Yearly Archives: 2011

Recording today

Hey all,

Taking the day off from our usual posts to record and cut together the first …a Man to Fish… podcast.  I’ll be back to let you know when the show is available for download.  Many thanks to Chuck Anerino, kickass documentary photographer and associate at Hoffer Photography for joining me on the first podcast.  We talked about the thread he started over on the FM wedding forum about Passion and diverted into all kinds of business/branding/creativity related topics.

I’m planning on the podcast becoming a regular fixture around here so I welcome your comments, suggestions for topics or guests (you can nominate yourself, BTW) and general commentary on what you’d like to hear.

– trr

P.S. – Still a slot open for the February SEXY BUSINESS WORKSHOP in Las Vegas (Feb 16-18) prior to the WPPI convention.  Get it while its hot.   - REGISTER HERE -  We’re also running the affiliate program for this workshop, so if you refer someone to the workshop and they enter your name in the “who referred you” field (and they follow through on the workshop) you’ll get $50 from us.  Many thanks!

Big Fish or Beautiful Fish?

So I was chatting on Facebook with all-around-swell-chap Chuck Anerino, and we were talking about how overwhelming it can be to run a small business.  No matter how hard you work, there are always going to be more items on the list than when you started.  And as the holidays approached there is so much that needs to be attended to that you have to start prioritizing what is actually going to be finished and what you’re going to put off until later.

So I was whining to Chuck that I wasn’t sure how I was going to get to everything I needed and wanted to work on.  Chuck, perhaps not realizing how appropriate a fishing metaphor would be in this case, asked me which was the biggest fish out on the line at the moment.  In classic bitching and complaining mode I said that they were all big fish (obviously I understand the definition of “priority”).  So Chuck asked me which was the most beautiful fish out there?  Interesting question.  My assumption being that in absence of a clear business priority I ought to be choosing the endeavor most attractive to me at that moment.

So as we move into the new year and start planning our attack where are you going to focus your attention?  Are you looking to make headway on the biggest or most profitable  “fish” out there, or are you following some more creative set of priorities?  How do you determine the balance for yourself?  Do you separate some time for the big fish and carve away time on the side for the beautiful fish?

Personally, in photography I’ve always chased the big fish, and I’m unapologetic about that.  In fact, I’ve been the happiest and most satisfied chasing the big fish.  For me, this blog and teaching has been more of the beautiful fish – something I do for the enjoyment and drive of it.  There have been impulses from time to time to flip it – to run the blog as the big fish and let the photography provide the creative outlet, but I think that’s the more conventional and less interesting (to me anyway) approach.  This year I’ll be expanding on catching the beautiful fish (launching a podcast for this blog, more workshops and smaller seminars) and focusing on catching even bigger (though fewer perhaps) fish on the photo side.

– trr

Hard Revenue, Soft Benefits part 2

Thanks to Brett Maxwell and Daniel Lateulade for their comments on yesterday’s post – Sacrificing Hard Revenue for Soft Benefits.  Follow the conversation below:

BRETT: Once again I’ll play the “devil’s advocate” (since I mostly agree).

Your bullet points highlight that there is risk involved. Should you run a business without taking ANY risks? Should you never advertise? Advertising is essentially the same, you are paying cold, hard cash for the hope of return on investment.

(All business risks should be calculated endeavors, I think portfolio material and other soft benefits are often overestimated in value, but I would contend they do have some value, and in rare instance may have great value.)

DANIEL: I think that soft benefits often have value, but that their value can’t be determined except in hindsight. I may be misunderstanding Todd’s argument, but it seems he’s just saying “a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush”, which is hard to disagree with.

So both guys have a point.  With respect to Brett’s comment about taking risks I’ve been pretty outspoken on the value of taking risks in the past (read an oldie but goodie – Safe Risks = Safe Results).  As many of you know, I dig purposeful action.  If you want something, be upfront about it and take specific action to make it happen.  What I don’t like about giving in for soft benefits is that soft benefits are very wishy-washy in nature.  Pretty people in your portfolio don’t necessarily get you anything.  At the very least they aren’t a direct line to any specific goal that you couldn’t achieve without them.  Same thing goes for giving in with the hopes of getting referrals.  Might happen, might not – but could you get those referrals without giving away the farm to someone?

I don’t think this is the same as advertising.  If you buy an ad you are essentially associating yourself with an organization or publication that is presenting you to their audience.  You are buying an opportunity and you get to perform within that opportunity.  But once you pay the organization selling the ad is keeping up their end of the bargain by running your ad.  Cost paid for services rendered.

