Monthly Archives: April 2012

Markup vs. Margin

I see small business people talk about the markup on their products.  Most people think of markup as a ripoff.  No one likes to feel that they are simply being charged a markup by a middleman.  Plus, we’re used to the concept that retail markups are only reasonable to a certain percentage.  My assumption has always been that the average person is comfortable with no more than a 2x markup at the retail level and usually we’re happier with less than that.  Let’s get this out of the way right now, for your photography business a 2x markup isn’t nearly enough.

But hear me out.  Markup is a concept for middlemen.  A wholesaler buys a product for X and sells it for 2X or whatever.  Think about that.  The value that they are offering is access to a given product.  Back in the day we needed wholesalers because we simply didn’t have access to many of the things we wanted.  Distribution limitations created value.  However, these days you can go online and get anything you want shipped right to you.  Middlemannery simply isn’t the value that it used to be.  Plus, you’re not a middleman, you actually create value and you need to be paid for the value, not the access to the product.

So we need to retire this idea that we’re “marking up” a product that we’re getting from the lab or album company or whatever.  That would be true if we were literally reselling that blank print to the client.  In reality, we’re selling different ways to own, display and enjoy the work that we are creating.  So let’s stop thinking about reselling that raw material and instead start thinking about the margin that each sale gives us to work with.  In many ways we will be working with a markup multiplier or percentage, but that’s only in order to determine how to achieve our goals.  But we have to sell the value that we offer and not expect the value to be created by the lab or the album company.


Interested in understanding exactly how much margin your business needs to yield to be truly profitable?  What to know exactly how to build and brand your marketing plan to earn the margin you need?  Only takes three days….

Book your spot now for the upcoming SEXY BUSINESS WORKSHOPS in Atlanta and Denver.

Want to know what other people are saying about the workshop?  Check out what Spencer, Ian and Marisa thought.

– trr

Big Winner

Hey all, we’ve been hacking out some back-and-forth with you loyal readers and we need to bring some rampant positivity.  You might remember last week that we threw out a contest for Twitter and Facebook referrals wherein the winner won a free consult with me.  I’m happy to announce that the winner of that contest is Timorah Harlen Beales who forwarded quite a few folks to ye olde AMTF.  Thanks Timorah, looking forward to working with you – I’ll be in touch.

We’re getting back to business here and if you’re looking to work on your own business check out our workshops upcoming this year.  A bunch of our students have been positively kicking ass out there in the market.  Check out the upcoming dates:


If you’re looking for some encouragement check out Marisa (of Esme & Eve – check their ridiculous work) and her review of the recent Las Vegas Sexy Business Workshop.

Let me start by saying Todd and Jamie are two of the most amazing people I have ever met in my life.  I did a ppa wedding & branding workshop with them in 2011 and it was best thing I did for my business since I graduated from Brooks Institute of photography in 2004. I was blown away with their commitment to us.  They did whatever it took for us to get what we needed out of the workshop.  The workshop went from 9-5, but they made themselves available at six down at the bar and stayed till two am each night going over each of our businesses.

They went so far beyond their call of duty and I’ll never forget the impact that had on me!  I walked away more inspired and knowledgable about my business than I thought was possible. They lead me to see what was working and what was not and that insight changed everything!

It opened my eyes and gave me the courage to start pursuing my passion project. Four months later I started my dream business and as it started to pick up I picked up the phone to called Jamie and Todd for advise. They Told me about their new passion project “Sexy Business” and of course I said sign me up!  My business partner and I did “Sexy Business” in February and again, they blew my fucking mind .  They took our brand threw it out the window and gave us confidence to do what we never thought was within reach. We knew we were unique, we knew we were great, but after a very thorough look into who we were, what we were capable of,  and what we could deliver, we were able to grasp the ultimate value in our services. Our prices went from $395 to $2500.  Since “Sexy Business” we have accomplished more in the last two months than we have in the last 6.

We now have PR Agent and have booked three clients at our new price point and have many exciting things in the works.  Todd and Jamie are the best mentors I could have ever dreamt up. They both have a a very special gift that truly changes peoples lives.  What they gave me is priceless and I am humbled by their ability to make peoples dreams come true.  I can not say enough wonderful things about Todd and Jamie.

There is no doubt in my mind everyone should experience “Sexy Business.” for themselves.  it is the best investment they could make.  Todd and Jamie will be my friends and mentors for life!


Looking forward to seeing you this summer – Todd

The keys to the castle…

Today, I’m (Jamie – Todd’s other half) back for a guest post.  A comment on Todd’s Tuesday post has riled me up and required me to end my months-long silence.  So, here’s the comment from Cate Waters:


“Todd – I am not sure you really answered his questions here honestly. What I got out of it was he wanted to know how to communicate his brand and continue that brand with the clients he HAS to take since right now he cannot pick and choose.

