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Old 06-24-2011   #21
A professional viewpoint.
 
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Default Re: The REAL business of Photography.

Gentlemen! Thank you for your kind comments- I really appreciate them.

I want to re-state or clarify my reason for writting these kinds of articles and my technical material as well.I don't want to be morbid but I am no longer a young photographer. This means that my teachers, mentors and people that were instrumental in starting me on the way to my career are all very old, retired or have passed away. Of course, when our teachers, friends and relatives pass away we are saddened but what saddens me all the more is that when they die, so does their wealth of knowledge, wisdom and their presence in out world dies along with them- some of this remains untapped forever leaving large gaps in the learning process.

Many of my mentors and teachers were world class photographers and extremely popular teachers and seminar givers. I am not in their popularity category but I have learned from the best, I have years of experience and I know how to do things- I am good at them! I have provided a living for myself, my family and my employees over the years and I know what works. I have also endured some bad times and failures so I learned from those bad experiences as well- you won't find these kinds of things in books or DVDs. All I want to do is leave something beneficial behind. I try to touch on subjects that are no readily available in books on photography, especially on the business and marketing side.

In my vast collection of "how to" photography books there are impressive photographs of arrays of equipment that professional photographers use and a good serving of technical information but most of the time the nitty-gritty is glossed over or not even mentioned and with many of us "old guys" kicking the bucket some of this "in" stuff is going away as well.

The words "OLD SCHOOL" are not bad words. I am sincerely concerned that the old school has been replaced with "NO SCHOOL" when it comes to the basics of photography and the basics of business and money management as well as sales and promotional strategies.

There are all kind of photographers out there who are very computer savvy and yet the don't have business software that makes bookkeeping almost fun and easy.

Just about every day on this forum, people ask "How do I start a business- what do I need... what do I buy...am I ready etc?" and yet there is little participation in many of the business articles and tips. You don't need an MBA to run a photography business but concepts and methodologies that must be learned and applied.

I fear that without a good injection of old school teaching and learning. photography as a viable PROFESSION may become a short lived concept.

Sincerely, Ed
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Old 06-24-2011   #22
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Default Re: The REAL business of Photography.

I completely understand what you mean. I have a degree in business and a minor in photography, But i still find myself lost in this industry when it comes to starting it off. I have all the equipment I need all the schooling but every industry is different. what works in some industries do not work in others and there are not enough people teaching the "What working in the photography industry" kinda stuff. That is why people like yourself who are willing to teach what they have learned with regards to this industry are invaluable to people like me who decided to try and make a living in this industry. Every photographer I know just flew by the seat of thier pants and because of that they did not make it. None can offer me the knowledge that i need to get to a place to where i am successful and am able to make a good living.

If i lived in your area i would be sitting in front of you telling you this and convincing you to teach me everything you know but i am not so i must suffice reading what you write. Lord knows i have found no one hear that will.

I look forward to learning more

Thank you
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Old 06-24-2011   #23
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Default Re: The REAL business of Photography.

I second James's comment, I'd be on your doorstep beside him (+: Appreciate all our posts Ed and I sincerely hope they become stickies, just in case they don't, they will be copied and saved by at least one of your many fans, ME (+: Keep up the great sharing Ed, your mentors would be proud of your efforts.
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Old 06-26-2011   #24
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Default Re: The REAL business of Photography.

Any comments on this video:
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Old 06-26-2011   #25
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Default Re: The REAL business of Photography.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rense View Post
Any comments on this video:
well, nothing new there. It's always the same song: Cover your costs first.

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Old 06-27-2011   #26
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Default Re: The REAL business of Photography.

I just discovered this topic thread and it is all very interesting and I have saved the thread as a PDF and put it on my smartphone so I can digest it again and again.

Thanks for these Ed and if you write more, I will definitely be reading.
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Old 06-28-2011   #27
A professional viewpoint.
 
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Default Re: The REAL business of Photography.

Rense! The video is OK to some extent- it has some useful information for sure. Problem is, when one writes a book or issues a DVD, they want to sell theses things and may not include some of the more negative or difficult aspects of doing business.

When ever I write articles about business management, I allways discourage photographers from biasing their price structure and anyone else's prices and rates because they have to be based on their precise overhead costs, salary requirements business and financial elements and volume of business projections that pertain specifically to one's own lifestyle, quality of photography and service, marketplace and realistic capabilities.

