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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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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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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 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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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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On one of the professional forums I read daily, there is a conversation about the lousy state of the industry, how clients are hiring based only on price, how protecting one’s intellectual property rights has cost clients, how competitors are charging less and giving more, and blah, blah, blah. It’s the usual bitching and moaning that happens in any economic downturn when photographers: 1) are selling a product that a buyer can obtain elsewhere for less; or 2) are inadequately conveying their value-add to their clients; or 3) have clients that don’t care about the additional “value” the photographer adds to a project.

Michael Albany, a Philadelphia photographer specializing in architecture and portrait photography offered up some valuable insight that I think can help to inspire other photographers. He wrote:

I totally understand the fact that the old grey mare ain’t what she used to be and that our industry is A) in a total state of flux, and B) that the market is becoming saturated with too many Uncle Bobs but I have to say that I am so tired of hearing people whine about it. So you want to charge less or leave ASMP because they don’t [fit] your agenda, bye. Have a nice day.

I joined ASMP to learn and to grow and guess what, I am. Is it the end all to be all? Nope. Is my photography business where I want it to be? Well if you don’t know my name then no, it’s not. Is it growing? Yes.

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handshakeI presented my program “Stop Grumbling – Get Out There” to a group photographers in New Orleans. (The New Orleans chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers.) It’s a roughly two hour seminar on networking and negotiating techniques.

Usually the doors open about an hour before I speak and I use that time to introduce myself to people as they arrive, exchange business cards, and to get a rough gauge of where the audience is in terms of networking experience. I always ask the question, “So tell me about what you do,” and from a person’s response I can tell a lot about what stage of their career they’re in and how much experience they have in handling a first-time face-to-face meeting with a stranger.

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Most emerging photographers consider themselves generalists if for no other reason than that they want to work and any paying job coming their way sounds like a good one. But if this is where you’re at in your career, you’ll need to at some point do two things: first, become more of a specialist and second, be willing to let go of those early, low-paying clients. In this essay I’ll talk about the low-paying clients.

Let’s imagine the owner of the muffler shop on the corner of Main Street calls you to shoot some pictures of his shop for an ad he is running in the local weekly newspaper. We’ll call him Joe. He’s only willing to pay a small fee and you’ve done all you can to show him your value, why you’re better than everyone else, and most important, you’re convinced you’ve negotiated as far as you can with him on price. You do the shoot, he’s very satisfied, and he wants you to do more work. The fact remains though, he’s a low budget client.

I’m convinced there are two ways to make more money in any service business, including photography: work more or get better clients. I’ve taken the road of working to get better clients. More sophisticated clients understand copyright, understand licensing, and are in general much easier to work with. They are used to working with professionals in every aspect of their business.

Joe on the other hand sells a muffler and his customer owns it. Forever. The very concept of copyright is possibly foreign to him. He thinks since he’s paid you to take the photograph, he owns it. Licensing? That’s at the Department of Motor Vehicles!

As you begin to gain better clients, don’t be afraid to let go of Joe… ask me how I know. What happened to me will happen to you, guaranteed. You’ll have a day booked with low-paying Joe, and that great client you’ve been after for some time now, calls you asking you to shoot that very same day.

Don’t let Joe hold you back. At some point it’s no longer worth it to work for him. Instead, use that time working on your website, your physical portfolio, your other marketing efforts, tweaking your LinkedIn profile, or making a few phone calls or sending samples to prospective clients.

To move forward, you need to let go of whatever it is that’s holding you back. Even if it’s a client. The one exception, at least for me, is the low-paying client who is a rich referral source. To this day, I have one client who, even though I’ve not raised my rates for over ten years, consistently gives me quality referrals. She knows to keep my ten-year-old pricing “our little secret” and in fact pre-sells me as “one of the more expensive photographers in town, but definitely the best!”

I’ll be presenting my sales and networking program “No More Grumbling – Get Out There” in Dallas tonight, September 22nd, and in New Orleans on Tuesday, September 27th.

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