Blake J. Discher Posts

Video: The Vendor Client Relationship

If you haven’t seen this yet, I think you’ll like it. I sometimes open my “I Stink at Negotiating” presentation with this clip. I’m sure everyone reading this can relate. On with the show…


Good luck!

How Do You Answer the Phone?

I know a photographer here in Detroit who answers his phone, “Studio.”

We get one chance to make a first impression. Don’t make it sound like you’re rushed and bothered to be taking a potential client’s call. I remember working in a toy store back in High School and thinking it was silly how they wanted us to answer the phone, but now I get it. In this age of “good enough” be grateful that your phone is ringing and the client didn’t go out and buy a Canon G10 so they could take their own photographs!

Answer the phone with a smile, the caller will “hear” it on the other end. I’d suggest something like, “Firefly Studios, this is Blake.” It lets the person know they’ve reached your studio and who they’re talking to. Then let the conversation start. Two tips: be a good listener, and if you get in over your head, you can always let the FedEx guy save you!

Photograph by Tambako licensed under a Creative Commons license.

You Need to be a Salesperson First

Even in these stressful economic times, your business will be more successful if you are willing to recognize one fact: you need to be a salesperson first, and a photographer second. Many photographers take great photographs, but far fewer excel at sales. When I speak to audiences about negotiating, I’m always quick to point out that sales skills are what help you to demonstrate to the client why they should hire you instead of your competitor.

Know your prospect:

One of the first things I do when a potential new client calls is to take a very quick look at their website during the early stages of the call. I’m looking for details that will help me to determine how they use photography, how sophisticated their use of design is, and the overall “look” of their brand. I’m learning as much as I can in those seconds about the company for two reasons: first, so that I can talk about the site and show them that I have an awareness of and interest in their company. Second, it gives me a sense of how much value they place in their “image” in the marketplace. The more value they place in their image, the more they might appreciate the value I can bring to the photography they’re after.

Sell your value, not your product:

By value, I mean the things I do that differentiate me from my competition. You’ve heard it many times, sell the benefits, not the product. Your product is photography, but what you need to share with the client are the benefits she will get in working with you. Do you work quickly? Then talk about how non-disruptive to the client’s facility you are during the shoot. Do you bring along a monitor? Then talk about how she’ll be able to see the shots as you take them and can be assured your getting what she wants.

For the client, photo shoots are stressful. You’re reassuring her that you are the correct person for the job; that she can have complete confidence in your ability to pull off a successful shoot.

Remember, if you focus the conversation on price, the price will likely fall. If instead you focus the conversation on value, specifically the value you bring to the project, you’ll help the client justify in her mind why she should hire you for the shoot — even though your price may not be the lowest. Marketing guru Seth Godin says it best, “You need to increase your value. If people don’t want to pay, it’s because you’re not delivering enough value for the money you’re charging. You’re not selling a commodity unless you want to.”

This post first appeared on the American Society of Media Photographers’ (ASMP) “Strictly Business” blog. Photo by Sunfrog1 on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons License.

Inexpensive Marketing: Ask For Referrals

One of the best and least expensive ways to grow your business is through referrals. But for a variety of reasons, most people are reluctant to ask for them. Maybe it’s fear of hearing “no”. Maybe they think happy clients will just spread the word about “their favorite photographer” without any prompting from you. But we’ve all heard that time-tested axiom that states an unhappy customer will tell ten people about lousy service, and a happy one will share with perhaps one other person about the great service they’ve received.

After every shoot, once the images are delivered and the client is happy, I’ll always ask the question, “Hey Brian, I appreciate the opportunity to work with you on this project, the shots look great, and I was wondering if their was anyone else you knew that might use this type of photography?” This is the best time to ask, everyone has a good feeling about the recently completed project. The names Brian gives you are incredibly valuable leads. In a sense, John has “vouched” for you and your product. Referrals carry immediate credibility.

The next thing I do is call those people John referred and say something like, “Hi Cheryl, I’m a photographer here in Detroit and I just finished a project with your friend Brian Jones. It turned out great and he suggested I introduce myself and my photography to you.” If you repeatedly get Cheryl’s voice-mail, don’t worry, you can leave that message and follow with an email with some samples of your work and a repeat of that introduction, being sure to mention the referrer, her friend Brian.

Then, be sure to update the people that give you referrals. It’s one more legitimate reason to make contact with an existing client, and people like to know you appreciated their help. Something like, “Hi Brian, I just wanted to thank you again for referring Cheryl to me and give you an update about how that worked out.” This sort of “reaching out” to your existing clients will help to keep you “front of mind” and they might even send you more business just because you’re keeping in touch.

Good luck!

