The REAL business of Photography.
Please note before reading on: PREFACE- This article is not meant, in spite of its title including the word "REAL" to be in conflict or disagreement with the STUCK article on this forum entitled "becoming a Working Photographer". That article has great information and should be read by everyone who is planning a career in professional photography. The (stuck) article is, for the most part is set in New Your City, my old home town and where I started my career in photography. In terms of opportunities in professional photography, there is no place on earth that compares to it. Perhaps Chicago, LA, Montreal, Toronto and Paris are close runners up but NYC has got to be THE PLACE! Some of this is based on pure population and the fact that so many related industries are there in great numbers. The client base is astronomical and there are many established studios and individual pro photographers to work for and gain on-the-job-experience. As a freelancer, back in the day, I could work for 6 different studios without any conflict. There is a giant and greatly varied photographic culture there and many, what I like to call, sub cultures. There are places where just about any decent photographer can find work or as the other article says to "become working photographer”. There is an army of assistants who are waiting for opportunities to become "shooters" while they are gaining on- the-job experience as assistants. You can take the traditional route; go to school, walk in the FRONT DOOR of a studio and seek out employment and there IS employment to be had in many fields and entry levels in photography. You can also educate yourself in many ways and hang around the "industry" long enough to find something to do or become a freelancer and work for the trade as an assistant or part timer while working your way up the ladder. Many great photographers got their start and walked onto the industry via the BACK DOOR. None of this is easy but the opportunities are there. When I was working in New York, I found many great photographers who were willing to mentor me and invite me into the fold of professionalism although I don't really know EXACTLY what the scene is like nowadays but I still have contacts there and it seems not to have changed all that much in the industry as a whole. Even in the wild and woolly field of photojournalism, the opportunities are there. Up here in Canada. I have seen some growth in the paparazzi in the big towns- ain't seen any in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan or Cold Lake, Alberta ! In some of theses places the local carpenter MAY also be the undertaker and the ER is located in the barber shop! Well- it seems that way- get the idea?
In a small town or city, with say two or three pro photographers doing blood-sport to get the jobs in is very rough business environment to work in and one may be forced to work for themselves or deal with an unofficial "closed shop" attitude among the combatants who are out there killing themselves, each other and any newcomer to the game.
Consider this an addition to the existing information here- not a contradiction. In any an all cases some understanding of basic business principles and having or gaining some business savvy is a must.
So- here goes!
The REAL Business of Photography- an article by Ed Shapiro - PART 1
I have wanted to write this article for quite a while- a long comprehensive piece about the business aspects of professional photography. I always wanted to pull out all the stops and talk about my experiences and observations over a long period of time in the business but have somehow procrastinated with some excuse or reason. Right here on the Camel there have been countless questions about starting a photographic business, buying one, repairing a failing studio, coping with downturns in the economy, pricing, advertising, promotion, business policies, the legal aspects of the business and lots more. I have chimed in on many of them and perhaps may have provided some useful advice. On a recent thread which I started entitled “What Do You Want From Me”? I asked my fellow Camels what they would like me to write about, in terms of articles and many responses suggested that I do up a few comprehensive pieces on BUSINESS.
OK- so I did a few courses on business management and promotion, I have been around the business for a sea turtle’s age and I am a good observer but that does not qualify me as a business guru. I was fortunate enough to be mentored, at the beginning of my career, by an exceptionally good photographer/businessmen but fortunately AND unfortunately I have experienced good times and bad times and had my share of successes and failures. Even in failure, I managed to hold on to my chosen profession and never quit. I have a basic philosophy that enables me to recover from bad times, that is; I would have considered myself a fool when in failure UNLESS I considered every failure as a learning experience and not repeatedly make the same mistakes. I would be further remiss in hiding my mistakes and not using them to teach others about the warning signs and ramifications of making those mistakes. This is just as important as offering suggestions on what DOES work well. To do a good job on this article, I have to examine and point out both the positive and negative aspects of doing business in PHOTOGRAPHY! Admittedly, therefore, this is NOT a scholarly work or paper on photographic business management but rather a view from the street with just a touch of academia in the mix. Allot of what I write is certainly not unique to me but are the influences of the many wonderful teachers, mentors and a few great employers I have been fortunate enough and blessed to have crossed paths and worked for/with over the years. We are all products, in part, of our parents, elders and teachers and those who have taken time to help us- our uniqueness is sparked by our own interpretations of that which we have learned, been inspired by and mastered over time.
Now, I have no statistics to support my following theory and it is based only on my observations over a long span of time. There is some kind of a long lived “axiom” around the industry that there are great (in terms or artistry) photographers and there are great business persons but never the twain shall meet in one individual. I don’t necessarily believe that because I know some great photographers with amazing degrees of business acumen. I do, however, believe that many artistically gifted photographers somehow choose to exempt themselves from the rigors, responsibilities and tenets of the business world and some even go to the extreme of believing that promotion of and profit from one's talent is some kind of pandering or prostitution. If you don’t believe that, just spend a few weeks in an art college program that offers courses in FINE ART and COMMERCIAL ART. You will find new meanings in the words “egoism” and “snobbery”!
