Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Do I Need To Run Online Ads?

Do you have a product or service that requires you to show up in person?  If so, your best advertising focus may be an OFFLINE advertising strategy in a local area.

Do you have a product or service that can be purchased and delivered online, without any in-person interaction needed?  If so, than you definitely benefit from an ONLINE advertising strategy.

Too often people get stuck in the idea that they need to do everything and anything to promote their business, which is a great way to throw money down the drain and waste time on marketing or advertising strategies that are not going to be as effective.

If what you do requires you and a client to be in the same location when you provide your product or service, than you will miss an entire population of people who aren't checking the online market with any frequency to make a difference for your business, but who may be walking right by you every day in your cafe or local retail shops.

A local business needs to focus on local strategy to reach its ideal clients where they already are.
An online service or product based business needs to focus on online strategy to meet clients online.

Are you aware of all the ways you can market offline?  Check out this Annual Marketing Evaluation to see how many strategies are out there for marketing your business and which ones you may be missing out on if you're a local business!

Anne Ruthmann is a retired professional photographer in New York City. With over 13 years of success as a full-time photographer in weddings, portraits, editorial, architecture, and interiors. She now spends any extra time she has helping others find smart solutions to business problems. Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

How Many Clients Do You Need?

I used to think I needed as many clients as I could get, but that was a fast recipe for disaster until I had systems in place that allowed me to take on more work than I could personally handle.  Many people only learn what their limits are when they actually go beyond their limits.  This is a natural learning curve for new entrepreneurs and businesses, and hopefully you learn it early enough to benefit from finding your creative work boundaries early as well.

Once my client list got too big to personally handle, I started to outsource, insource, and run a team of more people to help behind the scenes.  The more distance I had from my own work and serving clients directly, the more I came to realize how much I missed being personally involved and having a part in each step of the process for clients so that I could assure great communication and quality imagery at every step.  I also realized how much more time and administrative function was needed to manage a team of people rather than operating as a boutique customized personal service business.

The grass is often greener, until you have to actually mow the lawn.

Some people get into business to grow profits and then sell-off or exit the business.  However, providing a creative product or service offers the opportunity to be more boutique, more custom, and more hands-on in a business, which is often what I love most about being in business at all - getting to help people directly.

Reaching the point of having too many clients to handle, and then experiencing what it was like to move from artist to manager in order to serve so many more clients, taught me exactly how many clients I could take on while still giving the boutique level of one-on-one service I preferred.  It also forced me to realize that in order to provide that boutique level of high touch and personal service, I also needed to have the appropriate price for that much intensive client care.

In order to deliver very personalized service to each wedding client, I maxed out at 30 clients and felt best at 20 clients.  In order to deliver very personalized service to each architecture & design client who had multiple projects over the course of a year, I maxed out at 25 clients and felt comfortable at 20 clients.  Some clients took 20% of my time and some clients only took 2% of my time, but together they all kept me busy as a full time photographer, and my pricing was designed to help me support this high-touch level of one-on-one service for each client.

When you think about how you want to grow or expand your business in the future - consider how growth may also change the type of work you do and how involved you want to be with clients versus your team of contractors or employees.  If you hate dealing with client issues and would rather deal with a team you've hand-selected, than expanding your team and training your staff is going to be your sweet slice of pie!  If you love working directly with your clients, you may want to focus on the boutique business model and use outsourcing & contractors supporting you behind the scenes.

When you look into the future of your business, what feels right for you?

Once you know what feels right for you- you can then decide if what you're focusing on going forward is to bring in fewer clients who value your work at a very high level, or focusing on more volume with value-minded clients who will help you support more staff that you can mentor and rely on to grow the business together.

Anne Ruthmann is a retired professional photographer in New York City. With over 13 years of success as a full-time photographer in weddings, portraits, editorial, architecture, and interiors.  She now spends any extra time she has helping others find smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

PhotoShelter Review from a Commercial Photographer

Before deciding to use PhotoShelter in 2016 for my Commercial Architecture & Interior Design Photography business in New York City, I had been a long-time user of Pictage for my Professional Wedding & Portrait Photography business while living in Massachusetts, Indiana, and Michigan from 2005-2015.  Before I had settled on either of these solutions for my photography business, I had investigated a lot of other solutions first.  I mention this just to provide some context and background for my time and experience with professional image vendors in the photography industry.


When Pictage closed in 2015, I had to scramble to find a way to transfer my 10 years of professional image archives out of that solution and into a new solution.  The quickest answer that I could manage online at the time was to FTP all client image archives from Pictage into Dropbox.  This wasn't the best solution, but it was the solution I had time to manage, along with the help of a virtual assistant that I had hired to make sure the task was completed properly.

