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Over the past several months, I’ve interviewed over 75 photographers – students and assistants who have yet to launch their own businesses, veterans with over 30 years experience and everyone in between – about pricing, particularly pricing pain points and challenges.
My findings? Well, as one interview subject put it:
“I don’t know a single photographer who’s 100% confident in pricing today.”
While those with decades of experience tend to feel pretty comfortable with their pricing for specific projects and clients, even they are quick to point out that the moment they’re asked to do something outside of their normal routine, they feel just as unsure about what to charge as someone new to the business.
They also expressed a lot of frustration over clients demanding more images and broader usage for less money than they would have charged in the past. Adapting to a changing market is difficult and many experienced photographers struggle to anticipate market trends, identify untraditional opportunities and pivot quickly enough to stay ahead of new client needs.
“I’m afraid to come in too low and I’m afraid to come in too high.”
Many of the photographers I spoke with feel like there’s some magic number you have to hit and if you miss it, you’ll never hear from that client again. Ever. For the rest of your life… Talk about pressure! And, to add to that pressure, there’s a lot of confusion about what clients really want, what they value, what your work is really worth and how to communicate – or in some cases justify – the true value of your work. There’s also a strong feeling out there that if a client isn’t willing to pay your price then you or your work must be worth less. It breaks my heart.
“I feel like I’m pulling numbers from thin air and when I go on forums for pricing help, I feel like they’re just making up numbers, too.”
After talking to all these photographers, it’s clear to me that the heart of the problem is a lack of conversation and real-world information about pricing. How do you know if you’re too high or too low if there’s no way to get solid data about spending patterns in your market? How can you figure out what the market will bear if no one is sharing information? How can you find out what clients really value, want or care about when you can’t ask them directly because they’ll think you don’t know what you’re doing?
“I wish I could just see what other photographers are doing and hear what clients are really thinking.”
I originally set out to build an online course on pricing for photographers, but after talking with all these people, it’s clear that a course alone isn’t enough. Don’t get me wrong – courses are great and I’m still working on that – but I want to go beyond the limitations of a course to bring all the information you need to get paid what you’re worth, together in one place, so you can find it, use it and keep moving forward.
But, I can’t do it alone. I can’t share best practices without your stories, your examples, your successes and your failures. I can’t give you useful market data without numbers from a lot of different projects, quoted by all levels of photographers working in every genre and market. I can’t give you deep insights into what clients are thinking without talking to a wide range of people from the client side, including those outside of my personal network.
Are you in?
If you agree that it’s worth sharing your experiences in order to get access to a resource that will show you what other photographers are doing, give you deep insights into what clients are really thinking and give you the data, skills and tools you need to price your work more effectively, I promise that you’ll get back more than you put in, that I’ll protect the identity of anyone who wishes to stay anonymous, and that I’ll credit everyone who wants to be acknowledged for their contributions. I will respect your ideas, listen to your needs and do everything in my power to create valuable resources that will help you make more money doing what you love.
I want to build this so badly but before I can invest in the necessary infrastructure that will let me share all of this with you, I need to know you’re with me. I need to know that you want a solution to this problem badly enough that you’re willing to share your experiences and your data.
If you want to see this happen, just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you an easy 5 question survey to get us started.
C’mon, let’s do thing, together!
In my Earning a Living in a World where Everyone has a Camera seminar, I talk – among other things – about how advertising and marketing have changed.
Traditional interruption advertising doesn’t work the way it used to. As customer tolerance for promotions that don’t immediately resonate has dropped, so has the return on investment for interruption advertising. Companies are scrambling to find new, effective vehicles and many are failing.
One of the things I learned early on in my own business was to pay attention to the buying habits of people around me – myself, my partner, my family, my friends – and adjust my own marketing strategies in response to those observations.
These days, if I have no interest or need for what you’re selling, I’m not going to buy no matter how fancy, creative or entertaining your pitch is. If I already want what you’re selling, you’re going to get my attention no matter what vehicle you use – I’ll even seek you out myself.
The challenge is attracting the attention of those who fall between those extremes. If I don’t know whether I’m interested in what you’re selling, you’re only going to get my attention if your contact with me (email, snail mail, brochure, poster, book, catalog, phone call, whatever) is somehow cool, different, special and above all, personal. Bottom line – you’ve got to give me a reason to care.