I second shot alot of weddings (5) and used those photos as examples of what I considered my work. When I meet with brides/grooms — I show them these photos and explain that I have a few goals in every shot I take. (I love B&W, emotion, deep colors and unique angles. I avoid traditional, low contrast, and posing unless its required.) Other than that, I don’t have a brand or speech I prepare for them. Is that technically a brand? Is that Me being choosy?

Also, do we want to take every client even if their needs mean we have to change these goals? If so, do we take the photos their way or our way? If we take them their way, do we show them on our public sites?

I hope I am helping flesh out what I think his question was… .and I think there is ALOT more information you can share. This blog post was pretty general and rah-rah in my opinion but didn’t really tell me anything other than, “don’t give up, i struggle too, i understand”. Well honestly, I don’t care if you understand, I read your blog for your HELP because you understand! :)

And my response:

I think it’s a bit unfair to say that Todd didn’t answer this question honestly. In fact, brutal honesty has always been the policy around here.

The answer to your question can be found here in Todd’s post:

“Honestly, in order to build a brand you have to have an opinion about how things should be done and you have to stick to it and communicate that in everything you do. In reality, it doesn’t take “being established” to build a brand – you have to have a brand in order to establish yourself. What being established gives you is some experience to know that what you are doing is the right thing. Your opinion might shift and change over time (or might be reinforced) so all that your established reputation will get you is more confidence in your opinion.”

There is work and thought that has to be done on your part outside of anybody’s blog or educational anything.  I know in this day and age when it seems like the answer to any question you seek can be found for free somewhere on the internet that’s a hard pill to swallow, but branding requires you to do some hard work.  It’s not an easy answer.  It’s unlikely you can sum up your brand in the industry trend of three words (Fun, Candid, Natural- as Michael identifies in his follow up post to yours).  Nearly every photographer in the marketplace could use those three words.  If your “brand” could be applied that broadly to your market, it’s not really your brand.  You have to go deeper.  You have to figure out what you believe- what you stand for. Why you are perfect for your perfect client and why they should hire you.  Nobody can tell you that but you. Your brand probably doesn’t (at its core) have much to do with photography or even style- especially nowadays just focusing on the photography is probably nowhere near enough to differentiate you from the massive sea of competition.  Sure, your look and your style are a part of your brand, but they are probably not your core.  There are plenty of other folks that can take photos that look just like, or better than or pretty darn close to yours. And I can say that without looking at your work. Clients are rarely photography experts. And there is plenty of great or good or good enough out there for them to find someone they like at a price they are willing to pay. So you have to give them something more- something that goes beyond the function of the photography. A need that must be fulfilled- that makes the right clients connect with you and understand why you are the perfect choice for them.  Something that communicates your value.

And- it’s really not about picking and choosing.  I guess it’s become pretty en vogue to brag about having turned away a “red flag” client or somebody that doesn’t “get” you.  But I think if that’s happening with any regularity, it’s probably because you’re not doing what it takes up front to communicate who you are and what you do and why you do it so that the right people can identify that they are in fact the right people and the wrong ones can be turned off before they ever get to you. It’s about communicating your value in a client focused way so that the right ones pick YOU.  You have the ability to do that at any point in your career.  Experience doesn’t necessarily give you a huge leg up on your branding.  It just gives you more supportive portfolio.  But, you can communicate a brand with one image.  So, not having tons of portfolio really isn’t a good excuse for having a crap brand either.

There is no magic bullet- nobody but you can hand you your brand. It is possible for somebody to pull it out of you- but that takes some intense work on their part, and it still has to come from you, and there’s still a lot of hard work involved on your part to implement your brand once it has been discovered (just ask anybody who has been through the Sexy Business Workshop). If you don’t know what it is for you, then keep shooting, keep thinking, keep soul searching until you do. But don’t give yourself an out, either.  Because so far, I’ve yet to meet a photographer that has done the work and not come up with a strong, valuable, differentiated brand.  If you need some more thought provocation, there are over 200 free posts on this blog alone to help trigger your brand discovery.

Once you know, then you have to commit to that in everything you do and communicate to successfully build a brand. And the way that a brand manifests itself will vary depending on the brand. It’s really impossible to be specific to one photographer’s situation without having a deep, in-person conversation with them and examining and understand all aspects of the business we’re talking about. This isn’t fluff work.

Now, to be completely realistic, you may have to take clients that aren’t 100% ideal if you need the money (most all of us have to do that from time to time)- but there is always a compromise. You take the money because you need it, but your brand gets just a tiny bit weaker when you do. I believe once you sign a contract with a client, it is your job to do what it takes to satisfy that client, even if it means taking the photos “their way”, within reason. But, it doesn’t mean everything is ruined for you and your brand, either. You certainly don’t have to make the wedding you do just for the money your next showcase portfolio piece. It really all depends on your own personal situation, and if you do have the luxury to sit back and wait for the “perfect” or if you need to pay your bills. Then again, even if you take the work for the money, it doesn’t mean you can’t do a little bit of “perfect”, “your way”, brand specific shooting within the context of an “imperfect”, “their way” event- you’re the one with the camera in your hands. There are no rules. You can show whatever you like on your public site and hide what you don’t.

