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Make 2017 Your Year

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

Jan17_LargeBlog_SCincotta

Make 2017 Your Year with Sal Cincotta

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

 

Stop wishing for better times. Stop hoping. Stop thinking that the gods are going to bless you with an incredible year and newfound wealth and success.

 

It doesn’t work that way.

 

It’s about busting your ass day in and day out. Put your time in and plan for success. Success is not an accident. It’s the result of hard work and some serious planning.

 

Every year, we step back and assess the year before. We look at what we did right, what we did wrong and what we need to fix. We look at new opportunities and how we can take advantage of them before our competitors beat us to the punch.

 

Below is your cheat sheet to putting your team through this exercise to ensure you maximize your success in 2017.

 

Take a couple hours of your day to sit quietly. No email. No TV. No distractions. You are about to plan your entire year: Give this the time and attention it deserves.

 

Now, grab a sheet of paper. Create four quadrants and label them Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

 

Let’s start with an easy one.

 

Strengths.

 

This should be somewhat easy for you. What are you doing right? What are you good at? This is no time for modesty. This is about you beating your chest. Surely this is something you are doing well. If not, it might be time to call it a day and move on to something new. I doubt that’s the case, so let’s think about this.

 

What should be listed here? Here are some things we have listed for our studio.

 

// Customer experience. Something we pride ourselves on is being very attentive to our clients. We quickly respond to all requests. We treat our clients to gifts and subtle gestures throughout the process.

 

// Turn times. Our clients see their fully edited images in two weeks. This is a huge competitive advantage for us.

 

// Distinctive style. Every day, I work hard to ensure my style of shooting and editing stands out from the crowd. This ensures we can charge a premium in the overcrowded marketplace.

 

Weaknesses.

 

This one is going to be tough for you. It requires brutal honesty. A lot of artists can’t handle the truth. They operate in a touchy-feely world where everyone gets a hug and a trophy. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s not how the world of business works. If you want to grow professionally and personally, it’s time to put your big-boy pants on and get down and dirty.

 

What should be listed here? Where are you weak? What are your clients saying? If you are in business, one thing is for sure: People are complaining about something. I operate under an 80/20 rule. If a single complaint comes in, I am unwilling to make changes to my business. But if I start seeing a trend, I start investigating.

 

Things to look at.

 

// Turn times. How long does it take you to get images to your clients? Anything over two weeks is too long. Anything over 30 days is suicide in today’s instant and insatiable marketplace.

 

// Response times. How long does it take you to respond to client emails and phone calls? It should be less than four hours.

 

// Product offerings. Do you offer your clients relevant products? What’s that, you say? You are not offering products? Then you are an idiot. Sorry, but in photography and business, you are not living up to your potential. Are you offended? Good. You should be. I am offended for you. You are a business owner! Your job as CEO is to make intelligent decisions for your business. So make them! You cannot earn a sustainable living in this industry if you are shooting and burning. It is that simple. You need product to sell to your clients. Otherwise, they are going to take your files and buy products from someone else. Stop convincing yourself that people don’t want product. They do. Our studio is built on that assumption.

 

For those of you who get it, make sure you are staying relevant and looking for new products to offer your clients. Prints and canvas will always be a staple, but there are lots of other products in the marketplace that clients want. Look at metals and acrylics. Our clients love them.

 

Opportunity

 

Every day I wake up looking for new ways to grow my business. There is opportunity everywhere. Executing that opportunity is an entirely different conversation. You always must decide on your top five. You need to look closely at both the financial opportunity and opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is the cost of choosing one opportunity over another.

 

From time to time, I am willing to take some risks and pursue an opportunity that isn’t fully baked, but one that I see a ton of potential in. I have to know that pursuing this opportunity might cost me in the short term, because I will have to pass on another potential opportunity. Hence, opportunity cost.

 

So, where does opportunity lie for you? Here are some things you should be looking at.

 

// Vendor relationships. Want to grow your business? I’ve got news for you. You won’t grow it alone. Start investing in vendor relationships. Try doing some free stylized shoots. Work with vendors to build your portfolio. Give them your images to use for their own marketing—with the appropriate photo credit, of course.

 

// Expand your offerings. Are you a wedding photographer or a baby photographer? Maybe it’s time to expand past that. What about high-school seniors? What about offering headshots to local businesses? There is a huge opportunity there. I don’t know a single business that doesn’t need updated headshots.

 

// In-person sales (IPS). Are you still shooting and burning? Maybe in-person sales is the opportunity you have been looking for. Make this the year you try IPS, and then watch your sales go through the roof.

 

// Customer service. This is an opportunity for all of us. Look for ways to improve your turn times. Maybe send a thank-you card after a client books, or even a bottle of wine to your top clients.

 

Threats

 

Every business faces threats. It’s foolish to ignore this fact. You need to be aware of those threats. It’s like anything else in life. Acknowledging the issue is the first step.

 

So what are the threats to your business? Here are some things to consider.

 

// Low-cost competitors. There will always be the low-cost provider in any industry. How do you plan to compete? What will you do to stand out from the crowd? If you don’t have a competitive advantage, you are just another person with a camera.

 

// Consumer preferences. What consumers want today is completely different than what they wanted two years ago. Is your business adapting? If not, this is a huge issue. Your photography style, editing style and product offerings all matter.

 

// Indifference. Indifference to good photography is one of the major threats I see to my business and our industry. People are okay with shitty pictures for some unknown reason: “I have a friend”; “I only need a few pictures.” Statements like this send chills down my spine. How will you deal with this threat? We have to educate our clients on why great photography matters.

 

If you invest the time in this exercise, you will, without a doubt, come up with a matrix of action items you will need to implement for the upcoming year. Meet with your team, or just lock yourself in a room and review your action plan. How will you execute it? You don’t want to wait until the end of 2017 to evaluate your station. Constantly reevaluate your plan 30, 60, 90 days out. Keep staying on track to your most successful year yet.

 

2017 is your year. Make it great.

 

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

10 Things You Need To Do For Your Business in 2017

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

Jan17_LargeBlog_LThienes

10 Things You Need To Do For Your Business in 2017 with Laurin Thienes

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

 

Welcome to 2017. For some of you, it may feel like the photography world is closing in on you, and closing in fast. But as we start the new year, if you have ever felt that you are like a fish out of water in this wild and crazy industry, there are ways to stay away from that feeling the world is collapsing. Hopefully, one or all of these 10 tips for keeping your head in the game will help you create your best year yet.

 

Keep a sharp pencil.

 

It seems simple to record your expenses and your income for your business, right? Wrong. The number of conversations I have with photographers who do at least one of the following is staggering: keeping a separate business bank account, mixing personal expenses with business expenses, not knowing profit margins, thinking they’re making money when they aren’t…. The list goes on. Running into financial issues creates the wrong kind of stress, both personally and professionally. There is a simple way to avoid it: Know where your money is going. It doesn’t need to be a complex model. Just tracking your income and knowing whether or not you are profitable is half the battle.

 

Cut out the cancer.

 

This topic alone could fill a book. Let’s break it down with this one simple sentence: Remove the people from your life who hold you back and are not helping you get to where you want to be. I feel like I should be yelling that statement from the rooftops. Every entrepreneur has people around who are negative, who are jealous of your successes, and who love to rub salt in the wounds of failures. You don’t need these people around you. It’s a simple test to ask yourself: Are you a positive person in my life? If yes, they can stay. If no, cut the cancer.

 

Make “laser focus” the new standard.

 

I’m an artist with attention deficit disorder. Focus is not my middle name. Hell, focus is barely in my vocabulary. And I know I’m not alone. Laser focus has to be a priority. Focus on your mission every day. Set your goals for the year. Then, once a month or once a week, refocus those goals. As part of your daily morning routine, reflect on what you will do that day to further those goals. And stick with it—no matter what else is going on, no matter how big or small the task, always be doing something to better your business.