This post first appeared on the American Society of Media Photographers’ (ASMP) “Strictly Business” blog.

The Perfect Hard-Boiled Egg

Note to the blogging Gods: I know you’re never supposed to go off-topic in a blog. And I know this has nothing to do with negotiating or sales or web-type stuff, I just wanted to pass this along because Easter is the time when people butcher eggs by overcooking them. And I hate overcooked eggs. Read on…

Around Easter about five years ago, I mentioned in my old blog that I hated the greenish surface on the yolks of hard boiled eggs. Someone responded with what turned out to be the perfect method for hard-boiling an egg that would result in a bright yellow yolk. It turns out that the greenish “stuff” is simply a result of overcooking the egg.

So, because it’s almost Easter, and because two people emailed me for the cooking instructions, here is that recipe. But hold on a second… since this blog is supposed to be about negotiating and SEO, here is the obligatory negotiating “hook”. Note, there is no SEO hook whatsoever. By presenting eggs with terrific looking yolks, you’ll likely be more successful in your ambien buy negotiations with your six-year old in getting them to “eat an egg because it’s good for you.” Ask me how I know!

OK, on to how to cook the perfect hard-boiled egg:

1. Place eggs in a saucepan with enough COLD tap water to cover completely by 1 inch. Bring to a ROLLING boil over HIGH heat. Once the water is brought to a rolling boil, PROMPTLY reduce heat to a lower medium boil and cook an additional 10 minutes for a hard-boiled egg. (For a soft boiled egg reduce the time by a few minutes.)

2. Remove from heat and IMMEDIATELY place eggs under ice cold water or in a bowl of ICED water to chill promptly to help yolks stay bright yellow. Chill for a few minutes in the cold water until the egg is completely cooled. This is an extremely important step which prevents the unsightly greenish ring from forming on the surface of the yolk over time. If the egg is not chilled immediately after cooking, an unsightly dark greenish ring will eventually appear on the outside of the yolk.

Happy Easter everyone!

Let Me Practice on Your Big Day

Many, many readers have read and commented either here on Groozi or privately to me about the post “Score This: Photog 1, Cheapskate 0”. We’ve all shared a good chuckle, perhaps to conceal our nervousness about the state of our industry. But any professional photographer will tell you that their business is being eroded as a result of inexpensive digital cameras that take amazingly good pictures and a growing attitude that, “those pictures are good enough.” Amateurization and crowdsourcing have combined to create an entire body of photography that can be had for a song, primarily because the creators of these images don’t realize the value of the images they have created.

Photographer and author John Harrington wrote a blog post titled, “The REAL New Frugality – TIME [Magazine] Style” in which he talks about how an amateur photographer left about $2,700 on the table by selling a photo he took to TIME for its cover for $30!

Buyers of photography are becoming accustomed to the dropping prices for images. After being asked to use one of his iconic images in exchange for a credit line, Chicago photographer Joe Pobereskin recently blogged, “Do you ever wonder what a photo credit tastes like? How about this: do you ever wonder how many miles per photo credit (MPCs) your car gets? I do.” Read entire post. And even Seth Godin, today blogged, “The reality of digital content (lose the cookie, lose the fortune?)” in which he ponders the economic futures of photographers and writers in this digital age.

Katrin Eismann, chairwoman of the Masters in Digital Photography program at the School of Visual Arts in New York said in a New York Times article, “Can an amateur take a picture as good as a professional? Sure,” Ms. Eismann said. “Can they do it on demand? Can they do it again? Can they do it over and over? Can they do it when a scene isn’t that interesting?” And that, I think, pretty much is what separates the pros from the amateurs.

But no doubt, professional photography is changing. The cost of entry to the industry has dropped dramatically forcing pros to seek out ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors lest the product they produce becomes comoditized. They must ask themselves, “What value do I bring to the client that my competitors do not?” and then talk it up during that initial phone conversation when the prospective client calls.

Gallery owner and photography educator Thomas Werner recently brought this to my attention: The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art held a symposium to which examined the current state of photography. They posed a question to the 13 invited participants to the symposium’s central question: “Is photography over?” It’s fascinating reading.

Richard Anderson, photographer, digital standards expert and the driving force behind dpBestflow, was interviewed by Ethan Salwen for the “AfterCapture On Photography” blog recently. The post was titled, “It’s About Professionalism, Stupid” and is a good read.

Mr. Salwen closes with: “I agree with Anderson that this is the most exciting time in the history of photography. How one does or doesn’t make money in this golden age of photography will continue to be a challenge. But whether or not is focused on making money from photography, thoughtful photographers trying to make great images must continue to take advantage of evolving technologies. This requires addressing the craft of photography with professionalism.”

