Monthly Archives: July 2011

[Video Post] Too easy?

Got an interesting question from Andrew at Luminessence Photography, check it out:

Hey Todd,

Lately I’ve found myself struggling with a few issues branding/pricing-wise, and since your blog is generally what I turn to in these kinds of situations, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Many of your posts and discussions deal with issues around photographers not getting enough business, or not getting the type of business they want, or not making enough money. I always enjoy reading your thoughts and the contributions of others on these issues, as it always makes me stop and think hard about literally every aspect of my business.  However, my issue lately seems to be that I’m getting pretty much everything I want and it’s making me feel like I need to change something. Like it’s too easy.

I have an idea of what I want my brand to be, and what I want the experience of working with me to be like. I’ve set out my product/service options based on that, and set pricing that works for me for what I need. I’ve had fantastic clients, and I keep getting inquiries from more fantastic people that I want to work with, all of whom love my work/style and the experience of working with me.

Okay, </bragging>.

Something tells me I should be either charging more or offering less. Several clients have mentioned the names of other photographers they were considering, most of whom I consider more talented/experienced than me, and most of whom I’m flattered even to be in competition with. But my packages are generally more all-inclusive than these other photographers, and I feel like according to market principles (this is my business degree talking), if I’m offering more at comparable quality, I should be charging more.

Hopefully this all makes sense. Am I doing so many things right (and by ‘right’ I mean right for my own needs) that I’m going about it all wrong?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for keeping me up nights thinking about my business in new ways.

I think this speaks to a bigger issue.  Often, we plateau as we develop in our work and our business and we reach levels of “success” and it isn’t always clear where we should go once we get there.  I know that it is something that I have personally experienced and so have many of my close friends.  Ultimately this blog exists to help define success and provide guidance to get there.  But success is often a moving target, and once you hit it you often find that it wasn’t as satisfying and reaching for the next level of success.  I had a feeling that what Andrew was asking wasn’t exactly what he was hoping to address, and sometimes a conversation is the only way to hash things out.

Give the video a minute to load – its a big one!

I kind of like this video format, so let me know what you think.  Also, I give a big thanks to Andrew for his willingness to talk about his situation, so stop by his site and give him some love.  If you have a question that you’d like to see answered here send it here and maybe you’ll be featured in the next video – [email protected]

thanks

- trr

Obligation

I’ve been working on my own branding/value/business lately (trying to do as I say, instead of just saying it) and we keep coming up to a roadblock.  I believe pretty intensely that a business needs to be specific, idealistic and committed to something beyond themselves in order to be worth hiring.  And yet, as we travel further down that path we always end up hamstrung by worrying about all things that we might be obligated to provide.  If I want to focus on tangible deliverables, will I be obligated to also provide digital assets?  If I want to focus on a particular type of storytelling image, will I also be obligated to provide less-meaningful images?  If I want to carefully edit and curate my wedding albums will I be obligated to allow the client to weigh in on the decision?  Ultimately, the fear of obligation is making it nearly impossible for us to be specific, or commit, or to believe in our ideals.

I think it is worth admitting here that the obligations are making it very difficult for me to do what I tell you all to do.

Then again, the guy-who-runs-this-blog part of my brain is telling the wedding-photographer part to man up.  I know precisely what I need to do, I’m just being a wimp.  Wait, scratch that, I wanted to say I was being a pussy, but I didn’t want people to judge my use of that word.  I must commit, and therefore a pussy am I.

Here is blog-brained-guy’s belief;

The only obligation you have to to believe that your way is the perfect way and to manage expectations.

Honestly, this is the only way it works.  If you are doing it it has to be the rightest way you can do it.  You have to believe that for anyone else to believe it.  Then, as long as they understand what that means, you get to do it.  We are the only ones who can screw up our branding in the field.

What sucks is that it is easier to compromise that communicate.  It is easier to whinge and fluctuate than commit.  It is easier to believe in what you assume to be true (or satisfactory) that to believe in your actual ideals.

