Category Archives: Ramblings & Observations

A Candid Dialogue About Success in Photography

McCleary Intro

©Rick McCleary, used with permission

The following is a reply to a post on one of the photography forums I read daily. In it, Rick McCleary, a Washington DC based photographer, replies to comments and questions posted by another photographer.


Your post has been stuck in my head for a couple days because it makes me recall the exact same sentiments I felt when I was starting out – all full of myself and feeling like the world owed me something/everything. There are a couple things you need to embrace that will help you get out
of your own way:

1) This is a business, just like any other business. Nothing is given. Learn the basics. Read some business books that stress marketing. Read Seth Godin’s blog.
2) No one owes you anything.
3) Your job is to make your client’s life better. See the world from your client’s perspective. User experience, and all that.

Q: So, let me see if I got this straight: I have to be “persistent”?
RM: Yes, exactly.

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Your Business Card: Don’t Blow It

Marketing Sales  BlogFirst, my research, with apologies to “Harper’s Index”. I collected business cards for door-prize drawings last week at my WPPI Platform Class, “Sales for People Who Hate Selling Selling” in Las Vegas.

Number of cards collected: 144

Cards having no email address: 17

Cards having no email address and no phone number, only web URL: 1

When visiting URL on card above, number of phone numbers on site: 0 (really!)

Cards written on a piece of scrap paper: 10

Number of cards with both email address and phone number: 101

Cards having no contact name: 1

Now for some advice, in no order of importance.

1. Hire a designer. We’re photographers, not designers. If you think Times is a wise choice of font, or Arial, or Courier, or Verdana, you’re mistaken.

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Zig Ziglar, 1926-2012

Zig Ziglar passed from this world today after a short bout with pneumonia. He made a huge impact on me in my early sales and networking training. I bought cassette tapes, audio CD’s, and VHS videotapes and worked hard to absorb everything he threw at me. His style was approachable, his name memorable, and his wisdom unmatched. He is the one person I can credit with making me feel comfortable in front of audiences as I speak on the same topics to industry trade groups. I admonish my audiences: “Buy and put to use anything you can get your hands on by Zig.”

Thanks for everything Mr. Ziglar, you’ve helped me along the way many times.

Here are a few of his pearls of wisdom:

“Where you start is not nearly as important as where you finish.”

“I Honestly believe I have felt your feelings. I HAVE WALKED IN YOUR SHOES. You may have made some mistakes and you may not be where you want to be, but that has NOTHING to do with your future.”

“You don’t have to be great to start but you have to START to be great.”

“What you GET by achieving your goals is not near as important as what you BECOME by achieving your goals.”

“You were Designed for accomplishment , engineered for success and endowed with the seeds of greatness.”

“When you THROW DIRT at people, you’re not doing a thing but LOSING GROUND.”

“You are the only one who can use your ability. It’s an awesome responsibility.”

Have any Zig Ziglar thoughts?

.

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He Admits He’s Cheap. He’s Also a Commodity.

Written by Detroit People Photographer Blake J. Discher

He’s correct, he is an inexpensive photographer. But I’m not sure this is the business model that will lead to long term success.

The photographer does have a website, and from the pricing pages, for portraits the sitting fee is $50 plus $15 per edited photo. Weddings start at $500 and, “we will give you a CD with your photos downloaded and you may print as many copies as you want… You may request up to 5 CDs at no additional cost.”

Here’s the important question for him: What is his differentiation, or, how is his product unique from anyone else’s? If he cannot differentiate his product from that of his competitors, he will forever compete only on price.

From Wikipedia:

Commodity is used to describe a class of goods for which there is demand, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market. A commodity has full or partial fungibility; that is, the market treats its instances as equivalent or nearly so with no regard to who produced them.

Note especially the last few words: “…with no regard to who produced them.” In other words, it’s fairly safe to say that his customers are basing their decisions to hire him entirely on price. Sad to say, they’re likely not buying because of the product he produces. Possible, but not likely.

This photographer would be well served to develop a style, a look, anything that will differentiate him from his competitors. He needs to figure out what his value is to his potential customers. Only in doing so will he be able to raise his prices from the basement and truly develop his business into one that is sustainable. Unless his overhead is extremely low, his photo business will likely not survive.

At ASMP’s recent symposium, “Sustainable Business Models: Issues and Trends Facing Visual Artists”, Lauren Wendle, publisher of PDN Magazine, talked about a photographer who speaks each year at WPPI in Las Vegas. She says the photographer is one of the most popular photographers at the show. The photographer tells her audience, “I’m not the best photographer in my market, but I’m the one everyone wants to work with.” Incidentally, the photographer is also one of the highest priced studios in her town.