Problem with all this soft stuff is that you are paying the cost for potential, not services rendered.  That job in your portfolio may yield something, may not.  That client may promise tons of goodwill and referrals, but they have no incentive or guarantee to perform.

So is what is the worth of a bird in the hand?  All I can say is that throughout my career I thought that certain jobs were going to bring in big money and fame.  Never really panned out.  None of the jobs that I thought would catapult me to the next level ever yielded more than the average job.  Many of the jobs that I never thought twice about ended up being the ones that helped us move upmarket.  The point being that you never know upfront if soft benefit will turn into hard value.

And really hard value comes not from opportunity but initiative.  If you have the initiative to execute, I tend to believe you can make your own opportunities.  So it seems like those who are really willing to do the hard work can get to where they need to go without compromising their revenue stream.

I guess my goal in talking about this is not to discourage anyone, just to point out (at the risk of sounding corny as hell) that the brass ring isn’t out there somewhere, it is in you.  You can’t wait for someone else to pluck you our of obscurity, or look to the outside world to make things happen, you just have to do it yourself.  Do assume that you don’t have what you need.  And if you are going to be out there making moves to move forward it helps to have as much money in your pocket as possible.

Then again, I could be nuts – what do you think?

BTW – thanks to those of you who spread yesterday’s message.  We saw a nice, tasty uptick in traffic yesterday thanks to you all.  As usual, the best way to help us grow a site like this is to like on Facebook, follow on Twitter, post these articles to online forums and share them with friends.  It is good Karma (even if that is a soft benefit, zing!) and much appreciated.


– Todd

Sacrifice Hard Revenue for Soft Benefits?

I recently was invited to join a Flickr group called Starting a Wedding Photography Business (thanks Daniel) and I wanted to reheat and unpack a discussion from that forum today. The question that was raised was how to handle a client that claims to “LOVE” your work but can’t afford you.

I’m sure we all have opinions on this. And I know that I’ve been outspoken about whether or not to compromise for portfolio building purposes, or on the overall value of a portfolio in the first place. But the issue remains what should you do when a client seems perfect in every way but their budget?

My primary piece of advice is to try and find out what the presupposed budget is and suggest an adjustment to limit your offerings to fit the budget. I don’t advocate discounting (which means your profit goes down) I instead advocate that you figure out how the client wants to sacrifice in order to accomodate their budget (they ought to be giving up something, right?).

But even if you limit what you are doing you’re still giving up what you typically want to make, need to make, or could potentially demand given your standard offerings. Obviously, if you go the route of discounting there is no where for the money to come from but owner’s compensation/net profit. So we are talking about losing out on actual dollars which come out of our pockets.

Every business-owner needs to set some criteria as to what soft benefits they think are worth giving up hard revenue.

  • Say you like the client today. That may or may not translate into any benefit down the road.
  • Say you think the job will look great in your portfolio, but you don’t know whether having that portfolio material will yield any tangible results going forward.
  • Say the job takes place in some location you want to work at more – like anything else this is just an opportunity and not any kind of guarantee.
  • Say you think this client is way-connected, and the referrals are sure to flow. Again, an assumed revenue train isn’t actual revenue in pocket.

The point is that none of this stuff is guaranteed, like the cash in your pocket would be. I can provide some personal and some professional advice. Personally, I’d stick to the folks that can and will pay your rates. Then again, I’m happy making what I want to make, and I tend to feel that the soft benefits that other folks look for just won’t make as big a difference to me. If I know that I compromised myself, if doesn’t matter how beautiful the venue was or how kindly I was treated. Maybe it comes down to the fact that (at least for me) committing to what I want to make and how I want to be perceived has brought me the satisfying business and I don’t feel that I have to compromise to get what I want. Your mileage, as with everything else on ye olde interwebs, may vary.

So on a personal level I wouldn’t bother. On a professional level my advice would be if you are going to discount/compromise for some soft benefit you need to consider the fact that it’s entirely possible that absolutely nothing whatsoever will come from your sacrifice. If you are still OK with giving of yourself and getting nothing back from it (not even goodwill) then go ahead and do what you like. My second piece of advice would be to think realistically about what potential benefit your compromise might bring in and see if there isn’t some other way to accomplish the same thing. If there is, all I ask is that you give it some thought.

