Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Word For the Rockstars... (In response to your emails to me).

Criticism is an interesting thing. I actually blogged about it here earlier. I hear lots of it, and frankly, nearly all of what I hear, both personally and professionally, is absolutely deserved. Sometimes it hurts and I have to admit that my ego gets bruised. With this said, one of the benefits of getting older is a little more patience so I guess I see things differently than I used to. (I’m able to keep from showing it for longer).

It’s an interesting time in our industry. The status quo has been rocked a little by a pretty vigorous and fairly wide spread vein of criticism, much of it centered on the industry’s luminaries and their workshops, promotional activities, etc. Frankly, I find little of this surprising. I’ve been hearing a lot of it back-channel pretty much since I started at Pictage (one year ago today). There is a part of me that is glad that the voices of those who are frustrated are now expressed beyond the back-channel, ‘don’t tell anyone I told you this,’ emails that I so frequently received. It is only when criticism is heard that improvement can happen. It’s hard, but true.

Yesterday though, I got an email from someone who feels unfairly castigated by these new voices. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to ‘out’ you, but I’m not going to give you the reply you want either). So, you need to make a decision if you’re reading this, right now, and your decision is pretty simple. Do you want to put on the “big boy,” “big girl” pants and take it and get better or are you going to decide that the world is against you and stick your head in the sand? (A warning here... When you stick your head in the sand guess what’s up in the air for all to see?) ...

Ok, If you’re still reading congratulations, you’re serious about your career and you want to learn and get better. Learning and getting better are rarely painless. You know that at heart. The question is, can you take a deep breath and decide to do it? Or will you just discount this as yet another unfair slam? Here’s another hint, now’s when it’s important!

There’s a thing I’ve learned about criticism. (and like I said, I’m pretty much an expert on being criticized!), If you can get beyond the pain of being insulted (even creatively or unfairly insulted) then you will get to a place where you can begin to see themes in what is being said. When it comes to criticism it isn’t the emotion or the vitriol or the castigation (supposed or otherwise) that matters, it’s the themes. Here’s what I mean.

Are a number of people criticizing you for the same thing? Are they right? If they’re right what are you going to do? What’s your response. How will you get better? To be sure, there are always outliers and these can be discounted or ignored, but the central theme of criticism is ALWAYS something you can learn from. To be successful, you MUST learn from these things or you will quickly become irrelevant. (and irrelevance, in spite of the size of your ego, means you’re ‘out.’)

Seeing these themes of criticism and responding to them is one of the hallmarks of the most successful companies. (and the inverse is also true!) Adaptability is the key to long term success. You can’t simply be the flavor of the month - every month - all year long. The current culture is too attuned to authenticity as a marker. So, staying true to yourself is paramount. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t show by your actions and your words that you’re hearing what’s being said and you’re responding. Here’s some examples...

Are you being criticized because you talk about photography and you’re not a great photographer? (For my other readers, insert any other business here. Both of you. I promise it still holds true). Ok, Find someone you trust and have them evaluate your work. Oh - I know. It’s your art and your expression. I get that. But the trick with Photography is that it is in part technical. If you are not the master of the technical side, if the results you get aren’t on purpose, then the criticism is warranted whether you like your work or not. There are two solutions. Endeavor to become the master. Seek out someone who can help you along. Heck, make others a part of your journey. We all suck at stuff! Or, stop talking about photography and just talk about what you’re great at! Either one works.

Are you being criticized for talking about the business side when your studio is in a shambles and everyone knows it even though they don’t say it? Well, this one’s a little harder. I have to admit that I actually agree with the folks who say that if you’re going to preach effective business practices you need to have practiced them first. I think it’s an interesting fact that there are few of the folks who run very successful businesses who are out speaking about it. There are two reasons for that. They’re busy. (If your business is successful you generally are!) They don’t like to speak. (for don’t like to you can substitute ‘hate,‘ ‘won’t,‘ ‘don’t feel qualified,‘ etc...) With this said, there are absolutely some notable exceptions, (a few on the road right now in fact), and their content is well worth the time and energy for their attendees.