I’m having a tough time with it too.  Just thought you’d like to know.  But I’m getting there, and I know that my entrepreneurial survival depends on it.  I’d love to hear your thought (or your support) and how this affects your business.

Also, I think some pre-announcements are in order.  I’m currently working out the details to throw a small-group, super intensive business and branding workshop here in Atlanta.  People have been asking for it (no, really – that’s not just marketing talk) and I think the time is now.  I’m looking at the end of September, and if this one books well we probably have time to throw more this year.  It will be three hardcore days (morning till midnight or later) and you’ll leave with a solid business plan, price list and brand.  This will be the workshop for people who know they need a change but aren’t sure what direction to take. We’re pretty excited about it, and we found the perfect place to hold it yesterday and the details are being worked out.  Look for an official announcement by next week.  If you want to get on the waiting list or ask any questions send them here – [email protected].

Also, got a call about a string of workshops in the South this November.  Stay tuned for details and if you’d like to see us run off at the mouth in your neck of the woods then please drop us a line.

thanks, looking forward to hearing from you.

- trr

What I learned from Netflix…

Yeah, Netflix raised their prices for less deliverables.  That pretty much sucks, even if their service is still comparatively pretty good.  But people are pissed, and I think they have a right to be.  Then again, it doesn’t matter much if you have a right to be pissed, the consumer is going to piss and moan about it through every social media outlet they can when they feel snubbed.

So what does this tell us as photographers?

You might say that the outrage would indicate that raising prices is a bad thing.  The problem is that Netflix didn’t raise prices soon enough to keep clients happy.

What?!?  Am I nuts?  Hear me out.

Netflix is in a tough spot.  They didn’t pioneer streaming content, but they certainly popularized it.  It worked well for them at the time – since it wasn’t popular before them, Netflix was able to get the streaming content for cheap.  Now everyone wants in on the magic, and the price to stream good content is going through the roof.  So Netflix’s Cost-of-Goods-Sold is about to go up when they renegotiate contracts.  As you all know, I believe that a business has to stay profitable at all times, so I’m not opposed to the price increase.

What I’m opposed to (and hey – I’m a Netflix customer) is that they haven’t been raising prices all along.  As the service gained traction and got more popular Netflix should have been raising the price.  That would have served two purposes.

First, it would have helped to frame the market’s expectations of what streaming media is worth.  Right now, we’re used to getting it for free or for a pretty paltry sum.  That’s a problem, because even though we all like a free ride we entrepreneurs know full well that consuming content at an unsustainable price ain’t going to carry us through the long-term.  So Netflix should have hooked us with low prices and steadily bumped the price along the way.  They needed us to believe that the content and the method of delivery was worth more.

Second, raising prices would have given them extra revenue.  Sound simple, right?  Fact is that the model that Netflix was operating under was unsustainable.  Everyone knew the price on streaming content was going up.  They should have been preparing for that, socking away funds for the inevitable day when the contract was coming due.  While they had the opportunity to drive more revenue, they should have been investing in the future.

So, let’s bring this around to us.  If your photography business is gaining traction – raise the price.  Yes, it seems greedy, but it is really necessary to secure your future.  First, if you aren’t at profitable or sustainable levels you’ve got to get the revenue stream up.  But you also have to be reframing the market’s expectation of what your work is worth.  If you are in demand, even a little bit of demand, create more by raising the perceived value.  Get people used to paying more and valuing your work more.  You’re going to need that brand-worth going forward.

Beyond that, while you are making money, make more.  You can’t just calculate your expenses and COGS today and assume those things will stay stagnant.  Your lab/album company/employees/accountant/etc are all going to keep costing more.  You don’t know what stupid huge cash-suck is going to come out of nowhere and readjust your idea of what profitable is.  Like  the old-folks used to say, you have to make hay while the sun is shining.  Make it – don’t wait until later because you might need today’s money to pave the way to tomorrow.

