What is style?

Have you figured out your style yet? It seems like the quest for a definable style is the holy grail for every professional.  We agonize about how the hell we’re going to develop our own and we envy those who seem to have it figured out.  So why is it so difficult?

In my opinion we’ve overcomplicated our quest for style.  Because it seems like magic from the outside.  It looks like raw, creative impulse that we the rabble just can’t seem to embrace.  So we toil on, totally-unstylish.

What if there was a formula?

Hear me out.  Obviously there isn’t one set of actions we can all take that will spit out a unique style for each of us.  But if we deconstruct what a style really is then maybe we can demystify it a little bit.  After all, isn’t style nothing more than recognizable elements that keep turning up in your work learn more?  So it isn’t about raw creativity, it is about careful application of a repeatable set of techniques.  It is deliberate, not magic.

So if you are trying to develop a style think about what elements have to exist in your work for it to be “your” work.  Think about what you need to produce at every job.  Then think about how it is that you decide to execute on that.   If you are a portrait photographer, what kinds of images do you have to create at each session?  How do you execute on those images? It may seem crazy that “style” hinges on having a “shot list” and shooting those shots in a particular way, but I don’t think it is too far off.



– trr


“But I don’t need the money…”

Many people enter into professional photography without actually needing the money.  I don’t really care what circumstances someone might operate under that affords them the luxury of “not needing the money” from photography.  I’m not here to judge someone’s situation.  I have to say this, and I mean it as supportively as possible… If you don’t need the money I don’t have the slightest idea why the hell you want to dabble in professional photography?

If you don’t need the money and you want to do something with a camera for heaven’s sake do something really valuable with it.  Take a photograph that is going to change the world, or bring awareness to something we ought to know more about.  Do something with your camera that could save a life (or thousands of them).  People who “don’t need the money” are those with the luxury to make a significant difference in the world. 

Unfortunately most people squander that luxury and instead retread the same portrait and wedding photography as everyone else.  If you don’t need the money and you aim low with your pricing or you half-ass your branding and marketing then you’re basically creating a charity for the middle-to-upper class.  Would you create a 501c3 organization to make sure all suburban middle-class kids get Netflix?  Hell no, because if you want to be able to stream LOST any town, any time then you ought to pay the $8 a month.  It would be an affront to real causes to champion that organization.  Based on my analytics I’m pretty comfortable saying that the vast majority of readers to this site are wealthy compared to the majority of people on Earth.  Really, you are.  You’ve got all kinds of cool stuff – you’re probably reading this on a nice laptop or an indulgent smartphone through a nice connection with ample bandwidth.   You aren’t entitled to streaming video if you can’t pay for it.

Lower-to-upper class people ought to be paying for professional photos.  They ought to be paying full, sustainable, profitable prices (read – higher prices than most ‘professionals’ are charging).  Don’t give it away for free or a pittance.  It isn’t a privilege to shoot their photos, it is a privilege to work the line at a soup kitchen.

I live in a condo.  Luckily, our property values are going up.  If I didn’t need the money I could sell my unit on a whim for $100,000 under market value.  But I sure would be fucking my neighbors.  They’d still be able to sell of course, but my comparable lowball sale would make things more difficult.  What do you think happens if 4-5 people follow my lead?  Some of my neighbors actually need the money.  I’d actually need the money too.

If you don’t need the money and you want to do something fulfilling with your camera all I’m asking is that you give 30 seconds of thought to the most meaningful thing you could do.  You could copy that frog-pose with a newborn in a knit hat or backlight a bride and groom really small in the frame for a few bucks if you like, but I think you’re capable of making a bigger impact than that.

– trr



Which number is bigger?

A photographer recently lamented that the number of people who valued photography as an art instead of a commodity was obviously diminishing every day.

I think that what is diminishing is the number of photographers willing to communicate value. The market is NOT to blame – the industry is.

Which number is bigger? The number of people who could be compelled to love what you love and believe what you believe or the number of people that already value photography?

Our responsibility is not just to grab the low-hanging fruit of people who already want what we do, our responsibility is to create new believers. It is completely within our ability to make the market as large as we want..


– trr


I’ve been pretty happy with this week’s content.  If you haven’t already checked out Monday’s post “Who wants to shop at JC Penney’s” head over now – It gets referenced in next week’s podcast.  Also, check out this week’s podcast with Spencer Boerup where we talk about easier sales for photographers.  And if you’d like to make some more money buy his Salesographer product here.