In both cases you actually gain significant credibility (and lots of followers) by admitting your shortcomings and saying, ‘hey, here’s what I’m doing about it.’

As a parting thought I think it’s also important to point out two things. One, that there are lots of folks out there who offer terrific content, plan thoroughly, evaluate their effectiveness exhaustively, and who, because of all of this, definitely positively impact our industry. This is one of the unique things about the photography space and something I’ve come to really appreciate. (which makes it doubly important to listen to the criticism!).

Second, and probably equally important, is the fact that some of what is going on is the marketplace’s fault. “Why did you attend this seminar.” “Because this person has a lot of followers.” “Would you have attended the seminar if they didn’t?” “Probably not.” “Was the seminar about how to have a lot of followers?” “No, it was about (fill in the blank).” Well, then candidly you made a dumb decision. Get over it. Learn the lesson. Move on.

This will be my last post on this subject for a while. To be honest, I don’t mind the criticism at all, and I’ve frankly enjoyed some of the more humorous interactions. With this said, I’m not a huge fan of some of the cheaper, less constructive criticism, and that can be just as destructive in that if someone hears enough of it they simply lump all of what they’re hearing into that box and go on without changing. That’s natural. We’re only human.

And that last thing is probably important for all sides to remember!



Monday, March 29, 2010

Jim's perspective on workshops and rockstars!

There’s been a lot of twitter on the airwaves lately about the value, perceived value, or lack of value or workshops hosted by and for photographers. In my position at Pictage I actually get to attend a bunch and here are my thoughts. Since Pictage sponsors a number of these, this is also sort of an open letter to those who host workshops for us, and, of course, it’s an invitation to comment as there are a lot of opinions.

Jim’s Rules for Successful Workshops (and observations on what is not successful).

1). Respect your attendees. They spent money, and in some cases real money, to come to hear you speak. That, and the time and travel, etc., are their sacrifice. Yours is preparation. Nothing gets my attention quicker than a tweet the night before a workshop that you’re just starting to think about what you’re going to do. That’s disrespectful to your attendees and if you don’t see it that way, then you should read the email they send me!

2). (This one may hurt a little). Make sure you have something to offer. Are you doing a workshop because you are compelled to teach and share or because you want to supplement your income? If it’s in your heart, then I’m not going to stop you, but make sure you are sharing about something that you are qualified to share about. As an example, I recently attended a workshop where there was a challenge related to a lack of light. When asked, the leader said, ‘Oh, that’s easy to deal with, you just either increase your ISO, or open your lens or decrease your shutter speed,’ and then went on shooting. The person who asked the question turned and looked at me and during a break I found myself explaining to her the very distinct difference between these three options. That would have been fine if the workshop was a business workshop. It wasn’t. It was a photography workshop. If you aren’t the master of the subject you are going to teach, don’t teach it. Bottom line, if the sole reason you're doing your workshop is because you aren't really making it in your business, then get a job at Starbucks instead. You do a disservice to the industry by doing these badly. (how's that for blunt!)

3). Prepare and follow a lesson plan. What are your attendees there to learn? How do you know? Do you survey them ahead of time? Make sure your agenda and your lesson plan are inline with what their expectations are and make sure you are disciplined about following it. (If this sounds like work, that’s good!)

4). It’s not enough to be nice, successful, sweet, experienced, a rockstar or a successful startup. Your attendees are only sort of coming to meet you. They’re also coming to learn (and that’s how they’re going to justify the time and money afterwards!). I love to cook and I go to cooking classes hosted by celebrity chefs. The best one I’ve been to, by far, was one done by Michael Chiarello a couple of years ago. I met the chefs at all of the seminars, but Michael actually went out of his way to teach. He had prepared, planned, and practiced. His Q&A was detailed, but not belabored. His knowledge of the subject was detailed and based on vast experience. Some others I’ve seen sign lots of autographs, cook something fun, are short on answers to questions and more or less run out afterwards. I wouldn’t go see them again or recommend anyone else does either. I went home from Chiarello’s workshop with recipes, techniques and a broader framing of the entertaining experience and I heartily recommend it. (though he doesn’t teach many anymore!)

