Monthly Archives: January 2012

The secret to communicating your value to the client – in one sentence.

Leave it to R-Bucks to lob me a softball.  In response to the “Stop preaching to the choir” post from yesterday Rachel Buckley (who you might remember from the “About me” video post) asks this simple question:

“Now can you tell us the secret, preferably in one sentence, to the ever constant challenge of ‘communicating your value?”

I like verbosity.  I like it because it feels like further explanation can often lead to clarity.  With the written word you hate to be misunderstood or misinterpreted.  I don’t love Twitter, because you have to distill down to the basic essence rather than wallowing in the nuance. Then again, breaking down to the essence is what we need to do in communicating our brand.  So, challenge accepted, Buckley.

The secret to communicating your value in one sentence is….

“Determine what you do, why you do it, how you do it, what you create, how much it must cost, who it is for and why it matters (in client-focused terms)- then execute on that at every conceivable client interaction.”

Discuss, and I’ll be back to unpack all that.  Preferably at length, in more than one (admittedly run-on-ish) sentence.

Take that Buckley!


– trr

P.S. – It looks like we got a few shout outs and a bunch of incoming links from new places.  So if this is your first time feel free to take a look around, like us on Facebook, follow on Twitter, check out our Podcasts, and indulge in our Workshops page.

Stop Preaching to the Choir

It seems like everything there is a photography industry mini-event someone asks my opinion.  I wasn’t going to respond to this one until I saw some of the other responses from my colleagues.  You know the drill – if you haven’t read the “craigslist-y’all-photographers-are-wack” post have at it and join me back for some commentary (totally archived by -many thanks):

Attn: Wedding Photographers :) (Puget Sound)

OK, this client is mad about wedding photography prices.  And a slew of my colleagues have taken to the interwebs to state their case, defend their prices, explain their expenses and generally hunker down to commiserate about how this client just doesn’t get it.  Guess what?


Did you feel that when I got all controversial in your face!?!?!?*  Yeah, I think she sort of has a point.  I grew up lower-middle to middle class.  $3000 is a lot of money for most of us.  So I totally get where she is coming from.  And I know what you dear listeners are saying, “this isn’t my client!!!”  Yeah, you’re probably right.  For instance, she is looking for a:

“decently priced, exceptional, amazingly talented, fun photographer”

Sure, she wants everything to be amazing except the price.  Probably going to be disappointed, right?

So on this point I’m totally with you naysayers.  But my problem isn’t with her attitude, my problem is with photographers manically posting their budgets and cost breakouts to prove a point.

Your expenses do not justify your price.  Say it with once more with feeling brothers and sisters – YOUR EXPENSES DO NOT JUSTIFY YOUR PRICE.  It doesn’t matter to the client how much it costs to run your business or your life.  That in and of itself does not tell the client why your product is worth what you are asking for it.  Covering the expenses is your problem, not theirs.

Our problem in this case is not one of “education” as so many photographers put it.  Think of it this way, how often do you want someone who is in direct opposition to you to “educate” you?  Aren’t you apt to feel as if they are talking down to you, or perhaps mounting that high horse to speak as some sort of self-appointed authority?  She doesn’t need to understand the back-end of how a photography business pays the bills.

The client needs to see the value.  That’s OUR problem not HERS.  If she doesn’t see the value she probably isn’t going to hire an established pro, but for some reason she thinks she deserves to.  This is our fault as an industry.  Our fault for devaluing so many aspects of what we offer that it looks like we’re trying to ripoff the client when we charge barely appropriately.  

For something to be worth $3000 or more it needs to be valuable to the client.  That isn’t chump change to the majority of the people we are going to be working with.  I’m going to be honest, I want (significantly) more than $3K to photograph a wedding. For that to happen I have to provide that kind of value to the client’s life.  I don’t hand them my general expenses itemized out when I slide the price list across the table.  I actually have to, you know, BE valuable.

Look, on the one hand I’m sort of thrilled that some photographers have a handle on their expenses and general finances.  That’s a good sign.  But we have to go beyond what we need to make and provide compelling value to someone’s life in order to actually earn what we need.  But what we need does not justify what we charge.  What we mean just might.  What does it mean to work with us?  What does it say about a client to hang our work on their walls?  What can we help make true about a client’s wedding or family or children or whatever by virtue of our work making it evident and true?

Photographers need to stop preaching to the choir and complaining in closed circles about how clients just don’t understand.  They need to get out there and make them believe.  If the client doesn’t get it that’s our fault first and foremost.  The client isn’t responsible to cover our expenses, it is our responsibility to be valuable enough to cover them.

