Question

My market just won’t support that…PART TWO

I liked yesterday’s post, and apparently quite a few other people did too (it was shared and retweeted quite a few times).  Having said that one person wasn’t such a fan.  If you haven’t read yesterday’s post check it out now -

“My market just won’t support that…”

Now check out this comment from Andreas, who wasn’t impressed -

“They’re going to buy it they just don’t know it yet. That’s what you’re suggesting but what you failed to mention is that supply and demand rule over any wishful thinking. If you set up a studio in a small town or “market” and you’re 3x what everyone else is, even if you are better or offer something different, and the take home pay is lower on average than big city market, the reality will be that the biz will fail at that level. Positive post but lots of smoke”

I’ve said it before, and some may really bristle at this suggestion, but when it comes to a luxury service I don’t believe in the concept of supply and demand.  We create the demand and we control the supply of our own product.  What everyone else is offering is only relevant if we haven’t put forth the effort to own a position or create distinction.  I know far too many photographers in small towns charging 3x (or more) than their competitors and making a long-term living doing it to buy into the naysaying.  I’ve helped many of them build the business that defies those assumptions, and I know that there is a science to making it work.

Supply and demand works for commodities because you can get them anywhere and any option will get the job done so sourcing and surplus are an issue.  Sure, you can get photography from almost anyone these days, but you can only get Todd Reichman (or whoever) in this way, to do this specific thing, for this price.  The trick here is making Todd Reichman matter, not how many other people are competing.

My intent in posting yesterday was to try and get people to adopt the perspective that they have control and responsibility over how their business is perceived.  I’m seeing a lot of photographer blame outside sources for their performance not being where they would like it which is a big waste of time at best and a lazy-assed entitlement at worst.

Here’s the problem – for Andreas the “reality” is that small town businesses tend to fail.  My “reality” is that a well-engineered business can exist anywhere.  You get to choose the reality you live in.  Sure, small town businesses that put all the responsibility on the client for understanding the difference and seeing the value go out of business all the time, but one person’s failure doesn’t dictate yours.  That failure just shows you how to do better.  This blog is for people who want to use the data to do better, not for the people who want to make excuses.

I made a living in small towns.  I used to live in Central Illinois and my town was of a respectable size but I rarely worked there – I was a “destination” wedding photographer.  By “destination” I don’t mean beautiful island weddings, I’m talking about even smaller, rural communities that weren’t the one I lived in.  I spent several years making a living getting brought into these small towns to shoot for 3x (or much more) than the locals because the locals were all offering the same-old, unremarkable stuff.  I know photographers in one-horse towns regularly pulling down $2-5K portrait sessions because they make their client’s lives better.  Yes, there are a boatload of other options charging a fraction of that – and it doesn’t matter because they aren’t being compared.

Yes, I think that many potential clients out there are going to buy it, and they just don’t know it yet.  Hey, this is a free blog – take what you like and leave the rest.  Don’t do anything to convince them, be my guest.  Assume that you can’t make any money and operate under that assumption all day, see how that works for you.

If you don’t want to do that here are some past posts that might get you thinking -

Even if we disagree, I greatly appreciate the comment and the chance to discuss further.  Let me know what you think, and feel free to share the discussion.

- trr

Question – should I market gear and technique?

A photography business question came in to the site from Eli -

My question to you is: should equipment or technique be part of your brand?

My gut reaction is “No, not for me” but then I dig deeper and realize it already is (a small part).  I talk to my clients about have the right tools for any situation, making them look great (with lighting & posing), etc.

I had a second photographer working with me at my last wedding, and she commented that I use much more equipment than everyone else she’s worked for.  I’m wondering if I should emphasize this stuff more because I know it differentiates me.

Eli

Equipment is a weak way to co-opt value from somewhere other than yourself.  And to be fair, I’m guilty of it too.  I thought I was going to switch to Leica because it would make me cool and mysterious and all kinds of other pretentious nonsense.  People are shooting film or medium-format to try and buy some value or difference instead of creating that value through their work.

Yes, you can do it, I just think it is a bad idea.  It is bad because anyone else can buy what you’ve been using and then you’ve convinced the market to hire anyone with that stuff, not just you.  That’s simply bad marketing.

The other thing I hate about marketing one’s gear is that people tend to associate the work that you do with the gear instead of the person creating it.  Yes, you can talk about all the stuff you are carrying, but they aren’t hiring your gear list, are they?  Plus, as a side note, I can tell you that most wedding professionals (read – not photographers) think all the stuff we are carrying draws too much attention and takes too long to set up.  Again, that’s a side note, but one I’ve heard over and over again.  As far as I can tell only photographers think all that stuff is cool.

Technique is another thing, but honestly the clients are typically hiring us because they don’t know as much about technique as we do.  Instead of marketing technique, I’d market the benefit of those techniques.  Even so, I think technique is a tough thing to build value out of because it is so rooted in craft and separated from meaning. Again, you can do it, I just think there are better ways.

For some thoughts on better things to market:

 

- trr

P.S. – Need branding help?  Come to SEXY BUSINESS, Read the MANIFESTO.  Or see us at Mystic Seminars or the MUSEA GATHERING in 2013.

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.

 

Party at the moon tower?

If you haven’t listened to my podcast with Tony Hoffer earlier in the week allow me to pimp it even harder – but for a good reason!  Check out Brian Virts’ comment regarding that podcast:

Wow, thanks for being so candid! One thing Tony said; a fear of getting older and not being able to relate to his client or vice versa. I have to say, I probably have a good 10 years on you guys and this has not been my experience in booking younger brides. I think emotions tie into style in some form or another, especially with women. And I believe that if your style resonates with her, it doesn’t matter how old you are. I mean look at Cliff Mautner, he’s almost 50 and I’m sure he’s booking brides 20 years younger than him all the time. Just wanted to say that, tons of other thoughts, but don’t want to drag on, a great listen,and thanks again… Brian

I think the fear isn’t so much that we’ll grow out of our ability to book clients, but rather that we’ll lose track of who the right clients are as time goes on.  No one wants to feel that they are going past their prime or aiming for the wrong crowd.

A few days ago I was trying to come up with a blog post while procrastinating on some album designs and I threw on some Netflix.  I watched Dazed and Confused because I was trying to convince my wife that despite years of evidence to the contrary I had 90 minutes of proof that Matthew McConaughey is the greatest actor alive.  See, I think the struggle over time is not to end up like old McConaughey’s Wooderson, hitting on the high school girls when we’ve long since graduated.  What it means isn’t that you have to only work with people in your immediate age range, it just means you need to be willing to constantly work to your strengths as your strengths change and know what you do and who it is appropriate for.

We used to be “fun” at weddings.  We were younger and more willing to be the fun element at the wedding.  But we got older and now we work with people that can make their own fun and need us to be professionals.  I’m the same guy, I’ve just changed.  I think the fear Tony and I were talking about was more along the lines of knowing when the shifts were happening and being willing to go with them instead of hanging on to what has always worked.  You’ll never figure out some system or brand or approach that will last you the rest of your life, you’ve got to ride the waves and make the necessary adjustments.

We’re headed out to Vegas for SEXY BUSINESS and WPPI this week.  If you’re not going, it would be a whole lot cooler if you did.  Follow us on Twitter to follow what we’re up to and drop a line if you want to meet up.

- trr

 

 

 

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.