5). Remember that workshops are different strokes for different folks! Different people like different workshops. That’s the way it is. To avoid a situation where someone comes to yours and their expectations aren’t met, make sure your workshop has a clear purpose and that everything you do is toward that purpose. If you have killed it on marketing and promotion, make your workshop about marketing and promotion and then have lots of marketing and promotions oriented hands on exercises. If you’re an incredible portrait photographer and your workshop is about portrait photography make sure there are opportunities for people to watch you work with clients and make sure you also take the time to explain the post production workflow, business model, etc. You get my point but for the sake of clarity here’s the counterpoint: If you’re a marketing and promotions expert don’t lead a shooting workshop. (Some of your students will know more than you and that’s usually not good).

6). Do a survey after the workshop. Make sure your folks got what they came for and if they didn’t, endeavor to understand why. (I always tell people to discard the “happy” surveys and focus on those who were not happy). Was it up front messaging setting the wrong expectations? Was it lack of preparation? Was it lack of knowledge of subject matter? Was the attendee a wacko (which also absolutely happens!).

As to whether one person is more qualified than another to do workshops, I frankly have little opinion. That’s up to the attendees. If they’re happy, great. If they’re not. Not so great. Pictage MAY promote workshops for people whose attendees are generally happy (we do a lot of surveying ourselves) and we are not likely to promote workshops for people whose results aren’t so great. But it really comes down to whether or not the folks who go get what they wanted and are pleased. That, more than any other measure, is a good measure of whether a workshop was worthwhile.

By the way, one of the things I think is interesting is that so many people gripe about the various workshops, etc., but tend to do it back-channel via email (I get these all the time). In a couple of cases people were really nervous that the person who led the workshop would find out they were unhappy because there is a fear that if the “rockstars” see you as a “grumpy” then you will be blacklisted. That’s a little unfortunate and a little curious. It’s unfortunate because it means that diverse opinions are not heard. It’s curious because I have to wonder just exactly what a “rockstar” might do that could hurt? Are you worried because you are hoping that someday you too will be a rockstar? If that’s the case I’d say let your work and your business speak for itself. If you’re a rockstar based on what you do in your studio, there’s nothing that anyone can say that will take that away. However, if you’re a rockstar based solely on your affiliations, watch out, the seas are forever changing.

BTW - for what it's worth I've personally met and spent time with lots of these folks and I've almost exclusively found them to be genuinely terrific people who have a lot to offer and whose talents are well worth tapping, given the opportunity. Some of those folks need to take some of the prompts in this message, and the greater unrest in the space, to heart, to make sure their offering is as good as it can be, but that's not a comment on their character, motives or experience. Just my NSHO on their workshop offerings. (If you're wondering if I'm talking to you I don't think that's a bad thing!)


Friday, March 26, 2010

Foodie Friday Follow on: Chicken with Broccoli. (not the Chinese food).

Foodie Friday Follow On. Super Simple Recipe for those who are looking for something really light.

Chicken with Broccoli.


Olive oil

One package of chicken tenders cut into bite sized chunks.

One package of Microwave in the Bag Broccoli.

Kitchen Basics brand, or similar, Chicken Stock. 1/4 - 1/2 cup

Salt, Pepper and

Herb Seasoning Mix (I like Spice Islands Italian Seasoning)

Red Chili Flakes 1/4 teaspoon or to taste

Ready? Here goes:

Pop the broccoli in the Microwave for just a little less than the time recommended on the bag. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel and then salt and pepper the chicken lightly and liberally sprinkle the herb mixture all over.

Heat a non-stick frying pan on the stove over medium high heat to hot. Add two to three tablespoons olive oil and then add the chicken, tossing to coat with the oil. Let the chicken cook until just starting to brown on all sides. Add the broccoli and saute with the chicken for a minute or so. Add the chicken stock. The stock should come to a boil pretty fast. As soon as the stock boils remove the chicken and broccoli into a serving dish with tongs or a slotted spoon leaving the broth and other bits in the pan. Add the chili flakes to the broth and let reduce by about half. Pour the broth over the chicken and broccoli. Serve immediately.