Let’s do a little comparative philosophy. I love this first one BUT…let’s see:
“There is no better reason for being a professional photographer than doing it because you love it, because it makes you feel good and if you like what you are doing, there is a good chance that you will become good at it and produce excellent work. When this happens, the MONEY will not be far away and you will never be a failure”
Isn't that NICE! Imagine doing what you love to do and earning a good living from it- way to go dudes! If, however, you are trying to start a new business, fix an old one or seeking investment and you present the aforementioned “mantra” to your accountant, professional business adviser or banker, they would possibly faint, vomit or laugh you out of their offices or do all three at the same time. This may sound funny or silly but even the politest of professional business advisers will hopefully explain that having an ethical, philosophical and even a romantic approach is good indeed and will serve you well in your mental wellbeing and on your publicity pieces but business has it’s very own philosophy and if ignored, can lead to a stillborn business or one that is on the fast track to the bankruptcy court.
The tried and true business philosophy has such axiomatic components such as:
· Buy cheap and sell high.
· A precise BUSINESS PLAN is a MUST HAVE and without one you are dead man walking even before you start.
· You must have definite goals and projections.
· Yes! You must have a viable product of good quality to survive in a highly competitive and consumer savvy business environment.
· You must have a MARKETING plan as to where, how and when you are going to target your promotional efforts.
· If you are already in business you need to have up-to-date financial documentation accounting for every sale and every expenditure. You need to run profit and loss statements to have an ongoing barometer of how and where your business is going. You can’t wait until things actually go bad- you need to be able to recognize upward or downward trends and make adjustments as needed. A business is a very dynamic thing and it can move very fast in any direction if not properly controlled it can go right down the toilet or skyrocket to a point where you loose control over production and planning which are equally bad happenings.
· There is even a surprising philosophy about marketing to the so called “carriage trade”: “If you serve the rich you will live among the poor and when you serve the poor you will live among the rich” Go figure that one out!
So it seems that there is quite a bit of hard work and talent required just to balance out two almost diametrically opposite philosophies and we have not even scratched the surface of the business world as it applies to the business photography. We have not as yet introduced the concepts of investment in equipment purchases, financial management and what some photographers consider the “Black Hole of Calcutta” of business- the issues of taxation (please excuse that dirty word) but mismanagement in this area has done in many a business in photography and many other fields- The tax man cometh- so be prepared and keep good records, put money aside for remittances and know how to take advantage of every deduction that you are entitled to.
Sooo…we have philosophized, defined, opined and analyzed and as usual, I have blabbed my head off but NOW- what the heck do we do! It’s action time!
The first thing we have to do is turn words into action. I am sure that just about everyone here, even the worst business person on this site, has heard the words “business plan” and all the other related WORDS. To some of y’all theses words sound like a boring broken record and yet they are golden words once you turn them in to actions and sources of motivation. Y’all have to psych yourselves up and dig down deep and be prepared to do some good detective work and you will have fun and discover things about your expectations, fears and dreams that will change your life. It is easy for me to say that working without a plan is foolhardy, bad business and downright dumb but that is a pessimistic and perhaps mean spirited approach. Some of you may be able to pull it off and work by the seats of your pants but to me, it is more fun and more effective to jump through the hoops and doing your homework because the entire process is surprising, educational, logical and encouraging every step of the way.
“Creative Accounting” is not a phrase the government likes to hear but being creative in problem solving and detecting and preempting possible trouble before it stars is wise. If you are truly a creative and artful photographer you want to set up systems that will allow you concentrate on your art rather than having to engage in constant troubleshooting when business problems arise and interrupt your creative and artistic trajectory.
Old Bill Shakespeare wrote that “the love of money is the root of all evil”. Well I guess the Bard did not live in a 2011 business environment but nowadays artists need money to do their art and also eat, have shelter and support their families so I support the idea of sound financial business planning. You will find that in doing you business plan you will answer dozens of questions that I see every day, right here on the forum such as those relating to formation of a price list, how much to charge for this or that, and how to promote any number of photographs and services. It is all based on money and budgeting and using your monetary resources as effectively as you can. Your results of you research will reveal when it is time to start your business or get to do some major revisions to your existing business practices. Your plan will be the root of your business planning and operation and far from evil.
So fellow Camels, here is how to start a business plan. When you start you own business you do not go to a foreign planet, change you religion or undergo major surgery- you simply become self employed. Perhaps you will quit your day-job and have taken on some new responsibilities. If you were going to work for an employer, one of the first considerations will be your salary because you need a certain amount of income to maintain a normal lifestyle- even a modest lifestyle. You need that paycheck to pay your bills- simple as that. Now, as a business owner YOU are the person who has to provide that paycheck. This is where some of y’all are going to say “hey- this is not rocket science”! No! It is not rocket science- it is harder than rocket science. Why? Because if one has the intelligence and the talent to become a “rocket scientist” there are university programs that teach aerospace engineering, jet propulsion, advanced physics and all the other aspects of the job. In the business of photography there is no prescribed academic route to take that would include the art, science and the business aspects of the profession. Lots of important aspects have to be learned on the street as it were and by trial and error and in the business world errors can spell disaster so let’s carry on.
The first step in the preparation of your business plan is to determine you domestic needs and normal expenses of your family or personal life. You need to list EVERYTHING!!! Every fixed and normally occurring expense must be included. Mortgage or rent payments, food, educational expenses, medical and pharmaceutical costs, automotive expenses, utilities, maintenance supplies and services, insurance premiums, contributions to financial plans, savings expectations, medical expenses not only for the family but the dog or family cat, light bulbs, charitable endeavors, vacations and even hobbies and luxury items and don’t forget those pesky credit card or other loan payments.