My NYC Real Estate, Rental, Architecture, & Interior Design Photography clients had very different needs than my Wedding & Portrait Clients.  Wedding & Portrait clients needed some print fulfillment options for greeting cards, wall prints, framing, sharing images with guests, selecting how private their images would be based on who was looking at them, and album proofing, printing, and binding to help them pull together family and wedding albums.  Commercial clients needed no professional print fulfillment from me, just digital solutions.

Commercial & Residential Real Estate, Rental, Architecture, & Interior Design Photography clients needed to be able to share the images with multiple vendors, have a variety of image licensing options, have a variety of downloading sizes and file types (TIF, JPG, PDF), and have a sense of privacy and control over who could see and access the images. I also needed to be able to store some RAW files to collaborate with retouchers and post-production specialists who were based in other states or cities and give them access to download those files easily.  The total file size needs were not in giga-bytes, but in tera-bytes, so I needed an unlimited image storage solution that could deliver fast uploads and downloads.

In my scramble to find an interim solution, I found that Dropbox was awful for images.  Color accuracy was atrocious, which ruined all the careful white balancing I'd done for commercial architecture and interior clients who spent hours picking out the right colors for their projects and relied on me to nail that color accuracy in photos.  The colors were fine after they were downloaded, or if they were being viewed offline, but online- terrible.  I almost lost some clients over this issue, so I really needed to find another solution other than Dropbox for my commercial clients.

I shopped around comparing various industry photo hosting and storage vendors, and found that many of them were mainly focused on catering to the needs of wedding & portrait photographers.  Which is, after all, one of the largest photography industry markets, so I get it.  Many fewer businesses need professional photography than number of people getting married or having families.


Photoshelter appeared somewhat small in terms of photography market share of users.  They had been slowly and steadily building their platform and it appeared that they were focusing on users that came out of the New York market of clients.  Photojournalists, Fine Art Photographers, and Commercial Photographers dominate the New York photography landscape.  Professional Real Estate and Rental Photography has only exploded in the last 5 years.  Interior Design & Architecture will always remain a very small niche market of photography mainly focused in the top cities of the world.  So the question came down to whether or not Photoshelter had everything I needed as a commercial photographer?  The following is a run-down of what I've found to be good and what can be improved after using PhotoShelter for a couple years.

Initially, they didn't have an unlimited storage option, so it was tough for me to sign up right away, knowing that I would have limits on the number of files I'd be able to manage on their platform without incurring extra upcharge fees that might be unpredictable.  Luckily, they started offering an unlimited option under $50/mo shortly after I started considering them, which made it much easier for me to bring all of my commercial image needs onto their servers.  I had been paying Pictage $100/mo for unlimited image proofing & storage, but they also provided many other services I needed as well.  I had been paying Dropbox $50/mo for shitty image proofing & storage of only 500GB, so PhotoShelter was a much better choice simply on the unlimited storage to cost ratio and the fact that I could integrate several other things into the same online service.

Since I provide different types of image files to different types of clients, I really needed a solution that could handle a variety of image files from RAW to TIF to JPG... and even PDF... and I was happy to find that PhotoShelter was able to manage all of these file types and provide color-accurate online previews of the files no matter what type they were being stored and offered in.  This made my clients happy to see such great color accuracy and quality detail on their images, and it made me happy to not have to explain to every new client that the color and quality would be better on download.  My clients purchased more images because they looked great- which is super important when you enter a realm where images can be licensed one by one for hundreds or thousands of dollars.

One of the other important factors in commercial work was being able to control who could access the images, who could download the images, what file size and type they could download, as well as how long they would have access to those downloads.  I was happy to see that PhotoShelter had built-in options for offering different file sizes from one original download, as well as giving me the ability to limit who would be able to download based on email or password, and how long they would be able to download, based on expiration date or a one-time download link that lasted a few days.

I wasn't really expecting to get a portfolio included with my online image hosting & proofing provider, but with PhotoShelter I did, and it was so easy to drag and drop images from the unlisted proofing side of the website to the listed and visible website portfolio side of the website.  There are also some built-in image SEO tools, watermarking options, and website layouts that make setting up and revising your portfolio as easy as just dragging and dropping from your latest projects.

