From Commodity to Invaluable: 3 Steps to Elevating Your Worth with Joey Thomas
Victoria lay in a hospital bed waiting to have her first baby. She was on her own because she and her husband couldn’t afford for him to take a day off. In her little town of under 4,000 people, life became very real, very fast. Two years of session after session and a dozen photography mentorships paid for with money she didn’t have, yet nothing to show but disappointment and $85 in her bank account.
She was well on her way to joining the 85 percent of new photography businesses that shut down after three years. Small populations, tire-kicking clients and “people only want digitals” are among some of the excuses photographers use to explain their failures.
Don’t be a part of this epidemic!
I believe all humans are masterfully crafted to succeed and excel at everything we do. I believe we are designed to adapt and tackle any challenge we face. So how can photographers find success despite these obstacles?
Author and leadership expert John Maxwell says that giving value to others helps your own success. “I think that every person can be successful if they do one thing,” he once said. “Every day, wake up and ask, ‘Who can I add value to today?’ ”
Three months after giving birth, Victoria went from making $250 one day to a $17,000 sales session the next. Now, three years later, she has a VIP Facebook group of 25,000 women she calls her “tribe” and over 85,000 people following her business page, and lives in a 4,500-square-foot Tuscan-style villa, paid for in cash. With a newfound purpose in life and a nothing-to-lose attitude, Victoria reconstructed her business by focusing on the value of in-person sales and genuinely serving her audience.
Value is a term we hear quite a bit with packaged deals and pricing. We hear about it in the context of getting a lot of stuff for a “good” price. However, concentrating on why we do what we do and whom we serve makes what we deliver more significant.
Perceived value is what people believe something is worth. It has nothing to do with physical value. It is what our work intrinsically means to our clients.
If adding value has such a strong impact on how our businesses are perceived, what can we do to systematically integrate this practice into our client experience?
Supercharge your client’s perception and create immense value by focusing on:
- Your brand (the why)
- Your relationship (the who)
- Your craft (the what)
Here’s how to tackle each of these pillars of value perception.
Focus Your Brand
A brand is an idea or image of your company your clients connect with. Effective branding gives a practical description of what you do—but more importantly, it elicits an emotional response as to why you do it.
There is one thing that makes your wedding unforgettable: the story of your love and friendship.
That is the first line of text potential clients see when they go the Joey T Photography homepage. The next lines drive my message home and add clarity to my brand.
You will receive photographs that remind you of all the special moments shared with friends, family and with each other on your wedding day. You will experience the love and joy of your unique story every time you turn the pages of your heirloom album or see the artwork on your walls.
This description is essential to my brand because it clearly conveys what is important. This is also the first place I mention the word heirloom. This word is mentioned a total of 12 times on my website. Is there any doubt what I’m trying to convey? In a nutshell, I want to tell the story of important relationships with heirloom keepsakes. I’ve chosen not to show too many wedding day details on my site to bring attention to the importance of relationships.
Your Takeaway: Use your online presence to market a clear message and vision in such a way that your target audience expresses the same message back to you. This is how you know your marketing efforts have successfully conveyed your brand identity.
This brand message is the first critical leg of your clients’ journey. This is the part of their experience where they either gain clarity or leave confused.
Develop Authentic Relationships
Kick fear in the teeth and be yourself! You don’t have to be perfect. If you show the real you to your clients, they will reciprocate and be genuine as well. This is when the magic happens. Laughter, jokes, tears, playfulness, the sharing of stories—it all results in connecting with people in an honest way.
In giant bold text on my homepage, I’ve written:
Inspired, Sincere, and Personal.
I do my best to live by this and treat my couples like human beings and not numbers on an invoice. If you serve your clients in a sincere way, you inevitably pull them into the culture you are trying to create instead of just pushing sales and deals their way. You can do this by investing time.
Successful studios invest time in building relationships with their audience and clients. Time is the scarcest commodity. It’s a nonrenewable resource that holds value like nothing else. When we create opportunities for our clients to spend more time with us, they begin to appreciate the experience rather than focus only on price.
Jeff Dachowski of Dachowski Photography has shared how he grew to become one of the most profitable studios in the Northeast. He and his wife, Carolle, spend countless hours giving back to the community through silent auctions and other activities for charitable causes. The time they spent adding value to other people had a direct effect on the success of their business.
Jeff and Christine Tonkin of DigiSmiles connect with their high school seniors by investing time engaging personably on social media. They include behind-the-scenes footage in the experience. They’re real and they’re approachable at every point in the relationship. This has led to their great success.
With my clients, I make every attempt to connect in personal ways, not just through texts and emails. Phone calls are critical to building the client relationship. After the initial inquiry, I make a phone call to set the tone for the culture I want to create. This is where the relationship begins. This phone call leads to meeting in person. Not only do we meet during the initial consult, but also during and after the engagement session, during and after their bridal session, and multiple times after their wedding day. There are several phone calls and up to eight in-person visits.
Time and time again, when I go to photograph the getting-ready portion of the wedding day, I get the same question from at least one bridesmaid: “How long have you guys known each other?” They see how excited the bride is to see us, the big bear hugs, the friendly conversation we have as soon as we walk in. No one ever thinks they just “found” us.
Your Takeaway: Adding value to other people’s lives is a path to your own success. People are drawn to people they like and trust, the people they enjoy spending time with. Don’t limit the experience to convenient texts and emails. Invest time in shaping authentic relationships.
Master Your Craft
Building your brand and fostering relationships are great ways to skyrocket perceived value. It will get your audience and your clients excited about working with you. But now what?
There is only one way to convert this perceived value to real value, and that is to follow through by delivering an amazing product.
Quality catapults their expectations into tangible results. It converts relationship into referrals, positive reviews and exponential growth.
That means it is time to go to work!
Amazing resources like ShutterFest are at your fingertips. With your access to an online community, amazing gear and a plethora of educational resources, you have no excuse not to put in the practice. Lighting, posing, composition and storytelling are indispensable aspects of great photography. What are you doing daily to elevate your photography?
Remember, we are not honing our craft just to create an epic image. We serve our clients by making them look amazing, by telling their stories with impact.
We are ensuring we deliver products that exceed every expectation.
This is how our company Serendipity Albums was born. With over 30 years of wedding photography experience between us, my partners and I knew our product needed to blow away our clients. Although we first created albums only for our own clients, it grew into a brand that allowed other photographers to raise the perceived value and reputations of their own studios. We are very proud of this.
Your Takeaway: Don’t be lazy! Laziness leads to failure. Put in the time practicing your craft, investing in education and delivering high-quality products. You did not wake up today to be mediocre. Work.
I remember a time in my studio when I put in 16 hours a day, almost seven days a week, shooting 50 to 60 weddings a year to meet our goals. That may seem like success, but it was quite the opposite. When you go home and your baby looks at you like a stranger and is afraid to come into your arms, you understand something has to change.
Family is very important to me. Family is the reason I do what I do. I quickly realized the need to switch my focus to adding value during every part of the client experience. I realized it was for my own sanity, that I needed to speak to my target audience in a way that made them feel confident about their investment. I realized I needed to understand the value of the heirloom instead of just offering digital pixels. This shift in focus allowed me to drop my workload by 60 percent and still make 25 percent more. It allowed us to grow from $2,500 weddings to $25,000 weddings.
A clear brand message, authentic relationships and an exceptional product are the anchor in your clients’ perception of the value of your craft. Value perception not only serves them—it also serves you, your family and the industry.