 

Shoot for yourself.

 

It’s easy to get into a routine where the only work you shoot is paid work. Making money is all fine and good, but making images for you can be creatively liberating. Maybe it is test shoots to try out new poses or conquering off-camera flash. Maybe it is getting a press pass and shooting a college sporting event. Maybe it’s setting up an elaborate fashion shoot. Whatever the concept is, shoot for you. The most successful pros in the world make time to shoot for themselves. This sets the stage for honing your skills and advancing the quality of your work.

 

Create a yearlong project.

 

This idea is not for everyone. A yearlong project takes shooting for yourself to a whole different level. This is where planning, concept and technical skills all mix and are taken to the extreme. Think visual art. Think conceptual ideas. Think thought-provoking imagery. It can really boost your skills and vision. Perhaps this even turns into a gallery showing at a later date. Any publicity is good publicity.

 

Upgrade your gear.

 

Everyone wants the newest, greatest, most expensive toys. But it’s easy to forego buying new equipment because you don’t “need” it. While I am the king of justification, sometimes adding a new lens or lighting equipment can be a boon to your business. Can that new piece of glass help you think differently? Capture different images? No, you probably don’t need it, but it might force you to leave your comfort zone and create things you never thought possible. Purchase something that you normally would not think you would use regularly, such as a tilt shift, fisheye or Lensbaby, and challenge yourself to use it on every shoot.

 

Outsource.

 

Come on, you knew this was coming. I love outsourcing. But surprise, I’m not just talking about outsourcing your post-production (yes, do that too!). What do you do today that distracts you from your business? Do you really have to spend two or three hours on yardwork each weekend, or is the few bucks you pay the neighbor kid a better use of your time? Should you be trying to manage all your bookkeeping/accounting needs, or is that better left to the professionals? How much time would that save? Can that time be reinvested in your business? Recognize the value of your time, and focus on things of bigger value—both quantifiable and nonquantifiable.

 

Invest in your brand.

 

Does your website look like it was made with Geocities? It’s like a bad dad joke, but many photographers and business owners have not embraced the 21st century. What about your logo? does it look like it was designed in Microsoft Paint? Whether you have a big or small budget for a new logo or website, these two things can almost always use an upgrade or refresh. As you look inward, are there other things that can change your client’s experience? Better packaging? Betting communication? Better products? Just because it’s what you’ve always done does not mean it is the correct or best way.

 

Network.

 

The first part of the year is always full of great trade shows and conferences. I’ll shamelessly plug ShutterFest as one of these. Go there. Have conversations with peers. Play with gear and products you would normally not be able to see, touch or feel. Most importantly, create a network of people you trust, a network of photographers you can ask questions without feeling awkward. To network, you have to push through your shyness. Your local chamber of commerce is a good place to start. If not there, many cities have small-business groups that you can get involved in to meet other small-business owners. Draw on their experiences, and, who knows, you might find your next whale client.

 

Invent a better you.

 

I’m not a shrink and I don’t necessarily buy into the “me day” mantra. But what I do know is that all of us can always become better people and better business owners. Communication with those around me is a constant cause of tension. It is easy to put all my energy into the business day to day, but then fail at communicating elsewhere. I strive every day to improve my communication skills.

 

Learning (and sticking with) fundamental business skills can be life changing. Even though change is hard, learning these new skills will help you become a better version of yourself. Can you be a motivation to those around you? Can you learn the skills to become that motivation?

 

Hopefully you are able to apply some or all of these ideas to help focus and shape what 2017 looks like for your business. I apply them every day to myself and my business. Some I apply better than others, and I constantly strive to better those weaker areas. Each year that passes gives us more time and experiences to reflect on—to look inward at what went right, what went wrong and how we can come out the other side better.

 

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

21 Tips for Getting the Most out of Photography Conventions and Trade Shows

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

Jan17_LargeBlog_SCohen

21 Tips for Getting the Most out of Photography Conventions and Trade Shows with Skip Cohen

 

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the January 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 suddenly the new year, which means trade show season is about to kick off. Most of you will make it to at least one convention or conference between now and the end of April. Sadly, many of you will also waste time and money from the minute you walk into the convention hall to the time you get home.

 

This isn’t a new topic for me to share. Having spent over 35 years attending conventions, both as consumer and exhibitor, I’ve learned the return on your investment is only as good as the planning you put in before you start the trip.

 

It’s time to put together a complete recipe for success at every conference you attend.

 

  1. Why are you attending?
    Before you commit to any convention, think through why you want to go. “To thine own self be true” should be your mantra. Think about where you need the most help. Think through your goals for 2017—what do you need to achieve them?

 

  1. What companies are you working with?
    Make a list of every manufacturer and vendor whose equipment or services you use. No matter what role they play in your business, put them on the list.

 

  1. Who’s exhibiting?
    Every company and association that hosts a convention publishes the exhibitor list online well in advance. Review the list and isolate those companies whose products/services you use. They’re a must-see at any trade show. This isn’t about just knowing their product line, but about building your network. At some point, everybody has a crisis. A great network is key to getting the help you need as quickly as possible. Every product and service you use should be represented by at least one contact name of somebody you’ve met.

 

  1. Need new equipment?
    If you’re in need of specific equipment, know your financial strength before you walk into the show. What’s your budget for 2017? I’m a huge fan of renting and leasing equipment. It doesn’t tie up your cash flow, and you get to use somebody else’s assets without depleting yours.

 

  1. How’s your skillset?
    Every conference offers an extensive list of programs, but people often flock to the most popular speakers simply because they’re entertaining. Once again, it’s about being true to yourself. Think through what you’re missing in your skillset. What techniques do you need help with? The complete platform of speakers/classes is available online. Review the list and pick programs with topics in which you need the most help. And always attend at least two programs completely out of your comfort zone.

 

  1. Exhibitor activities
    As you review the exhibitor list, check out in-booth programming. Many exhibitors have guest speakers presenting in their booth on the trade show floor. At a convention last year, Profoto had 22 speakers over a three-day period. In-booth mini-workshops allow you to meet industry icons face to face.

 

  1. Pre- and post-show events
    As many of the conferences have grown, so has the availability of excellent education. Look for special events going on before or after the convention. The key is to get the most bang for your buck, and if you’re already on the road, why not expand your education with another day or two of education? ShutterFest, for one, offers “Extreme,” which is an intense hands-on experience taking place after the general conference.

 

  1. Schedule meetings
    If there is somebody you want to meet with at a convention, set it up in advance. There are few things more hectic than a busy trade show. You’ll only be disappointed if you try to schedule a meeting with someone you bump into at a conference.
  2. Print a postcard
    There’s nothing worse than working a busy trade show and having a photographer put his iPad in your face and start showing you his portfolio. It’s not a problem if it’s a scheduled meeting, but this sort of “cold call” is the wrong way to go. Instead, print up a postcard-size piece showing three to five of your very best images on one side, and your contact information on the other. I’ve always liked oversized cards. While they’re more expensive, you’re not printing thousands of them. Also, don’t forget your business cards.

 

  1. Don’t be a storm trooper
    Something strange happens with too many of you in the chaos and excitement of a convention: You forget your most basic manners. If you see a person you’d like to talk to but they’re already in a conversation with somebody else, wait your turn. When you get their attention, ask if it’s a good time to talk. Be willing to come back later or call them after the convention.

 

  1. Breakfast, lunch and dinner
    Never eat alone. Meals are the perfect time to network. The social side of a convention is incredibly productive, but not if you’re only spending time alone or with people you already know. Find a balance between friends and potential associates.