For photographers who want to keep their money where their images are, PhotoShelter is OK, but it takes a bigger cut of your sales than other solutions.  So, I had to make a decision about whether I was going to run my client invoices and sales through PhotoShelter or continue using other options that I'd already started using after Pictage closed.  Unfortunately the commission and online sales structure through PhotoShelter took too much of a percentage for my tastes.  I'm not giving up 8% of my commercial client invoices, sorry guys.  It might be great for someone occasionally selling fine art, who is comparing another online gallery ownership take of 15-50%, but I came from using a business solution that took no more than 3%, so the 8% commission option on the pro plan was a killer for wanting to use their sales engine for commercial work or invoicing.  I just chose to avoid that entire part of their services completely, since I already had another solution that worked better and gave me more profit from my sales.

I had a very close relationship with Pictage when I was using their service.  They had tiers of customer service response based on how heavily you were invested with them, so pro users and members had no issues talking to someone right away with their pro client concierge service.  They had round tables where they would discuss improvement ideas with power users, so improvement ideas were valued when they came from the community of users.  It was a level of service that feels rare in the online marketplace now.  Anyway, that's what I'm comparing to when I talk about customer service.

Photoshelter has OK customer service.  It exists at a minimum level.  It's still better than Dropbox.  It's still better than a platform solution you need to install and manage yourself.  Even though I've been a pro-member of PhotoShelter for a couple years, the two occasions I reached out for help didn't yield that much help.  If I were a first time online proofing solution user, this might be a problem.  Luckily, their system is mostly streamlined and works quite well in general, so you may not need much customer support.  Just know that it may be limited if you do need that support.  

The Photoshelter office is literally up the street from me, and I've been several times for their community events, so I asked about sitting down with the team to talk about some issues my clients were expressing with regarding to downloading their images.  I knew that these comments could create some great UX improvements, but the support team pretty much came back to me with the comment "we're always working to improve" but no follow-up to actually hear about the ways it could be improved.  They were looking at the system through their experienced eyes and seeing no problems, rather than taking some time to look over the shoulders of some people who weren't photographers or UX designers and who hadn't used their system before and were clicking the wrong buttons at the wrong time and getting the wrong results because of the UX design.  I digress.  It's an area they can improve upon, and I hope they do improve upon it.

At the end of the day, their UX for proofing and downloading images still gave my clients fewer headaches than using Dropbox as an interim solution, so it didn't stop me from using the service.  My design and commercial clients were just mildly frustrated that they kept making the same mistakes when downloading their images because of the way the site was designed.

It is still one of the more robust online proofing & delivery options for commercial photographers.  So yes, I'd recommend it and I think it's a solid solution for professional photographers.  Just go into it knowing that you may need to hand-hold your photography clients through some mild confusion if they miss some steps in the proofing & downloading workflow.

Anne Ruthmann is a retired professional photographer in New York City. With over 13 years of success as a full-time photographer in weddings, portraits, editorial, architecture, and interiors, she spends any extra time she has helping others find smart solutions to business problems. Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Old Equipment - Sell, Trade, Rent, or Donate?

As I've been taking a look at all the assets I built in my photography business and what I might do with them now that I'm focusing more exclusively on consulting and reiki work, here's the process I've been going through...

1.  Decide How Long You'll Keep the Equipment As Backup

Maybe you're just upgrading equipment  and want to keep some backup equipment around.  In my case, I decided that I'd hold onto my equipment for 6 to 12 months after announcing to my clients that they'd need to start finding another photographer.  I created a timeline on how long I'd keep gear so I could really gauge for myself how much I'd actually use my gear for my own personal fine art or creative interests once I wasn't doing commercial photography work full time.  Gear loses value pretty quickly as new gear comes out, so months eventually become dollars lost too.

If you've already got great working backups but still have a few pieces of equipment laying around after your upgrade, act sooner rather than later to help get a return on your upgrade cycle.

I needed to know if I'd realistically have any desire to pull out my professional equipment, after some time and distance from the daily work of commercial photography would open up my creative juices again.  It took me about 4 months, but today I actually thought of a photography project I would need my specialized equipment for and might actually want to spend time doing when I need a break from working on other things.

I share this just as an example of how sometimes we can feel really, fully, done when we make a decision about something, but given some extra time and space, we may change our mind about a few things.  I can always rent equipment whenever I want, but that takes some planning, and I didn't want that to be a barrier for those spur of the moment creative ideas I might have.

2. Assess The Remaining Value & Demand

Once you've decided what pieces you're definitely willing to let go of, take a look at what it's actually worth right now when sold as a USED piece of equipment.  Also, take into consideration how old that piece of equipment is with regard to how in demand it would be for someone to search for it online and want to purchase it.