Marketing today is about courtship, not interruption. Surprise me, speak to me, entertain me. Use great design & typography, exquisite photography and excellent writing. Speak authentically and naturally. Show me you understand who I am, what I want, what I need. That I’m more than just a sale to you. If you do that well, I’ll not just give you my business, I’ll give you my loyalty and probably tell a few friends about you, too.
“The essence of marketing is asking first, ‘what business are we in?’
and not ‘how do we sell more products.'”
Forbes Magazine, The Death of Kodak, 8/20/13
In recent weeks, a number of new consulting clients have come to me because they wanted help marketing their business. A few minutes into the conversation, it became clear that the problem wasn’t that they didn’t understand marketing. The problem was that they didn’t understand their business.
Marketing is simply the process of communicating to others – clearly and succinctly – what you do that can benefit them. To do that effectively, you have to understand – clearly and succinctly – who your business benefits and what they want and need.
You also have to know what kind of business you’re really looking to build.
- How big do you want to grow?
- Do you want the help (and responsibilities) of maintaining a large staff or would you rather work alone and bring in free-lancers as needed?
- Where do you fit on that continuum?
- What does it make sense for your business to focus on?
- What are you the most passionate about doing?
- What are you best at?
- What unmet needs do you see in the market?
- Where do these three areas intersect?
- Who are your best prospects?
- Do you need the world to know about you or just a handful of repeat customers?
- Are there enough people locally to support your business or do you need to look globally?
Examining your business through the lens of questions like these will help you understand what you’re trying to build, who you’re trying to reach and what you can offer that will satisfy both their needs and yours.
For several years, I’ve been speaking about how everyone you know – every single person – is a potential lead generator and throughout, I’ve stressed the importance of being able to succinctly and clearly describe what you do so you can make sure that every single solitary person that you know understands who you need to meet.
A few years ago, one of my audience members chimed in to say that 3 years after she had started her food photography business, she took the time to actually explain to her husband’s grandmother what she really did for a living. Lo and behold, her grandmother-in-law knew Martha Stewart and promptly introduced them. Talk about 6 degrees of separation!
I was reminded of this story when I recently found out that one of my clients was working on a project where she needed to connect with a linguist who specializes in obscure languages. She mentioned this to me in passing – as part of a longer story related to the work we’re doing together. Little did she know that my second cousin is the editor of a linguistics publication and did his doctorate in exactly the area she needs help with!
It just goes to show – the more people you share your passions with, the more likely you are to find someone who knows someone who can help you. So make sure your network knows what you’re up to ‘cause who they know only matters if they understand enough to make those connections.
I was recently reminded of a fantastic interview of Ira Glass, host of Public Radio’s This American Life, which was posted a few years ago. Divided into four 5 minutes segments, each episode provides invaluable insights into the art of storytelling.
Compelling stories told in person, through social media or through photographs, podcasts and videos, can be one of the most powerful marketing and sales tools available – especially for people who want to earn a living doing what they love.
Take the excitement and passion we have for our businesses and the way we light up when we speak of our work, then add in a well-crafted story and you’ve got a combination that’s tough to beat.
Glass identifies the key building blocks to a good story: the anecdote, which acts as the bait that hooks your listener; and the “moment of reflection” where it becomes clear why the listener should care. He stresses the importance of finding and using your own voice and explains how good stories resemble good conversations – they can’t be just about you and they can’t be just about the other person, they have to be about both.
Along the way, Glass provides powerful messages for anyone earning a living doing what they love. His observations about professional practice – how you can create luck by simply being out and about so much that you’re bound to eventually be in the right place at the right time; the value of walking away when you know story (the deal, the job, the client) just isn’t going to work out and the effort it takes to find a good story (or deal or job or client) – have application far beyond the world of producing great radio content.
Earning a living doing what you love requires you to have a clear understanding of what truly matters to you. Understanding your values is key to designing a business or career that will satisfy those values.
So, what matters to you? What do you stand for? Where are you willing to compromise and where are your lines in the sand?
If you had to choose between earning more money, doing more satisfying work or working with people who treat you with respect, which would you pick? How well do the decisions you’re making about your business and your life reflect your core values? What needs to change to bring them into greater alignment?
If answering these questions isn’t easy (and for most of us, it isn’t), completing a Values Analysis can help.
The first time I used this tool back in 1992, it led me to make a series of decisions that completely changed my business trajectory. At that time, I was working crazy long hours building a business that wasn’t taking me where I wanted to go and didn’t pay well to boot.
