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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.

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.

How to Rock Your Styled Shoots

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

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How to Rock Your Styled Shoots with Jewels Gray

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.

My big thing is styled shoots. I love them. I love coming up with a unique concept, obsessing over the details, styling the models and working with vendors for a cohesive design.

They also give me a chance to shoot something I want to shoot (as opposed to weddings where I have no control over the timeline, lighting or weather), and they let me practice new poses and lighting ideas.

Getting Started

When I started out on my own, I didn’t have a full wedding to show. I had always been a second shooter, so I had a lot of detail shots and candids. I didn’t have the wide money shots and portraiture to complete the collection. Styled shoots gave me something to show potential clients what a full wedding collection might look like. I still use the first one I ever did as an album studio sample.

Putting them together can be a daunting task. It can take months, but they’re totally worth it, from building relationships with vendors to getting those photos published.

What’s Your Concept?

First you need to come up with a concept. What inspires you? Is there something or somewhere you have always wanted to shoot? Perhaps you’d like a good excuse to get on a venue’s preferred list. Or maybe you just want to do something crazy and different. I am inspired by unique locations, fashion and movies.

So You Have An Idea—Now What?

I would start with research. Has this concept been done before? If so, what did you like and dislike about it? How can you make it better or different? Obviously, you wouldn’t want to copy something someone else did. Put your twist on it. I wanted to do Bonnie and Clyde themed shoot at last year’s ShutterFest. I love the styling of that era, their story, and all the details you could incorporate were awesome (guns, money, vintage car). Sure, it’s been done, but I haven’t seen a Bonnie and Clyde shoot that I was in love with; many aren’t complete shoots with a tablescape, flowers and props.

Making It Happen

At this year’s ShutterFest, I wanted something killer for the Rock Your Styled Shoots hands-on class. Last year I did get to do Bonnie and Clyde, but it rained buckets the afternoon of the shoot, so we didn’t get to use the Model A I had lined up. I love using old cars as props, so I take advantage of every opportunity to incorporate one into a shoot. I was more determined than ever to make it happen this year.

This year, I wanted to execute an idea I’ve had for several years, something ’60s mod/Elvis and Priscilla. I love rock and roll, big hair and lashes, and could easily pull the styling together. I also found out that May 1 would have been Elvis and Priscilla’s 50th wedding anniversary, so it was perfect.

The story is that Johnny and Presley eloped and had a courthouse wedding, small and intimate, just the two of them. Later, they wanted to throw a party for their friends and family. The Union Station Hotel in St. Louis had all the perfect locations to tell the story—from the blue suede couch in an atrium to the natural light of the reception setup, the steps out front simulating the steps of a courthouse, to the grand archway where we parked the car, setting the tone of the shoot.

The logistics of putting it together were challenging, since I am in Denver and ShutterFest is in St. Louis. I had to put together my team of St. Louis vendors. I made a list of the ones I wanted to work with, and asked if they would be interested. A couple of them passed, but eventually I got everything I needed. Some of the smaller stuff I brought with me, but that’s not possible with some things (cake, flowers, table, chairs).

Benefits for Vendors

The benefit for vendors is that they get to show off their work, gain exposure for their business and get professional portfolio shots of their product. By tagging and linking to your vendors, you’re building a relationship with them, and they’re getting value. Inbound links to their websites help their SEO, and every time the shoot gets published, you’re both getting inbound links and, hopefully, leads.

Start Here

The first place to start compiling your ideas is Pinterest. It’s an incredible resource for collecting your ideas. I make a board and start pinning anything and everything to it that might work for the shoot. Then I start refining it by deleting those pins that don’t necessarily work together. Sometimes I invite other collaborators to pin to the board; that way, you both see your ideas in one place so you can make them more cohesive.