The Precipice of Fear

Here at …a Man to Fish… we spend a good amount of time working with other business owners helping them to find their purpose and then throw themselves into creating a business that is wholly committed to fulfilling that purpose in a client-focused way.  Sometimes, the ideas and the business models and the necessary changes that come out of this process require only small tweaks to produce the desired results.  Other times, the changes needed are quite dramatic and will eventually result in a business that looks very different from what is happening now.  When this happens, fear is almost a guaranteed partner in the process.  We’re currently working with one photographer that is in the middle of a dramatic transformation, and I wrote this in response to that person’s situation, but I thought it was pretty universal, and might help someone else on the edge of doing something great, but have fear standing in their way:

When you look to do something new and unique, it can be a very scary time.  Especially when what you want to do is not proven in the marketplace.  There’s a chance it may fail, and with no precedent to follow, you may even feel like it’s destined to fail (depending on your natural confidence level).  If you are prone to feelings of inferiority or struggle with self-confidence, it will be even harder to overcome your fears. It’s so much easier to copy something that’s already been done successfully and hope that you can make it work for yourself.

The edge of failure is terrifying, but it’s also the place where there is great opportunity to grow and learn and achieve (it’s where most won’t dare to go). Your nerve will be tested, especially when you start sharing your idea with the world to gauge the response.  And when you start to share your ideas with people that love you, you have to keep in mind that they care for you and want to protect you from failure, so they may be extra skeptical. But please don’t let them make your decisions for you.

It’s very hard to know for sure before you try to something whether or not there are number of people in your market who want what you can do for them for the amount of money you need to make, but, you have to believe it is possible.  If you can’t get to a place that you believe it is possible, then you have to dramatically change what you want to do for people or the price you charge.  Then again, it will never be possible if you don’t try.  Go into it knowing that, as the business owner, you have the power to make the changes that need to be made to survive.  So, if you find that something isn’t working once it’s been up and running (and you’ve given it a real chance to work), then you can adjust and keep going.

With a truly unique business proposition, you have to be completely committed and believe in it with your whole heart. You cannot find your confidence in others. They cannot and will not give it to you, because it’s an unknown to them as well. And if they love you, they will probably try to talk you out of it and convince you to do something safe instead. And if you are showing doubt in front of your loved ones, then they will definitely tell you to run the other way- they are incentivized to keep you happy. We are incentivized to get you to a place where you run a compelling, client-driven, purpose-based business, where your clients want exactly what you want to do at the price you need to make, so you make the money you need for yourself and your family, and so we are compelled to push you away from the ‘regular’ thing that you were so disgusted by when you first set out to create the new, exciting thing.

And you can’t go into it lacking confidence, because others will sense it in you and write you off. You have to believe in it so hard, that others can’t help but be brought along with you. If any part of you doesn’t want to do it, then don’t- it will fail if you hold back some part of you and fail to fully commit.

But, if you do choose to go all in, there is a much better chance that you will be able to market it and that people will be excited to talk about it.  If you are all in, you have a much better chance of finding other business owners and service providers that you could partner with because you stand for the same thing.

Unfortunately, I cannot promise there will not be an uphill battle to get things going or that there won’t be bumps along the way. More accurately, I can promise that those things will be true- it likely won’t be the easy road. But, it could be an incredibly rewarding road, if you’re willing to fully commit yourself to it.

So, if you decide you do want it for yourself, then I challenge you to take all of the energy you’re putting into convincing yourself (and us) that it will never work, and instead connect back to the place where you felt on fire because of your connection to your purpose, and channel it all into proving that it will work.

And if you give it your all, and it does fail, then you will come out on the other side knowing so much more than you do right now. You will be a better person and business owner for it. If you can train yourself to embrace the idea of failure, that may very well be the most powerful lesson to learn both as a business owner and in life. But, in reality, it takes a lot of continuous mistake-making without correction in order to fail. You may have little lessons along the way, but you can make changes and keep going.


If you are interested in the process of uncovering your purpose and transforming every aspect of your business to fulfill that purpose in a client-focused way, please check out the Workshops page.

Don’t Do “Customer Service” at Me

I’ve been a customer of my bank for almost 20 years.  I’ve been with them longer than most of the employees I interact with.  Since we moved almost 2 years ago we’ve still been operating under our Illinois S-corp and recently went through the paperwork to close that one out and open up a proper Georgia corporation.  So we had to open new bank accounts.

