right things, rightest things

I was a little vague on yesterday’s post/question about doing the right thing or the profitable thing.  It wasn’t necessarily on purpose, just how it came out.  Some people speculated that I was talking about not charging enough or making photography more affordable, or possibly talking about doing immoral or unethical things for profit.  Neither was really on my mind.

I was more concerned with the idea that the “right” thing to do rarely seems like the best course of action from a business perspective.  For instance, if I really wanted to grow this site and monetize the shit out of it I’d do a lot of gear reviews.  I’d post more inspirational stuff and tell people to follow their dreams.  I’d whore out every affiliate product out there.  The audience would grow much faster and I’d make money from this site.  That isn’t what I think would be “right” for this site (but it certainly isn’t unethical) but it would sure be a great business move.

In photography I know that things would be better if I edited every image by hand and perfected everything before delivering to the client.  But most of us don’t do that because it isn’t profitable.  We know that our album designs are tasteful and that the client wants to cram as many onto the page as possible.  We know that clients don’t use the digital files and yet in many cases we settle for them as a primary deliverable.

I suppose what I’m wondering about is degrees of “rightness” and where on the scale we draw the line? Most of us to the right thing, but do we always commit to doing the “rightest” thing?  Is there a measurable benefit to doing the rightest thing instead of just the easiest right thing?  Can you quantify and sell the “rightest” or are clients just looking for “good enough”?

I’ve just sort of been ruminating on this issue for a while.  I have a record number of people coming to me asking for help because they aren’t booking as much as they would like.  I struggle sometimes because the biggest part of me wants to suggest building a crazy-committed brand that only does the rightest of right things.  But I’m seeing evidence that taking the easiest, showiest, oftentimes least committed way out seems to be more salable.

The easy thing to do is to tell you all that everything will be OK, and that the rightest thing always wins out in the end.  I’m not sure if that is the rightest thing to tell you?


– trr


Do the right thing, or do the profitable thing?

I’ve had a sort of depressing thought rattling around in my head, and I’d be interested in your opinion.  I’m wondering if the right thing to do is ever the profitable or most marketable thing to do?  I’m beginning to think that the right thing is hardly ever the profitable thing, sometimes not even a sustainable thing, and rarely the most attractive or marketable approach to take.

I’d be curious if you believe that is true or not and what your experience has been?  If it is true, then we have choices to make about how we present our work and services don’t we?  Do we then pick our battles on doing what is right in favor of what sells best?  Do we let the market decide where they want the emphasis placed?

– trr


EDITED TO ADD – since a few comments have already mentioned this I want to point out that I’m nor suggesting that doing something immoral or unethical is even on the table in this discussion.  I’m simply wondering if the “rightest” thing to do is viable or a great business decision.  Often it feels like catering to the lowest common denominator is what is preferred, or aiming for the easiest and flashiest solution is what the free market rewards rather than the highest quality or the unpopular but hardest work.

Who wants to shop at JC Penney?

Check out this coverage of the JC Penney financial situation by Planet Money – listen to the story HERE.

This isn’t a post about retail shopping, it is a post about discounts and identity.

Everyone knows that JC Penney is circling the drain.  Profits are down and they have a revolving door of CEO’s, none of whom are able to change the downward trend.  First they tried to get rid of discounts.  The problem with that was that their entire value proposition was built on discounts.  Their client base has been trained to look for advertised discounts. When they took the discounts away (even if the standard price was lower than the discount price) the loyal clients stayed away. They also couldn’t bring in a new clientele no matter how upscale they went with their rebranding and store design because they were known as a discount store.  Then they tried to redesign the stores to be more cosmopolitan and upscale, with nice seating areas and classier displays.  That just served to keep the core clients away without drawing in a new crop of customers.

So what can we learn from this with respect to discounts and identity?