Next, build your team. Make a list of the vendors you want to work with—your dream team. When you ask if they’re interested, be enthusiastic. Sell them your concept and brainstorm how to make it work. If they’re too busy or not interested, that’s okay, don’t get discouraged. Just move on to your next choice. Involving a planner is always helpful because planners help you with coordination and logistics of the shoot; it also gives you a chance to work together and build a relationship for future business. Building those relationships and providing a good experience will bring more referrals, and that is the best form of marketing.

The Shoot

Executing the shoot can be an all-day affair, and sometimes multiple days. It snowed on the day of our Gold Rush shoot in Colorado several years back, so we had to do the outdoor portraits two weeks later. Thankfully, the models were down, and we shot at the Colorado Railroad Museum (which wasn’t initially planned), and the pictures turned out awesome. Again, flexibility goes a long way.

Make a list of the shots you want to get so you don’t forget. I also find it helpful to have a cheat sheet of poses, compositions and lighting I want to try. These images will be in the portfolios of your vendors, so get some killer shots for them. The shop that provided the dress and formalwear still uses my images in its marketing and has a huge print in its showroom.

Publishers

Publishers love details, the more the better. So my workflow on the day-of is to shoot wide, middle, tight, horizontal and vertical. This gives publishers options when they put their spread together. I also try to incorporate multiple elements of details into each shot. If I’m shooting a tablescape, I don’t just shoot the place setting by itself. I have the top of the chair in the foreground and the centerpiece in the background. This gives your image depth and makes it more interesting. Next, narrow in on the place card and use the top of the plate in the foreground or off to the side, and use the flowers in the background. If you start with your wide shots and work your way down to all the tiny little details, you’re bound to get lots of variety and not miss anything.

Editing

Now it’s time to get to work editing and polishing the photos. They need to be ready to go to print once you submit them for publication. One of the biggest mistakes I made starting out was not editing the entire collection the same way. We would do a few signature edits, but then the rest of the collection would be kind of boring and less dramatic. Even though the concept was unique and we had lots of details and images to choose from, they wouldn’t get picked up, and this is why. There has to be consistency.

Two Bright Lights

My favorite platform for getting published is Two Bright Lights. It’s efficient and affordable, and makes it easy to track what is going on with each submission. It brings the photographer and publisher to one convenient location. No longer do you have to go to each one, size the collection to their specs and submit them whichever way they prefer (Dropbox, email, zip file). All you have to do is upload the collection, enter your vendor team, include the story/details of the shoot/event and choose which publications you would like to reach. Done. They’re sent all at the same time, and you can easily see which ones are accepted, rejected or otherwise. For more information, visit www.twobrightlights.com.

Reach

Right after ShutterFest, I posted a teaser shot on Facebook and Instagram. I tagged the models, the venue and all the other vendors involved. So far, the reach is over 4,000. That may not seem like a lot, but that’s just from the first image.

Summing Up

The most important element of the entire process is to enjoy it and have fun. I keep a list of shoot ideas on my whiteboard in the office so I can constantly be thinking of the next one. There are a few that have been floating around in my head for a while, and I hope to execute them in the next year.

For more details about the shoot, visit my blog at http://jewelsgray.com/60s-mod-wedding-stlouis-photographer/, and keep your eyes peeled—they may be coming to a wedding publication near you.

Models: Joshua McCall and Stephanie Morrison (a real couple) | Venue: Union Station Hotel, St. Louis, MO | Dress: | Formal wear: Model’s own | Tablescape: | Florals: Artistry Florist & Event Design | Chair Rentals: Weinhardt’s | Cake: The Sweet Divine | Guest Book: | Vehicle: Motoexotica | Hair & Makeup: Jewels Gray | Shout out to my friend who took a load of stuff I couldn’t fit in my suitcase: Vinessa Olp | Special thank you to my lovely assistant Sharon. | Special thank you to my girl Chelsea for being my wheels while in town.

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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.

 

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.

What To Do When You Fall Behind in Your Business

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

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What To Do When You Fall Behind in Your Business with Vanessa Joy

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.