Next- you do the same thing with the costs of doing business and here we are looking for fixed expenses that do not change regardless of you business volume. This list does not include expenses for inventory, outsourced services that you resell to customers in order to fill their orders. Theses are items such as albums, lab services, picture frames, canvas mounting, blank CDs, photo paper and accessories that you sell to clients. Theses are categorized as COSTS OF SALES.
Equipment purchases are not listed here as well unless it is leased equipment in which case the payments ARE listed as fixed expenses. Otherwise the outright purchase of equipment are added to you fixed assets account and are expensed at tax time as a percentage of depreciation. All such assets are considered as capital investments. Equipment, unless leased, are considered fixed assets and purchased supplies that are sold to the clients are COS. You also have to provide a salary for yourself as the owner and chief photographer of the business.
Getting back to the expense list- again everything must be listed such as rent, insurance, utilities, maintenance services and supplies, automotive and travel expenses, postage, paper clips, thumbtacks, office supplies, printer ink, travel expenses for conventions and photographic education, technical books and AV programs, repairs of photographic equipment, accounting programs, services and supplies, packaging, you advertising budget, security alarm and services, credit card merchant services, association fees and dues, business cards, printing services such as promotional material and everything you can think of that you need to run your business.
When you add all of this up you will have a good idea of the minimum revenues that are needed to run your household and you business. There is, however, much more information that can be derived from theses figures. You will have a much better idea of you basic overhead expenses which must be reflected in your prices and your projections as to how much work you will need to bring in to accommodate the basic costs of doing business and running you household. If you price list already exists you can detect shortfalls before they get out of hand. You can now determine how many sittings, jobs and assignments you need to book in to make your day, month or year. Knowing how many jobs you expect or project, you then can allocate a portion of you overhead to each job. You can see which jobs are usually profitable and which ones you on which need to raise your rates or which ones simply don’t pay to do.
Some new or inexperienced photographers think that if they buy all the supplies and services to satisfy a contract for say $500.00 and charge the client $1000.00 that are making $500.00 for their time- they are not counting all the expenses that the must apply to each job to cover their overhead costs of sales. Some have formulas that tell you to determine you prices by charging 5 times you print costs or other arbitrary methods and that dose NOT work because it is not customized to your situation. Using other photographer’s price lists or arbitrarily cutting prices to beat out you competition is even WORSE! No two businesses have the same exact costs and usually no two photographers have the same lifestyle requirements. The photographer up the street may want to live in an upscale neighborhood, drive an expensive car, send his kids to private school and belong to an exclusive golf club. The guy down the street may be content to live with his cat in a closet behind his studio, eat cat food, drive a road hazard and has nobody to support. You can’t use either business model or price lists of theses businesses for obvious reason. You can’t just adopt the prices of an established photographer who is really good at what he does unless you can do similar work or better, let alone the fact that he already has built up years of customer loyalty and put in his or her time in community issues and activities.
Constructing a good business plan forces you to look at many issues besides just crunching numbers. As you are establishing yourself, you may have to budget more for advertising and promotion in order to get you name out there. As you gain popularity and more of a following you still need to advertise but you can cut back on some of it and go in for more institutional advertising. You can start making decisions as to whether or not you business is expanding to the point where you may require more staff. You can determine if you want to get in to a high volume less expensive operation or go for a more exclusive higher priced establishment with more customized work and less volume. Knowing your numbers and goals will help you with all the planning that is necessary to run a solid business.
I know there are all kinds of spread sheet programs that can provide you with “the numbers” just by having you punch in a few numbers but for starters, I always recommend that you sit dawn with a pencil and paper and a calculator and go through the paces in the old fashioned way. I have helped a few photographers in the last little while and discovered that the computer program the had did not reveal certain nuances that should have surfaced earlier in the game. Once you establish you business plan, you can always find an accounting program that suits you needs. In the beginning of your business planning or if you are troubleshooting to find any gremlins that are causing problems, at first do it the old fashioned way.
The methodology I have suggested here is very basic but is a good starting point; however, you will have to modify a good part of this to address your own business model. If you work out of your residence, there are formulas set out by the IRS and the Canada Revenue Agency as to what percentages of your household expenses you can allocate to you business depending how much space or rooms you business consumes- you need to understand all of this when tax time comes around in order to maximize you deductions. Also, it is important to look into municipal zoning regulations pertaining to operating a home based business. You don’t want to renovate your basement or add an addition to your home or even rent a larger space only to find out that you have violated zoning regulations and have to scrap the project. You must factor in any renovation expenses into the pre-operational expenses of building your setup.
One of the main causes of sudden business death is UNDER CAPITALIZATION!
That means not having enough money in reserve to carry on business until a decent cash flow begins. If you have saved up enough money to create your setup and keep your personal and business expenses under control this may not become a problem but if you jump in the water to see if you can swim without some money in reserve, you can be swept away by the current in no time at all.
If you don’t have quite enough money and you are growing impatient, HAVING ALL YOUR NUMBERS AT HAND CAN HELP YOU AS WELL. You might be able to make it if you are willing to sacrifices certain luxeries, some entertaimnet and doing some belt tightening in general thereby lowering you household and lifestyle requirements. You might be able to squeezes by if you are willing to compromise on some of your equipment purchases and make do with what you have as long as you gear is reliable. You may want to buy some used gear, improvise, purchase other than top-of-line gear and upgrade later. Again you can not do this effectively WITHOUT YOUR NUMBERS!
