Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Going from Doing to Teaching, A Slippery Slope

Not long after I got to Pictage I had an interesting conversation with someone I thought of as a photographer. He set me straight. "Jim, I'm not a photographer any more, now I'm an entrepreneur and I teach photographers how to succeed." It was an interesting conversation made even more so because in the same few minutes he also told me that he wasn't making enough money and wanted Pictage to sponsor him with more.

I didn't know much back then so I went to a bunch of our clients and asked what people thought. The predominant reaction that I received was that this person was out of touch, a has been. "We'd listen to him if he was still a photographer but he's really not. He just wants our money." I went back and told him no. Not surprisingly, within a few weeks he had moved on, endorsed a "competitor's" products and was on a speaking tour for the competitor. I never regretted the decision. He still speaks, though I note that he no longer gets an endorsement from the "competitor."

This isn't about who this person is. Who he is doesn't matter. He could be anyone. (Frankly, He could be She and may be because I am the master of concealing identities). It is about what he represents. His story applies to a great many people I know and what is most interesting to me is that a lot of the people who told me they didn't think he was relevant then are now on the same path. I often wonder, what makes them different? How will they stay relevant. In my short time in this industry I've seen the complete cycle. Do and find success. Teach because you can. Die because you stopped doing.

Of course, it's not quite that easy, right? Do and find success, but realize that even success is marginal. It's hard too. In a generation that likes its "things," its travel and its flexibility it is surprising how money is so often an afterthought. How do we think we're going to pay for all of that stuff? So when we are finding success on a path but we are also finding that path to restrict our time and not necessarily let us buy the things we want it is natural to look to supplement our income. The slippery slope comes when we start to believe our own press.

People tell us we're smart and we should speak more. Companies offer semi lucrative arrangements for endorsing their products. Conventions offer platforms. And a year later our business is dead and no one wants to hear what we have to say anymore.

Obviously it's not quite that fast and a few have bucked the trend, figuring out how to have a vibrant business even while they derive a supplementary income on the teaching circuit. I've found that one common trait is true among all of these people. They each understand that they have much to learn. They each understand that their relevance relates directly to their business success. They each understand that what they do is their core business and what they teach is the supplement and they each pursue the success of the core first, teaching from what they're continuing to learn along the way.

After all ... These people seem to understand that what's next is what's important.


Larry Thompson said...

I like your blog--a lot-- and I think you make so many good points, here. So much of what have to say is so well thought out and relevant. So, I'm sorry to say it, but I think of Pictage as the same way you describe that out of touch guy. Seems like there was a time when people didn't have any options so getting people to sign up for the Pictage service was like shooting fish in a barrel. Then, as other companies came around and as Pictage overcharged, underwhelmed, and offered terrible customer service, peopled realized they didn't need Pictage anymore.

How will Pictage stay relevant?

Jim Collins said...

Ha ...

Well. I think your thinking is in line with the way a lot of people think and that's sad and hard because we've changed so much over the years. I think a lot of times people have a preconceived view and once that's there it's just there and there is nothing we can do to change it except just keep getting better.

Customer service was a big focus when I got here nearly three years ago and frankly we have one of the best teams in the industry at this point. For sure, every once in a while we get one wrong, but we get a LOT right. We've turned that around through training and technology.

Pictage offers a wide array of products on the cutting edge of fulfillment from an entirely new line of photographic albums made with warp proof materials to our new gallery series line featuring acrylic and bamboo prints, fine art prints, framing, etc. And all of these products are available to our photographers at prices far lower than they can be purchased directly from any pro oriented vendor.

Our new digital fulfillment line, launching in conjunction with all new online galleries, ecommerce systems, image upload download and modification environments contains highly intuitive features and gives photographers enormous control over customer marketing behaviors and the information to make decisions.

Lastly, we are in the process of overhauling all of our subscription services, so that photographers will have the ability to tailor an offering that directly meets their needs, paying only for what they are using.

So I think we'll be ok. None of these things happens as fast as I would like and to be sure, the minute we launch there will be things we want to change. But on an entirely new footprint we can make the changes we need to much more quickly and that responsiveness is the core of relevance in an ever changing market...

Thanks for asking.


Kirstie Tweed said...

Larry I have been with Pictage since 2006 and I can say that there have been HUGE improvements in all aspects of what Pictage offers. They are most certainly relevent and are offering photographers some amazing exclusive products and outstanding customer service.

I don't believe the same things can be said about Pictage as we know it now. I invite people who are working off of old rumours to actually experience all that Pictage has to offer now.

When Jim came onboard as CEO he gained my respect when he did what I don't believe a lot of CEOs would be brave enough to do...he went on the road and met the photographers Pictage serviced face to face. He toured cross country and listened to the complaints in person, he heard what needed to change first hand from Pictage members and put things in action to make big improvements. Jim continues to listen and is active on the Pictage Forums and gives out his e-mail freely to be contacted for anything. He's hands on and he's passionate about Pictage and the work the photographers who are members are doing. He inspires his teams to focus on customer service and he makes room in Pictage for some really special projects behind the scenes without seeking credit.

I had a personal experience this week that really moved me. I photographed a wedding on the week-end for a couple who is fighting cancer. I e-mailed Jim and my Pictage consultant and shared the couple's story and asked if they could help me expedite a wedding album for the newly married couple. Jim responded immediately first thing on Monday morning with this "You bet Kirstie,
Thanks for letting us know. We’ll get it out as fast as we can." That morning I received a call from an album designer wanting to go over what I had in mind for the couple's wedding album. That afternoon I had a gorgeous completed album design, the album design is included free of charge with my Pictage membership. Pictage is now creating albums in house and the album team took over immediately. My consultant contacted me to go over my options for overnight shipping. It has been a week since the wedding and I will have a beautiful album to surprise the couple with in the hospital tomorrow. What moved me was the fast response to creating something positive to a sweet couple going through hard times. Everyone at Pictage involved in this couple's story was moved to help me surprise them with an album and worked hard to make it a possibility. They got it, they understood the importance and the timing and went out of their way to help me. I'm not one of the "rockstar" photographers, I don't have the highest membership available, I'm a small studio and they went out of their way to help. This is just one story of the care and level of customer service Pictage offers. People who don't experience Pictage for what it is today are missing out.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Dane recognized himself in your story?

Jim Collins said...

Actually this particular story had nothing to do with Dane. While Dane did leave Pictage around the time of my arrival and seek sponsorship elsewhere, that had more to do with the fact that I had terminated Pictage's sponsored speaker programs across the board. At the time I felt like that kind of client attraction model had run its course. I don't begrudge any of the folks who moved on. Their businesses required it. I sincerely wished them all well...

Gary Fong said...

The fact that I also thought this post was about Dane is unfortunate for Dane, since he's the first person who comes to mind. What a reputation to have, even if unnamed.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... I thought of David Jay...

Jim Collins said...

Hardly ... While David has left his photography business behind this own business in Showit and Pass is thriving. He's no fan of Pictage and has made that clear over the years in many ways, but there is no question that he has made a success of his entrepreneurial endeavors. (at least from an outsider's perspective).

Joe McDonald said...

Jim & Gary - I appreciate both of your support for the photography industry over the many years.

As in many industries people will have more ambition than talent. And it doesn't take long for people to recognize the cream. While people still have to be wise how they spend their hard earned money.

Jim, in particular thanks for your support of the San Diego PUG. I have learned much there and have made some nice connections, especially Erin & Jeff Youngren.

Joe McDonald