 

Everyone knows that it takes hard work to get to the top of your industry. Building a business is no joke, and the amount of work it takes to get to your desired level of success can seem overwhelming. What most people don’t talk about is the fact that once you make it, you have to work just as hard to stay there.

So what happens when you’ve realized just a little too late that you’ve been falling behind? Slacking off has serious consequences. Making up for lost time can mean double the effort to bring things back to life. Here’s how you can get things back on track.

Boost Your Social Media Efforts

Social media is a great tool, but it relies on momentum—and if you’ve halted that for whatever reason, it takes a lot to get it going again. Go back to the basics with your social media marketing. Concentrate on the platform where your audience spends the most time. Shooting weddings? Focus on Instagram. Families are your thing? Be more active on Facebook. Seniors are where it’s at? Then get on Snapchat.

The last thing you want to do if you’ve already found yourself with stunted growth is half-ass the comeback effort. Don’t just sign on to your social media network and haphazardly start posting without a plan. Do yourself a favor and reeducate yourself on the platform. Some things have likely changed. You’ll probably discover different ways of doing things that’ll be more effective for you.

Get into the habit of scheduling your posts. I’m a fan of Buffer because I like the format and I enjoy looking back at my analytics. Other systems, like HootSuite, Meet Edgar and Everypost, might be more up your alley. Whatever you do, plan your posts to be consistent and as highly effective as possible. You won’t see change right away, but after you build up enough momentum, you’ll start making up for lost time.

Concentrate on Networking

Just like in everyday life, if you don’t put effort into relationships, they tend to fall apart. The same goes for your photography business relationships. If you’ve fallen behind, this is one of the areas that got hurt the most.

Look back at your photography contacts and touch base with them. Send a friendly note. Maybe even one that includes a Starbucks gift card to perk up their Monday. Whatever it takes to reconnect and let them know you’re still there.

One of the best things to do at any point in your business is reach out to new people. I recently did this when I decided I needed to develop more relationships in the higher-end New York City wedding market. I attended a networking event full of a who’s who in the wedding world, and did my best. I actually ended up ditching the people I went with to force myself to walk up to perfect strangers and start conversations.

What do you know, it worked! I made a great connection with a prominent photographer who invited me to his Instagram pod, where I’m now connected with even more amazing wedding vendors. I also was able to get a personal invitation to check out The Plaza’s biggest competition, near Central Park. Nothing has paid off in dollars yet, but I know it will tenfold.

Boldly get out of your comfort zone and network with other businesses in your field. Be tactful. No one likes a cold call or spam email. Find a way to do this right, and it’ll boost your reputation.

Experiment With New Tactics

Odds are that if you’ve been out of it for a little while, things have changed in the marketing world. You’ll find that things that were working for you previously aren’t working anymore. Welcome to the wonderful world of marketing in the 21st century.

Luckily, basic marketing principles do stay the same—because, when it comes down to it, you’re still dealing with people. People are subject to basic psychology, and marketing is really just tapping into that psychology to make what you offer look like what they need. Grab yourself some a marketing book if you’re not familiar with this concept.

To brush up on the newest marketing tactics, I don’t recommend picking up a book. By the time books are printed and distributed, half of the new marketing ideas are old news. Instead, search through business and marketing blogs, and not just from the photography world. Search Google on the social media platform you want to concentrate on. Follow social media marketing gurus like Gary Vaynerchuk.

Finally, you can’t really go wrong by checking out what other successful people are doing. When I want to find new marketing ideas for the wedding world, I look at top wedding blogs, wedding dress designer Instagram accounts and the like. I look at how their audience (which is similar to mine) is reacting to their marketing efforts. I’m not saying to steal anything, just find inspiration and adapt it for your own company.

If you came to my keynote at ShutterFest this year, you know that my big takeaway was that you have to work for what you earn. If you’ve fallen behind, you’re going to have to work hard to make up for it. Once you’re where you need to be, never let yourself fall behind again. Work hard, work smart and work until you’re motivated.

 

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.

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.

 

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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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