are practiced diligently, they can create the harmony you’re looking for.

Patience

There’s nothing more challenging or more important than being patient when training your new assistant. My first year working under Sal was, in retrospect, a complete waste of his time and money. I was not doing anything proactively, nor was he assigning me any high-level tasks. As the employer, you have to be mentally prepared going into this relationship that it will take 10 months to a year of shadowing and learning the business before your assistant is of any actual value to you or your company.

In the beginning, it’s important to set expectations. The first 90 days are meant for shadowing only—it’s a three-month window where you’re getting to know each other and figuring out if this person is the right fit for your company, as well as a time for your assistant to figure out if your company is the right fit for her. After that first 90 days, if you’re both still onboard, it’s off to the races. The following nine months are all about learning your organization and setting up processes together that make your workflow and life easier.

Will there be bumps in the road? Absolutely. If you are looking for a scenario where there will be no hiccups, you should probably abandon the idea of managing an employee. As an employer, you need to set expectations for yourself as well in order to make this a successful relationship.

Clear Direction 

As an employee, there is nothing more frustrating than trying to perform tasks with little to no direction. This vague type of management is only setting up your assistant for failure and creating an inevitable level of resentment between the two of you—ultimately leading to a complete failure in the role, whether your assistant ends up quitting or gets fired. All of this because of something that could have easily been prevented from the beginning.

Spend the extra five minutes to give clear direction in your tasks and what you’re expecting in the outcome so you’re not living in a constant state of unnecessary tension. This is especially critical in the beginning when training your assistant in how you expect things to be completed. If you decide to be half-assed in your task assignment details, you guarantee the same result from your assistant.

Accountability

This is my favorite subject. It took me so long to understand how I went from a seven-year work history of job-hopping and being miserable as an employee to this career I have built for myself where I can actually envision a lifelong future.

Creating an environment where your assistant is accountable to you and your business at the end of the day is pivotal in the success or failure of this person. It is something that has to be established from the very beginning, or you will lose your very short window to build this foundation and run the risk of your assistant not respecting you as a leader.

Your assistant can be your best friend if that’s the relationship you want, but that person is still your employee and needs to understand that his job is to do what you tell him to do, and do it well. There has to be a certain level of fear in your assistant—a good assistant has to be afraid of disappointing you. If they don’t have that fear, their lack of performance will come out as complete disrespect, which ensures things will go bad.

Reward Based on Performance

I am a millennial, and understand my trophy generation all too well. Rewarding your assistant based on performance seems obvious, but it’s one of the most difficult things to execute. As business owners, it’s instinctual to want to give, give, give to make sure you’re keeping employees happy. At a certain point, you’ll realize the only thing you’re doing by rewarding these people regardless of performance is building entitlement and creating a nightmare employee.

I’ve watched too many people come through our organization who were rewarded with expensive gifts when there was nothing exceptional done to deserve any of it. Obviously those people didn’t last very long with the company. Who would stay once the work actually got challenging when they already got their Louis Vuitton?

Condition your assistant to understand that in order to receive any kind of reward, there has to be hard work that goes in first. It is your responsibility to train your assistant to be hungry in this dog-eat-dog world. There is nothing wrong with having ambition and drive to be the best; that should be something you’re looking for in assistants as you’re training them. The second you spot even a sliver of that competitiveness or hunger, embrace it.  

Get Them Vested in Your Business

When I look back on the past six years I have worked with Sal, I can point to one thing that has made my perspective change from this being a 9-to-5 grind to the most fulfilling career and most rewarding experience of my life.

Getting your assistant vested in your business in that first year is essential to molding her perspective throughout her time with you and your company.

Once you’re at the point in your business where you need to hire an assistant, you’re more than likely at a point of enormous growth, bigger opportunities and an endless supply of new and exciting projects. This is when you want to make sure to include your assistant. As an employer, you want to make your assistant feel like she has an actual impact on your business, that her voice matters to you.

It may seem insignificant, but it is exactly what made me into the employee I am today. Obviously, Sal is a bit of an exception when it comes to the number of new projects happening at any given moment, but I can look at every single company that exists today under the Salvatore Cincotta brand and say, with pride, that I played a huge role in building them all from the ground up. That alone makes me treat each of these companies as if they were my own.