 

  1. Never miss the bell
    You snooze, you lose. There are few things as fun as going out with friends and barhopping in a convention city. But you’re at the show for a reason, and if you need to sleep in late the following morning, your evening out with friends might become the most expensive investment you make in the show, especially if you miss appointments or presentations.

 

  1. Reservations
    If you’re attending a larger convention, make a few dinner reservations in advance. It’s no fun when you’ve worked to get people together for dinner and can’t find a place to eat within a decent timeframe.

 

  1. Walking the trade show
    Start in one corner and work every aisle. Technology changes so fast. You never know what new companies and products you might find. You don’t need to stop at every booth. Just keep your eyes and ears open for products and services that might help you build a stronger business.

 

  1. Meeting the icons
    My buddy Brian Malloy wrote this in a guest post about conventions a few years ago: “Keep an eye open for your heroes, and don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to them. I have met photographers whose work I have admired for years, and finally got the chance to chat with them and thank them for inspiring me.”

 

  1. Evaluate each day
    At the end of each day, look over the literature you picked up at the show. Write down who you met that day. List anything you promised somebody you’d mail to them when you get back, return phone calls, etc. This is also the perfect time to look at your progress on your hit list of companies and people you wanted to meet.

 

  1. Follow-up
    When you have been lucky enough to get time with somebody, especially an exhibitor, send them a thank-you note when you get home. Yep, a good old-fashioned thank-you note. It’s even better if you use customized stationery with one of your images on it.

 

  1. Photographs
    Take a decent camera. I know everybody has a cellphone, but you just might find something here and there that deserves better. My camera of choice is the LUMIX FZ300 with a 25–600 zoom, perfect for anything that comes along. Whatever you travel with, just make sure you can get great images suitable for publishing or sharing later.

 

  1. Publicity shots
    Take a few shots of you interacting with other photographers and vendors. Good images like this are perfect for publicity releases after the convention. If you meet with a new album company, get a shot of you and the vendor that you can use later in a press release announcing the new products to your clients.

 

  1. Network
    The greatest benefit of any convention is expanding your network. At every program you attend, talk with people around you. Introduce yourself, exchange business cards and discuss why you’re at the convention. Afterward, follow up with people you hit it off with, and keep in touch.

 

  1. Comfort
    I made a mistake 20 years ago at Photokina in Germany, where I wore a brand-new pair of loafers. I was limping after just two hours. Wear comfortable shoes. Don’t worry about making a fashion statement. You’re going to be on your feet all day. Stay hydrated. Pick up a bottle of water each morning on your way out of the hotel.

 

Here’s the bottom line, the reason I’m emphatic about planning every convention trip: Time is your most valuable commodity. You’ll never have enough of it. Attend every possible convention, conference and workshop you can. Plan your experience in advance, and then evaluate each one when you’re home.

 

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

 

Redefining the Client Experience

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

Jan17_LargeBlog_MAnthony

Redefining the Client Experience with Michael Anthony

 

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the January 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 quality of images you provide your clients is paramount to your long-term success in the industry. Throughout all stages of my career, I have strived to perfect my craft by attending workshops, seminars and trade shows. I have purchased books, online courses and every little gadget you can imagine.

While all this helped, it wasn’t until I recognized that our clientele was coming to us for more than just incredible imagery that I fully understood what we have created in our business. Our brand has become synonymous in our local market of Southern California with luxury photography.

In the beginning, we tried to be everything to everybody. If the Knot was publishing articles showing rustic wedding images, we were out there shooting rustic wedding images, which is clearly not the type of photography we do today. It’s scary ignoring the trends, but in an industry as crowded as ours, staying true to you will help you to stand out from the herd.

In addition to the photography you offer clients, the experience you give them is just as important to your success.

But what exactly defines the client experience? According to Wikipedia, the customer experience is “the product of an interaction between an organization and a customer over the duration of their relationship.”

That means the client experience is dependent on every single interaction your client has with your entire brand. Every interaction your client has with your business influences their experience with you. I want you to understand what that means for a second. If you list your hours on Google Places as 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and a client calls your studio at 10:10 a.m. and doesn’t get an answer, that has a negative effect on your client experience. If you promise a two-week turnaround time but you don’t get them an open appointment until week three or four, you have negatively affected your client experience. On the flip side, if you are delivering images earlier than expected, you are positively influencing the customer experience.

In redefining the client experience, the one thing I have noticed after photographing hundreds of weddings is that there is a direct correlation between the experience your brand lends a client, and their satisfaction with the actual imagery produced. It may be subconscious, but there is rarely an occasion where we have left a client completely happy without making any mistakes along the way, later to find that they have complaints about the actual imagery produced.

Here are some steps you can take to ensure a perfect client experience from start to finish.

 

Step 1 // Get organized.

This step is the most crucial in developing your client experience. Nothing will cause you more problems than lack of organization. It’s no secret that our studio consulted with Sal and Alissa midway through last year. While the common perception is that we did the consulting to better our marketing or photography, our biggest pain point had to do with organization and internal tracking. This one area of our business was running into problems and causing a terrible client experience. Had we failed to get this under control as our business grew last year, we may very well be out of business today.

Here are some of the things we have learned through our time running a higher-volume studio.

-Get a dedicated client relationship management (CRM) system

I can’t stress the importance of this enough. Great client tracking is crucial to your success in hitting deadlines and keeping your calendar organized. Most CRM systems allow you to automate much of your work, so those time-sensitive emails get sent out immediately. We have used all the studio management software. The easiest one is 17hats. It’s extremely easy to set up and use. It features workflows, which offer an intuitive way to automate tasks like sending emails and setting reminders. In addition, 17hats offers accounting and lead management. More importantly, the customer service at 17hats is incredible.

-Outsource your editing

You cannot take care of your clients if you are sitting behind a computer fiddling with white balance and tint sliders all day long. Our studio has been outsourcing editing from day one. Pick a company like Evolve Edits to outsource to, or hire an in-house editor. The latter is more expensive by far, but may be necessary for some types of studios. Just make sure you are free to do the things that make you money and allow you to focus more on your clients.

-Take control of your shoots

Clients lose trust in your ability to document their day if they are doing most of the planning. Our clients should never have to ask us what happens next. On a portrait shoot, a client should never be asking me, “What do you want me to do?” As the creative director, those decisions should fall on you. If you can handle that type of pressure, your clients will feel more confident in your ability to handle the day.

We created a timeline worksheet that we use for every wedding. Our photo timeline is much more detailed than the timelines our planners give us. They allow us to map out each aspect of the day, down to five-minute increments. This keeps us on track (and our clients at ease) so we don’t miss anything. Make your wedding timeline six months before the wedding. A good time to do this is right after the client’s engagement sales session.

 

Step 2 // Refine your details.

Remember, the client experience comes down to every interaction they have with your business. Look at every point of interaction your clients have with you, from the moment they inquire to the moment you deliver their final product. Make sure your website loads quickly and that all your contact information is on your contact page. If you think that is basic information, visit the websites of competitors in your area—I bet many of them have a form on their contact page, but no email address or phone number.

Make sure you are accessible. If it is not feasible for you to answer the phone during all hours your business is open, hire a studio manager or VA, and if you are a 17hats user, I highly recommend their studio management service, Ally, which provides live human beings who answer your phone for you.

Having a dedicated meeting space at your studio gives you the homecourt advantage. Don’t squander it. You are your brand. Dress for success. Keep your studio or meeting space clean. Make sure it smells good. Have relaxing music playing. Sensory perceptions influence impression, and you want to give yourself every advantage you can. Remember, part of providing a good experience is giving clients confidence that you can handle their expectations and needs. When clients walk into your meeting space, they should be overwhelmed by your imagery on the walls.