Netflix went and pissed us off by allowing us to not value what they were providing for so long.  Now they are coming along and wanting reasonable compensation and we’re not happy the gravy train is off the tracks.  So here is my advice.  Stop just limiting yourself to thinking about pricing your work based on what it costs – you have to make sure that you are covering costs but it is far more important to price based on the value to the client.  Netfix let us believe that streaming media was cheap, now they want us to believe it is worth more for the same thing (or less).  They had to start changing our minds earlier, not at the last minute.

What do you think?  Are you charging as much as your work is worth to the client?  Is your price helping the client to understand how important your work is?  And are you preparing for the future, not just covering yourself for today?   Netflix damaged years of customer evangelism not for raising prices, but for not raising them soon enough – are we in danger of the same punishment?

Let me know what you think, it has definitely given me much to consider.

- trr

Links for days!!!!

Low and behold, I actually have a month at home now that the lull of being on a plane every other week to shoot a wedding has finally died down.  Looking forward to more posts in the coming weeks and some hopefully exciting announcements coming soon.

Several articles have grabbed my attention over the last few days and I want to send them out to you and include my thoughts.  The first is from uber-consultant Sean Lowe on his blog The Business of Being Creative and concerns the idea of how creative entrepreneurs can achieve transparency in pricing -

More on Transparency

I;d love for everyone to read this and consider what it means for us.  Honestly, much of the business education in photography lately has focused on the COGS idea and I think we are doing ourselves a disservice.  Yes, it is massively important to understand the costs and what the margins allow for.  But you cannot simply price based on cost – you have to price based on you.  The bottom line is that you have to define what it takes for you to do the job that only you can do.

Next, I thought Seth Godin’s post from today was pretty great with respect to how we think about what we do -

Articulating your preferred use case

I’ve been doing a lot of one-on-one mentoring lately and much of our talk turns to how you get clients to hire you.  I think that the impulse is often to try and figure out how to cater to what we perceive the market to want which I have always felt is a massive mistake.  If you know what you are doing, and it is specific and intentional enough then the right people can find you amongst all the other options out there and they can fall in love with you.  I’d urge everyone to go through the use-case exercise that SG offers up in this post and think about what your ideal job scenario looks like.  Drop me a comment or an email and let me know what your ideal use case looks like and how similar or different is it to your typical job.

Along the same lines this article from the Brand Camp Blog suggests that you set some rules for how people interact with your work.

Don’t Go Messin’ With my Birthday Cake

Seriously, can you limit how,when and why people contact your work?  Are you willing to tell them exactly what they need to own, how they need to display your work, what they need to do to make it happen?  Are you being specific enough?  Are you limiting your clients enough for them to be happy with your work?

Check out those articles, leave them a comment then come on back here and let me know what you think.

Thanks

- trr

The bright spots

I’ve been a little preoccupied over the last few days with some personal mentoring sessions.  I tend to be a problem-solving kind of guy.  I focus on the pressure points and try to seek out the root causes and then develop a solution.  It is a good method for making big strides quickly.

But working with a bunch of different studios over the past week or so has given me some perspective on a different approach.  Sure, it still works to look at the issues and ruthlessly stamp them out, but it also makes sense to figure out what the bright spots are and rally around them.

I am guilty in my own business of being too focused on what I could improve and losing site of what it is that I am best at.  It seems to me to make incredible sense to maximize the strengths rather than shore up the weaknesses.  After all, who do you remember most – someone who is the best and most dedicated to a given aspect of their work, or the most well-rounded person?

So, what is it that you are best at, and can you build your entire business around that?  Instead of getting a little better at the things you struggle with, can you get 10 times better at what you already excel at?

If you are interested in mentoring (determining profitability, putting together a compelling brand, pricing for sustainability, general awesome good times, etc) drop me a line at [email protected].

Thanks

- trr