If you find an assistant who can get to this point, the light bulb of perspective will click when that person realizes she gets to be a part of all of the rewards without any of the real financial risks.

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the July 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.

Lessons I’ve Learned in the First 5 Years of My Career

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

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5 Years Later: Lessons I’ve Learned in the First 5 Years of My Career with Jeff Rojas

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the July 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.

In July 2012, I was handed a pink slip. It was the company’s gift for exceeding my sales goals that year. It wasn’t their fault. I was a regional sales manager for a company that relied on government funding; when their primary source of funding vanished, so did my job. That was the day I decided to become a full-time photographer.

Before I became a photographer, I had worked in various industries. When I first moved to New York City, I worked as an account manager for a data recovery company, where I was laid off 87 days into my 90-day period. I worked as an executive assistant at a bank when the housing market collapsed. I contracted as an executive assistant at a private equity company that canceled the contract after two years without explanation. All of this happened within a couple of years. Needless to say, it got old quickly.

I meet plenty of photographers who were born with a camera in their hands. I wasn’t one of those people. I didn’t pick up my first camera until the age of 22. Even then, I didn’t see how anyone could make a living as an artist. The two most creative people in my childhood had full-time jobs to support their creativity. My mom, who’s an amazing home decorator, is a human resources manager. My uncle, her brother, is a union electrician who can draw hyper-realistic images.

They’re the children of immigrant parents. They were taught to follow in the footsteps of their parents: find a 9-to-5 job, collect a paycheck, go home. Rinse and repeat. It’s been that way for generations. That mindset is about playing it safe. It didn’t work for me, so I decided to try something new.

I’m happy to say that 2017 marks five years since I’ve received a W-2. While there are many other photographers who can say they’ve been shooting for decades, I can say I was able to build a business when everyone was doing it for free. On top of that, I didn’t have the years of referrals, portfolio and experience to do so. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not discounting tenure.

I admire those photographers who’ve paved the way, but for every person who had something positive to say, there were two dozen others who said the same old phrase: Things aren’t what they used to be.

That’s not my problem. I say that with the utmost respect. As with any business, the photography market changes. If you’re on the winning side of it changing, you’re happy. If not, you’re pissed. If you weren’t ready for change and failed, it’s not the industry’s fault—it’s yours.

Let’s say 20 years from now, every car manufacturer is making electric cars. Do you blame the automotive industry for the one mechanic who didn’t adapt to the market and had to close shop? It’s not the industry’s fault; he didn’t do his homework. The market doesn’t wait for you. You need to chase the market. I want to provide both aspiring photographers and struggling professionals with the real-world lessons I’ve learned the past five years.

Don’t Expect Anyone to Support You. Just Do It.

As an educator in the photography community, I receive an email at least once a week with the same story: “My family doesn’t support my photography. What should I do?” Simple: Prove them wrong and stop looking for validation.

Friends and family want you to be successful. They don’t want to see you fail at your dreams, so they urge you to take the safe route. There is no safe route anymore. The market has changed. We hear about people getting laid off from their 20-plus-year job every single day. Don’t theorize how you’ll be successful. Prove to them that you can make a living while you’re doing it.

Productivity Is the Ability to Produce

If you’re not producing something, you’re not productive. As a businessperson, if you’re not producing, you’re failing by the second. Spending two hours debating about gear on Facebook isn’t making you any money unless you’re selling your gear. The same goes for watching cat videos, memes, cooking videos. Stop wasting time.

There are 168 hours in a week. If you’re spending 20 hours of that on social media and it hasn’t made you any money, your priorities are off. Time is money. The more time you’re spending on unproductive activities, the more opportunities you’re missing. It’s the very definition of opportunity cost. Figure out how you’re spending your time, and restructure accordingly.

Learn Something New Every Day

I have started reading a new book every couple of days, and I’ve learned so much in such a short time. Find books with a tangible guide to running your business. One of my favorites is How to Set-Up Your Business for Under $1000 by Dan Fleyshman and Branden Hampton. The book guides you through step by step, and does not spend time trying to sell mentoring sessions or other products.

If you’re strapped for cash, no worries. Itunes U has free audio recordings from classes at some of the most prestigious universities in the country. There are so many invaluable free resources available online.

