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Tag "Commoditization"

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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New York PhotographerA huge thank you to New York Photographer Michelle Kawka for this guest blog post:

Often times, I will get a price request for my photography services via email. Generally, the inquiry looks something like this:

I need a photographer for X photo or video project or event and it is on X day and time. Are you available? How much do you charge? Please email me back with your price.

To which my email response is generally along the lines of:

Thank you very much for contacting me regarding your photo and/or video needs. How did you hear about me ?

Before I give you a price, it is best if we have a brief phone conversation so that I might ask you a few questions and better understand your needs.

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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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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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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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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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Hang with WinnersTalk with anyone who plays tennis and they’ll tell you that in order to improve their game, they have to play against players who are better than they are. Tennis players are ranked on a numeric scale, I’m a 3.0 so I like to play against 3.5 or 4.0 players. In doing so, I like to think my game will improve.

The same is true for photographers. Attend any gathering of photographers and there will always be the bunch of “grumpy old guys” in the corner talking about how things “used to be” and hoping those good old days will come back. Fact is, they won’t. Get as far away from that gang as possible, they’ll only bring you down.

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