Sure, in a perfect world, all the newcomers to the business should charge as much as the old established pros in the area. This woud eliminate price cutting. There are problems with that theory: Will client's pay as much to the new guy who has less experience? - probably not. Old buying habits die hard! Some new aspiring photographers will oftentimes do anything to gain experience and create a current portfolio and ain't nobody out there is gonna stop them.

Also remember that "price fixing" within a trade is illegal and we do live in a free enterprise soceity so there is nothing anyone can do except for waiting for the price cutters to kill their businesses and hopefully not take down all of their competitors down the drain with them.

The fact remain that everyone in PROFESSIONAL photography has to stick to their guns, show outstanding work, maintain fair but profitable prices and constantly improve.

The problems will lessen when some professional photographers stop selling their work as if it were PHOTOFINISHING SERVICES as opposed to marketing their skills, artistry , know how and experience. That is what is missing from the video.

Ed
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Old 07-06-2011   #28
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Default Re: The REAL business of Photography.

Hello Ed,

Thanks for takingh the time and sharing your wealth of photography knowledge! I cut and pasted your advice into a word doc and it's almost 30 pages! I will e-mail it to myself so I will have it on file on my iPad for referance. I like to read while laying on my back on the couch and not sitting at a computer, so I haven't read the complete article yet, but I am always looking for advice from the guys who've been doing this for many years to learn from their wisdom. Thanks for the advice on the eye glass reflection problem I was having as well. I have been away from an Internet connection for almost a week and am really behind in my reading!

Best Regards,

CFB
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Old 07-07-2011   #29
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Default Re: The REAL business of Photography.

Notice: Long winded Post Follows Take Appropriate Measures Now

I hope this is the correct place to make this post. If it isn't please feel free to move it.

I am one of those who has realized a mistake and now have to choose how to rectify it. I'm seeking a resolve and I feel sure this is a path that has been walked by others ahead of me and will be approached by others behind me. Since the solution will benefit me and others I'm tossing it out here.

I've paid my dues in my genre. I've polished my craft and I have invested countless hours and untold expense in equipment. The small jobs, I've done. My price structure and my approach have both made me popular. Popular as I am, I am not realizing a financial success. Should the trend continue, I will be a very popular failure. Fortunately, I am not so established that I have garnered a reputation for price and product. Now is the time for correction. I'll explain.

My business model is loosely based on a similar and parallel business. In 2004 when digital was still quite the novelty and on-site fulfillment was unheard of, a relative began photographing horse shows, having previously photographed motocross and cross country bike events. With no particular experience this man taught himself how to photograph the horses and took on very small time local horse shows where exhibitors had never seen anything like this. His work was not stellar but it was novel. He was one of only 3 photographers on the East Coast working in digital. The other two were only working in high level, big number shows. By 2006 his brand of photography earned him over a quarter million dollars in sales.

In this heyday, he employed an aspiring young man who intended all along to learn the trade and go into the same business. He had a different vision. His goal was to move up the food chain and go after the prestigious shows. He could see that the advances in digital photography would eventually make it commonplace and the novelty effect would soon wain. This vital bit of information I did not know of in 2008 when I went to work for my relative. In the year and a half that I worked and learned, it became obvious that the "big money" no longer existed in the business. Since my employer relative was a pioneer of the genre, his was the only business model I knew of and his was the only method I knew. Business was slipping and the failures were attributed to the coincidental downturn in the economy in general. I still decided to come half way across the country to home and to go into business. I found favor with a person or two and have now come to a point where I have the portfolio and proof that I can deliver the goods. I just wrapped up the second year at a very large show and have begun being recognized as a serious player who will be around. Business was good but not highly profitable.

At near the conclusion of the third of three weeks at this event I had a happenstance contact from that young man, previously mentioned. The conversation was enlightening, gut wrenching, and stimulating all at the same time. In the conversation I learned of his original vision for his own business and how is breaking away from my relative's business had made him successful. He is now a sought after photographer in high demand and is financially comfortable. Little did I know, he had evaluated my work already. Little did he know I was not only also a former employee of the same man, but a nephew. So here's how that played out.

It is well known that my uncle's business is struggling to stay alive. It is also a known that this other guy is enjoying a successful business and making a handsome living. Now I'm on the phone with this guy and he's explaining why if I continue as I'm going, I'll be broke just like my uncle and three of his other former employees who are running a carbon copy of his business. And, according to my new found mentor, he'll still be out there doing what he does. His advice? If you can't lead the way, at least follow a leader who's going down a winning path. For me, he says there is hope, but it will require faith and a leap. And now I'm terrified.