For example, if it's a digital camera body that's more than 5 years old, you might try to sell it, but it may be highly unlikely that anyone will actually want to buy it.  A lens is likely to hold more value over time, but take a good look at your equipment to see what kind of shape it's in and if you'd considering buy it in that condition from someone else.  Taking a look at the USED sale value of items should help give you a more accurate picture of what is actually worth selling and what has such low value or demand that you might as well keep it or donate it.

3. Listing What's Worth Selling

I'm not a fan of craigslist because of the number of scammers that seem to troll the site, so I'm more a fan of the Facebook Marketplace or specialty Facebook Groups for selling equipment under a certain manufacturer from one person to another.  At least there's a little more accountability and specialized interest in the equipment you have to offer and a better idea of where people are located when they're inquiring, but if you can't sell it there, try EBay next, then Craigslist as a last resort.

Buyers are 10x more likely to buy used equipment that has fully accurate, detailed photos of the actual condition of the equipment.  They want to see any scratches, worn paint, dents, etc.  Don't try to hide these things or make it look better than it really is, just be super real in order to establish trust with a future buyer.  If you use stock photos or don't show detail of equipment, expect less interest and more questions.  Accurate photos save you time in your effort to sell.

4. Trading In What Has Value but Isn't Worth Listing

If listing your equipment and managing inquiries about sales is your least favorite thing in the world and you don't care that you'd be losing money, one last ditch effort to get some value out of your equipment that might be using it as trade-in value for something else.

Best Buy has a trade-in program that will take working equipment and provide a trade-in value that you can use at Best Buy toward a current product in stores.  This is a great way to get rid of your equipment soon and not deal with shipping hassles or negotiations.

5. Renting What's Worth Keeping

In the last few years of crowd-sourcing, we now have the option to also crowd-source our gear and rent it out to other image creators and professionals.  As photography rental outlets become more difficult to rent from and require more up front business identification and insurance, crowd-sourced rentals become easier with insurance options built into the renting process.

One of the companies currently pioneering this effort is KitSplit.  Before listing your own gear, you can search for the gear you're thinking of renting and see what options are already available in your area.  If you're outside of a major city, my guess is that you may actually dominate your local area as a rental option if you want to, otherwise you can see who else is in your area and how often they appear to be renting out their equipment or equipment similar to yours.  This is also a great option to share with the other image makers in your area who know you already- and may want to rent some of your gear when you're not planning to use it.  Do you know of any other crowd-source rental options available?  If so- post them in the comments!

5. Donating What's Not Worth Keeping, Trading-In, or Selling

If it's really old gear that no one is likely to search for, and it's just taking up space as a hazard or liability sitting in your storage area, it would be much better put to use as a donation to a school or a youth organization that doesn't have the budget to update electronic equipment each year.  Schools and youth organizations absolutely value any working gear that could be provided to help students with their projects, and think about how much happiness your equipment can give someone else when it isn't sitting in your storage area.

Before clearing out my portrait studio, I got in touch with the local Boys & Girls Club and asked them if they'd like my office supplies, old photo equipment, and other odds and ends like markers and poster board, etc.  They were SO HAPPY to get so many creative tools donated!  They turned around and gave me a tax-deductible donation form that I could record with my accountant that year, which was worth way more than letting it all continue to gather dust in my closet.

6. When It Isn't Even Worth Donating

Sometimes schools or youth programs will actually take equipment that doesn't work in order to be used for electronics dissecting or other electronic repair projects, but always ask first before dropping off something that doesn't work.

One last way to make your old equipment do just a little more good in the world, is to send it to Recycling for Charities, which takes old equipment and donates any income earned from the donation to the participating charity of your choosing.

If you aren't going to use it, give it a chance to get into the hands of someone who will.

If you have other great resources for selling, trade-ins, rentals, or donations - please add yours to the comments!

Anne Ruthmann is a constantly evolving creative soul based in New York City. With over a decade of success as a full-time professional photographer, she spends any extra time she has helping others find smart solutions to business problems and finding more ways to travel the world. Stay in touch on InstagramTwitter or Facebook.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Managing The Fame Monster

Fame can create a type of PTSD (post-traumatic-stress-disorder) when you don't know how to deal with it and respond to it appropriately, or at least it did for me.  If you've witnessed someone else's journey close enough to the surface of fame, you may have a better chance of dealing with the public response as it arrives, but it took me about 10 years to really recover from a period of fame that I got early on in my career and felt very unprepared for.