I thought I’d close this entry with something Barrie Spence brought to my attention in a comment to that “Score This…” post. This is an ad that appeared on Scotland’s Gumtree, which as far as I can tell, is sort of like the USA’s Craigslist. It too might elicit that same nervous laugh…


New Clients Don’t Search for You By Name

At the start of my web marketing presentation, I ask my audience, “How many of you come up on the first page of Yahoo! or Google? Then, in a room filled with about 100 people, about ten or so raise their hands.

Little do these ten know, I’m hoping to give the room a chuckle at one of these brave souls’ expense. I’ll ask one of them, “For what search phrase are you showing up on page one?” The answer I really want to hear is, “I’m number x when I search for my name.” And about 7 out of ten times, that’s the answer I hear. And it’s perfect, almost as if I had a set-up man planted in the audience, because my response is this:

“Unless you’re a superstar in your business, no one, except maybe your mom, searches for you by your name. You came to the right session, the information you’re about to hear can help you to improve your search engine ranking for your business… when someone searches for your business!

And the rest of the room laughs because they now understand the absurdity of being satisfied with page one results when searching for “Victor Shankapopolis” or what ever your name is. Instead, they likely search for these three items in varying order:

[your profession] [your specialty, if you have one] [your geographical region]

So, if you are a wedding photographer in Denver, your potential customers may search for Denver Wedding Photographer. If you’re a photographer in Detroit, your potential clients may search for simply Detroit Photographer. This is why, each and every time, when a new client calls me, I ask how they found me. It helps me to know what search phrase my clients are using and what phrase I should be optimizing my site for.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that all is well if you are on the first page of the search engines when you search for just your name. Well, unless your name is Annie Leibovitz.

Can Google Dance?

Because the search engines are continuously tweaking their ranking algorithms, any SEO work done on a website, be it on-page or off-page, can never be be deemed final. I always make a point to let my audiences and my SEO clients know that the “correct” adjustments to a web page today won’t be the same ones needed six months from now. SEO is a moving target.

Recently I received a call from an SEO client letting me know that her page had dropped in the search engine result pages (SERPs) and asking what might have happened. She’d changed nothing on her page and, as far as she could tell, nothing had changed on her competitor’s page, yet she had dropped below the competitor for her search phrase. She asked, “Could it be the Google dance?” Let me elaborate about this dance…

In the past, the “Google dance” generally referred to the time period when Google would rebuild its rankings and back then it lasted from three to seven days and took place about ten times a year. Things have changed though. Now, those who pay attention to such things speculate that Google now performs index updates about every week, with the most movement occurring on Mondays. These are usually small adjustments to their algorithm and index. Major dances still occur, but with much, much less frequency.

Google’s data crunching occurs at its data centers located throughout the world. Google won’t disclose where they are, or even how many there are, and the Google fanatics try constantly to figure out where they are and how to access the separate indexes each generates. In 2008, Eric Scholfeld created a lot of buzz by blogging:

There are 36 data centers in all—19 in the U.S., 12 in Europe, 3 in Asia, and one each in Russia and South America. Future data center sites may include Taiwan, Malaysia, Lithuania, and Blythewood, South Carolina, where Google has reportedly bought 466 acres of land. (Read the entire post.)

Because Google has multiple data centers, sharing upwards of 12,000 servers, the updates to their index have to be transferred throughout and these ongoing, incremental updates only affect part of the index at any one time. So the SERPs put out be any data center might differ from that put out by another.

Yesterday morning, just to see what might be happening, I searched for “Knoxville Photographer” at two different data centers and two different SERPS were presented:

Search one

Search number one

Search number two

Search number two

There are two giveaways that the data centers are indeed out of sync. (You can click on each to enlarge if you’d like.) First, the total number of pages indexed for “Knoxville Photographer” in search one is 308,000. In the second search it’s 319,000. And, even more telling is the top result: in the first, “Knoxville Photographer Dave Carroll…”, and in the second, “Seaton Shoots”.

Of course, there is no way to know when the “Major Major Dance” is taking place, but when it does, ranking do go awry, some pages are temporarily in limbo and don’t show up at all. Then they reappear, sometimes in a better position than they were in before the dance, and things settle down. It’s a non-ending cycle; one that can definitely put companies for whom search is critical in their marketing into a frenzy and drive SEO consultants such as myself crazy.

If your site has indeed dropped and stays there after things settle down, you’ll probably need to get back to optimizing your site to “satisfy” the new algorithm. Take a look at what the sites that are ranking above you have in the way of critical page elements for SEO and adjust accordingly.

Repeat after me: “I won’t let this SEO nonsense ruin my day. I won’t let this SEO nonsense ruin my day.”