If you credit is in good standing, you may want to secure bank financing for part of your project and if this is the case, a banker will not even entertain the idea of lending you money at reasonable rates if you do not HAVE YOU NUMBERS and a comprehensive business plan in place. When I started my first studio, I was already in business working out of my home and my car before I decided to open up on the street or in a shopping center. The day I opened my business account, I was supplying my bank manager with paper work indicating my business growth over the 2 year period I was working without a studio. By the time I needed some loans and a line of credit there was very little red tape and it easy to prove my point that a more accessible location on the street would increase my business. The entire process was over in 3 days.
After all of this is said, if anyone feels they are still inapt in theses easy business procedures, they need to get someone else to do theses basic things for them. You need to be able, at least, to gather all the data because even if you hire an accountant or a professional business adviser, you need to know that theses professionals charge some formidable hourly rates and the advice they give you is well worth the money but you don’t want to have to pay their rates for doing your scud work. An accounting firm can set you up with a nice data entry system whereby you just punch things in and at the end of the month they can furnish you with a P&L, a sales tax remittance figure and have the data on hand to advise you and do up you taxes.
This basic system can work well with any aspect of the business and of course, needs to be customized for different situations.
Next edition- MARKETING AND SALES PROMOTION.
Ed Shapiro - Master Photographer
Last edited by Ed Shapiro; 05-17-2011 at 04:59 AM.. Reason: Revised
Editing OK?: Ask first
Re: The REAL business of Photography.
Thank you Ed, I have always found the truth about some things hard to swallow, but to ignore the sage advice you have scripted, will most certainly cause choking and Business death (+:
Well done, as usual!!!! Time to take off my rose-colored glasses (+:
The harder I work at something, the luckier I get
Editing OK?: Yes
Re: The REAL business of Photography.
Thank you for this Ed! Lots to think about and take into account for anyone who is thinking about trying to make money with their photography.
You put a lot of time, thought and energy into this. Thank you for caring enough to share.
Happiness is a state of mind. It doesn't need to be pursued.
Re: The REAL business of Photography #2 MARKETING
Y’all can comment or ask questions on the “Real Business” thread. Also here comes the next installment about MARKETING.
Before I get into the actual marketing concepts, I would like to discuss a few preliminary facts and ideas.
You can come up with brilliant marketing concepts, bring in top advertising agencies and have an enormous publicity budget but without a solid, viable, sellable and desirable product, all of this will be NOT be effective in the long term if your work is not of at least good and preferably of outstanding quality. Constantly throwing money into promotions is not the answer to sustaining a business over a long span of time and building a business based on a fine reputation and lots of word of mouth “advertising” and referral business. Sales promotion and advertising is part of all successful businesses but less expensive networking, institutional advertising and garnering customer loyalty will be the mainstay of your businesses’ popularity and growth- the good work and satisfied clients are some of your most valuable assets.
On the other side of the coin, let’s assume that you are doing absolutely fine work, giving good service and have only a few clients, if no body else knows about you and your work you are in trouble and this is where MARKETING comes in. Although the total concept of marketing has many components such as, advertising, market research, knowledge of various media, display techniques, website planning and design, window display know how, and much more. It simply means bring you product to market or bringing you product to the public’s attention.
There is something else I would like to bring up here. If you will remember what I wrote in the first installment- the fact that although we all strive for uniqueness in our work we are all, to some degree, the products of out upbringing, out teachers and mentors and things we have learned and practiced in our own past experiences. So let me drop a few names here and tell you what I learned from some of my teachers and mentors. They all taught me about photography but just as importantly, the showed me the ropes of the business world.
MY FIRST BOSS AND MENTOR: Part of my job (in the day) as an assistant at weddings was to distribute match books at each place setting at each table before the reception started. Theses items were imprinted with our name, location and a small advertising blurb. I always thought that was tacky but the boss insisted. We also had some signage on our equipment cases that featured out name and logo. OK- that was old school and besides nowadays folks do not smoke at the receptions and there is no need for matches. Nowadays I do much more subtle and tasteful approaches but what I learned form those little matchbooks is that if you don’t put you name out there and let people know who you are you business will not flourish. I wish a had a dollar for each time a client came to that old studio holding that little match book in hand because our address was printed on it. If the client agrees, we make a large portrait from the couple’s engagement sitting and display it near the place card table- the print is signed and a small gallery style card with my name is display close by. You can modify very simple and old fashioned promotional techniques and redesign them for toady’s clients and business environments.
MONTE ZUCKER: For those who did not know Monte, he was one of the most successful and internationally acclaimed wedding and portrait photographers EVER! The first time I attend one of his famous seminars, he started off by discussing the high end market as to how to service the “carriage trade” and target that particular market. I will never forget his words. “Not everyone is gonna be your client- not everyone can afford you”. “No one is going to give you their business and their hard earned money if they don’t like you”! Some attendees though theses ides smacked of snobbery but what I learned is that you must target and nurture your market, give discerning clients value for their money and that there is a lot of hard PR work in developing a solid clientele which can afford your best work. He did mention that fine work was at the foundation of all promotional activities.
AL GILBERT: Al is one of the foremost portrait photographers in the corporate world and has a great wedding and retail portrait following as well. He told me that oftentimes it is not HOW you shoot but WHO you shoot. He also said that when customers walk into his studio a see the exquisite appointments, a gallery of beautifully framed top quality portraits and the marble floors, they know that they better get the checkbook ready. Again, this sounds a bit egotistical but Al is a nice guy and does great work. It was many years ago that I took his advice. The very next day, I made it my business to make sure that my studio walls were adorned with my portraits if the mayor, the chief of police, local celebrities and national and international celebrities (who I photographed when they came to town) and many of the outstanding citizens of out city.