 

Step 3 // Perfect your pitch.

The type of pitch I’m talking about here is the verbiage you use on your shoots to put your clients at ease and get the reactions you want out of them. Repetition is key because, once you develop your pitch, you will sound more confident. Your clients will feel awkward and stiff in front of the camera for the first time, so it is imperative that the direction you give puts them at ease. Encourage them. Show the client the back of the camera if you nail a shot to put them at ease.

You are a professional photographer, but clients and all their friends and family are amateur photographers (everyone is these days). Your ability to control a scene and art-direct is vital to the client’s perception of your professionalism, and ultimately the perception they form of your brand.

 

Step 4 // Overdeliver on their expectations.

This step is the icing on the cake that can turn clients into long-time referrers. Whenever your client is expecting something from you, deliver it better and faster than expected. You will constantly analyze your target clientele and adjust accordingly.

A great example of how we have made changes to our process has to do with delivery. Many of you know we started our business using Sal’s model exclusively. Over the years, we have had to make many adjustments, but one that was particularly hard for me to make was the delivery of prints. Clients would spend up to $2,000 on a product collection, and when it arrived, we would inspect and package it for pickup like many photographers do. The argument is that if you package a client’s order in your branded packaging, you are delivering a gift rather than a commodity. But now we drop-ship directly from our lab.

Our target clientele is millennials. In every study done on consumer behavior of millennials, the need for convenience outweighs the desire for human interaction. Our clients’ prints would sit on a rack at our studio and collect dust until our clients finally got around to driving over to get them. In Los Angeles, if you live outside our suburb, “driving to get them” means a two-hour round trip or a weekend, which is hard to schedule because we are always out of the office.

We decided to satisfy our clients’ need for immediacy and drop-ship prints directly to their door within five days of their order being placed. Sure, it is not wrapped in fancy packaging, but the product they paid a lot of money for is being delivered right to their door. We calibrate our monitors to the lab directly, and rarely run into problems with prints. It’s better for us to send our clients their images much earlier than they expect them. In this way, we overdeliver on their expectations. It cuts down on time spent packaging, along with the money we spend on materials. It improves the client experience because we are meeting the needs of our target client.

Now, if you live in a town with no traffic and short commute times, hand delivery might be feasible. If not, find ways to adjust.

Another way to ensure you overdeliver on your client’s expectations is to give longer lead times. We tell our clients album designs are done in four to six weeks, but we deliver them in fewer than two. We use that extra buffer time to account for any mishaps in the design process; when there are none, it’s a nice surprise when clients get their designs early.

Give your clients a gift when they are not expecting it. A month before the wedding, our clients receive a $25 Starbucks gift card in the mail along with a handwritten thank-you card telling them how excited we are to work with them. The day after the wedding, they receive another thank-you card. Our system then sends them automated emails outlining the next steps in the process.

The client experience doesn’t have to be complicated. You’ll get a handle on it through shear repetition. Focus on making the client experience perfect from start to finish. If you don’t perfect it before your business grows, any problems you have will be exacerbated, which is what happened to us. Define your own studio’s client experience, and you won’t need expensive advertising because your clients will be your mobile sales force.

 

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the January 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 Book and Handle Destination Weddings with Michael Anthony

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

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How to Book and Handle Destination Weddings with Michael Anthony

 

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

 

Destination weddings can be confusing and mysterious for photographers. When I started photographing weddings, I thought it would be amazing to travel the world to document our clients’ incredible wedding day. The truth is, while photographing destination weddings can be an incredible opportunity for your portfolio, if you don’t know how to do it correctly, you may end up losing money and clients.

 

In 2016, our studio photographed over 100 weddings. Our studio is split into two brands, Michael Anthony Photography and Studio 23 Photography. Of the 50 weddings that Michael Anthony Photography photographed, 10 of them required us to travel far. We added portfolio shoots along the way during our travels, which gives our portfolio diversity and a uniqueness not found among our competitors.

 

The most important thing to understand about destination weddings is that profitability is not the same as for local weddings. When taking on a destination wedding, the intrinsic value of the job for your portfolio must outweigh the money you will lose by not being in the studio for a number of days, along with any other miscellaneous expenses you incur. If you love travel, this may seem like a worthwhile endeavor, but constant travel may wear on you over time.

 

Booking Destination Weddings

 

To book a destination wedding, a couple of things have to happen. You need to show destination work in your portfolio, and you need to make it easy for your clients to book you for destination work.

 

We booked our first destination wedding by accident. That accident turned out to be one of the best experiences ever. Our clients had come to us for a consultation about shooting their wedding reception in our hometown of Valencia, California. When I asked where the clients were getting married, they said Lake Como, Italy. Now, I had wanted to go to Italy for many years, so I immediately asked if they had found their wedding photographer yet. The answer was no, and I said I would be interested in shooting it.

 

Their efforts in finding a wedding photographer in a foreign country proved to be problematic. First, there was the language barrier. It’s also hard for clients to coordinate their wishes with a photographer who lives on the other side of the globe. Booking with us was an easy decision because we offered to solve their problems, and we made it easy for them to book us financially (more on that later).

 

Shooting this wedding allowed us to showcase these images in our portfolio, and immediately our destination inquiries skyrocketed. So what do you do if you don’t have destination images to show? My mentor, Mr. Sal Cincotta, sums it up in a simple hashtag: #buildyourdamnportfolio.

 

We actually did our first destination shoot while vacationing in Hawaii. I live in California, where the beaches are plenty and our clients are used to gorgeous sunsets. So for our first destination shoot, I wanted to do something completely different than what our clients had seen before. We headed to Byodo-In Temple on Oahu. From that shoot, we began to diversify our portfolio and create epic images that could not be achieved locally. We bought a wedding dress, hired a local florist and got the required permits to shoot at the location we wanted.

 

Your first step if you are serious about shooting destination weddings is not so hard. Take a vacation, and wherever you go, plan photoshoots to build your portfolio.

 

The power of a destination portfolio is incredible. Just this past weekend, our studio participated in a bridal show with 12 photographers. On our booth display, we featured wedding images taken in France, Portugal, London, Italy, Hawaii and around the United States. While it was a gamble to not bring along local wedding images, it paid off tremendously: We booked three weddings at the show, and collected over 100 leads, including two for brides getting married in Greece and Thailand next year. Our booth was packed the entire time because our portfolio stood out from the rest.

 

Once you have a destination portfolio built, you have to market yourself to clients getting married abroad. Destination weddings are becoming more popular because they are kept small, and actually cost the same or less than a traditional wedding. I recommend tools such as Two Bright Lights to submit your destination weddings to publications to reach more potential clients.

 

Another idea is to contact local planners at popular destinations around the world, and ask for referrals for couples coming from the area you live in.

 

Charging for Destination Weddings

 

This area can be convoluted for many photographers. You have to make it easy for your clients to book you. However, destination weddings do have many expenses that are not easily seen when putting together a quote. This is why I recommend putting your travel costs into the quote up front, rather than booking the wedding and invoicing them later.

 

You may incur costs for a babysitter, rental car, parking, Uber rides, meals, valet fees, checked-bag fees, etc. In addition, you have to account for your time out of the studio and away from your business.

 

Those expenses start to add up quickly. If put a list in front of your client, it will become a barrier to them booking you. If you allow your client to book your travel for you, you will end up on a flight with three connections and a seven-hour layover. This is why when booking destination weddings, it is important to give the client a single fee that covers all your expenses. As your portfolio gets better, your travel fee can increase.

 

We have developed all-inclusive fees for Europe, Hawaii and the continental U.S. We include a cost for three nights at the client’s hotel (or an Airbnb close by) to allow us to use day one as a travel day, and the day after the wedding as a bridal session day. If we stay longer, we do not bill the client for the extra days.

