Monday, February 1, 2010

Are they Seeking You? Part 3

Are they seeking You, Part III

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve looked at a series of impersonal factors related to building a successful photography business. This week we’re going to get personal. For some of you, this will definitely be a “Big Boy Pants” conversation, at least if you’re taking it seriously. (those who’ve read my stuff for a while know that when I’m going to say something I know will hurt, I always preface it by asking you to put on your Big Boy Pants. This is not a sexist comment. It’s just that I think it’s improper for a CEO to tell his women clients to pull on their big girl panties. Though, I guess I just did. Whatever, you get the point. ...)

I talk to a lot of photographers. In an average week, whether via email, or in person at PUG meetings, or here in the office, I’ll talk to at least 20 different photographers and some weeks, many, many more than that! I love these conversations because they make me more effective. They also give me a sense of who will succeed and who will fail. Want to know what I’m finding? Here’s where you might want to take a minute to print this out, grab a cup of coffee, sit down somewhere away from your etherverse so when I ask you these questions you can give them some honest thought ...

Ready? OK. There is one question that will really make the difference. Only one. Ready. It’s a big one.

Are you generally excited about your business, or are you generally frustrated with your business? If you have to pick one answer, and you do, which one would you pick? Can’t pick? Here’s some indicators that you might be frustrated.

1). You sit in front of your computer all day wondering why no one is finding you on Google.

2). You dread the pricing conversation because you know it’s going to devolve into the clients chipping away at your pricing until it’s barely worth taking the business.

3). People who do workshops focused on the importance of (Pick any); branding, art, workflow, post-production, etc. make you want to throw up.

4). You put off editing events until your clients begin to grouse - unreasonably - that four months is long enough to wait. (for editing an event you can also read, designing an album or any number of other things that take lots of time and don’t seem to yield much result)...

5). On any given Saturday you roll out of bed, put on your comfortable ‘black,’ check the batteries, roll out the door and then do exactly the same things from the moment you meet your clients until the moment you get home, feet aching, back hurting, hungry because the bastards didn’t feed you, frustrated because you spent the last two hours of the reception shooting setups for the MOB. (Or if you primarily shoot portraits, any number of the same routine enforcing activities).

You get my point. Here’s the problem with being generally frustrated. Your clients can feel it. Whether they’re hiring you for a wedding or a portrait session, you have to remember that in most cases they’re starting in a place where they’re uncomfortable. Very few people actually like to have their picture taken. They have to believe that you’re going to make them comfortable and even more, that they’re going to be glad you’re there. Here’s a few things to think about.

1). Does your enthusiasm for your business come through everywhere it can? (How about in your avatar? Your “about me” pages.)

2). When you have meetings with potential clients are you prepared? Are you early? Do you have up to date materials to show? Do you have prints to show? (As an aside I always laugh when I hear that photographers are having trouble selling prints. Why? In the sales process did you show your clients any prints? Or did you only show them your stuff in slideshows or on your iPhone? If they never see a print, why would they think of you as a source for them?) Do you have a crisp, freshly printed, logical price list that makes your services clear?

3). Do you ever mention, even off-handedly, your frustrations with other clients? (they’ll wonder what you’re going to say about them).

4). Do you project an air of confident competence that makes them feel comfortable and even enthusiastic about hiring you?

5). When the meeting is over are you excited about the opportunity or do you immediately start preparing for failure by telling yourself that these people aren’t really good enough for you anyway?

If your business is struggling you need to dig in to these questions. If you don’t know whether your site is helping or hurting ask someone. (Heck - ask me. Pictage customer or not, I’m happy to take a look and tell you what I think). On some of these, frankly you know the answers and you know they’re not good. You’re late for meetings. You’re disorganized. You spent your last face to face talking about a frustrating situation with a previous, unreasonable client. Your defense against pricing discussions is complaining about pricing discussions (kind of a preemptive strike). You end the conversation by saying, “there’s a lot of photographers out there. You’ll find someone you like. I’m not sure I’d hire me either...” Every single one of these things matters.

Here’s the good news. Tomorrow is a new day. If you’re serious about success then get serious about reinvigorating your business. Make your next client meeting your best ever. Perseverance is the key to success in any small business. Even for those who have “made it” the marketplace changes so quickly that they must continue to grow and change or they will quickly be irrelevant. There is no judgement for falling behind. There is only judgement for staying there. That judgement is rendered when the market leaves you behind and your business fails.

For the rest of you, Onward! If you’re willing to do the work you can achieve your reward. I’m here to help. Literally. It’s my job.


Leeann Marie said...

Great post, Jim! I agree completely! I haven't been in business that long, but I account many of my client bookings to personality and drive. I think it's important to do one thing everyday to get better, and to be as enthusiastic as you can. I don't get every booking, but I don't think it's because of confidence or happiness - which is good!

Keep up the good advice! :)

Krista Photography said...

these posts are awesome, Jim! Thanks for the kick in the butt - we need it sometimes :)

Jill Johnson said...

Well my big girl panties were on and thanks for the words. Now lets see who uses them for good. :)

David Martinez said...

What I know about myself:

I am a great event photographer. I'm prompt, professional, I read people really well and I can make them look good in images. I edit really quickly and have great customer services skills.

