Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why Branding DOES Matter. And what Branding really is.

If every client engagement comes down to a fight around your pricing and a desire to discount there is something wrong with your branding.

Take a second and reread that. It’s true.

‘Wait,’ you’re thinking. ‘You always say my logo doesn’t matter.’ That’s right. It doesn’t. So long as it is remotely presentable your logo doesn’t matter one tiny little bit. But I’ll reiterate, if your clients are constantly looking for lower pricing there is something wrong with your branding.

How are those two statements compatible? They are compatible because your logo is only an extension of your brand (and by comparison, an unimportant one). Here’s what I’m getting at.

In the highly projective world of internet communication, your brand is everything you are. It is not your logo. It is not your colors or your cool custom font that you developed that too truly just reflects you. It is these things PLUS everything else you have out there and every touch point in your business. It is your packaging, your pricing, your voicemail message, everything.

And most importantly it is what these things communicate about you to the people who may be interested in contracting you as a photographer. And it is your products.

What do I mean by all of this? Here’s the thing. If there is nothing that someone can only get from you, then anything that you sell can be found somewhere else. Wait, you say, my clients can only get ME from ME. I get that. And the funny hats and glasses and custom designed T-shirts, and all of the other stuff certainly set you apart. But you must understand that to a client that may not be enough. You’re just one highly stylized photographer among a herd of highly stylized photographers.

Ask yourself this question. Besides you, what ONE thing can a client get from you that they can’t get from anyone else? What thing can they NAME that they can get from you that they can’t get from anyone else? When they want to justify spending the extra money what are they going to say?

‘Well, I like soandso, she has a shoot fee and an album and a book and she has online proofing and we can get big prints or canvases to go over the couch. And all of that comes in the middle package that we can get for $5000.

‘Well I like soandso, he has a shoot fee and an album and a book and he has online proofing and we can get big prints or canvases to go over the couch. And all of that comes in the middle package that we can get for $4000.

See what I mean? Sometimes I think we spend so much time on the veritable window dressing of most branding exercises that we forget that it’s what’s written on the pages that will be most important.

Take some time and go out and come up with three things that you can incorporate into your business that are uniquely you. Name them as such. I am not necessarily talking about physical product, but I am talking about something your clients will name and say, “I like soandso, she’s the only person who can provide “nameofthingIloveandwantnomatterwhat.” I don’t care if it costs us an extra $1000. I want that.

When you do that all of the other stuff will fall into place ...



Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pricing. Understanding your Clients’ Quantitative/Qualitative Decision Points.

“In the last month I’ve talked with five potential clients and not one has booked me. I got an email from the last one saying my pricing was just more than they wanted to spend. Do I need to lower my pricing?”

I get an email like this at least once a week. Pricing seems like the first place everyone goes. I get that. It’s scary. However, it is important to understand that a client’s decision points are based on a continuum of quantitative (or objective) and qualitative (or subjective) impressions. Whether you get the business will depend on how much your qualitative impressions skew the quantitative. This is true for all luxury product purchases (and if you’re reading this you sell a luxury - non necessity - product).

Here’s a worthwhile exercise. Take out a piece of paper. (If you’re concerned about the environment turn over a piece you’re already using- you’re only going to use one - it’s worth it - I promise). Draw a two sided arrow horizontally through the middle of the page. On the left side write, “Quant.” On the right side write, “Qual.” Pricing sits at the end of the Quant side, and Art sits at the end of the qual side. Lots of other things sit in between. It may help to think of it as a scale. Draw a triangle underneath it and see it as a balance that you have to influence in order to get the deal.

It is important to understand that the Quant side has a series of things that are related to you and a series of things that are not. You control your pricing and packages. However, you do not control the other factors. These are things like budget, other obligations, etc. related to the event or session, but they are also things like gas prices, consumer confidence, etc. that we hear about on the news and don’t think apply to us - at least directly. All of these things, and their relative impact on your prospect or client are “weights” on the quantitative side of that continuum.

Whether these issues has an impact on your client will depend on two things, one is quantitative and one is qualitative. The quantitative thing is what percentage of a person’s view of their financial capabilities is this event going to cost? Speaking plainly, is the person wealthy and not miserly? If so, then the issues that have an impact on most people are not going to influence them. The weight on that side is not as much of a burden. (Though it is always a mistake to assume it is not a burden at all).

The qualitative measure is essentially the value the client assigns to the various components in your package. Do they like you? Plus one on the qual side. Do they like your samples? Plus one on the qual side. Do you have something in your package that they LOVE that they can’t get anywhere else? Plus two or three on the qual side.