And that’s where the fun happens.  We had to work with a new banker to get everything taken care of.  God bless him, he really followed his customer service training.  He scheduled a whole meeting to take care of our needs.  He laid out everything that we were going to talk about and do, made lists to manage expectations, he printed out a bunch of documents explaining everything and put them into marked folders and included keychains and water bottles and logo-festooned backpacks.  Great customer service.

Except that we didn’t need any of it.  I didn’t need a set of discussion points and action items laid out for me.  I didn’t need documents that I’ll never look at nicely filed in a folder that I now have to recycle.  I didn’t need a 90 minute meeting (or a backpack).  What we really needed was a few accounts opened in a new business name – something they really could have done over the phone in a few minutes or maybe at worst at the counter to sign some paperwork.

I know that the banker was happy with his performance.  I know that he felt that he was checking all the good-customer-service-boxes.  I know that he was doing his job as prescribed.  So on his side of the relationship he feels like it was a job well done.  Which is totally understandable if he decides what determines good customer service.

But he wasn’t trying to service my needs, we was just doing customer service at me.  He didn’t bother to understand what I actually needed, he had already decided what I needed (incorrectly) and rushed forward obliviously.  We have a lack of alignment, because he thinks he knocked it out of the park and I’ve had my time wasted and now I’ve got middle-class-guilt over throwing a bunch of useless paper away.  I had a similar experience recently when I purchased a new car.  The dealership spent all kinds of time talking about future service and warranties and all kinds of nonsense I don’t even remember in the name of good customer service.  While they were servicing at me they mentioned that I’d be getting a call to ask them about their customer service and good ratings were very important to them.  We nodded through what seemed like hours of “good service” and then stood around like flaming idiots the first time we needed to put gas in the car and couldn’t figure out where the release button was on the fuel door.  Lack of alignment.

I’m bringing this up for a specific reason.  In our industry the “common sense” tells you that you need to do so many little “customer service” tasks that none of us could really ever keep up.  What with the emails, the phone calls, the gifts, the meetings, the packaging, etc. there is a lot of pressure to expend an enormous amount of our time doing customer service at the client – are we entirely certain that the things we’re doing are an appreciated benefit to the client?

Do the clients need and want more meetings and more emails or are we just taking up their time because we think we should?  We have websites and blogs as separate entities – does the client understand why even though we accept this convention?  Everyone goes gaga over packaging – does the client really need money spent on cards and folders and ribbon and boxes for something that is specifically disposable by nature?   Most of us hope clients will email us with an inquiry, then we’ll email back and maybe set up meetings and send pricing info – why so many back-and-forth steps to initiate a relationship?  Most of us hand over nicely printed contracts and pricing and paperwork – does the client really want to store and refer to this stuff, or does it just make us feel good?

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have client contact or nice collateral.  What I am saying is that it is probably worth spending a little time thinking about whether this stuff is really a benefit to the client and the overall process.  Because most business-owners I know are overworked and their to-do list is overflowing and ever-growing.  Don’t add more crap to the list to stress yourself out if it isn’t a benefit to the client.

I used to require a bunch of meetings, now I let the client book me if they want with far fewer steps.  I used to have pretty packaging for everything, then I realized that the client wants to enjoy their album and they aren’t going to put that box on their coffee table.  I used to have all kinds of printed paperwork to hand over, then I realized that they don’t save it and don’t refer to it.  I’m still working on the post-job process, since I suspect that the clients don’t want to have to approve as much as I’m asking them to.

So think about every touch point the client has with your business from start to finish and evaluate whether or not it is a real benefit from their perspective or not.  If you remove a few steps from your process and get more aligned with your client’s needs it will be a big win for everyone.

– trr


P.S. – SEXY BUSINESS LAS VEGAS is on tap for this week, and then we’ll be hanging around for WPPI.  So posts will be light but I’m sure I’ll have plenty to talk about coming soon.  Please get in on the SEXY BUSINESS and check out one of our upcoming workshops in TUCSON, ATLANTA and BOSTON.  Our last BOSTON workshop sold out in a week!

If you’re looking for direction, clarity, and a specific plan for proactively attracting more business, and the right business.  Can you tell the market exactly why they should hire you?  Get in answered at the WORKSHOP.