It's the commercial aspect that I don't enjoy. I've gone back to work doing design full time which really pays the bills for me, and I'm back in my 'comfort zone'. After wearing my Big Boy photographer pants, I realized they didn't really fit well.

Is photography right for me? In the commercial sense: Nope. Event photography can be an amazing line of work if you have the right mind set.

Is photography right for me? Yep, in the fine art sense. I still shoot, but I only shoot what I want to shoot - be it people, places or things. It's a wonderful outlet for me.

Jennifer Disney said...

Thanks for this. Great post!

d a v i d m o l n a r PHOTOGRAPHY said...

hey jim!

I met you very briefly at PartnerCon with my friends zach and jody.

it does me well to know that YOU are leading pictage. BECAUSE i know you care... i can hear it in your voice and see it in the way you guys are working to inspire us to become who we were made to be. how cool is it to help people for a living? thanks for being you.

PS i love "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt!"

R. J. Kern said...

Jim.... you are a very sharing person. Kudos on the fine work in assembling some pearls of wisdom to help the photographer grow and thrive. I appreciate you telling us the things we NEED to hear, not just the things we want to hear. After reading your article, I started working on that "Five-step guide to picking the right photographer for you" and are organized around these five cornerstones: Personality, Community, Business, Life, Art.

Scarlett Lillian said...

You rock, o wise one! ;-) Very well put.

Gray Photography - Zach and Jody said...

You are the man my friend! Great post and sooo true! It is easy to get in a rut like this, but sooo much better when you work hard to get out!

Keep it up my friend!

Ellen Petty said...

Hi Jim- Great posts! I love the subject, and a punch in the arm is what many of us small business owners need. Photogs or not. I saw that enthusiasm first hand at Pictage. You definitely practice what you preach!

Thanks for the inspiration!

Positive Images by Rettberg said...

The industry in general needs a boot in the butt. I've been a full time professional photographer for 41 years and have gone from 4x5 B&W sheet film to digital,
I have never seen a more challenging market then today. The economy, the social networking, post production and competition, are in a continuously fluid state.
I enjoy what I do because of the constant state of flux, but I do not enjoy the lack of professionalism I see in many of the newer[less than 10 years] "professionals."Sloppy appearance, lack of communication skills, lack of the basics, ie. lighting, that many of these people have is quite stunning. I deal with a 25 to 35 demographic, so I do know that todays client is different. But there is one thing that these people are owed, and that is confidence in our ability to be their best source of remembering the biggest day of their live.
Our industry only in the past few years has started pushing professionalism at all levels again.
I'm not talking about merits and degrees. I'm talking about posing, lighting, demeanor, and respect for the client.
I am a member of WPPI, and of PPof A and attend one or both conventions every year. For too long I saw both organizations too interested in promoting vendors, and getting bodies in the door.
They have addressed many damaged areas recently, but unleashed a large group of digital darlings onto the public for a several year period, who are still reeking havoc.Learn your craft and treat your client like gold, or get out. Put on your "big boy pants" and act like adults in your profession.If you do not, you will be doing something else with your life in short order.

Taira Baughman said...

Just started reading your blogs and I love them. I am so excited about my company that has been in exisitance for four years. I woud love to take you up on your offer to visit my site. I do struggle with the insecurity that it isn't up to par. I build my own site. It's funny that i tend to get comments about my site from one extreme to the other. Brides will say "I love your site". Then brides will say, your site is too hard to navigate.". If you have the time and can give me some thoughts on your perspective, I would be greatly appreciated. I am working on a new logo & brand now and I am seriously thinking of redesigning my site. However, right now I have great standings in google. Especially if you search for Nashville Videography.

Thoughts please? Thank you so much for your time.

Taira Baughman

Steven Robertson said...

Thanks Jim for the great info. Coming from an IT background I have the necessary skills for building my own web site and as such have an integrated web/blog site rather than separate sites. I have been in business full-time as a professional for less than a year, but part-time since 2001. But I still learned some new points from your posts and I thank you for that.

I too am developing my brand and would love any feedback you might have on my web site if you have the time. Even though my web site has only been around about 3 months it is starting to increase in standings in google and site traffic is steadily increasing.

Feedback would be appreciated. Thanks again.

Steven C. Robertson

Bill Carroll said...

Waxing nostalgic about being professional and using vulgarities such as "bastards" in your blog only devalues your words. Here's some for you.........Photography is like any business; do a professional job, create great images, develop the best staff, market like mad and you will have a great business. I've done weddings all over the world, include celebrities and world class hotels and companies among my clientele(The Plaza in NYC, The Carousel, Mars 2112, AeroKinetics,etc). I've written and illustrated books, done covers for numerous dog magazines as well as innumerable ad slicks, annual reports and brochures and been in this business for 26 years. I am a businesswoman and this rag sounds like a silly woman wrote a patronizing piece for people without brains. Work as if your life depended upon it, be courteous and professional and then work work work some more. This criticism applies to the use of the word "bastard" and it applies more specifically to the the recent e mail called "I fought for this job." Really? That's what we all do. Please the patronizing is insulting.
RB Carroll Studio Eight of Bethany Beach

Mandy Smith said...

I am loving these posts. Thank you so much for sharing. Since you mentioned that you would checkout a site if we asked... I am asking.
Please be honest, I have on my big girl panties:)