I did not put down marble floors but a major facelift took place, a new paint job was applied and lots of elegantly framed samples were displayed. It did help improve the bottom line. When you are proud of your surroundings you will “sell” better.
BILL STOCKWELL: Bill was around in the 1960s and 70s and in many ways, he single handedly and unilaterally, revolutionized the wedding photography business. He was a great idea man and took a very different approach to marketing himself to his potential clientele. Some of his views were very controversial in the day and from the traditionalists he took a lot of flack and bashing. Nonetheless he was successful and was in demand as a speaker at conventions and private seminars.
Bill felt the wedding and portrait business was becoming too inbred and new ideas were almost non-existent. With this philosophy in mind, he told me and my cohorts at his seminars to not draw our ideas form other photographers, especially in the areas of MARKETING but look to BIG BUSINESS and the CORPORATE WORLD and emulate what the big boys and girls were/are doing to progress and survive in the world of business. Y’all will be surprised- more on this later.
WILLIAM MACINTOSH: Bill MacIntosh has demanded and received some of the highest sitting fess and print prices in the U.S. He does lots of VIP portraiture and has wonderful techniques for his brand of wide angle portraiture. At a convention he admitted that multi-thousand dollar portrait sitting don’t come in every day and when he gets them is ready to do them. Bill also employs a staff of experienced school photographers and does a significant volume of high school and college seniors. The lesson here is to have more that one specialization or market within you business. When downturns and fluctuations in the economy occur, some of the high end work may temporarily diminish and it is good to have some “bread and butter” services to keep the business afloat. Some changes in the marketplace that do occur will create situations where the old concepts are lost and never again return so we need to be adaptable and willing to embrace new ideas and also stick to our old guns in areas that we feel are classical and important.
ROBBIN PERRY- Robin Perry, in his day was one of the most prominent commercial photographers in the U.S. He wrote and lectured about the business aspect of commercial photography. He affiliated himself with a major lithography house; I believe it was Dexter Press. Robin brought in lots of work for his studio by becoming one of their dealers. Having this connection with a major printing firm he was able to produce some really fine advertising pieces for himself. I am talking maybe 25 years ago but I have reinstated Robin’s idea and have affiliated myself with a printer/lab that can handle long and short run printing jobs and our businesses are integrating quite nicely. Networking, as a general practice is a good thing.
ED SHAPIRO- Well- I am no big star in the teaching field and my name is not a household word in the photographic community- I am a low key kina guy and have been happy looking after my customers and teaching when I can. I have learned much from the masters and have put together my own marketing methodologies both from what I have learned and what I have come up with in my own mind (at least I think so). Some of the following ideas have worked for me and I hope they will stimulate other ideas for the folks who are reading here.
I would first like to describe the path from a publicity action to a sale. In the olden days most professional photographers had a storefront studio with a display in order to ATTRACT ATTENTION. Nowadays you “storefront window” may be you website, display at public locations, you advertising or perhaps a mail out brochure. Perhaps it is a blurb in a social networking site may be your store window. Whatever it is, ATTRACTING ATTENTION is the first component on the road to sales. When I first started out in my own business, my ‘media” was my legs and my car. I started off with some good old road time and pavement pounding to secure some work. I networked with other vendors, did some door to door for family photography and made cold calls to companies. At the end of any given week, I brought in some work. The moral of this story is that you need to maximize the resources at your disposal and plan a regular and consistent marketing plan that fits your available time and the various conditions in you target marketing area using the media that you can afford even if it boils down to the cost of the gas in your car, the strength of your legs, and the assembly of a clean and impressive portfolio and some sales aids such as business cards and price lists.
The next step on the paths to sales is to CREATE A DESIRE for you product and services. In many cases such as wedding photography, the desire is allready in place but you still need to create a wanting, in your potential clients, for YOUR style and product where you will be depending on you outstanding work and your people skills to succeed and secure the bookings.
It may be hard for you to believe that there are many businesspeople that have no idea how photography can help them in their sales promotional efforts. Many folks don’t realize that most of those images on the packaging of the hundreds of thousands of products in the supermarket, the hardware store and even the advertisements in newspapers and magazines start off with photographs and that some of theses photographic services are available at a local level at reasonable prices. In cases like this you have to become a salesperson and an educator and CREATE A DESIRE for your products and services from scratch and show how your potential commercial can benefit from your services.
Hopefully, by this juncture in the road, you will have secured some sales appointments and you need to know how to conduct theses crucial encounters. One can write a book on sales techniques and salesmanship and not cover every possible situation and scenario so I will only mention a few of the most important concepts here and perhaps elaborate on them later on or in future posts:
· Learn to listen first and find out what you potential client wants and needs and base you responses on those needs, not your needs. If some of their requirements are not realistic you must know how to redirect their thinking without upsetting them or arguing. If you sincerely know that you can not produce the work in good conscience, it is best to let them go elsewhere. Overselling or promising things that you can not do will backfire like an H-bomb and lead to customer dissatisfaction
· Maintain a pleasant, sympathetic and friendly attitude- you don’t have to be some kind of a “hard-ass” to maintain you professionalism. Never tell your potential clients about you problems in doing their work- they have enough of their own problems in planning their own advertising programs or the photography for their family events. You are there to help them- not to add to their concerns.