Beyond that, you have to be willing to do the work.  We can ask you the right questions, but the answers are found within yourself. And, at the risk of sounding a bit snarky (though, I think in keeping with the tone of the comment) I think it’s a little presumptuous to insist that anyone needs to hand over the keys to the castle, especially on a free blog. The truth is, there aren’t any keys to be had if you don’t have an opinion of your own, if you don’t have anything that you believe in and stand for in your business.  Or if you’re not willing to do the work it takes to discover it.

But since you brought it up that there is, in fact, ALOT more information to share, here’s a tidbit of some of that said information that are on-topic with this post, and please feel free to peruse the archives for more:


Thanks for reading.  If you haven’t already check out yesterday’s podcast with Jamie of The Modern Tog.  If you’re having trouble dealing with those red flag clients her new e-book The Go-To Guide to Client E-mails might be a big help.


…a Man to Fish… podcast Episode 9 with The Modern Tog

A few weeks ago Jamie of The Modern Tog listed …a Man to Fish… in her Top 10 websites for photographers in 2012.  I was completely thrilled.  Her site is a big resource for getting a photography business off the ground and managing clients.  Check out our conversation here for some talk about expectation management, client relationships and whether or not photographer ego is an obstacle to making a great impression on clients.

This week Jamie is launching her new e-book (which I have checked out and I totally recommend) offering 100+ email templates for client interaction.  Head over to her site for a sample and several email templates that you can download and use free for nothing.  If you find yourself in a position where every client email is a special composition or you are dreading opening your inbox then I think you will find some great messages that you can use right off the shelf.  If you order it click through our AMTF affiliate link below and Jamie and I will both appreciate the heck out of you look at this site.

The Go-To Guide For Client E-mails



The standard version is oh-so-free to download and listen to.  It runs about an hour.

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 Jamie and it runs about 2 hours.   Everything we could not fit into the main show is here – how to identify a red flag client and whether or not you should really weed out those clients, what it is like to sell educational material, and if continually growing your business and raising your prices is a good thing or not

The extended version includes the entire standard version as well as the pre-show and post-show.  It runs about 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 computer, ready for iPoddery.

Buy Now


Let me know what you think of the podcast in the comments section below.  It really helps the blog and the podcast grow when you share it out on Facebook or Twitter (follow us there too if you are not already).  If you like the viewpoint, attitudes and insight that you are hearing on the podcast and you want some help to get business in 2012 check out our SEXY BUSINESS Workshops – Three of the first 4 for 2012 have already sold out.


– trr

The luxury to pick and choose….

Interesting question from Michael based on our podcast with Sergio Mottola a few months back-

“Great podcast Todd. A couple of the FM guys directed me over here and I just bought and listened to this whole thing in one go.

Great information, I wish it touched more on the starting out aspect of branding. You guys are much more established and are in a position to pick and choose weddings that align with your brand.

How about guys like myself who are relatively new to the industry? I dont have the luxury of being able to pick and choose but want to be able to push/convey my branding through my images/weddings shot.

Would love to hear your thoughts.”

I can’t speak for Sergio (who is an awesome guy – you should ask his opinion directly, just understand that the guy is massively successful and busy and may take a long time to get back to you).  My perception of his business is that he has essentially done whatever the hell he’s wanted to to and kicked ass along the way (really pisses me off and makes me jealous).

To be honest with you I don’t really get to pick and choose who I work with, and I hope I haven’t made it seem that way.  In fact, I pretty much have to take any client that can afford me.  I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing.  In fact, it has forced me to be far less of a demanding diva that a lot of other photographers are being characterized as.  I have actually made my name working with so-called “red flag” clients over the last few years.   The lack of luxury to pick and choose clients has forced me to pay more attention to what clients care about and to let go of a lot of the little things.  It actually made me more client focused.

But you’re not really worried about what I do, you want to know what you should do.  Honestly, in order to build a brand you have to have an opinion about how things should be done and you have to stick to it and communicate that in everything you do.  In reality, it doesn’t take “being established” to build a brand – you have to have a brand in order to establish yourself.  What being established gives you is some experience to know that what you are doing is the right thing.  Your opinion might shift and change over time (or might be reinforced) so all that your established reputation will get you is more confidence in your opinion.

So don’t look at your startup status as an obstacle.  Branding isn’t about experience or longevity, it is about ideals and commitment.  Sure, those things may become stronger over time, but they also have to start somewhere.

– trr