Foodie Friday: Salmon with Balsamic/Maple Reduction

Got an email the other day from a friend who was bitching at me that my blog, which used to be mostly personal, now reads like some sort of Photo marketing site. I had to admit that it’s actually true. So, in the spirit of "Justuff" I’m inaugurating Foodie Friday. (Mainly because I couldn’t think of anything better to call this).

Most of my friends know I’m an incurable food-a-holic. I don’t just like to eat though, I love to cook! Over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at it. So, for Foodie Friday I’ll share a fun, easy (or not so easy) recipe and from time to time a wine pairing or a story about a winery to go along with it.

I know that a lot of my photographer buddies also love to cook, so I’ll be doing some guest postings and even some more fun stuff along the way.

A really important safety tip is that I don’t measure much when I’m cooking. I cook by taste, keeping a small stack of tasting spoons nearby. My rule? If it tastes good in the pan it’s probably going to taste good on the plate.

So, here we go: Foodie Friday take one. A really simple recipe that’s kind of a go-to for a night when Ang and I want something good, fast, and not too expensive:

Salmon with Maple, Balsamic Glaze.

Ok - I promise, this is really easy. Here are the ingredients:

Salmon. (as much as you want to buy for as many people as are eating). I like to buy good fish from a local fish market rather than the stuff you get from the grocery store, but this will work either way.

1/4 Cup Balsamic Vinegar. If you have a Trader Joes nearby, buy this and Olive Oil there. (oh - if you're cooking for more than four just double the sauce recipe. )

One lemon, halved.

1/3 Cup Good Maple Syrup. (not Mrs Butterworth’s, Log Cabin, Aunt J-uh-howeveryouspellit but a good real Maple Syrup with an ingredient list that says something like, Maple Syrup!)

1/2 stick butter. (not margarine). You’re not going to get more than a tablespoon per serving and you’re going to want this. Substitutes have water and oil in them and they tend to burn. I don't like that so I use butter. I don't care if it's salted or not. Frankly I can't taste the difference!

Salt and Pepper (to taste). (I buy the bagged medium grind sea salt at Whole Foods or trader joes and keep in in a salt box by my stove. I feel like I control the salt better when I’m picking it up between my fingers than if I have to try to get it out of a shaker).

Preheat your oven to 400 Degrees (if using the indoor method).

OK. Ready? Start by combining the balsamic, water and the juice of half of the lemon in a small saucepan over moderate heat. Bring to a boil and let simmer until the volume is about half. (I don’t measure much.) Important safety tip. Keep an eye on this! If it goes too long it will turn into a sticky mess in the pan and you’ll be starting all over. When it’s about the consistency of maple syrup, add your maple syrup and stir to combine, then add your half stick of butter and combine. Taste. It should taste good. If it doesn’t add more of the ingredient you’re taste buds are missing in tiny little amounts until you like it. Take this off of the heat, but keep warm. (Put the lid on the pot).

It’s time to cook the Salmon.

Most people overcook Salmon and it turns out dry. I don’t like dry Salmon so I cook it to about medium. (which means the fish is just slightly firm to the touch). Oh! I use my fingers a lot when I’m cooking. If that grosses you out, then buy a Salmon cook book and learn what it says about cooking time... If not, poke the Salmon with your fingertip and if it feels right, it’s probably done!

You can either grill the Salmon or cook it indoors. Be forewarned that if you cook it indoors your house is going to smell like fish. That’s just the way it is. Get over it. A lot of times I will grill my salmon in an iron skillet on the grill. That’s kind of the best of both worlds because it can be cooked hot enough to get good and crispy. Here’s the way to cook it indoors. (or outside on your grill in a skillet). (If you're outside, just heat the skillet in the grill to hot and when the recipe says, transfer to the oven just close the lid. You may need a little more time because the grill will let out a little heat. Not too much though! Don't kill the fish!)