I know, I sound like an inflexible jerk. But hear me out. Over the last few years I’ve found that my initial assumptions about soft benefits have often been wrong. Sometimes a super fun couple wasn’t the most thrilling to shoot. Sometimes I’ve dreaded photographing an event and left loving it. Sometimes I’ve assumed that an influential client would yield incredible referrals and ended up bringing in nothing. You get the drill – I’ve assumed and made the ass of myself. I don’t think, looking back, that I’ve ever been angry with myself for sticking to my guns.

Now, it is your turn to spout off- tell me what your experience has been and how you deal with the “love it, can’t afford it” crowd. If you like what you see here please do us a favor and spread the love – follow us on Facebook and Twitter and send this post out to anyone you think might benefit.

– trr

Comparable vs. Incomparable

I attended an event industry luncheon this week, and sat next to a professional (not a wedding professional) who also happened to be in the midst of planning her own wedding.  Upon learning I was a wedding photographer, she confessed to me that choosing her photographer had been the most difficult decision of all of her wedding planning thus far.  She further clarified her difficulty was not that she couldn’t find something she liked, but that the process was completely overwhelming as she found so many great photographers.  But, she said, after looking at several websites, everything looked the same to her, she had no idea which one to choose.  She eventually turned to the recommendations of other professional friends and her wedding coordinator to narrow down her choices to a manageable few.

In the end, she made a phone call to one on her narrowed down list, and after a ten minute conversation in which she felt like she clicked with the photographer on the other end of line,  the bride stopped her search and hired that photographer.  She never had a formal consultation- with anybody.  It sounded to me like she didn’t have the time nor the interest in meeting with a bunch of people she didn’t intend to hire.  (And you’re all screaming, “She’s not my bride!  She couldn’t possibly care about her photography if she wouldn’t take the time to meet with potential photographers!!”  I know, I know.  But, the thing is, I never got the feeling that she didn’t care about her photography, or that she was taking the decision lightly.  On the contrary, it seemed like it was very much an important decision to her.  And it seemed like the whole thing stressed her out.  She was a super busy person before she started planning her wedding, but, add the wedding planning to the mix, and now she’s a girl with no time to spare.

I asked her what would have made the whole process easier for her, and she said she would have loved to have a side-by-side comparison of all of the photographers out there, kind of like they do on on-line shopping sites.  She was frustrated that everybody had wildly different prices, and everyone had wildly different package offerings, but she really couldn’t tell what the difference was.

Now, I would never venture to say that this one bride represents all brides out there.  We all know that is not the case.  But, I think there are a couple lessons to take away from this encounter:

1. The more options out there, the more things look the same, especially to someone who is not an expert in the subject matter.  And most brides are not experts in wedding photography.  Most plan but one wedding.  Okay, sometimes more than one wedding, but still they have nowhere near the expertise and obsession that we have with the industry.

2.  Brides are making major decisions about you before they ever get to any kind of personal interaction with you – phone, email or in person consultation.  Some, like this bride, will make a decision about who they will hire without doing anything in person.  And though some would say, “well, that’s not my bride then”, for all intents and purposes the bride in my story above appeared to be what most would describe as a desirable, high-end bride, or at least a high-middle bride.  She was a well-educated, well-dressed professional in a high-level position who had hired a coordinator to assist with planning her wedding.  In no way did she seem cheap to me.  But she also didn’t seem like the kind of person who would overspend frivolously.  She really had no idea why some photographers were charging $2,000 and some were charging $8,000, and I believe (though I did not ask) she ended up somewhere in the middle.

2. Brides are begging to see something that screams out to them “I’m the perfect photographer for you”.  And all of the cliche lines that permeate most photographers websites are not cutting it.

3. If you leave it up to the brides, they would prefer for you to make it easier for them to compare you to everyone else.  If they can’t quickly understand what makes you different, then they want a spreadsheet, so they can see what they’re getting from you at what price as it relates to what they’re getting from the other photographers.  They want you to be like a car model, or a piece of electronic equipment.  When everybody appears to be the same, they want to line you up and see which is the cheapest or the best value.  This would be great for those of us that are the cheapest, if you’re not, and the brides reach the point of frustration where “all photographer look the same” (which I believes happens way faster than any of us would like to believe) all of the art and style, and pretty much anything besides the number of hours you’re there and the products you include go out the window.  They stop thinking about what the pictures in the album look like, and think only about the album itself.

Wouldn’t you rather be incomparable?

By |December 16th, 2011|Branding, Business|5 Comments