I’m not saying that discounting doesn’t work.  With respect to photography something selling weddings you might see slight bumps by throwing a discount here and there because the clients are largely one-time purchasers.  But if you’re trying to attract loyal, repeat customers then a discount doesn’t tell people that you’re a great deal now, it just tells them that your full price is inflated.  It tells the market that the time to buy is when the discount is on.  Now if you’re a wedding photographer that works with chains of friends or gets a significant number of referrals from coordinators the discount method may be something you need to keep up – after all you conditioned them to buy only when the discount was available.  When your company’s value proposition is the discount you can’t get rid of it.

Bottom line is that discounts work in certain situations, but it is hard to develop a different value proposition once you lead with “now its cheaper!” – you just don’t have anywhere else to go.

The second thing to learn is that reinvention is hard, particularly on an identity basis.  Your business has an identity, and it caters to a specific identity.  It means something to work with your company (well, it should mean something if it doesn’t already).  You get to feel like a certain type of person by virtue of where you shop.  That is VERY difficult to change once established.  You can put a different filter on your images, you can try a different posing or shooting technique, but your business identity ought to stay relatively constant.  Changing that identity is incredibly difficult because it means throwing out the people who already believe in you and trying to convince a whole new set of people of your value.  If you don’t know what identity you’re perfect for now then the market is deciding it for you, which is a terrifying proposition.

– trr



You want to tell a story?

Every photographer says that they just want to tell a story.  It didn’t occur to me until last week that this is a big problem.  Are we all just telling stories?  If that is the case then we’re all selling something pretty similar, no?

OK, we’ve got to figure this out because if we’re all just telling stories then we don’t have anything distinct to sell.  So if that’s what we’re going to do we’ve got to find some way of providing distinction to what our stories look like.  What kind of story do you tell?  What parts of the story do you leave out?  What perspective do you tell the story from?  What format does the story take?  How does it unfold?  And most importantly how does the client understand what your version of a story is like?

The way you tell a story ought to be distinct and discernable compared to how someone else tells a story.  Let me make an argument as to why you ought to explicitly say something about your method of storytelling instead of just letting (hoping?) that the work itself does the job.

Think about filmmakers.  Take one script and pick any 4 directors.  Speilberg, Tarantino, Fincher, Burton, whoever you like – each one is going to tell that story differently.  Each one is going to have a different tone.  Each one is going to hit different emotions.  Each movie is going to feel different, even in the subject matter is the same.

Filmmakers have an opportunity to build a filmography and reputation.  There are interviews on Letterman and special features on the home release and critical analyses that tell you what the tone is like.  There is a script and a musical score that does some of the heavy lifting.  Everyone knows what those filmmakers do and how it is going to feel to watch one of their movies.

We creative entrepreneurs rarely have that reach.  We don’t have that sort of cultural relevance.  We don’t get reviewed and interviewed.  The type of story we tell isn’t well-established and preceding us in the market.  So be willing to make some statements about it, because the client isn’t going to live with us, they are going to look for us when they need us.  We’ve got to be willing to do the heavy lifting for them.

Hardly any successful artist actually leaves the work itself to do all the communication, why should you?

– trr



What goes in your portfolio?

Today I’ve got questions instead of answers.  How do you decide what goes in your portfolio?  Let’s assume that “best work” is too vague.

Is it your most beautiful work?  Is beauty your primary value?

Is it your most innovative work? Is doing something that has never been seen your primary value?  Can your market tell what is innovative and what is derivative?

Are your choices motivated by content?  Do you want to limit your scope to a particular type of content?

Does your portfolio show a deep and specific focus, or a broad spectrum of abilities?  Does it show everything you can do or the most important thing you can do?

Does your portfolio make a statement?  If so, is that statement distinct from the competition?

I’m interested – Tell me, how do you decide what makes the cut?

– trr


P.S. – We’ll be recording a podcast with Fer Juaristi soon – send your questions and we’ll mention you on the show.  – question@amantofish.com


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