Cut the salmon into serving sized pieces. I don’t know how big your servings are so I’m not going to try to tell you a weight. Rinse off the salmon and then pat dry with a paper towel. Squeeze the other half of the lemon over the Salmon and then salt and pepper both sides of the fish. If you have a little garlic powder you can use this too. (For the record, I keep a large jar of “Trinidad” seasoning from Penzey’s on hand www.penzeys.com for this purpose).If there is skin on the fish take a knife and slash the skin at about one inch intervals. This lets the steam out from underneath the skin and then it will get crispy. (Hint - Crispy = Yummy!) If there’s no skin, no worries, your fish will cook just a little faster though so watch out!

Get your pan good and hot. Hot enough that if you drop a drop of water in it sizzles right off. Make sure you’re using a pan that can transfer into the oven! When the pan is “singing hot” take about 3 tablespoons of Olive Oil and pour it into the pan (go fast or it will really smoke!), lay the Salmon down on top of the olive oil top down (Skin side up). Let it go for no more than one minute. Turn it over onto its Skin (or other side) and transfer the pan into your pre-heated oven (or close the lid on your barbecue). The time it takes to cook will depend on the thickness of the fish. If it’s thinner than an inch, it’ll be done in less than 3 minutes. If it’s thicker, not more than five minutes. (you can always add a little heat if it’s underdone - but if you over cook it you’re going to be bummed!).

When the Salmon is slightly firm to the touch it’s ready. Serve immediately. I like to plate, so I put a little of the sauce on the bottom of a dish, then place the Salmon top down on the sauce (skin side up if there is skin). I drizzle a little more of the sauce over the Salmon. I usually serve this with an easy brown rice and sauteed spinach. (which is also super-super simple!)


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Where I'll be March 30 - April 2nd

It’s kind of hard to believe that it’s already been almost a year since I started at Pictage. The time has quite literally flown by. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I was going to do for my one year anniversary and I’ve come up with the perfect answer. I’m going to the Mississippi Delta to spend a couple of days with a bunch of photographers. Not as Jim the CEO of Pictage, but as Jim the fellow explorer.

Here’s where I’ll be. http://www.rebirthworkshops.com/

I like the idea of this gathering. I like that it’s designed to promote ideas rather than indoctrinate. I like that it’s core is art, but that we are also going to explore art-meets-business. I like that I’m not planning it, that I won’t be speaking and that it’s going to be pretty intimate with less than 50 people there in total.

Why am I going? I’m going because I need a break as much as anyone else. I need a chance to sit and think a little and be challenged to do something I don’t ordinarily do. I also have enormous respect for the photographers leading the shooting workshops (that happen every day) and I know I’m going to learn a lot about how to take better pictures. But none of these are the reasons I’m really going.

I’m really going because the thing I like the most and the thing that benefits me the most in doing my job is spending time among photographers.

There are just a few spots left. Join me. We can hang out...


Monday, March 15, 2010

When competitors get smarmy...

What How You Market Says About You. (Whether you meant it to or not!)

Marketing is both a passive and an active science. It is this way because marketing, by definition, involves influencing emotions. All of marketing is designed to give people reasons to feel one way or another about a company, product or service. A company may develop an advertisement. That’s active. The specific reason for the advertisement is to influence either a purchase decision or good will. Market leaders do a lot of passive marketing. You will never hear a McDonald’s ad where Burger King is mentioned or a BMW ad where Hyundai is mentioned. The act of not mentioning the competitor is the art of passive marketing. “We don’t mention them because they are unimportant to us.” (Hint: In the board room and in the analysis these competitors come up all the time, they just never mention them in public...) Most passive marketing is accidental. Companies that develop bad advertising or who use irritating customer attraction methods such as telemarketing or spam are also practicing passive marketing, thought they may not completely mean to be!

I hear a lot from photographers who are frustrated because they feel (or know) that another photographer ‘stole,’ clients, price lists, branding, images (2nd shooters), and lots of other stuff. In a market as competitive as this these behaviors, whether real or imagined, are not surprising. In these situations my response is always the same and it’s simple. Move forward. Don’t let this wrong or this “supposed wrong” distract you from your goal. This is why I hate lawsuits. They’re a major distraction and the lawyers (yours and theirs) won’t let them go away.