That last one is so important. Even if that ‘thing’ is essentially just the combination of you and your products and their perceived experience, it is the thing that will make the difference between someone making their decision solely on the quantitative aspects of the decision and being willing to throw those away because they simply must ‘have’ you.

There’s an easy way to know if you have a problem with this. If every prospect comes back and wants a discount and the only ones you are signing are the ones you give the discount then you are not establishing enough qualitative reasons why the client should use you. Tomorrow we’ll dig a little deeper into the things you can do on the qualitative side to make a difference. Until then, draw this little diagram for every prospect you’re currently speaking with. Figure out what their weighting is and then see if there are things you can put on the other side of the scale that might drive it in your favor.

Lower your pricing may be necessary, but it should never be your first decision. It is always your last.



Friday, April 22, 2011

Why I do what I do... And some personal musings -

My morning routine is a little different than most people. I’m up around 5. I eat breakfast at home (a scramble of eggs, black beans, chicken, fresh tomatoes and spinach). Oh! Wait! Major tangent here ...

A little over a month ago, inspired by Kevin Swan, Chris Becker (who I actually think I’m supposed to call just “Becker” but that seems really strange to me so I’m going to keep calling him this if he doesn’t mind too much - which he actually may.. so hmmmm ... ok, seems really weird but - er) “Becker,” and a few others in the photography business as well as by the fact that I serve a world of professional photographers who insist on taking pictures of my fat self everywhere I go, I decided to try out the 4 Hour Diet. I had read the book and talked with some friends who know about such things as nutritional science and with their blessing and the promise that I could lose 20 pounds in 30 days and if I was willing to alter my lifestyle and eating choices in some very manageable ways, not only would I continue to lose weight but I would also keep it off, I set off. (that sentence is positively Faulkner-Esque!) Well, 32 or so days later I am more than 20 pounds lighter. I feel great. I am still fat in my own eyes (the only ones that count) but 200 lbs is in sight and my weekend bike rides are more fun already. So thanks Kevin and, er (still feels weird but I’ll get used to it I guess), “Becker” for showing the way...

Ok, tangent over.

Like I said, my morning routine is a little different. I eat breakfast out of a cup in my truck on my way to the gym. (I know - it’s not safe - yada yada - write the NTSB about it - there are exactly 12 other people on the road at that time and they all know to watch out for the semi erratic Ford F150 weaving its way down the road). It’s about a 35 minute drive. I get caught up on the major news stories (KNX Newsradio here in Los Angeles is an excellent source - though I have to confess I don’t like morning anchor Dick Helton’s style all that much) and listen to some country radio. Once at the gym I “ride” (I guess that’s the right verb) the elliptical trainer for about 45 minutes, stretch, do sit ups (which I hate but which are good for my terminally bad back), and then shower, change and stop by Starbucks for my Venti Pikes, no room, no sugar, before getting to the office, most days these days, around 7.

That may be TMI. I dunno. It’s what I do. The reason I got to thinking about it is because all of this time gives me a lot of time to think. And when I have a lot of time to think I spend most of that time thinking about my clients (all, I-don’t-know-how-many thousand of you). Some days I think about all of the ways I/we suck. Some days I am frustrated that there are many ways that we no longer suck that don’t seem to make a difference. Some days I think about all of the ways you suck. (oops! am I supposed to say that out loud?) But frankly most days I find myself falling into a kind of mental retrospective of inspiration.

One month in to my first year at Pictage (which was exactly two years ago today, give or take a day) someone asked me what I like the most about my job. It was a challenge then and much bigger challenges loomed to be sure. But the reason my friend had asked the question was because he’d seen a change. I was happier. I liked work. I didn’t even mind taking the brunt of so many frustrated customers (frustrated about stuff that happened long before I got here and frustrated about stuff that was still happening). What was it about this job that made me happy?

The answer then and now is an easy one. I love serving professional photographers. Now don’t worry. I’m not going to go all sappy motivational speaker on you. But it’s true. I love what you all do. I am amazed at your vision and your craft. I am amazed at your willingness to give of your time and talent. As a long time blundering student of photography myself, I know how hard many of the things you do actually are. I wish I could do them myself. Some of you have had the time and patience to try to teach me and that’s been great.

Here’s my thought for a (Good) Friday. Keep it up. Don’t get distracted by the storms. That’s such a time suck. We’ll make a deal. You keep pushing and I will too. There are a whole series of pretty amazing things getting ready to jump out of your grandmother’s old Pictage. Most of these will launch in May. What’s going to launch in your business? Why will you be different in June than you were in April? Never stop. What’s next is what’s important.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Getting Through to Tomorrow.