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


– trr

P.S. – absolutely no disrespect intended to those who I linked to.  They’re stating their opinion just like me.  My opinion is no better or worse.  Just trying to add my own perspective to the discussion.

* as a side note, the controversy statement was for my friend Laura Romero, uber-portrait-lifestyle-photographer/style maven who keeps encouraging me to take off the brakes and be even more honest and blunt.  As such, it was basically a public joke for one person, which is really the best kind of joke ever.



Hey Everyone – thanks a ton for checking out Episode 4 of the …a Man to Fish… podcast with Yan Palmer of Yan Photography.  If you haven’t been following Yan’s saga and my involvement check the previous link for the backstory and where we are going from here.  If you like that past episodes of our podcast are available here – EPISODE 1, EPISODE 2, EPISODE 3.

Onto new business…

We are offering a week-long …a Man to Fish… extravaganza in Nashville this March courtesy of the Chris and Adrienne Scott and the Shoot to Kill podcast.

Jamie and I will be presenting a free short program on Monday March 12 that is FREE TO ATTEND!!!  We’ll also be throwing a one-day program on Networking and Building word-of-mouth on Tuesday March 13 and a full-on, kick ass SEXY BUSINESS Workshop from March 14-16.  We’re still hammering out the locations so hang tight for the details but you can register yourself up at the following links:

Registering for the Nashville SEXY BUSINESS  3-day intensive automagically grants you entry into the Networking, Word of Mouth and GETTING BUSINESS seminar the day before.  Sexy, eh?

SEXY BUSINESS is our signature approach to building the business plan, branding, and pricing strategy to become incredibly attractive to your target client.  If you know that you need a change or improvement in your business to increase your earnings and satisfaction this workshop is designed to give you the path, tools and support to actually make changes.  Take a look at our SEXY BUSINESS main page for more details.

Hope to see you all there.

Beyond that, we’ve thrown up a whole mess of new workshop dates on the WORKSHOPS page – we’ll be holding events in Atlanta, Denver, and DC this year.  As usual, these workshops are limited to 5 studios and space is likely to go quickly.  

– trr

Can you afford to be an artist?

I have to say, as someone who was not directly involved in the whole Yan “sick of it” phenomenon (so this is Jamie now if you didn’t already guess), listening to the podcast between Todd and Yan was really interesting to me.  I think the statement or idea that struck me the most was Yan’s insistence that art should speak for itself.  That if it’s really art it should draw in it’s intended clientele without having to say anything about it.  That true art needs no introduction or description, and if you’re doing that then you’re resorting to business tactics because your work isn’t really art.

Hmm.  I’ve always been drawn to artistic and creative things and pursuits.  I started life as a ballet dancer, I turned to musical theatre at a pretty young age, dabbled in art, studied modern dance in college, worked professionally in theatre, and eventually turned to photography (which had in some way been a part of my life- but was never the thing I focused on until my twenties) after injuries drove me to a corporate office job that I despised.

So, turning to photography for me was very much a choice, and a calculated one at that.  I did it because it was the only way I could find for me (and Todd) to make a living doing something creative that had any sort of longevity to it.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, I needed to be creative or I was probably going to lose my mind in the grey sea of cubicles in which I spent some of what should have been the best years of my life, but I never considered going into photography without there being money involved.

Can it still be art if money is the primary motivation, I wonder?

I guess I may have started out thinking my work was art, but I think, after seven years of running a household solely from a photography income, I’ve become too pragmatic to think of my work as art now.

I spent my early twenties as a “starving artist” making $200 a week doing 8 shows a week and practically living out of my car.  I’m not really interested in going back there.

I need to make money.

I need to pay my bills.

I need to satisfy and thrill my current clients so that they will say good things about me to their friends and family and wedding coordinators so I can get hired again.

It’s much more enjoyable for me when my clients “get” it.  Although I have done work with plenty of clients that don’t “get” it, too.  I guess I have never felt I had the luxury to turn people away even if I thought they might be a red flag upfront.  And I’ve found that first impressions can often be wrong.

But, I also whole-heartedly believe that when a client wants to book me that doesn’t “get” it, it’s entirely my fault for not being clear enough in my branding.  If it happens, then it’s likely I’ve neglected the fact that I have the opportunity to clearly communicate who I am and what I do and why I do it in a way that either really turns people on or completely turns them off.

This kind of work for me is a constant work in progress.  And each time something happens that is less than ideal, I force myself to analyze what went wrong, what could I have done to better set expectations, how could I have been clearer so that anyone who is considering hiring me can understand what it means to hire me right from the start?  How could I help everybody who crosses my business’ path either “get” it or run away?

But I still do the work and I still pay my bills.

Because for me, taking care of my life and my family and my clients has to come before art.