 

Having set fees dissuades clients from haggling with you. You’ll avoid the following arguments we used to hear all the time: “We want to help you enjoy your vacation.” “If we book your travel, can we just get your regular wedding rates?” And my favorite: “Our wedding will be great for your portfolio! So can we get a discount?”

 

Trust me: When I tell you not to make any exceptions to this policy, we have done so in the past and been burned, so learn from our mistakes so you don’t repeat them.

 

Let’s start with booking your travel. In the past, it was incredibly hard to predict what prices would be for a chosen destination. Now, thanks to modern technology, we are able to more accurately predict flight prices using Google Flights or an app called Hopper. Both services tell you the optimal time to book flights. Whenever we book a destination wedding, we add the flights to Hopper and get instant notifications when it is time to book. For the hotel, find out if your client has reserved a room block, and if so, ask if you can reserve a room at the client’s rate. Airnnb is always our go-to when looking for places to stay if the client does not have a hotel block.

 

If you’re traveling internationally, bring all the necessary adapters. It would be terrible to get all the way to Europe to find you don’t have any outlets to charge your camera batteries.

 

Planning Destination Shoots

 

Destination shoots pose many challenges logistically. You can’t scout locations as you normally would. It’s tough to determine if a chosen location requires special permits. How will the light look when you are there? This is why organization and planning are so important. And the planning needs to happen months before the wedding day.

 

I build a Pinterest Board with exciting and accessible locations we can get to. Do a bridal session with your clients the day before or after the wedding so you can create amazing images for them in beautiful places.

 

There is an app called The Photographer’s Ephemeris that allows you to plan lighting in your locations. Put together a document with all the information for the shoots you will be doing so you are prepared when you get there. It’s also extremely important to check the tide charts if you are shooting at a beach. I can’t tell you how many times we have planned a shoot at an unfamiliar beach only to get there and not be able to access the beach due to high tide.

 

When planning shoots at popular landmarks, be prepared to arrive with your clients or models at sunrise to avoid the crowds.

 

Lastly but most importantly, be prepared to pivot. As a wedding photographer, you are used to having to improvise. Shooting destination weddings adds a new level of uncertainty. We have to pivot on more than half of our shoots. Our truck has been stuck in the snow, we have gotten clearance to shoot at places only to be kicked out later, we have had locations closed for renovations, parades came through our shooting location and much more. You will have to be ready with a plan B in all situations, but even more so when you are working with clients who paid to have you travel with them.

 

Shooting destination weddings can be an incredible opportunity to constantly build your portfolio, and allow you to open up new opportunities. I love that my career has allowed me to travel the world, but it can add stress, uncertainty and unanticipated expenses.

 

If you plan ahead, you can create incredible memories for your clients and an experience that you and they will never forget.

 

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

Skyrocket Your Email Subscribers: Outperform Social Media With Less Effort with Phillip Blume

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

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Skyrocket Your Email Subscribers: Outperform Social Media With Less Effort with Phillip Blume

 

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

 

Let’s take a quiz. Which company do you think you’re more likely to do business with—one that throws up a lot of expensive billboards to remind you it exists, or one you’re connected to directly, whose exclusive offers you receive in your personal inbox?

 

You guessed it. Although traditional billboards (and “digital billboards” like Google ads, Facebook boosts, etc.) are a lot more expensive, we know that direct-email marketing is vastly more effective—and a lot cheaper. Statistics show that email is 40 times more likely to result in a new customer than Facebook or Twitter ads—and that’s only if you spend significant time and money on social media to milk out a return on your investment.

 

Email marketing, on the other hand, is free up to a given number of subscribers. Even after you apply our tips below and grow your audience massively, email remains a remarkably cheap form of advertising. It gives you an average $38 ROI for every one dollar you spend.

 

Email marketing is a key ingredient of the success of Blume Photography. It has changed the game in terms of how much time and money we invest in ads. We spend a lot less of those precious resources than we used to. In fact, our marketing budget is almost zilch.

 

So if email is so much better, why do some very successful companies still invest in billboards and online ads? No, they aren’t stupid. There’s a simple answer that will become very clear to you by the time we discuss it below. But rest assured that it will only make you want to tackle email marketing even more. First, here are our three best-kept secrets to skyrocket your email subscribers (aka your future customers).

 

Pick Your Poison

 

Before you can play this game, you need the tools. Lucky for you, the first and most basic tool, email marketing software, is free at the starter level. Plus, it’s usually cloud-based, so there’s nothing to download.

 

There are robust and costly options for email marketing software. These include InfusionSoft and Actionetics by ClickFunnels. I’m a big fan of InfusionSoft’s product, but you don’t need to consider options like it until you become a big operation, managing multiple brands and many, many clients. Blume Photography is at a tipping point where we may need to move from our small online account to InfusionSoft to better manage our communication to you (photographers), our own wedding and portrait clients, and our separate associate studio’s clients. But up to now, we’ve made due with a Mad MiMi account (Fig. 1).

 

If you don’t yet receive our emails, you should. If you’re already signed up and receive our free tips and tricks, you have a good idea of what a Mad Mimi email looks like. Mad MiMi is just one of many competing apps, along with Constant Contact (which you hear advertised if you listen to NPR as much as I do) and MailChimp. One is just as good as the next. So check them out, compare their features and decide what works best for you.

 

Add Value

 

People aren’t suddenly going to line up to give you their email address. You need to give them a reason to share their valuable info. So create value for them in return. The best way to do this online is by “funneling.”

 

Funneling is a great way to fill your email list with people you’ve never met. A funnel is a single online location to which potential subscribers from all over gravitate (Fig. 2). You can create multiple forms like this in any email software, and each form organizes registrants into unique folders. We have forms and folders for various groups—our portrait clients, photographers and our local TriggerHappy photo club. Email segmentation is crucial because it leads to a 200 percent increase in email interaction (Fig. 3).

 

To see how to showcase the “tip” of your funnel, check out our signup form at www.blumephotographer.com/photographers. What causes the gravitational pull? You do—by creating “lead magnets.”

 

A lead magnet is a valuable free product or service offered exclusively to your subscribers. This may be special access to a series of articles you’ve written to help brides prepare for weddings. Rather than post this kind of content on your blog hoping someone might see it, why not post just a taste of it publicly? Then make the rest available to subscribers. Now you’ve gained contacts you can interact with long-term for free. If you’re a family portrait photographer, offer an ebook to moms with tips for taking better pics of their kids. Social technology has given birth to this “economy of free,” which can be wonderful for all parties.

 

Notice I wrote, “can be wonderful.” Not every company upholds its end of the bargain. We’ve all received junk emails. If I get another email from ULine, I’m going to scream. (If I need more packaging supplies, I’ll order them when I’m ready.) Then again, someone else may value those small discounts on cardboard boxes. Maybe my local plumber is a better example—he emails a lot, but never unclogs my toilet for free.

 

Ultimately, companies that abuse your inbox without creating real value for you undermine their efforts and get sent to the spam folder. Don’t make that mistake.

 

Good email subscriptions benefit you with free education or exclusive offers not available to the public. I get excited when a new email from Seth Godin hits my inbox—I’m inspired by his ideas for entrepreneurs, and his exclusive products have benefited our business immensely.

 

From that point of view, even this article is a type of lead magnet for you and Shutter readers. It’s a simple and straightforward invitation to join our inbox community, where thousands of photographers enjoy an economy of free content and special access. You can see how we do it, then ask, “What can I offer that is valuable to my ideal clients?”

 

Just Ask

 

Photographers often already possess that “something valuable” for potential clients, but fail to realize it.