A little while ago I published a post on the Pictage forums about trying to look up. I wasn’t really shaking my finger or anything like that, but I wanted to point out that the flow of conversation had really begun to focus on the negative. I’m not a hugely positive person. I’m not prone to seeing the glass as half full. Most of the time for me the glass can be overflowing and I’ll be griping about the waste or predicting where the glass is going to fail, when, and why. It’s in my wiring. When I let that side of me get a grip it slows me down.

I use words like ‘onward,’ and phrases like “what’s next is what’s important” as reminders, as much to myself as to my readers that I need to keep my head up. Forget about criticizing what is so much and focus on the things I need to do to be successful. I have a whole group of people who I’ve surrounded myself with who are extremely good at telling me all of the different ways I suck. An even larger group of folks is really good at telling me how my company sucks. (this group is startlingly large! I’m lucky I’m ambitious and probably a little overconfident!) Fixing these things is my priority. The time I spend griping about these things is wasted.

In response to my thread, Elizabeth Myer, a Raleigh, North Carolina photographer and frequent forum contributer posted this beautiful story...

One evening, an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said the battle is between two wolves inside us all.

One is Evil. It is anger, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride and ego.

One is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, generosity, truth, compassion, benevolence and faith.

The boy thought about it for a moment and asked his grandfather, "Which wolf wins the battle?"

The wise old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

I’ve since heard this story in a couple of different settings, but the moral is always the same. Which side of the battle are you feeding?

A pretty interesting thought for a Wednesday.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Exit Strategy - Long term thoughts in a here today, gone tomorrow world.

Exit Strategy ... Such Big Words I’m Hearing Lately!

It’s funny. My world tends to be a largely financial world that sometimes intersects with photography. (I wish it intersected more but I can’t control that!) I forget that the marketplace I serve - a marketplace of professional photographers - is propagated by business people who focus on photography, but who must, on a fairly regular basis, intersect with a world of business and finance. It simply slips my mind.

Every once in a while though it comes crashing through, as it did the other day when I was in a conversation with a photographer who asked me what I thought her exit strategy should be. Huh? Your ‘exit strategy?’ It was kind of funny really. Two things crossed my mind almost simultaneously (I nearly short circuited myself as having actual thoughts is not a common occurrence and having two at once was severe overload!). One. What the hell are you thinking about exit strategy for? Two: That’s really smart that you’re thinking about exit strategy.

As incongruous as this sounds, both thoughts are actually logical. Here’s the thing. An exit strategy is a smart thing to be thinking about. But the term exit strategy is an odd one for a photography business. Are you looking to exit photography and achieve some value or are you looking to build enough personal value that you can retire? See the two things are really completely different. An exit strategy is a financial strategy employed by a company that needs to plan various transactions or events allowing investors to achieve a return on their investment. These can be public or private stock offerings or sales. (the sale of the company in whole or in part). A retirement strategy is a strategy employed by a business person that ensures income at the point at which they are no longer working, either through savings or through annuity.

I hear from a lot of people who have decided that their “exit strategy” (I don’t know where the term is being propagated but it’s out there enough that someone is obviously using it in the sector - probably in a seminar about how to exit your photography business!) is to do seminars and teach stuff to new photographers. When I ask what the role model for that exit strategy is I usually hear about one or two people. So, from the thousands of people who’ve tried it, two have apparently succeeded in getting to a point where some significant portion of their income is from seminars. But how long will this be the case? The back halls of this industry are littered with the has beens whose message is stale and who no longer offer a relevant message to anyone willing to pay. Once that dries up (and it does so with startling rapidity) where are these people to turn? Back to photography?

Here’s the thing. If your exit strategy doesn’t provide a REAL exit then it is not an exit strategy. It’s an alternative, or supplemental business. Here’s the challenge of that. There’s only one of you. If you are spending lots of time on your alternative business (teaching seminars), then your actual business (photography) is going to suffer. When your photography business suffers you will lose relevance in the marketplace. Then you will have no business. That’s a different kind of exit strategy altogether!

In these times that may be a tough message. If you can’t make money in a photography business and you can’t make money selling your knowledge to photographers how are you supposed to make money? Am I not being fair? Or am I actually just telling the truth?