Set Obtainable Goals and Stick With Them

At one of the first workshops I attended when I picked up my first camera, I followed the instructor around like a puppy. After the class, I asked how he was able to turn his love of photography into a career. He admitted that he hadn’t. His full-time job afforded him the luxury of new gear and the ability to be creative. In his words: “It’s impossible.”

Well, it’s not impossible, it’s just really hard. When you’re starting out, every day is like a kick in the head, and you must be willing to stand up the next day and wait for the next kick to the head. This continues to happen until finally, one day, you stand up and there’s no kick. That, my friends, is what it’s like starting a business.

Few will talk openly about it. Running a business is one of the most stressful jobs in the world. You’re in charge of marketing, sales, operations, finance—and then to top it off, you must be the visionary. It’s a lot of effort just to avoid a 40-hours-per-week job. Are you willing to make that commitment?

Earlier, I mentioned the importance of being productive, but productivity without purpose is like running without a direction: You’re going to get lost. I keep a to-do list with me filled with goals and objectives. I know what I want. I break those large items into small pieces and then I know that accomplishing those smaller objectives allows me to commit to a larger purpose.

Think about it like writing a book. Writing 45,000 to 80,000 words may sound intimidating, but if you break that book down into smaller sections, it sounds more manageable. The length of this article is around 1,400 words. If I wrote 30 of these articles or expanded on each element at length, I’d have a great baseline for a book.

Every big goal sounds intimidating until you break it down into smaller pieces. This goes back to my earlier point: If you’re too intimidated to start, then you’re not being productive.

Be Conscious of Your Shortcomings

I cannot manage life without a list of things to do. I know that. It’s the reason I keep a to-do list. It’s the reason I set reminders and alarms on my calendar. If it’s not on my list, it’s not getting done.

When you’re conscious of your shortcomings, you need to create systems to improve them. If you’re terrible at cold-calling, don’t avoid cold-calling. Spend more time doing it until you feel more comfortable. If that intimidates you, create a call script to read from. Have a system in place that you won’t deviate from. Record your calls and learn from listening to them. This is the reason call centers record your conversation—“for quality assurance purposes.”

Don’t hide your shortcomings. Embrace and learn from them.

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the July 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.

3 Ways to Find Clients While You Sleep

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

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3 Ways to Find Clients While You Sleep with Moshe Zusman

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the July 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.

If you know me or have read any of my articles, you know I love taking pictures but that I also love the business side of photography. And as a businessman, you should know what I know: Time is money.

In order to practice my mantra of “Hold a camera, not a mouse,” I have to make sure I don’t spend too much time online looking for leads, booking clients and even marketing all my services to them. In the past, a lot of my bookings were done manually. A client would call, we’d discuss things and then I would invoice them. We’d have to remind them of their appointment before the shoot, make sure we collect the remaining balance, etc. Then, of course, wait for the deposit or payment, put their appointment in the calendar and, finally, execute the photo shoot.

Thankfully, life isn’t like that anymore. Now there are tons of ways for you to streamline your workflows and reduce the logistics you need to focus on so you can go back to holding your camera. Here are three things I use in my business to make money and get work done practically in my sleep.

The 3 Basic Tools

1. Online Booking

Things have changed quite a bit in the past two years. I’ve discovered services for automating my leads and bookings. I use Square Appointments (SquareUp.com), a service that does it all for me. My favorite three words are one-stop shop, and SquareUp is just that.

First, you’ll want to customize the booking site to reflect your business hours and services on SquareUp’s appointments site.

Once you’ve done all the initial customization, you’re all set. All this is on the admin side, behind the scenes. On the client’s side, it’s integrated into my website and the experience is smooth and simple. In fact, ever since I started using this service, my booking rate has gone up and client feedback about the overall booking experience is always positive.

After you’ve set up the backend, you’ll embed the Square Appointments code onto the booking portion of your website. It becomes a seamless booking experience for the clients, and a completely hands-off task for me.

The service sends clients reminders via email and/or text before the shoot. All I need to do is keep an eye on my Google Calendar (which I live by) and make sure I’m in the studio to meet the client. The time savings alone is a deal maker for me. I no longer have to email clients a reminder or remember to collect payments.