· You must be able to educate your potential clients and know how to field their questions and objections. Objections do not mean they don’t want to go with your services- it can mean that they are looking for reassurance that they are going to get value for their money. When people question my prices, to me, that means that the want me to do the job but at a lesser price. All I need to do is reassure them that they are getting good value for their money or perhaps negotiate a “better deal” that will not hurt either of us and helps to secure a really lucrative contract.
· NEVER- NEVER- NEVER!!! under any circumstances say anything derogatory or negative about a competitor, other vendor or for that matter anyone or anything pertaining to the business at hand. People up here in Canada have just experienced a general election and are sooooo sick and tired of negative advertising. In the U.S. the presidential campaigns are starting to emerge and I am sure people will get sick and tired of all the mud slinging and negativities that will come. My own thoughts on the matter are that good and fair competition is healthy and democratic but all the attack strategies are false, unnecessary, misleading and transparent to anyone with as sense of fairness and truth. Tell your potential clients what you can do for them but NOT what the other guy or gal can NOT do for them. Some customers like to stir up issues between competitive photographers to gain a pricing advantage. Never fall into that trap.
· Sell BENEFITS, NOT FEATURES: Most of my clients and potential clients do not have too much interest in the technicalities of photography- the want to know how my doing their work will benefit them and what the are gonna get in exchange for their hard earned money. I have seen too many technical terms in advertising pieces, websites, and used at sales meetings. You may find the occasional photographic enthusiast who wants to talk a little shop and it helps secure the sale- I go for it. Most of the time, they are impressed. I have found, however, that this is the exception, rather than the rule. If you tell a client that you work with “multiple lighting techniques” this means nothing to them. If you say “we utilize lighting like in the movies to give you smashing colorful images that are exciting and flattering” you are then talking benefits. I seldom talk about equipment or techniques, rather I appeal to my wedding and portrait clients on an emotional level. With my commercial clients I stress that we present their products and services in the most detailed and illustrative manner, we can follow detailed layouts or come up with our own concepts if they wish and that we can meet deadlines on time. Most companies and businesspersons don’t want to mess around with people who may or may not be able to guarantee the aforementioned benefits- the want it done right and on time because there is seldom time and patience for re-shoots. I do however enjoy the “rebound clients” who first go elsewhere to get a cheap price and the come to us with an “emergency”! Come on folks- a guy has to have some fun at the old workplace.
· There is a concept in marketing called PRE-SELLING. Any good house painter will tell you that preparation of the walls are very important to a good paintjob and with out the right preparations, even the best paint will yield a sloppy job. I therefore believe that every contact we make with our potential client is in preparation for the time when the check is written, the cash register rings and the credit card machine spit out that approval slip. By that I mean every thing, the attractiveness of our “store windows” our print adds, our telephone manners, our websites, our meetings with clients, our friendly and professional performance on the job, our appearance, the way we dress, the housekeeping in our studios and the ultimate quality of our work. We are being judged consciously and sub consciously on all of theses things all the time and we must be aware of this fact. At the end of the day, the SELLING start long before we are sitting across the table form a potential client and long before these proofs are on the table. It is good if you can put yourself in the customer’s place, after all, we are consumers too and think of the good and bad experiences you have had with other businesses and where you want to recommend those businesses to your friends and relatives and where you want to go back and do return business.
· DO YOUR MARKETING RESEARCH HOMEWORK: You need to know what is going on in the areas you wish to service. If you are setting up “an on the street studio” in a specific neighborhood or shopping mall, solid socioeconomic information about that area is critical. There is nothing stopping you from serving an entire city but once you buy, rent, build and/or equip a location, you want to maximize its value in attracting business of the kind you need to supply the revenues that I have discussed in the first installment. Even if you work from you home and do al you work on location, you need to know where your target markets reside. You need to know population data, how many other photographers are in your area, the going rates for average jobs and what people are buying. You need to understand what you NEW offerings you can bring to the public in your area and how to quickly become a member of the business community. Some of this information will require good investigative efforts on your part and some information can be gathered through you national census bureau. Mort to come on this later.
In the next installment, I will write about formulating you own marketing strategies and promotional activities.
Thanks for reading! Ed Questions and comments are invited.
Ed Shapiro - Master Photographer
Re: The REAL business of Photography. "MARKETING" CONTINUED
MORE MARKETING... AND MORE TO COME! In my research for this article, I have visited the websites of over 100 photographers and even attended a bridal show (as a spectator or spy) and gathered couple of dozen brochures and advertising pieces. With exception of just a few, marketing and advertising wise, there are all of the problems that I discussed in the beginning of this series; sameness, negative approaches, pointing out features rather than benefits and lots of negative comments about the “other photographers don’t do…” This justifies Bill Stockwell’s theory about not emulating other photographer’s method’s of marketing but look to the big successful corporations and other successful small businesses for ideas and concepts and ideally, use you own creativeness to formulate more and personalized strategies.
If you are going to attract attention, you must show some individualism in your “store window” wherever it may be. If everyone shows the same general kind of work, uses the same “sales talk” on a website or in their print advertising and their meetings with clients, potential customers my begin the think that all photographers are the same and it is just a matter of securing the best price for the service. Hackneyed words and phrases should be avoided but straight talk is important and euphemisms are deadly as the lead to misunderstandings especially in financial dealings. Often this fancy talk causes big issues. One photographer calls his deposit/retainer requirements an investment when all it is, is a payment to secure services that will be deducted from the total amount of the sale. A sitting fee is the cost of producing the initial body of work from which the client will select their favorites- it is not refundable or deducted for the total order. Investments are long term advancements of money from which the investor hopes to benefit from after a time by getting a return on his or her investment in the form of profit or interest. Use simple and clear language in you marketing and all your business dealings.