This exercise helped me recognize how far I’d strayed from what really mattered to me and build a plan to get myself and my company back on track. I have used it several times since then to help me make decisions about new skills I was thinking of investing in, new markets I was considering expanding into and new business models I was exploring.
Now, this exercise is not magic. It takes real work, gut-wrenching honesty and some good old-fashioned creative problem solving to build a business you really love but this exercise is a great first step.
Like many businesses responding to change, my partner and I are thinking about diversifying our studio’s offerings. Before we jump whole hog into anything, though, we’re doing a bunch of informational interviews.
Done well, informational interviews can be an enormous source of invaluable, real world information. The trick lies in finding the right people and asking the right questions.
To find the right people, we’re using our network. We’re asking everyone we know who they know that might be able to help us. We’re then trying to find out as much as we can about the people we’re calling before we pick up the phone. A little background research goes a long way towards figuring out what questions to ask.
Some of our leads will be great people to get general technical and technological information from. Others will be better to run ideas for prospects, markets and opportunities by. The rest we’ll look to for information about how we should expect this decision to impact our lives. How will this decision affect the number of hours we work? How much we travel? How we spend our time? The roles we play in our business? What will each of us need to learn? What new team-members will we need? What is working with clients in this environment really like? What do we need to watch out for? What do we need to do differently?
One thing we’ve learned from the interviews we’ve done so far is that if we don’t get off the phone saying “WOW! we just learned something amazing that we couldn’t have gotten any other way,” then we’re not asking the right questions. Another is to ask each person we talk to who else they know who might be willing to talk to us.
Gearing ourselves up to make these calls isn’t easy but the pay-off has been so worthwhile. I honestly can’t think of another way that we could have learned so much so fast.
One morning, my daughter asked me “What soup is this?” and I thought she said “What’s a business?” We laughed at my mistake and I told her about the soup and then she said “So, what IS a business?”
Hmmm, how do you explain that concept to a young child…and then I had it. “A business is when someone or a group of people decide to make something that helps people. In order to do that they might have to make phone calls, go to meetings, make something, perform, write, travel – but everything they do relates to making something that helps someone.”
I realized as I was talking how often we lose sight of this simple fact. If our businesses aren’t helping people, they won’t attract buyers. You don’t get to earn a living doing what you love just because you love it. You have to find a way to make it help your clients.
For the past 20+ years, I’ve been earning a living doing what I love in a market that has grown increasingly competitive. Technology has simultaneously lowered the bar to entry and reduced the perceived value of professional training. With this new definition in mind, I’m changing the framework I use to evaluate my business.
If, like me, you’re building a business in a highly competitive, saturated market – and really, who isn’t these days? – instead of trying to best your competitors I suggest taking a good long look at your customers and prospects. Who needs what you love to do? Who values your expertise? Who can you help the most? What are people struggling with that you can make easier?
By focusing on our audience – who they are and what they need – we can design businesses that will truly help them and, along the way, allow us to earn a living doing the work we love.
After working on my annual brain dump, I’m finding myself opening up to new ideas and possibilities. After all, nature abhors a vacuum and it seems my brain is no exception.
Of course these lightning strikes never come at a convenient time so this past week I’ve found myself saying repeatedly “Oh, I had the best idea for X” or “Oh, I thought of a great name for Y” followed by my embarrassed admission that I can’t remember what they were anymore.
I hate that feeling.
The cure is mind-numbingly simple: record your ideas the moment you have them.
I still love pen and paper but stashing small notepads all over the place – in my purse, my car, my nightstand, my bathroom – has gotten old so I just rely on my handy-dandy smartphone. And, since my task management system is cloud-based, I can enter my ideas straight where they belong*.
Like I said, it’s simple. So simple I’ve hesitated over posting such an obvious message. But while putting a system in place so you have a way to record your ideas quickly and easily no matter where you are is easy, using it religiously is not.
But here’s the thing. Every time I have one of those “D’oh” moments I can feel something inside me freeze. It’s like a little jerk that stops me in my tracks. Those little jerks add up and soon the ideas just stop.
Keeping the ongoing flow of information from your brain to your system year-round, keeps the vacuum in place. For me, it’s worth doing whatever it takes to stop worrying about remembering and start focusing on imagining.
*For those looking for a cloud-based task management system, I happen to use Things by Cultured Code, but I have heard great things about the following systems as well: TeuxDeux by Swiss Miss, Todo by Appigo. Trello and Evernote are also very popular.