 

Last year, I smacked my palm against my forehead when I realized how huge an opportunity I’d been overlooking at every wedding I photographed. I had exclusive early access to people’s photos. For years, I’d worked at making a great impression on wedding guests—smiling, chatting, even giving business cards when guests asked for one (which they often did). It was all well and good. But what I did next was idiotic. I walked away, wishing upon a star that one of those guests might contact me for her future photographic needs. It almost never happened. Many probably never even saw the photographs.

 

I had given out my email, but I never asked for theirs. I walked away when, internally, guests were begging to give me their address. How do I know? Because now, thanks to ShootProof (our choice for online photo galleries), I simply ask, and everyone gives me whatever I want.

 

If there is one lesson I’ve learned as an entrepreneur, it’s this: You must never wait around to be discovered. You must be proactive. That is the only difference between a wannabe and a rock star. ShootProof offers at least two amazing tools to grow your email list: an email collection iPad app and a mobile app builder that requires almost zero effort. You don’t have to use ShootProof to use my strategy, but it certainly streamlines things.

 

My step-by-step strategy for putting these tools to use is simple but unique, and it has exploded our email list with qualified wedding and portrait leads. Here it is.

 

Strategic Email Collection

 

  1. First, I create a mobile app in ShootProof using the family’s or couple’s portraits. (This is one of many reasons we include an engagement session for our couples.) There are other subscription services whose sole function is to create mobile apps. ShootProof offers this same robust feature at no extra cost, and it’s fully integrated with all the other ShootProof features. I click on just a few of the very best photos in a couple’s gallery, then click “Create Mobile App.” Voilà, I’m done on the backend (Fig. 4).

 

  1. Next, I do something “backward” from the way most users set up their ShootProof galleries and apps. I create an empty wedding gallery for the couple, before their wedding even takes place. Then I tick the brilliant “Pre-Registration” option in the gallery settings (Fig. 5). This sets the stage. Now visitors to the gallery are prompted to provide their email address ahead of time. Why would they do that? Because they want to be notified when the photos are available to view online. But guests aren’t even going to visit this nifty little Web page unless you invite them. So how do we invite them?

 

  1. Here is where I go back to the couple’s mobile app and do something backward again. I can “connect” a mobile app to any gallery so clients can open their online galleries straight from their app. Most photographers link this “engagement app” to the couple’s engagement portrait gallery. Seems logical, right? But we found engagement galleries aren’t shared all that much—there’s no motivation to share it (other than vanity, which isn’t enough). Besides, they’re more likely to share your engagement blog post over the gallery, which is good for you too. So we link the engagement app (Fig. 6) to their newly created but empty wedding gallery. Now, an enticing little button shows up in the mobile app, just under the couple’s photos: “View Full Gallery.” You want only a few pictures so the button is immediately visible in the app. Click it, and you’re now invited to register for Laura & James’s Wedding Gallery. Who can resist that?

 

  1. The final obstacle is motivating the couple to share their app before the wedding day. You want to get this thing downloaded on every smartphone in the bridal party and family. Here’s how I create strong motivation to share the app just before the wedding. We add value to our couple’s wedding experience by working with them on a photo timeline for the day, then we link to that timeline in the app. (Think of all the other value-add links you could create for portrait subjects.) Now sending the mobile app as a download to our couple is as easy as clicking “Share App.” A lovely custom email creator opens up, and we use a very cleverly written email to convince the couple they simply must share this awesome app with their bridal party right away. But we don’t have to rely on the couple to come through for us. We hold our destiny in our own hands.

 

  1. Through 17Hats, our studio management software of choice, a wedding day questionnaire is automatically sent to all our couples ahead of time (Fig. 8). The couple fills out information about their bridal party and all their vendors, then submit it back to us with a click. I simply copy-and-paste all that contact info into ShootProof’s app maker (Fig. 9). Now we feel like celebrities when we arrive at a wedding: Virtually every bridesmaid and vendor has been playing with our branded app and reading our About section along with the day’s itinerary—plus sending us their email addresses. (It even precludes us having to respond to every email from vendors requesting photos.)

 

Figure 10 shows the long list of gallery visitors who preregistered their emails with us. These emails are exported as a .csv to our Mad MiMi account after every event. We use the same method at charity events (a big source of our qualified leads) along with an iPad open to ShootProof’s app. Attendees enter their email address right then and there. (You can purchase standalone apps like iCapture to collect emails. I love that ShootProof’s app wirelessly adds contacts straight to our gallery, keeping everything synced.)

 

Come autumn, we send all our subscribers emails with special access and deals for family portraits and more. That leads to a windfall of new clients every year.

 

In the video below, let’s talk about why we “burned our business cards” in favor of a better digital strategy, plus how we avoid email filters and use social media.

 

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the December 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-Person Sales Strategies for Out-of-Town Clients with Alissa Zimmerman

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

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In-Person Sales Strategies for Out-of-Town Clients with Alissa Zimmerman

 

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the December 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 want to start making the cash register ring, in-person sales is the way to get that started (if you’re not already doing it). For those of you who are doing in-person sales, how do you take on out-of-town clients who can’t come into your studio after their session for their preview? Here are my in-person sales strategies to ensure a successful sale and experience when your clients are hundreds of miles away.

 

Skype Preview

 

We do preview sessions via Skype with our out-of-towners. Skype is a much more reliable platform than others when Internet service may not be great. It’s also extremely convenient for timing the session. For in-person scheduling, I have two or three time slots available per day. Once it gets too late, it’s not realistic to have clients coming in to view and order their images. This is especially beneficial if you’re a night owl like I am and have clients on the West Coast.

 

It’s important to do your best to provide a similar experience as you do for the in-person session for your clients, even though it’s being done online. Skype sales sessions are typically much quicker than in-person sessions, mostly because your client has already had a few days to look through their images on their own time (more on this later).

 

You also must go into the Skype session with a game plan, ready to be the trusted adviser for your clients. I take the time to go through all of their images and match to the big prints that are included in our top package—typically a 20×30 or 30×40 acrylic and a 15×30 canvas. These are specific types of shots that you will want to precrop to give your clients an idea of how the image will look cropped to that aspect ratio.

 

Be prepared for the Skype session. Have images of your products ready to send over while you’re going through your packages, but also make sure you are in your studio sales room with the specific sizes of the products you’re trying to sell hanging on the wall in a place that’s easy for you to showcase. In our preview room, we have a giant 30×60 acrylic hanging on top of a mantle to use as reference for those clients who believe an 8×10 is “big enough.” We also have a variety of sizes and materials hanging throughout the room so our clients can easily visualize the difference in products and sizes as we walk through the packages we offer.

 

Tip: Have at least one of each product out and next to you (not on the wall) as a sample that’s easy to grab and show up close. This way, you won’t have to fumble trying to take anything off your walls.

 

Use Tools to Support Your Sale

 

We don’t show the slideshow to our clients during the Skype session, because it takes away from the purpose of the sale. Instead, once the preview session is on the calendar, we tell them to expect a link to their online gallery 72 hours prior to the session, and encourage them to carve out some time to look through their images together in that 72-hour window so they are prepared with questions and ideas of what they want to purchase for their home going into the Skype session.

 

We have found that sending them a link to their online gallery any closer than 72 hours from their session disrupts the sale. Our clients don’t usually take the time to look through the images if it’s 24 to 48 hours before, and go into the sales session unable to make a decision on what they want to purchase because they haven’t had a chance to look at any of their images yet. Which, again, is why it is so very important to stress to them the importance of making time to sit down together before the Skype call.