One of the most fascinating dynamics I see in the marketplace is this one. I cross paths with hundreds of photographers every month. There is a loud, frustrated group who are spending a lot of time and energy trying to change the industry to get it to meet their needs. There is another group though. While the maelstrom wails around them they are quietly building businesses that are quite successful. They have no problem getting clients. They have no problem earning a living. Sure, they’ve been stressed by the macro-economic factors that influence the marketplace, but their response has been to double down and focus on the clients they serve and on making sure those clients are extremely happy. And in the middle of all of it, they’re finding success.

Want to build a great exit strategy? Build a successful business. Figure out how to serve your customers for a lifetime. Keep your head down. Keep moving. Innovate. Respond to market dynamics. Understand the macro climate. Be ready when things are hot to take advantage of looser purse strings. Be ready when things are slow to draw on your reserves. Build multiple revenue streams and never let your supplementary business take more than your supplementary time. Find a way through product and service diversification to serve everyone who comes to you for the service you provide. Build a business that is so successful that others want to come and work with you. Build a business that is so successful that you need others to be able to meet consumer demand. When that starts to happen, you’re on your way.

Stuff to think about for a Tuesday afternoon ...


Monday, April 18, 2011

The most important elements in getting the phone to ring...Marketing tips for photographers.

When business is down turn to those you know.

It’s that time of year. You’re either booking up (and generally happy) or you’re not (and generally panicked). It’s the time of year when the stress starts to show up on Twitter. It’s the time of year when you begin to wonder if the market has gone away or if it’s you. In truth, it’s a little bit of both.

Many small businesses, and particularly photographers, serve a luxury segment. The products we provide aren’t a necessity. People don’t need great pictures to survive. (at least they think they don’t). $4.00 gas prices (closing in on $4.50 here in Los Angeles), and the continued stresses of the world feed angst in the minds of every consumer. ‘Should I spend this money or save it?’ Given a choice, most will choose to save until they feel better. That’s a reality and not one you can do much about. This just raises the importance of all of the inquiries and all of the opportunities that do cross the desk. It also raises the importance of your own outreach activities.

Frankly, the benefit and the challenge of running your own business is that your success or failure depends completely on you. What you are doing to grow and succeed will make that difference. What are you doing? Running a small business is an active process. Here’s a few thoughts about what you should be doing.

1). Know that your future customers will for the most part come through your network of current and past relationships. What are you doing today to remind people who you’ve worked with that you exist? What are you doing to remind them of the fun they had with you and the time you spent? What are you doing to keep them up to date with your craft and your business?

2). An ounce of personal trumps a million-billion-zillion pounds of impersonal. It takes time, but for photographers, sending along a favorite image as a way to reconnect will make the difference between invoking a favorable emotional response and being unheeded. “I was going through some past work and I tripped over this image. I wanted you to have it. I had such fun working with you and hope you are doing well. If you ever need photography services again, give me a buzz. It’d be fun to see you.” This will work so much better than, “ABC Photography services announces the introduction of family portraits.”

3). Generally speaking, the internet is not your friend. When customer inquiries slow down it is so easy to look to branding and internet marketing professionals as a way to try to increase your visibility. After all, the customers are out there. There must be a reason they’re not finding you. There is some truth to that. But it is VERY important to understand that for successful small businesses, less than 10% of the total customers come through paths other than referral or repeat. That means that 9 out of every 10 customers is someone who you are already connected with. What are you doing to encourage their call?

4). Do you have a “marketing day?” Given a choice between ranking time or money as most important to their business almost all small businesses (about 85%) choose time. This is understandable. Running a small business is a lot of work. Here’s the thing. If you don’t set aside time to market your business, and observe a discipline around how you use that time, then your business is going to struggle because you will always be reactionary. Good marketing takes thought and time. It is not something you can simply do between things. My recommendation is to take one morning a week. (and not Monday) and set it aside to purely focus on marketing activities.

5). Don’t get fat and happy. It is a sad truism that today’s very successful small business is often tomorrow’s failing small business. The reason is because the person who IS the business often gets distracted by the elements of success and forgets to focus on the labor that got them there. Then when the business starts to go away they will find other reasons for their challenges. “The market has gone away!” “These damn new folks are underpricing me!” Really? Or is it possible that you got so tied up in your success that you forgot that the customer relationships that were feeding new business were what was most important to getting you there?

I always say what’s next is what’s important. It’s actually a reminder to me. It is so easy to get caught up in celebrating the minor successes of the past. While it is important to take time out to acknowledge the milestones, it is even more important to make sure one is always moving forward. Always trying something new and always adapting. What’s next is what’s important. What’s next for you?