The mentor's evaluation is my photography is on par with his own. By contrast, my uncle's photography is sub-standard for anything but the very bottom of the food chain. It was great in 2004 when no one else could do it, it's marginal nowadays when anyone can crank out pictures. This is a good thing. Now for the business model and philosophy. I now learn that my uncle has put himself in the high-volume / low-quality business. His stock-in-trade is CD collections with copyright licenses. The ends to the mean of selling these is to cram the exhibitors folder with as many images as possible, regardless of photographic quality. The charge for one of these is $185. In years gone by (and more successful years at that) the cost was merely half of that. He's peddling huge collections of mediocre pictures, which was okay when they were priced low but not today at this inflated cost. He is also not strong in digital editing and doesn't want to spend any time in processing. Electing to be in the shoot-n-burn business, he charges as much for a SOOC 8X10 as others charge for a well edited, corrected and enhanced enlargement. Everything he sells, points his customer to buy the CD and do their own printing. He's been doing this since 2004 with no change in anything but his prices, no new show managers, no new venues, no improvement in his "good enough is good enough" photography. What has been accomplished is a saturation of his market. Horses and riders most times have very long show lives. So he's sold CDs crammed with pictures of the same horses jumping the same jumps at the same venues, over and over. Saturation is a bad thing. He's now dependent on the new exhibitors who don't have desk drawers stuffed with CDs already and the picture crazy exhibitors who would by an out of focus, under-exposed picture so long as it was their horse. Those are pretty limited numbers, which are parallel with his sales numbers.

In summary, my new found mentor suggests these things to me:
Raise all my prices, my work is more valuable than the cost.

Get rid of the CD offering, the price is too low to be generating a profit and the images are too good to be slammed into a bargain package.

Slow down on the picture taking. Find the very best shots with clear uncluttered backgrounds and concentrate on those.

Treat the images as if they are solid gold and give the sales area a look that says quality offered here, not garage sale junk for sale.

I'm in an emotional pickle. I may have an opportunity to go after some higher class shows next season. There are apparently a lot of show photographers who have priced themselves out of business by going the wrong direction with the price. If an item costs you $2 to make and you charge $1 for it you can sell yourself into poverty. To this point I have made a modest profit but not enough so that I can afford help. I found this out by asking what photographers would charge, most more than I make. If I'm going to step up to the plate for larger shows, they will require additional help both in shooting and in presentations.

How do I muster the courage to up my prices by nearly 300% in some cases and discontinue the CD marketing at least on the bargain level? I'm fearful of raising prices at the loss of volume and I'm fearful that a success in sales at the current price levels will ultimately be my undoing.

Feel free to offer any suggestions and any experiences along these same lines. Don't worry about my feelings. I'd rather be bruised and beaten here, than dead in the water later.

Steve
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Old 07-07-2011   #30
A professional viewpoint.
 
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Default Re: The REAL business of Photography.

Hi Steve: You and I are really old hands at what we do but sometimes we don’t see the forest for the trees. We are basically photographers, not accountants and our main job is to bring in the work, shoot it, process and deliver it. Once we have an established routine and we are continuing to eat and have a place to hang our hats we just carry on doing what we do until we feel the crunch of the ever rising cost of living and begin to realize that we are killing ourselves and still, financially speaking, behind the 8th ball. Although I don’t know your type of business per se, I can relate well you predicament because I think it is a universal problem in the photography business in general and I have experienced my having to rebuild or reinvent myself on a number of occasions. I think you and I are both observant businesspeople and we don’t stand around like ostriches with our heads in holes in the ground but time flies, and nowadays things change more rapidly than in the past.

Earlier in this thread and on other threads I have written about starting a business/financial plan and create a mechanism whereby we can create a new business or monitor an existing business almost on a daily basis and enable us to what trends in profit and loss and make corrections before small issues turn into unmitigated disasters. I think that correcting bad trends in marketing, management and processes are better done in a more incremental manner than by way of abrupt changes which immediately calls attention to them-selves and possibly scare off too many clients who will suddenly suffer from a kind of “sticker shock”.

I think the first thing to do is create a financial plan from scratch as I have outlined earlier in this thread. I know it’s old hat to many experience guys but it is not a bad idea to start over with a clean slate and address your pricing structure from a more scientific manner by having all the data in hand and in mind. The method I am referring to is listing all you business expenses and personal expenses and finding out the costs of living and maintaining you business thereby creating a uniform overhead factor to spread over the pricing of all your assignments. You also have to appreciate and know how to deal with your costs of sales such as producing and/or buying the services and merchandise you are buying on behalf of your customers.