Her differentiation is the fact that she is the photographer everyone wants to hire. She’s developed a reputation for outstanding imagery, and has a personality to match. And the word is out through marketing and word of mouth.

So ask yourself, what makes you different? Why are you better? What is your value? Why should someone hire you instead of the less expensive photographer? If you can’t answer the questions, you too are a commodity.

Below are screen grabs of the photographer’s Craigslist ad and his website. I’ve redacted all identifying elements in each.

(Written by Detroit People Photographer Blake J. Discher)

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Nine Tips to Help Succeed in Sustaining or Growing Your Business

Written by Detroit Corporate Photographer Blake J. Discher

I’ve just returned from the American Society of Media Photographers’ (ASMP) event at the stunningly beautiful Times Center in New York titled “Sustainable Business Models: Issues and Trends Facing Visual Artists.” I’d best describe this day-long gathering of some of the brightest minds in our business as enlightening and thought-provoking. (If you were unable to attend or did not watch it live, a complete video archive of event is available here.)

The afternoon panel discussion, “The Challenge: Sustainable and Ongoing Creator Compensation” was moderated by former ASMP President Richard Kelly and the panelists were Kevin Fitzgerald, Chief Executive, CLA; Rob Haggart, Editor, aPhotoEditor.com and former Director of Photography for Men’s Journal and Outside Magazine; Henry Oh, Principal, Transpecific Media; Stephen Mayes, CEO, VII; and Susan White, Director of Photography, Vanity Fair.

Gale Zucker, watching the live stream of the event, asked a great question of the panel: “What three steps would any of the panelists suggest working photographers do tomorrow to succeed in sustaining or growing their business?” What follows are three of the panelists’ answers. (If you can contribute to the conversation, please do so by commenting on this post.)

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Wish You Had More Time? You Do!

More hours in a dayEver find yourself at the end of the day asking, “where did the time go?” Or, perhaps you’ve thought to yourself, “I wish I had more time for this project.”

What if I told you you do? In fact you can easily (and I mean easily!) pick up the equivalent of 6-1/2 weeks per year. How? If you set your alarm to wake you just one hour earlier than you normally would Monday through Friday, you’d gain five hours per week, 52 weeks per year. If you do the math that’s 260 hours per year. Two hundred sixty! That works out to 6-1/2 weeks of “found” time.

I love this time; the house is quiet, the tumult of the morning hasn’t begun, and it truly is MY OWN time.

What will you do with all that time? Here are 10 suggestions:

1. Call a potential client you’ve never worked for.
2. Make a “touch call” to an existing client you haven’t worked for in a while.
3. Send a hand written note to an existing client to thank them for a recent job.
4. Add a few new images to your website.
5. Revise your website’s bio.
6. Ask a couple of key clients for testimonials for your site.
7. Ask a designer to evaluate your website. Is the format still current?
8. Work with designer to create a series of snail-mail postcards for next year.
9. Send an email blast to clients (potential and existing) that talks about a recent awesome job you just shot.
10. Determine how you’re different from your competitors and incorporate that into your sales presentation the next time the phone rings. Differentiation gets you jobs!

Good luck!

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Creatives: Beware of Contest Rights Grabs

Copyright 2012 Blake J. Discher

In an effort to hone my motion skills, I enter contests from time to time and have put together a great crew for producing films or shorts that (I’m proud to say) have received awards. The most recent effort was a one minute “commercial” for TechDeck, those miniature skateboards kids (including my eight-year old son) play with.

Another contest is the 48-Hour Film Project, which I’ll be heading up a team in mid-July here in Detroit. Our warm up was a local community college’s 48-Hour challenge this past winter where our team took one of the three prizes offered.

Today, a good friend asked if I’d be interested in taking part in a contest run by the folks at a company called Zooppa (twitter @crowdcreativity hashtag #zooppa). From their website, www.zoopa.com:

What is Zooppa?
Zooppa is the place where you can make your own ads for famous brands. Brands provide a creative brief for each competition, and award prizes for the best ads. At Zooppa you can make money, meet other creatives, grow your portfolio, and have your work seen by millions. Whether you’re film maker, an animator or a graphic designer, Zooppa is the place for you.

Actually, Zooppa might NOT be the place for us, read on…

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Biz Down or Stagnant? 10 Things To Do Now!

Thou shalt not stealBusiness down or stagnant? When did you last…

Tip #1: Update the images on your website? (Google loves fresh content.)

#2: Refresh the “About Me” page on your website? (Again, Google loves fresh content.)

#3: Mail (using snail mail) a thank you to a client with whom you’ve recently worked? (Snail mail is so much more impressive than email.)

#4: Do an email blast to your existing and prospective clients? (Be sure to include your name or studio name in the subject.)

#5: Attend a networking event… even an art opening at a local gallery?
(EVERY gathering is a networking opportunity.)

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