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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 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 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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I was speaking with New York Portrait Photographer Michelle Kawka recently and she shared a recent experience with regard to knowing how to price a recent wedding job she photographed.

During her initial consultation with the couple, Michelle sensed that price would be an issue for the couple. She decided a good approach would be to discount her usual price for “photography and an album” a bit, and trust her ability to sell the couple additional albums, prints, and other tangibles when the couple came to her studio to review the photographs. (Just a side note, Michelle is a Sandler Training “graduate” and exudes confidence in just about everything she does.)

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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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