 

There are also tools in our market that allow you to mock up a living room or bedroom scene using images from your clients’ galleries to provide even more of a visual to help them in their decision process. Being the trusted adviser in Skype sales sessions cannot be stressed enough—take the extra prep time going into these sessions to put together a full presentation of what you think they should have as artwork in their home. Note the key phrase in that last sentence: “Artwork in their home” resonates much better than simply suggesting what pictures they should buy.

 

Another tool we use that may not directly impact our sales is 17hats. Having a workflow specific to Skype sales sessions is crucial to success. With 17hats, we have a workflow that streamlines each step of the process, sending out automatic reminder and follow-up emails, as well as invoices as soon as the session is over. That’s priceless to us. This allows our studio to look like a professional and well-oiled machine. And who doesn’t want to work with efficient companies, especially studios charging top dollar for their products and services?

 

It’s all part of the experience. Having a backend system that keeps track of the monotonous daily tasks allows you to focus on preparing and customizing your clients’ presentations for their Skype sessions.

 

Communication

 

Communication is key to the success of any type of sales strategy, whether it be in-person or online. But if you want to ensure bigger sales from those out-of-town clients, you have to take your communication up a notch. These clients cannot be left in the dark, especially after having made one of the most important decisions around their wedding day: hiring you as their photographer. As creative people, we are notorious for painting an incredible vision and making all sorts of promises to our clients, then taking their money and going dark. Nothing enrages a client more than a nonresponsive company they are entrusting to document milestones of their life.

 

It’s really simple, so pay attention: Answer your phone. Respond to emails within four hours. Periodically touch base and ask if they need help with planning. Explain the why behind everything you do or do not do. Follow up. Take initiative in helping them plan timelines or wardrobe. Be the trusted adviser throughout the lifespan of your client’s experience with your studio.

 

Most importantly, set expectations for your clients from the very beginning. It’s crucial that you send your pricing and packages to your client when you email them to schedule their Skype session.

 

In that email, put in bold and underline the purpose of the call as follows: “On our Skype call, we will go through any questions you may have, so plan on setting aside about an hour and a half to review and order your pictures.” Attach your pricing document to this email so they can be mentally prepared to spend money going into their Skype session.

 

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the December 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 Client Leads for Free with Jeff Rojas

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

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3 Ways to Find Client Leads for Free with Jeff Rojas

 

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

 

Generating new leads is the only way to stay in business in any industry. Photography isn’t any different. Think about it this way: What’s the probability a wedding client will hire you again for their next wedding? All jokes aside, the reality is that chances are slim.

 

Let’s up the ante. Say that you don’t have any current clients. How do you find your first client? Second? Third? They don’t just magically appear and start emailing you. They need to know that you exist. Let’s add even more fuel to the fire: How do you find these people without a budget? You have to spend money to make money, right? Not necessarily. If you have the entrepreneurial spirit, you can find clients without spending a dime. Here are three ways I find client leads for free.

 

Guest Blog Posts and Articles

 

Writing articles and guest blog posts has brought one of the best returns on my time. It has allowed me to use different platforms to grow my brand. Depending on the publication or platform, you’ll even find that some outlets pay you for content if it benefits them.

 

Last December I had two hours to kill before a meeting, and I decided to write an article entitled “Hiring a Professional Photographer? Consider These 3 Things First.” The article included information on how photography organizations can help, who owns the copyrights to the images and unexpected costs when hiring a photographer—prints, digital rights, retouching fees, makeup artists, etc.

 

I submitted the article to the magazines Inc. and Entrepreneur. Entrepreneur picked up the article and posted it on their site. Since then, it’s been shared 1,100 times. The article listed my portfolio and contact information, and it’s been a great way for me to reach out to a broad audience of business professionals. My favorite part? They’re all educated consumers. They read the article, and there are no surprises when I send them my rates.

 

So how can you replicate that? Easily. Find an outlet that would benefit from your expertise, and send them content. People are constantly yearning for new information. To be clear, not every outlet will respond. You have to be extremely tactful with your time. For instance, a publication that reaches 100,000 photographers isn’t going to benefit your new portrait business unless you’re trying to teach photography. If you’re a wedding photographer, consider writing a guide on “3 Picture-Perfect Tips for Your Wedding Day” for new brides, and send it to a local bridal publication. You’ll reach the specific demographic you’re trying to market to without spending a single dollar.

 

Get Social

 

You need to be social, and I’m not just talking about social media. What ever happened to the art of meeting new people, networking and actually socializing? New contacts open new doors. To be clear, you don’t just meet people at networking events, you meet people everywhere.

 

I know that for many creatives, the very thought of socializing is nerve-wracking. Here’s a tidbit that I don’t share with everyone: I’m an outgoing introvert. I love people in small spurts, meaning I’m selectively social. I can be all sorts of charming and then the next day I’ll become a hermit because too much socializing leaves me feeling exhausted. The point is, I understand your pain. It’s not easy.

 

There are days that I need to be social when I don’t feel like crawling out of my apartment. Those are the days that I just say screw it and drudgingly go to whatever event I’m scheduled to be at. Why? Because every missed connection is a missed opportunity. Every missed opportunity is an opportunity that someone else is taking.

 

If you keep missing opportunities and connections, someone is going to put you out of business or you’re not going to have any new client leads. If you want new business, you need to get over it and get out the door and make it happen. When you feel like you’ve reached the point where you don’t need to network anymore, you need to start networking twice as much and not be lazy—there’s always someone willing to take your money when you’re sleeping.

 

Want to know the easiest way to network? Talk. Talk until people are tired of listening to you. Tell your friends, tell your neighbors, tell your pastor, tell your mom that you’re a photographer. Tell everyone. That may sound like the simplest idea, but not many people capitalize on it. You need to let everyone know you’re a passionate photographer. When I first decided to make photography my full-time career, my friends and family told everyone. I received inquiries about pricing for everything from weddings to baby showers. In order for anyone to know what you’re doing, you have to inform them.

 

Engaging Video Content

 

It’s almost 2017. Newsflash! You don’t need millions of dollars to produce and edit video content. You can create it without spending a dollar, especially if you have your own video-capable DLSR. If you don’t, you can even use your iPhone. But what about audio and lighting? The content matters more than the production. Once you see the return on investment, then invest in new gear. Don’t believe me?

 

Here’s an example. My good friend and fellow photographer Miguel Quiles and I started a YouTube video project earlier this year entitled “These Guys I Know.” The name started as a bit of a joke because Miguel’s quip to all of my jokes is, “This guy…” and also because of the New York phrase “I know a guy…” I digress. We merely bantered for three hours on camera about photography-related shenanigans. We filmed the segment on a Sony a6300 (retail $999), and that was about it. No audio, just what the camera picked up. I edited the content the next day, and we started releasing the content weekly.

 

I was able to grow my YouTube channel (YouTube.com/sajorffej) from 6,000 subscribers to 10,000 in a few short months. Some of those videos have reached tens of thousands of people. The best part? People are subscribing to my newsletter, and they’re signing up for my workshops and buying my premium content.

 

Our following has grown so that we have companies regularly requesting to be part of the channel either as a topic or simply to send us gear to goose our production value. Rode was actually kind enough to send us mics to use—and Miguel, our followers and I thank them wholeheartedly!

 

QUICK TIP TO START FILMING:

1.     Set your DSLR to record 30 frames per second.

2.     Set your shutter speed to 1/60 of a second and leave it there.

3.     Your f-stop and ISO should be adjusted for the correct exposure of the scene you’re filming.

4.     Go film.

 

So, what do you create and promote? You don’t have to be revolutionary. Simple is often better.

You don’t need to promote only new content. If 1,000 people saw your video, there are still 7.125 billion people in the world who haven’t. Share away, my friend.

