Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Monday Morning Ramblings, It's not always Pricing.

I read a lot and I talk to a lot of photographers. When things are good, they’re good. When things aren’t so good, it seems like there are two places you always go. It’s either pricing or branding. Chances are it’s neither. Here’s what I mean ... (BTW - this works for all small businesses ... including quilt shops in Central Wisconsin!)

You sell products and services to a wide array of clients. They pick you as their pro for different reasons. Some do so because they love your work. Others do so because they like you. Pricing is a component of their decision, but the key driver is going to be one of those two things. Knowing which one it was should make a big difference in how you approach that client relationship. Here’s what I mean.

If someone chooses you because they love your work they are telling you something important about themselves. Photography is important to them. They get that there are different styles. They like yours. These clients will clearly identify themselves. “I just love this picture of ...” They will simply drool over your designs, etc. They are visually oriented, artistically interested (if not inclined) and they will have an emotional reaction to their images once they get them that goes beyond just being happy to see themselves in a new light.

If someone chooses you because they like you and you are convenient, a friend of a friend, someone who did a good job shooting someone’s portraits, kids, wedding, etc., they are much different. They are more likely to be price sensitive. Their priorities are going to be elsewhere. They may actually spend more on the DJ than on the photographer! Horrors!

Expecting these two clients to behave the same way is silly. Giving them equal time in capture, editing, design and posting is equally silly. Client type two isn’t going to buy the upsell album no matter how great it looks. They have signaled their priorities to you. “We want to spend as little time as possible taking pictures.” “This album is neat, how much is it?” “Can I get your lower priced package?” It will be a rare day that a client like this changes their colors just because your images rock. Their perspective will be, “Of course they rock. That’s why we paid you so goshdarn much money!” With this kind of client the key for you is to do your best to be efficient. Don’t get carried away with editing and design. It won’t pay. Think solid. Make sure there are no surprises for them and make sure you deliver on time and on budget. That’s what will make them happy.

Now client type one .... They’re the reason you’re in business. Have fun. Make you and them happy. Just remember that for most studios, (highly successful boutique studios in Chicago notwithstanding) your ratio is going to be about 4 - 1 client type 2 to client type one. To build a successful business you need to learn to serve both. Once you are ultra successful you can start saying things like, “well I just don’t want to serve that kind of person.” If that’s you, congratulations. If you’re like the rest of us then it’s all about making solid choices about what you will and won’t do in each case. That’s not always easy. What I would do is figure out a way to delineate the client type in whatever tool you are using to keep track. That way, every time you refer to the client you are reminding yourself of your priorities in their case. You don’t want to spend hours upon hours editing and designing for someone who simply won’t appreciate what you’ve done. You want to do great work. But you want to do it quickly and efficiently. Then you can go out and shoot something that makes you happy ...


Monday, January 10, 2011

Jim's Top Five Business Rules

Jim’s Top Five Business Rules.

We all like lists. Here’s mine. The top five rules I use to run a business. Interestingly, they haven’t changed much in the last several years, though I’ve done drastically different things.

  1. The welcome consequence of consistency is the formation of trust. I wish I could say that was mine. It isn’t. It was a part of a business book I got as a gag gift about 15 years ago. The first sentence in the third paragraph of what was otherwise a completely unremarkable book. I’ve always loved that statement though. Consistency is about knowing who you are and what you’re about. It is never being too high or too low. It is always understanding the priorities and making every decision in the same way. Consistency may sound boring, but as a manager I’ve found that if I am consistent my team knows where I stand. They don’t have to ask me what to do. They know. That saves me time and builds their morale. It also helps us all get through the bigger challenges.
  2. If there is a choice between something being good and something being bad it’s going to be bad. Hope is a powerful motivator and I never want to rain on hope, but I always want to be prepared for that wicked left hand turn. Anticipating what is bad means I’m never surprised when that’s what happens. I have a plan. I’m acting on it. If it turns out to be good the exercise is still worthwhile. Knowing how you will deal with the worst builds confidence even when you experience the best.
  3. No one ever remembers what you said before you said “but.” I learned that in Dr. Mark Mallinger’s undergraduate organizational behavior class at Pepperdine in 1989. It changed the way I communicate. We have this terrible habit of always saying something good when we need to say something bad. “That’s a nice shirt, but you need to brush your teeth before you come to work.” It won’t take any time at all for you to come up with other examples. Here’s the thing. As Dr Mallinger taught me so well so many years ago, not only will no one remember what you said before you said, BUT, they will wonder if you meant it. Ever since then I’ve led with the worst. “Your performance sucks, how are you going to fix it?” Guess what? It works!
  4. The big picture matters more. It is so easy to get stuck in the tyranny of the urgent. The problem that is right in front of us always feels like our biggest priority. The larger the problem, the more it consumes us. Here’s the challenge. The most immediate problem is rarely the biggest one. When we spend all of our time focused on it the bigger issues continue to grow. Usually, the problem right in front of you is a distraction. Always take the time to look forward. Get your head up. Take stock of the surroundings. Figure out what the real priority might be and focus your attention on that.
  5. The only thing special about my position is that if something goes wrong it’s my fault. I read so many things about what people think about CEOs. Most of it is crap. My job is to make sure the people who work here understand their priorities. Then my job is to make sure it’s possible for them to achieve them. I serve them. Three years out of college I wrote an essay called, ‘Management from the Bottom of the Heap.” Even way back then I understood that the collegiate view of management, as the guy sitting on top of the pyramid, was upside down. We don’t sit on the top. We’re on the bottom, looking up, trying to anticipate what’s going to fall next and be there to catch it when it does. We’re there to clean up the mess. A failure in any area of the company is our (my) responsibility. I didn’t properly train, anticipate or prepare.

These rules apply no matter how big or small a business is. Perhaps they’ll work for yours.