Does this make my work something less noble than those of you who claim yours to be art?

I have studied lighting and composition, design and gesture, line and plane.  I strive for each of my images to have a soul.  But does all of that get thrown out the window when I demand to make a living from my work?  Does the art become less significant if I try to help potential clients to understand it by providing meaning and context to my work?

So, I ask you who do consider yourselves to be artist-photographers, why are you doing it?  Are you in it for the money?  Is it less than noble to need to make a living from your work?

And, if you need to make a living from your work, why aren’t you willing to do whatever it takes to help the right people connect to your art instead of just crossing your fingers and hoping that they “get” you?  What if there’s a way to help people “get” it better?  Would you do it?  Can you afford not to?  Or are you really okay if your life and your family members’ lives suffer in order for you to do your art?

I do not have a formal art education.  Yes, I have a fine arts degree, but that’s not really the same thing.  But, I have gone to art museums and galleries, and have viewed (and subsequently read) the work of many artists.  In museums, most works of art have a description attached to the wall next to them.  Most gallery artists provide artist’s statements.  Does that make the work somehow less “art” because they have given us context and a window into their motivation or inspiration to create it?  Doesn’t it instead give more meaning to the work???  It does for me.  I love understanding.

I would think our potential clients would love understanding our work just as much as a art gallery patron enjoys better understanding the work of the artist after reading the artist’s statement.

Or is it just that we don’t actually understand our work?  Or that we’re not willing to put the effort in and to dig in and do something that is uncomfortable for us, that doesn’t come as naturally as creating an image?

Forgive my boldness, but I think it’s a cop-out to push your work out and say that if people are really right for me then they’ll get it without me having to say anything.

I think it’s because you’re afraid.

I think it’s because you’re vulnerable.

I think it’s because you yourself don’t understand why you do what you do.

I would never assert that real down and dirty business and branding work is easy, but I don’t know that it should be the dirty word that some of you who consider yourself more on the artist side of professional photography think it is.

I welcome your thoughts, comments and feedback.



If you “get” it, and need help figuring out how to communicate what you do and why you do it in a way that is completely client-focused, that’s what the Sexy Business Workshop is all about.  Only five studios each workshop so that you come away with the answers you need. The full set of 2012 dates is now available on the Workshops page.  Check it out.


…a Man to Fish… – Podcast #4 – with Yan Palmer, “no longer sick of it”

Alright folks, if you have been waiting for the drama here is your photographic equivalent of The Real Housewives of Wherever-the-Hell.  Just kidding,  If you have not followed along Yan posted about her troubles and frustrations about moving her business and getting bookings in the post “sick of it.”  For better or worse that post went viral and my response to it went along for the ride.  Through a series of awkward back-and-forth Yan and I finally connected and talked about all the hoopla.  Please note, this is not the first time that Yan and I have spoken (that was last week, and I felt it best to talk things out in private before taking it public) and this is not the first podcast Yan has done on the subject.  In an odd turn of events while Yan and I were speaking for the first time on Skype my pal Michael Howard messaged me to ask if I had scooped him or if he got to her first.  So while she and I may have buried the hatchet first Michael got her committed and on the schedule first.  Their interview talks a little more about her background and the impetus for posting in the first place – Check it here.

Our podcast rolls a little differently.  This is more of a candid conversation between two people in very similar situations trying to figure out how to be happy, do something compelling and pay the bills at the same time.  Of course, we talk about the drama, but we also talk about where we go from here – how you get business, how artistic integrity plays into business sensibility and what exactly makes a client want to hire you.  I am proud of this one, and for what it is worth I am a huge fan of Yan.


The podcast comes in 2 versions.  Check this out:


The standard version is oh-so-free to download and listen to.  It runs about an hour.  This is Yan and I discussing the drama, artistic integrity, and what the Hell I am talking about when I say “branding” – Been wondering what I mean by that?  This will clear some things up.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Feel free to right-click and save down the .mp3 file.


We are also offering an extended version of the podcast.  This is the entire uncut conversation between me and Yan and it runs over 2 hours.   Everything we could not fit into the main show is here – swooning, drama, getting real, getting way too real, networking, and artistic integrity.  Great, down-to-earth discussion.

The extended version includes the entire standard version as well as the pre-show and post-show.  It runs over 2 hours, and comes as an .mp3 download for $3 US currency.  Drop your loot and you will get an .mp3 link to download the show straight to your iBrain.

Buy Now
Let me know what you think about the podcast and make sure to spread the word on TwitterFacebook and where ever else folks like you listen to stuff like this.  Once again, many thanks to Yan, she is one of the good guys, so to speak.


– trr