Many photographers used to call photographs “pictures” but that was too amateurish or unsophisticated so the word “photographs” sounded better but nowadays every one calls their photographs “images”. “Images don’t sound tangible enough for me so I stay with “ Proofs were “proofs” then they became “previews” and then someone coined a new term for a proof consultation meeting; “The Debut”! Sometimes this stuff is cool and fancy but to me it is nothing more than the seeds for a trouble tree. The reasons for all this new language is to avoid the old and tired questions of; “do we keep the proofs”? “How much are they”? Nowadays it is; do we get the files and how much are they. Well- if we call them proofs they have no worth because they are inferior to prints or portraits. In order to sell them we have to call them “previews” or “originals” so that we can sell them at a decent price. To me, however, the entire concept is one big ugly can of worms that has become the bane of the photographic profession. In the olden days professionals NEVER released negatives or proof because the preferred to sell PRINTS and PORTRAITS. Most photographers did not want there work being circulated around in an unfinished form so they started printing better proofs and again a new vicious cycle begins. Customers don’t like proofs with the word “PROOF” stamped or watermarked on the image- nor do the like copyright notices to appear on their photographs. What does all of this have to do with marketing? EVERYTHING! I have long ago decided to market myself (in the portrait end of my business) as a “PHOTOGRAPHIC PORTRAITIST” BECAUSE I MAKE AND SELL PORTRAITS- NOT PROOFS (or what ever you want to call them) or department store-like packages. This does not mean that I put up a sign to the effect or that I restrict my dealings in a very rigid manner- that would be a negative approach- rather I feature the benefits of fine portraiture and create a desire for a better that the average product. I show very large portraits in my display area because I won’t sell what I don’t show and it is easier to sell down and nearly impossible to sell up. If the client thinks a “giant” 30X40 portrait is “too big” and/or “too expensive” the can buy a “small” 20X24 that costs less. If all you show is 8x10s and 5x7s those sizes are what you are going to sell most of the time. A friend of mine is a curator at our National Art Gallery of Canada. There are invaluable masterpieces hanging there and he calls them “pictures”. I think that is cool!
Again, what does all of this have to do with MARKETING? Nowadays, there are new words in the marketing business as well. One of them is BRANDING. In the olden days that was called “your PUBLIC IMAGE” or the “CORPORATE IMAGE. That is how you are perceived by the public and your potential clients. This aspect of marketing involves public relations, certain aspects of advertising and all the various promotions you engage in. Here is an example: Why do people, when refereeing to a top-of-the-line product of any kind say “This is the CADALLAC of say dishwashers, screwdrivers or lampshades”- whatever. Because of all the cars manufactured by General Motors, they have branded that car as their gold standard. Cadillacs have been associated with wealth, VIP transportation, executive automobiles, movie stars and that car can be ostentatious or dignified depending on the color of the paint job. High school grads hire a stretch Cadillac, brides and grooms hire a Cadillac Limo fir their wedding day and of you have any class you will be hauled off to the cemetery in a shiny black Cadillac hearse but you gotta be dead first.
If you want to exceed the Cadillac gold standard you need the say that you fishing rod is the Mercedes-Benz of fishing tackle or that your stereo system is the Rolls-Royce-Royce of home entertainment systems. Oh a Rolls-Royce is not a car it is a “Motor Car”. Get the difference? Not enough? It is a “Fine Motor Car”! Here is an effort where words and semantics can help you with branding your business
Sooo- How do you want to be “BRANDED”? Don’t worry, no body is gonna take a red hot iron to your backside and imprint “P.P.of A. MEMBER” on you hide. How about as examples: Joseph R. Smith, Photographic Portraitist,
J. Ronald Smith – Fine Portraiture, Joe the picture guy, Smithy’s Photo Studio, or Smith’s Photo Emporium. Hey! Nothing wrong with any of them but each will send out a different message to your potential clients. Some things that sound too “fancy” can be scary to some folks but attractive to others. Some will be attracted to a more down to earth or even a funny brand. Oh- how about JRS PHOTO-GRAPHICS for a commercial shop. I have seen exquisite work in the window of a modest shop with a modest sign reading “Bob’s Photos” There can be lot’s in a name so don’t think “what’s in a name?. This is not a joke- think about this when planning your business and your marketing strategies. You have to decide if you want to be a high volume operator or a custom type of studio. This will be a financial decision depending where you can make the most profit. Once you decide and formulate your price structure you have to target your market according to your business model.
It is also important to understand customer’s motivation for buying. I don’t like to generalize or categorize people but for the purposes of sales and marketing analyses we have to examine theses issues. Here are some:
· The prestige buyer. Theses folks have pride of ownership and will spend their money to get it. The appreciate quality, workmanship and good service and the usually can afford it!
· The bargain hunter. Theses people read the menu form right to left and will usually go for the least expensive item and the MAY haggle with you over that modest price. There is a secondary kind of bargain hunter who will buy higher end services and products as long as they feel the have gotten a bargain. Theses are extreme buying habits and it unlikely that you will convert such a buyer to a more quality oriented perception. If they actually buy from you they will always feel they were ripped off which is bad for your PR.