It is easy to feel wronged when a competitor takes the low road. To make it worse, sometimes they win. In the long run though, it’s important to understand that the root of the competitor’s behavior, whether insecurity or incompetence, will lead to their failure. It’s simply a matter of time. At some point they will have to come up with an original idea. At some point they will have to shoot on their own. At some point they will have to deliver product to customers. If their whole business is rooted in “borrowing” your good ideas, at some point these behaviors will cease to be effective and that, as they say, will have been that. So move on.

Interestingly, these behaviors happen at most levels in business. Lots of companies use tactics we probably think of as “smarmy” in trying to attract customers. Even here at Pictage, I get calls every week from customers who have been contacted by a competitor who uses our online photographer directory to get their names and numbers. The refrain I hear always the same. “Isn’t there anything that Pictage can do to stop them?” Well, we could take down the directory, but with nearly 70,000 hits a day and about 200 reported bookings a week that doesn’t make a lot of sense. I could update the terms of use for the viewers to make it clear that the information contained is proprietary, but then consumers seeking photographers would have to take a weird step in their search. I choose instead to ignore them.

What’s funny is that the photographers who call us tell us that this company basically tries to get them to switch by trying to convince them that Pictage is underhanded in its dealings with our customers. I think one photographer said it best when he said, “this, from a company that is essentially stealing contact information from a directory specifically offered as a benefit to photographers, was pretty ironic!”

The fact is this. Over time these passive messages say more about a company than any active marketing activity. Toyota's apparent inaction in its recent troubles has done tremendous damage to its previously stellar quality reputation - a reputation on which billions has been spent...

When asked about these things my response is pretty simple. My job is to make Pictage so great for our customers that they would never think of leaving. We’re much better than we were, but we have a long way to go to be that good. That’s what I’m focused on. That’s where your focus should be too. Any time you spend thinking or worrying about a competitor is time they’ve successfully stolen from you. Move forward. Build your business. Be aware of the competition but never let it distract you, no matter how smarmy or underhanded their tactics may be. Ultimately, you’ll win and you’ll sleep much better along the way!

Monday, March 1, 2010

On Pricing and selling. A new series starts.

Pricing. Mad Science, Unmasked Hope, or just a living?

In my current PUG tour I’m covering several topics around the makings of a successful photography business. It’s funny, but the one I get the most comments and questions on - by far - is pricing. No one topic seems to yield more anxiety or anguish than pricing. One photographer in one city sort of part-jokingly said, “I’m an artist! Why don’t people just get that and pay me what I’m worth?” Well ... Joke or not I know a lot of photographers feel this way and so I figured it’d be worthwhile to tackle this subject in the hopes that a nugget or two might be helpful.

What should I be charging? This is probably the most common question I hear. Like all things, the answer isn’t simple. Usually the answer involves lots of questions. (and sometimes that’s frustrating too!) I would propose a little exercise. Copy this onto a Pages, Word, whatever document, print it out and take it to a coffee shop. You need a break anyway. This will be worthwhile.

First: What are your expenses? Off the top of your head - since you’re sitting here in a coffee shop - add up your mortgage or rent, car payment, insurance, and incidentals. You just want a sense of that number. Now, add up the expenses related to your business. If you’re a Pictage member, your subscription, etc. What about gear? How much did you spend? How long will it last. Dividing what you spent by the number of months you expect it to last gives you the cost of your gear. (If you’re a tech junkie like me this number might be a little scary!). Once that’s done add all of the numbers up and you have your monthly expenses.

Second: Do you have other sources of income? Many photographers are able to offset their expenses with a day or part time job. Many others are married or partnered with someone who helps defray expenses. If that’s the case, you can apply that income against your living expenses - but not your business expenses. (that’s cheating). Doing this will leave you with a realistic number that tells you approximately how much it costs to be you on a monthly basis. That’s an important first step.