 

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the December 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: Time to Update the Rules of Engagement with Skip Cohen

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

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Building Blocks: Time to Update the Rules of Engagement with Skip Cohen

 

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the December 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’ve written blog posts about the rules of engagement for professional photographers. A few of the rules are unique to imaging, but for the most part, they apply to any business. Many go back to our roots as kids, things we were taught that, sadly, too many people have forgotten.

One glaring change over the years is how the anonymity of the Internet has empowered people to act so viciously toward one another. Trolls hide behind the anonymity of their computer screens and send out a barrage of negativity they’d never have the nerve to share face to face.

The late businessman and educator Stephen Covey made a statement that covers this challenge:

“I’m convinced that we can write and live our own scripts more than most people will acknowledge. I also know the price that must be paid. It’s a real struggle to do it. It requires visualization and affirmation. It involves living a life of integrity, starting with making and keeping promises, until the whole human personality, the senses, the thinking, the feeling, and the intuition, are ultimately integrated and harmonized.”

Every year there are more and more new companies, products and photographers coming into the market. The market is constantly growing and the challenges make us stronger. At the same time, because of the Internet, the world is getting smaller. Artists all over the world can easily share ideas and interact with each other, but it works only if respect is one of the ingredients of this powerful communication tool.

The following Rules of Engagement is also my personal wish list of how I’d love everyone in the industry to interact with each other as we wrap up 2016 and head into a new year.

1) Smile more, bitch less. It’s that simple. Everybody has challenges, and there will always be somebody who can top your story about being miserable. Even more important: If you’re miserable, start thinking about a plan to change whatever it is that’s dragging you down.

2) Don’t be a troll and don’t engage trolls. There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing with people, but trolls serve no purpose. They have too much time on their hands and hide behind the anonymity of their computer screens. They might not even know they’re trolls, but that doesn’t change their persistent harping on a point that has been beat to death.

3) Surround yourself with people you respect. Photography and business are just like playing tennis with somebody better than you. Your game gets better. Look for people to bring into your network who complement your weaknesses. It’ll give you a stronger game.

4) Follow through. Stephen Covey probably hit on it first, but that doesn’t change its important place on my list. I’m tired of people and groups who promise us one thing and then never follow through. We’re all guilty of it once in a while, but there are a few out there who just never stay focused. There’s a big difference between forgetting to do something and never following through on what you promised.

5) Stay focused. You know how to hold focus on your camera, but there is no auto-focus button for your career—or life, for that matter. You’ve got to stay with your plan and make the necessary adjustments along the way.

6) Call people back! If somebody has left you a voicemail, they deserve a response. Even better, use your phone now and then instead of email. It’s called the “back to your roots” plan. A phone call rather than an email to a client, or just about anybody, can have incredible impact.

7) Never use the word fail. Don’t be afraid to admit you screwed up, but know that fail, failure and failed are all self-fulfilling negative words. You’re dead meat the minute you use words like this. If you tried something and it didn’t work, all that happened was that it didn’t work. If you hadn’t tried anything at all, then you’d be a failure.

So, strike these words from your vocabulary and get your internal spell-check going so that all derivatives of the word fail are simply removed. Success is all about taking chances, and failure is just part of your journey. As long as you learn from each situation, nothing can ever be a failure.

8) Recognize when you’re on overload. Anybody with kids knows the signs of a sugar low. Adults are no different. We never really outgrow that sugar-low mood swing. What does change is that as we get older, we’re not only susceptible to a real sugar low, but we react the same way when we’ve got too much going on. You’ve got to take a break now and then, stay grounded with those things most important in your life.

9) Never show somebody else’s work as your own. This includes images you captured while standing behind an instructor in a hands-on workshop, and anything you write in a blog post.

There’s been a lot of talk in our industry over the years of pretty well-known photographers who have been caught using other photographers’ images and text. If you can’t come up with a concept on your own to write about in your own words, then either ask for permission and attribute the source, or forget it.

10) Keep in contact with friends. We all get busy. We all lose touch. But it’s so worth the effort to keep in touch with friends and people who share the same passions.

11) Don’t be greedy. Price your products and services in line with your market. Share the profit and the accolades with those who have helped you grow. If you want to be a miser, you’ll spend most of your life alone, even when people are acting like they’re with you. At the other end of the spectrum is the issue of undervaluing your work. Always keep all your costs in mind, and price your work with a respectable margin.

12) Listen to your staff. As your business grows, you’ll bring on more people. You might outsource to other vendors. All of these people, whether directly or indirectly employed by you, become your “staff.” Include them in business discussions and listen to their suggestions. You don’t always have to incorporate their ideas, but let them know their input is valuable and is being considered.

13) Be realistic with your deadlines. Deliver on time or even early. Nobody is interested in your excuses if you deliver late.

14) Be on time. It’s pretty simple: Show up for meetings and phone calls when you’re supposed to.

15) Never compromise quality. Whether it’s an image being posted on your website or just one of hundreds in an album, if it’s not your best work, don’t show it. Nobody ever hired a photographer because of the number of average images in their galleries.

16) Make your handshake mean something. My father and his father did business their whole lives on a handshake. I realize there are thousands of attorneys out there who will tell me I’m nuts, but for the most part, I’m still doing business the same way. Sadly, we live in a litigious world, and you need contracts, but the symbolism of eye contact and a solid handshake still speaks volumes.

17) Don’t be afraid to experiment. One of my favorite quotes is by the late motivational speaker Zig Ziglar: “If you wait for all the lights to be green, you’ll never get started on your journey.” Every now and then you’re going to have to go with your gut and try something new. If it doesn’t work, change and start again. But if you wait until everything is just right, you’ll never get going.

18) Get to know your vendors. A photographer needs a great lab, an album company, a frame company, a reputable equipment retailer and a marketing/planning resource. And within each of these vendors there are additional resources, people who can help you succeed in virtually every aspect of photography.

19) Never stop learning. Technology is constantly changing and consumer trends are only a short step behind. Attend every workshop and convention you can. Watch webinars and listen to podcasts and read everything. You’ve got to be on top of every change in your profession to be the very best.

20) Be careful what you say—and to whom. We’re a relatively small industry. We all go to the same rubber-chicken dinners. You never know how many degrees of separation there are between the person you’re talking to and the person you’re talking about.

21) Unless you’re willing to accept responsibility for a rumor, don’t pass it on. Sometime around year six in my 12 years at Hasselblad, I heard a rumor from a retailer that I was about to be fired. When I confronted the retailer directly, he refused to tell me his source, but he passed the rumor on to one of Hasselblad’s salesmen. The rumor wasn’t true. I found out later it was started by an employee who was mad at me. I was there another six years, and made it a point to remind the retailer every year I was still onboard.

22) Be involved with a charity and your community. I’ve written about this extensively: If you want your community to be good to you, you have to be good to your community.

23) Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s one of the most important points on the list. You’re part of an incredible industry, and there are so many people out there willing to help you through the challenges. But we can’t help if you don’t ask.

24) Act like your grandmother is watching. It’s a great quote from a photographer and good friend, Levi Sim, and I use it when people can’t seem to be nice to each other in Facebook forums.

25) Don’t just shoot for clients. Another good friend, Terry Clark, wrote a few years ago:

“Take pictures for the love of photography. So many photographers I know only pick up the camera when a paycheck is attached. What a shame. You need to keep your eye fresh. Musicians practice so they’re ready for the performance, and athletes train for the big game—why in the world would a photographer not take pictures to keep their eye inspired and in tune?”

The list isn’t all-inclusive. There’s plenty more I could add. It’s December, and a new year is right around the corner. Let’s make 2017 a year of peace, goodwill, growth and fun. Remember fun? It’s too often lost under the stress and baggage of running a business. With very little effort, we’ve all got the potential to make next year a sweet one.

 

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

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