2. Targeted Ads

Another way I save time is by not being online too many hours of the day to market myself. Instead I use Facebook, Google and Yelp ads. I have a monthly budget for those advertising tools, and each one is different—in its use and target market. So I diversify my marketing between the three. Here’s how.

Facebook Ads

I do a carousel of ads for specific demographics: people between the ages of 21 and 65 (because a 16-year-old high school student can’t afford my services anyway), government sector, health, law and Realtors—the top clients in my area. The main reason is not to waste clicks on someone who’s not a potential client and maximize the return from the ads. Using demographics means profiling your customers and placing the right ad in front of the right person.

Google Ads

Not everyone is on Facebook, believe it or not. So, for those “conservative” Google searchers, I want to be on the first page when they search for “headshot photographers” in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia areas. In addition to a great website with really good SEO, I want to make sure that my Google ads show on every search page. Google ads are perfect for that.

Yelp

Yelp is a great way to advertise your services, especially in the headshot market. Unlike for wedding photography, people search for headshot photographers on Yelp because it is a quick service that’s typically needed locally. I have never heard of a bride searching for a high-end wedding photographer on Yelp, but I do get a ton of inquiries for headshot services.

Yelp offers packages that include options like removing competitors from your page and the “request for quote” button. I use all of them. Yelp is great for metropolitan areas especially, because people in those areas love fast service.

All of the marketing outlets you use should be targeted locally to your geographical area. Don’t market headshots in L.A. if you’re a NYC photographer. No one hops on a plane to get a headshot across the country. Market yourself within people’s reach—both financially and geographically.

Another thing that’s common to online booking and marketing is the idea that you “set and forget,” or at least forget about it for a while. I tweak my booking site only if needed (hours change, I’m out of town, etc.) and my ads run for one to three months before I change them.

3. The Perfect Assistant

To help you keep your hands on the camera and off the mouse, consider hiring a studio manager. If it’s too early to do that, consider a virtual assistant. Even though the services above are “set and forget” and “one-stop shop,” there’s always going to be that one (or more) client who needs special attention, has questions or simply needs help with the booking process. For that, we have an email and a phone number where my studio manager is always there to take care of my clients while I’m away, out of town or holding that camera.

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the July 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.

Building Blocks: The First Steps to Building Your Business

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

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Building Blocks: The First Steps to Building Your Business with Skip Cohen

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the June 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.

 

I want to apply this month’s theme of children to your business. Whether you’re a new artist just starting out or a veteran jump-starting an established business by adding a new service/specialty, you’ve got to grow your brand and skillset one step at a time. Babies learn to crawl before they can walk, and business works in a similar way.

 

Many of you are still in maternity mode, building confidence and your skills before giving birth to that new “baby.” For this month’s article, let’s assume you’ve built a strong enough skillset and confidence level to give birth. The new business is out there, but the challenge is knowing what to do next.

 

Just like setting up the baby’s room, you’ve got to set up your business.

 

  • So many new artists get hung up on thinking they need a studio or office. The truth is, you’ve chosen a career path that can take you anyplace you want to go. While having a studio is always the ultimate dream, you don’t need it to get started. Establish your business through great images, a good-looking website and an active blog to build readership/followers. You cash flow is limited, so plan to spend your money wisely.

 

One idea I heard recently from an attendee at ShutterFest was sharing a studio. She’s been sharing a studio with three other photographers. She focused on building up her business first, and is now ready to go solo with her own location.

 

  • Let’s talk about your URL. I believe in using your name to establish brand recognition. I know it’s not always possible, but you want people to easily remember you and be able find you on the Internet. Stay away from clever or not-so-clever names that describe your business. If you can work your name into your cyber address, you’ll make it easier for clients to recall.

 

  • Your website is about what you sell, and a blog is about what’s in your heart. You need both. Remember, women make 98 percent of decisions to hire a photographer in the portrait/social categories, so share content that’s of interest to Mom.

 

  • In your galleries, show only your very best images. Every image should be the only image you’d need to get hired.

 

  • Get yourself a business checking account, business cards, stationery, etc.

 

  • There are two professionals you need in your network even though you might not need their help immediately: an attorney and an accountant. After all, you wouldn’t have a new baby without a pediatrician.