The advantages of this starting procedure are beneficial in so many ways. You will be able to set realistic goals as to volume and profit yield. You will be able to come up with pricing for any sort of package or contract price while knowing your REAL latitude as to discounts and preferential rates. You will be able to separate and isolate your overhead fixed expenses from you variable costs of sales so you prices will NOT be driven by materials and supplies costs. Add a salary to you overhead expenses- if you can’t pay yourself it is false economy and extremely frustrating and demoralizing. In a new or revitalized business, things can be rather fragile at times so you can’t live high off the hog but you can’t live with fear of not making ends meet at home and still function as an astute and successful businessman. Stress is a killer!

I can’t advise you on your particular business and clients but I can assist you in diagnosing and troubleshooting to locate and understand business problems. If you feel something is wrong and you want to fix things, you are half way there. I never advise anyone to adjust business or pricing issues based on what others have done- you have to consider YOUR lifestyle and business style first for changes to be successful.

You need to make a number of changes to you business but you need to know where to start. I assume some of your work involves speculation and after a while you get to know which clients are going to buy and who will never become real customers. You have to determine the average sale you need to make a profit and you have to factor in the people who don’t buy as part of your overhead. In other words, the people who do buy have to pay for the basic time and material costs of the non-buyers. There is nothing unethical about that because they are really paying for your being there and having you services at their disposal if they should require some photography. Having a competent professional “on duty” at their event is a big bonus and somebody has to pay for that kind of service.

By knowing your average sale amounts, your overhead expenses on each order you can then make an important basic decision. The question you must ask yourself is do I want to run a business based on the volume that you do at each show, that is, low margin/high volume or do you prefer to work in a higher price rang and shoot for high quality and higher rates and profits but with less volume. If you decide to remain in a lower price the only way to increase profits is to lower expenses, cut costs of sales and perhaps raise your prices by just a small percentage. If you are going to increase you profits by charging quite a bit more you will have to then create a new product line or special presentations that make your products more desirable to a higher end of the market. Sometimes larger prints or more elegant packaging (such as inexpensive frames and leather folios) costs not too much more to purchase on your part but can be sold for lots more than an unadorned set of prints. Add on sales are very important- you may need to find some smaller items such as plaques, a sports card type of item, a badge or a button or some kind of presentations that display your images with the client’s accolades or “blue ribbons”. If something like theses items or small things that are related to equestrian events to each order, this can make a substantial difference in your bottom line.

Things do change so it may be a bad idea to base any decisions on what happened, in the past, to friends or relatives in the business. You have to extract theses ideas from you own experience in you business- nobody knows your business better that you do. Even an experienced accountant or business adviser can only help you crunch the numbers but they do not know the real inside dope in you specialty, especially in an area of photography that is as specialized as yours.

Adding services such as portraiture of horses and people with their horses may be a good “side line”. If people are happy with your work, they should know about other services that you can offer- you do have experience in portraiture and this could be something to boost your volume and profits. Pet photography is also big nowadays.

I think the biggest problem is that all of us a paying for the horrible business habits of inapt photographers who have created demoralizing buying habits in consumers of photography. I have mentioned that the shoot & burn guys have affected the entire industry in a very bad way and nowadays CDs and printable files given to clients has become the bane of the professional photographer. Theses habits are now old habits and old and bad habits die hard.

Perhaps exhibiting some really exciting large images of some of you current work at the various shows you now attend will attract some attentions to the quality you have to offer. Perhaps offering some very expensive packages to you line and selling down might be a useful strategy. It is easier to sell down than to sell up. A potential client might land in the middle of your price list rather than the lower end if the top of the line is higher.

If you have better and more desirable and therefore more expensive products the next thing is to find out where the upper echelons of the sport exist and appeal to a better crowed. I don’t know if there are “trade shows” or conventions in your specialized area but such shows are great places to advertise and display your work and make more connections. Networking with stores and suppliers is a method that woks well for me as well.

Don’t panic! You are an ex-policeman- look at all of this investigative work as detective work. Finding out where the “bad guys” or gremlins are in you present business style and arresting them. Then finding the best avenues for new and better work is the next step. Always preceded with caution and add you new concepts in a timely manner.

I really hope this helps. It is based on things I have done in my business over the years- moves that made for improvement.

Ed














































































































































































































































































































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