· The reasonable buyer. This is good! The won’t just walk in and buy right off the bat but the are attracted to you work and the are willing to be educated in the ways of selecting their photographer. Theses people need good understandable information and reasonable explanations as to justification of your products, services and fees. They usually won't buy what they can’t realistically afford but they may cut their budgets for something else to be able to buy from you. This is a very common occurrence in wedding photography or where people do not understand the scope and value of good photography and suddenly realize the advantages and benefits of hiring a good photographer. You need to understand what priorities different people place on different services whether they are planning a wedding or you are dealing with a committee that is planning a corporate annual report or an advertising campaign. The more you know about your market and you clients, the more success you will achieve.
Don’t think of this as a crass idea or that you are “looking into the pocketbooks or bank accounts of you potential clients”. You are simply doing what all good sales oriented businesses do; you are qualifying you potential clients and trying to determine if your target market can support your business model. This is very important data in planning you business plan and your marketing plan.
SO WHERE DO YOU START? In this day and age of sophisticated world of consumer savvy, sophisticated marketing systems and high priced advertising agencies, it is hard to believe that words such as “NEW”- “IMPEOVED” and “DIFFERENT” are still some of the most POWERFUL words in advertising. I mean, just how much can you improve laundry detergent or ginger snap cookies. The big corporations know how to get on the bandwagon when new concepts arise. Nowadays everything from food, to cleaning fluids to cars has to be GREEN- environmentally safe and chemical free. The word “ORGANIC” is golden and people pay more to be GREEN. Even stuff that was never dangerous to the environment or to people are now designated as “chemical and preservative free” Big corporations are quick to brand themselves as good corporate citizens and even if the serve unhealthy foods, the offer so called “healthy” alternatives and do enough charity work to be branded as saints. A popular fast food corporation just announced that they reducing the fat content of their popular burgers by 15%- THATS LIKE REDUCING THE VOLTAGE IN THE ELECTRIC CHAIR BY 6 VOLTS OR 2 AMPS. But they are jumping on the green and healthy bandwagon nonetheless. As a local photographer you may not be able to save the elephants, go green or protect anyone’s health but you need to join in with community efforts to support efforts to do all theses things by helping to raise funds for important charities and causes perhaps by donating some of you work for auction or by doing photographic covering of all theses activities to aid in their publicity.
So how do you do “NEW”? You need to find out what you competitors do not do that is advantageous and beneficial to your potential clients. Avoiding all those hackneyed words, phrases and attitudes is good for starters. STOP” capturing the moment” and “preserving the memories”. “Capturing” is for the police arresting wanted criminals and preservation is for taxidermists and undertakers. Perhaps you should photograph a wedding or a family reunion portrait as your client “would like to remember theses events”. Try something like “We create an artistic interpretation of your wedding day as it was, as it is and how you would like to remember it”. For commercial work- “You are proud of you plant, your personal, and your product- we would like to present all of theses in finely crafted photographs for you advertising, displays and annual reports. We guarantee a great image on time”.
Some people think that there is nothing new under the sun. In photography there are the same old markets- baby pictures, family portraits, corporate images, industrial stud and product shots. Sometimes it pays to investigate other markets that may be right in front of your eyes but almost become invisible. Some time ago I received a call for the local Catholic Archdiocese- the need a portrait of a priest who was elevated to a Monsignor. The person who called me laughingly remarked that the good father sill was using his ordination photograph for the church newsletter and now he is 67 years old. An idea struck me. I asked here how many other priests were using old photographs and she said just about all of them. I made her an offer- I would photograph all 52 of them at no charge and give her 1 5x7 glossy photograph for her newsletter files. The folks at my studio thought that I was crazy- How could I speculate on sales for people how don’t marry and have no kids. I remedied them that just because the have no wives and children the have many siblings, nieces, nephews and close friends would love a portrait of the favorite priest. Guess what! It worked! All of the priests were pleased to be photographed and just about all of them said they were being nagged by their families for ages to have a portrait done. Two of the churches called us in to do a church directory project and the degree of good will that was that was generated was surprisingly overwhelming to us. So may people assumed that that was a fruitless project- little did they know in fact, little did I know- I just had an idea. The lesson here is to seek out markets that are not oversaturated with photographers who are all vying for the same customers. In this case the orders were great and the good fallout from this experience has yielded business for years to come- weddings, church activities and how nice it is to walk into a church to cover a wedding and be greeted with a smile by the clergy!
NEXT INSTALLMENT- More marketing ideas and a special feature “You gotta spend money to make money”
Are we having fun yet? Ed
Ed Shapiro - Master Photographer
Location: South Carolina
Editing OK?: Yes
Re: The REAL business of Photography.
Thank you for this. As I enter my 4th year of business and evaluate my path, I'm finding the hard look at the basics imperative. I cannot say that I'm enjoining the study in a recreational sort of way but the review of the steps is beneficial. I am most appreciative.
Not to other readers: If you see you're in a struggle, re-read this thread and take corrective steps.
Location: Hermosa Beach, CA
Editing OK?: Ask First
Re: The REAL business of Photography.
Sage advice Ed. These articles really mean a lot to me and my business. Thank you and I look forward to reading more.
I have been too busy to continue my marketing journey. Poor excuse and I know it will bite me back soon. I must get back to my goal of contacting 10 potential clients a day. Your articles have inspired me.
Love & Bass
Location: Van Nuys, CA
Editing OK?: Yes
Re: The REAL business of Photography.
Lighting: Sometimes, depending upon needs.
Misc.: Other stuff, as needed.
Web: Los Angeles area photographer Rick Dickinson: CrayonPhotos.com.
Twitter: Follow photographer Rick Dickinson.
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