I thought I was just entering contests and submitting work to get feedback and a response around what I was doing well, but it also turned into awards, publications, special features, speaking invitations, and things that started putting me in the spotlight before I was really ready to handle all the other negative stuff that came with being in the spotlight.  I didn't realize there'd be an entirely other element of reputation management that I'd need to deal with as well.  So I ended up taking a huge step back once all the attention got to be too much to manage and started taking me away from my clients and the work that was paying the bills.  I realized I just wanted to get back to doing what I loved: creating images for clients who valued my work without all the fame nonsense.  I gave myself a lot of time to consider what I could do differently if it happened again, and I hope sharing this helps you walk a slightly easier road through any moments of fame that come your way...

1. When You Finally Win Some Awards
People will hate you and people will admire you.  People will talk bad about you and they'll say you're the best they've ever seen.  They'll talk about how they can create better work than you, and they'll talk about how they wish they could create work like you.  They'll say they should have won the award you won, and they'll say they'd never be able to win the award you won.  They'll do this behind your back, to other people, online in comments, in forums, etc.

You really just have to let them do this without defending yourself.  You've already won the award and received the recognition that you were aiming for.  Any defense makes you seem insecure about your win.  Any boasting makes you seem cocky about your win. This is just part of what comes with winning. The only response people want to hear is how grateful you are that the judges liked what you sent them. (People know it's all judge preference anyway.) 

2. When You're Finally Published in Magazines
People will say you bought your way in.  People will say they wish they had your skill.  They'll say your work is too trendy or too posed or too staged.  They'll say you're amazingly creative and a genius for thinking of something so unique.  They'll say you copied them and it's all been done before and that you just rip off other people's ideas.  They'll say you're brilliant and inspiring and they want to be just like you.  People will take your work and try repeating the same results.  People will call you a fake.  People will say you have an inside relationship.  People will assume you can get them published too.  People will put you on a pedestal.  People will try to knock you off a pedestal.

Let them think what they want to think.  Being published and recognized means you don't need to prove anything to anyone.  The only response that people want to hear is that you feel really lucky your work was chosen out of all the great work they could have chosen from.  (People don't blame lottery winners, just their own luck of the draw.)

3. When You Finally Get Invited To Speak
People will say you don't have enough experience.  People will think you know everything there is to know.  People will suggest you need to teach because your work isn't good enough.  People will say you're teaching because your work is amazing.  They'll think your ideas are rubbish and uninspiring.  They'll think you've opened up an entirely new way of seeing things.  They'll walk out in the middle of your talk.  They'll stay after and want your signature.  They'll tell you what a fan they've been all along even though you're meeting them for the first time.  They'll become someone you once knew really well and now refuses to acknowledge you.  They'll think you're a hack.  They'll think you're an expert.

These are all a matter of their own varied perspectives and you have to go in knowing your message is only going to be heard and liked by about half of the room, much like running for American Presidency.  Remember that your message is less about you and more about what other people make of it even if it's not at all what you meant.  You're just the messenger who happens to be the one brave enough to stand on the stage.  The only response people want to hear after commenting on your speech is how you tried your best and were honored to have the opportunity.  (People honor the process of being selected and showing up, no matter the message.)

4. When Strangers Start Recognizing You In Public
I think it was Gary Fong who once said, you aren't really famous until the bagger in a grocery store recognizes you in the check-out lane.  It's a great way to put "fame" of any kind back into perspective of the larger world out there.  That being said, in the world of the internet, if you put yourself out there often enough, you may gain some stalkers or fans who do actually recognize you in places you'd least expect it, even when you don't have any makeup on or just walked out of the gym.  At first, you feel totally weird that a complete stranger is coming up to you and acting like they've known you forever and yet you know nothing about them.  However, if you know how to handle it in advance, you can level the playing field by responding really down to earth and friendly, rather than standoffish and rude because you felt attacked.

The response I've found which seems to work best for dealing with this kind of guerrilla attack is to say "Hello!  What's your name?  What are you working on right now that made you familiar with my work online?" It does take an extra minute to hear someone out rather than turning your head and running away as fast as you can, but it also becomes a chance to gain a little market knowledge about the tribe who follows you and how they found your work online.  It's also much more personable than simply standing there saying "Oh, thank you so much" over and over again on autopilot.  Having a real conversation with someone about what THEY know and can share with you makes it slightly less lonely at the top if you're traveling in an unfamiliar area and want some recommendations for a good place to eat or a special park to go for a run in.

Are there any fame monster moments I've missed?  Have you come up with some solutions and responses that work better for you?  I'd love to read your thoughts in the comments.

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. With over 10 years of success as a full-time photographer in weddings, portraits, editorial, and now architecture and interiors, she spends any extra time she has helping others find smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.