 

  • Pricing is one of the biggest reasons so many artists spend their life eating macaroni and cheese. As Sal Cincotta once said, nothing can screw up your business more than bad pricing.

 

  • Pay attention to all your costs.
  • Look at your competitors’ pricing from the perspective of giving your clients more, not charging less.
  • Offer a range of products/services, including albums, prints, canvas wraps and slideshows. Stuck on what to offer? Talk with your lab.
  • Build your pricing structure in packages. It’s fine to have à la carte prices, but make sure they’re high enough so clients always move toward a set of products.

 

Let’s talk about brand awareness. You’ve got the “baby’s room” ready to go. Now it’s time to make a spectacular birth announcement. This is the start of your marketing program. Unlike with a birth announcement, you can’t just do one thing.

 

  • I’m a big fan of direct mail and an oversize postcard to get through the noise your target audience deals with every day. Also consider a partner or two. Partners can be other businesses with the same consumer target or other photographers with complementary skillsets.

 

  • Get involved in your community. People like buying products from people they perceive as giving back. Don’t be a taker. Take part in fund-raising efforts for nonprofits. Be active in the school system. Use your blog to talk about upcoming and past community events.

 

  • Own your zip code. Start pounding the pavement and introduce yourself to every business within a 2- to 3-mile radius of your base. Don’t get hung up on your specialty if it’s unrelated to their business. A wedding photographer could walk into a real estate office and make this introduction: “My main business is wedding photography, but I’m active in the professional photography community. I’m happy to help you with any photographic needs you might have at any time.”

 

  • Use your blog to build relevant content that ties into things going on in the community. Announcements about fund-raisers not only show your involvement but help spread the word for organizers.

 

  • Cross-promote with other vendors. Set up a program with a florist for something special when they refer a client your way, and vice versa.

 

  • Create third-party relationships. Design a gift certificate for a discount or free sitting, and give it to a Realtor. Each time the Realtor sells a home, that certificate goes in the welcome basket for the new homeowner. You’re offering something special without undermining your pricing structure since the gift is from the agent to the client. For more on this idea, visit Bryan Caporicci’s blog, sproutingphotographer.com, and search for “Doug Box.”

 

  • Do an open house. You don’t have to have a studio to do an open house or a gallery opening. Just pick a location conducive to entertaining, like a hotel lobby or restaurant. Design it like a wine and cheese party at a small gallery opening.

 

  • Build relationships with local opinion leaders, including publishers, writers and editors of newspapers and magazines.

 

Whether you’re a one-person business or you have a small staff, you need a customer service department. It’s about the new baby in the house who’s going to start crawling soon. Customer service is the equivalent of keeping an eye on the toddler, capping electrical sockets and protecting the child from other household dangers.

 

Here are a few customer service essentials.

 

  • Be accessible. If you’re working out of your home, I understand why you might not want to give an address, but give people a phone number, URL and email address.

 

  • Respond quickly. When you’re contacted by a client, it means they’re interested in more information. Stay away from “Comcast syndrome.” Don’t make them wait for a response.

 

  • Handle problems quickly and never hide from an upset client. Set the tone with your very first words: “I understand you’re not happy. How can I help?”

 

  • If you’re going to have a few concrete policies, share them in your final meeting before a contract is signed or a sitting is scheduled. Just don’t word your policies so harshly that they’d scare away an IRS auditor.

 

The first five years of a child’s life are the most important to brain development. Similarly, the first six months of your new business or jumpstart are critical.

 

Along the way, you’ve got opportunities to grow your business, and, as the “baby” grows, so should your skillset. You’re in a field where you can never stop learning, whether it’s expanding your technique or learning new technology.

 

Jerry Ghionis once said that the way we start in business is backward. We should all start out as second shooters and grow our skillset as artists. Then, after a couple of years, we’re ready to focus on everything it takes to run a business. Instead, we get our gear, start learning and shooting, and try to figure out how to do business.

 

Pay attention to that new baby of yours. When there’s a challenge, in the same way you’d take a child to the doctor, seek professional help for your business. There are lots of us out here willing to help. New babies and businesses don’t take off right after delivery.

 

Take your time. Build your skillset. Build your relationships. Don’t rush success, and stay humble and kind.

 

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