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The buzz on sales, negotiating, and web optimization

Detroit People PhotographersYou receive a phone call from a prospective client asking you to “bid” on an upcoming photography project she has. It’s an opportunity to forge a new relationship with a new client and you really want the job. Here are a couple of guidelines that have served me well, resulting in me being selected as the successful “bidder”:

1. Never, ever, give a “ballpark figure” for the project; you’ll surely overlook something if you provide an estimate on the spot. It’s just impossible to quickly throw together a figure while under the pressure of “I want an estimate now.” Instead, gather information by asking open-ended questions and let your caller know you’ll get back to her quickly with the estimate.

2. Always ask your counterpart in the negotiation what her budget for the project is. In most cases, they’ll tell you they haven’t set one. That’s fine, just gather more information – perhaps share some insight about how you would handle the project and offer some suggestions to help her out. Then a bit further along in the conversation, share the following: “I have to say Mary, your project is exactly the type of shoot we do all the time and I’d love to work with you on it. Tell me, where do I need to be on this project?”

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A small chain of outdoor adventure clothing shops based in Ann Arbor, Michigan sends me emails from time to time since I am a regular customer. Today’s email was a holiday promotion but what caught my eye was a link titled, “Gifts for Ex-Lovers”.

Ex-Lovers

Like everyone, I have ex-lovers so my curiosity got me and I wanted to see what the gang at Moosejaw would suggest I give an ex. If you’re unfamiliar with the psyche of the company, one day this past summer, they were bored, took a hunk of bologna and a deli meat slicer up to the roof of their headquarters and whipped sliced bologna at passing cars and made a video of the fun! (click here, opens in new window). Suffice it to say, they’re an irreverent bunch… one reason for their success in their target demographic I’m sure.

I clicked the link and was sent to a page of the site containing 16 items that I guess they deemed appropriate for ex-lover, most of which I’d be grateful if an ex-lover sent me. A few stood out from the rest (and I’m keeping my comments to myself): a “Ruffwear Roamer Leash”, a “Black Diamond Pecker” (that’s it to the right), a “SOG Flash I Knife”, and a “Back Country Access B1 Shovel”. Hmmmmm.

In any case, I’m guessing that link in the email will get the most click-throughs of any. Think outside the box, be different, and be successful!

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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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This post is an excerpt from my book, “Stop Your Grumbling. Get Out There! (The essential guide to networking to improve your bottom line.)” If you want to get your hands on a copy, it’s available from Amazon in paper or Kindle editions.

If you quit, you’ve failed… so don’t quit!

You remember Mr. Potato Head? The toy was almost dead after its market debut. In the beginning, the toy was given away for free, as a prize in cereal boxes. But it required a real potato – not included, as you might suspect. The toy didn’t gain traction when they introduced just the parts to the marketplace, some think because it required a real potato. Instead of giving up (quitting!), the manufacturer decided to include a plastic body in the kit, Hasbro took over, and the rest is history. If you have kids, you know how important Mr. And Mrs. Potato Head were in rescuing Woody from the toy collector in Toy Story!

Failure is a necessary component of success. I started my sales career selling franchises for American Speedy Printing, a Michigan quick-print franchise. Any professional salesperson knows that sales is nothing more than a numbers game. Most say that out of 20 sales presentations you make, you’ll successfully close, or sell, just one prospect.

Each franchise I sold garnered me a $3,000 commission. I was talking to one of the more successful salesman there and explained I was very frustrated that I was hearing “no” again and again and hadn’t received commission money for some time. He told me I was thinking about sales entirely wrong. Instead of just regarding the close as a success, I had to think of each “no” as a success.

I must have looked puzzled, he went on to explain: the commission is $3,000 and statistically, you know you need to make 20 calls to sell one. And then he changed how I thought about hearing “no.” He said that every time he makes a call, he makes $150, or 1/20th of $3,000! Amazing. It’s just a different way of wrapping your head around failure. Each failure gets you closer to a success, so each failure is indeed worth something!

When you fail, learn from it, figure out what went wrong in your presentation. Perhaps you need to better demonstrate your value to your prospective clients. Perhaps you need to send samples specific to the job they’re calling about. Something in your presentation needs to be tweaked.

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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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I’m writing a book and find myself leaving my office to write at a local coffee shop where I can be singularly focused on the project. While there this morning, it occurred to me how unappealing their baked goods looked and why. The shop’s competitor is Starbucks, just 4 doors down. I prefer this shop because it has less traffic and is quieter than Starbucks, not to mention they make great coffee!

But I’ve NEVER bought anything out of their pastry case. Why? Because all their offerings are wrapped in plastic-wrap. It looks horrible. My brain thinks anything pastic-wrapped was packaged the day before and was encased in a polyester tomb so they could squeeze an extra day of “freshness” out of it. Not only that, but the frosting or glaze on any pastry is going to stick to the wrapper when I open it… ugh! Starbucks on the other hand presents all of their baked goods unwrapped. They’re fresh. They’re appealing. I buy them.

How are you packaged? Is your website a boring template? Hope not. Does it look fresh? Hope so. Does it have big pictures? It better, potential clients want to see large, in-your face images. Can a viewer fly through 5 or 6 images in 5 seconds? They should, web usability expert Jakob Nielsen (website, opens in new window) says visitors to your website will give you eight seconds (yes eight!) of their attention to locate what they’re looking for.

So ask yourself: How are you “packaged”? Are you a muffin in plastic-wrap? Or are you a baked-fresh, pleasing-to-look-at, delicious, gotta-have-it slice of lemon poppyseed cake?

Written by one of many Detroit Photographers, Blake J. Discher. BTW, that sentence was crafted around the phrase “Detroit Photographers” for SEO purposes for my studio’s website. Photograph copyright 2012 Blake J. Discher, it’s mine, please don’t take it without asking first.

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Written by People Photographer Blake J. Discher

ASMP’s hot-off-the-presses book helps photographers understand photo markets in the digital age. “The ASMP Guide to New Markets in Photography”, consists of chapters written by individuals having different areas of expertise including including Tom Kennedy, Peter Krogh, Judy Herrmann, Richard Kelly and Colleen Wainwright. My chapter discusses selling in the new economy, what follows is an excerpt:

Testimonials Are Gold

Testimonials on websites are fast becoming popular. In today’s rushed world however, merely sending an email asking for a testimonial will likely not yield positive results. Your request will likely drop to the bottom of your client’s to-do list. Because of staff cutbacks, most of our clients are doing the work of several people and might not have the time to get to your request.

Make it easy for them. Instead, write the testimonial yourself and then email it to your client with a paragraph letting them know you’ve enjoyed working with them in the past and you’ve attached a testimonial about the photography you provided for their approval. Don’t go overboard in your review of yourself, keep it humble and let them embellish if they care to.

Keep in mind that some corporations forbid vendors from trading on their name. Check any contracts or other written agreements you may have signed before posting any testimonials on your site. Don’t assume your company contact knows the corporate policy.

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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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