Third: Think about whatever your specialty is and the time, from beginning to end that it takes to do it. If you’re a portrait photographer how long does it take you to shoot a portrait session? Count preparation time, the shoot, editing time and time associated with delivering product. When you look at it this way, it’s amazing how the hours can add up! The fee you charge for any service must offset the expenses you incur during the time it takes to deliver the service. Otherwise, you’re going backwards. If you figure out how many of these sessions you realistically shoot in a month, then you can compare the hours of work to the cost of business and living and dividing the cost by the time will tell you how much you have to charge to break even. (take a deep breath first).

All of that was simply to get us to a starting point. Some of you may be encouraged by what you see. If you’ve kept your expenses low then the hurdle is low enough to see your way clear without too much effort. However, if your expenses are higher it can be pretty sobering. (This is one of many reasons why I think consultants who tell photographers that they need expensive cars, watches and other stuff to impress high end clients are hurting more than helping. Your wealthy clients - the really wealthy ones - won’t notice what you’re driving. They couldn’t care less. I had the chance to sit next to a multi-billionaire having dinner at a restaurant bar in Florida. He was wearing a swatch. Do not extend your debt because you think that pulling up to a client’s house in a BMW is going to get you the job. Lots of other things yes. This one, no.) Ok - off of that soap box.

On to Pricing:

The number you figured out above is the number you need to make to break even. Breaking even makes your business a “going concern.” Breaking even means you can pay your bills and live to the next month. (Provided your bills don’t increase). Most businesses don’t break even so if you’re breaking even pat yourself on the back and be happy. But you need to do better than break even. You need to be putting money away. That’s really where pricing comes in:

Most photographers have either base-plus or package based pricing. Base-plus is more relevant to portrait photography. You charge a base amount, say $300 for a session, five digital files and one print, plus - any options the client chooses, IE for multiple poses, settings, etc. Package based pricing is more prevalent in event photography.

For some reason Photographers like to price packages in threes. Basic, Standard, and Super-Hyper Good are the norms. (though your naming conventions are better than mine). Pricing psychology tends to drive consumers to the center. If you are experiencing a situation where people are picking your base package it is because you aren’t doing a good enough job - from a visuals and value perspective - of selling the center package. (You have too much good stuff in the base package.) Or - Your site or price list is formatted in a way that makes the base package look more attractive than the other two. Either way, if this is happening you need to take a look at your packages.

Your pricing for each one of these packages needs to reflect the work you put into them. Setting your price by getting pricing from three other photographers in your area is a bad idea. Their expense structure may be different than yours. They may be charging more because they’re getting more business from referrals. There are lots of things involved in that. Your pricing should be based on the time it takes you to complete the services in the package, plus a profit margin that reflects your confidence in your business. More confidence = more profit (and an increased likelihood that you will walk away from under-paying jobs).

Here’s why this is important. When the client negotiates you have to be able to articulate the basis for your pricing. “I charge X per hour and this package includes 8 hours of coverage (8X), plus 10 hours of editing time (10X), plus 4 hours of delivery time (4X). If you want to pay me less let’s see if we can trim some hours.” Being able to articulate it this way means to your client that your pricing isn’t simply a made up number that you put on your site in hopes that someone might actually pay it. It is based on thought, labor and experience. By suggesting that you may remove a service - IE creating their DVD with the digital files on it - 3 hours of editing, formatting and file transfer time (3X) you tell them that the negotiation is a two way street. They understand that if they want to pay less you will do less. It’s compromise. You’ll be surprised how many people go back to starting to talk about adding things on.

That’s probably enough for today. Next week we’ll talk about ways to sell more prints, albums, etc. It’s easier than you think. In the meantime, as always and with proper warning flags attached, if you want me to take a look at your pricing, site, etc., know I’m always happy to. (Whether you’re a Pictage customer or not). There’s never any charge and so my opinions are pretty much worth what you’re paying for them.

Oh - and see you at WPPI! I’m the mostly bald guy running around in the Pictage booth or lots of other places. Feel free to stop me and say hi. I heart Photographers!