Monday, March 30, 2015

Pictage: Should I Stay or Leave?


Pictage's CEO, Mike Grant, finally released a full explanation of what's been going on with the company over the last 12 months and what the changes mean for the months and years ahead.  Personally, I'm relieved that I'm finally hearing from the CEO, because it's been far too long since he has made any public statements about these changes, why they are occurring, and what it means for the future.  To have this knowledge and know what I need to plan for is better than not having any knowledge.  If you haven't seen the announcement, I've posted a link at the bottom.  Here's my take on what this means:

If you are NOT a Pictage member, here's what it means for you:

  • As a professional photographer with a resale number, you now have direct access to high quality professional prints, canvases, and albums through Photo Albums Direct, a new spin-off company that separates the Pictage printed services that used to only be offered to its members,  by using the ROES ordering system.  If you already have these services in place, you probably have no desire to switch. If you don't have these services in place, read on to see why you might want this one.
  • Non-members also have free access to the Album Templates and free Album Design Service that used to only be available to Pictage members.  Having a free album designer can save you between $100-$400 on each album.
  • Non-members have always had the ability to use ShootQ, which was once combined with Pictage service, and has now separated again
  • Pictage has changed their service offerings and tiered packages, which may work better for you if you need a more hands-off retail gallery or if you're frustrated that you're paying more than you thought you'd be monthly under your current system: https://discover.pictage.com/pricing/


If you ARE a Pictage member, here's what it means for you:

  • SERVICES: Pictage is separating into several different companies: ShootQ already separated, Photo Albums Direct will be the future source for all wholesale orders placed by photographers, and Pictage will remain as an online gallery that offers P3 payment billing plans, unlimited galleries, and unlimited image storage* (still need confirmation on how long this unlimited image storage will last now that they're starting to take down archives), and online galleries with regular sales tax management for client orders, direct shipping to clients, the excellent email campaign marketing that has made their photographers additional funds during holidays and anniversaries, and the private community where only members get to vent and help each other solve problems.
  • RETAIL GALLERIES: If you're like me and have 10 years worth of images stored with Pictage, and have always relied on them to keep those images online, you NEED TO ACT IMMEDIATELY regardless of staying or leaving Pictage on the request to Return Images Galleries to you by April 29, 2015, or you may lose your archived galleries completely from the server.  Personally, I will be requesting that ALL of my galleries become available for the Image Return so that I can have more than 30 days to make a decision about ANY of them, as well as having MORE than 30 days to download them to another cloud storage option if needed.  This part of the changes is likely to cause the most panic among members, but your galleries should be safe if you take the time to act as they have requested.
  • P3 BILLING: One of my favorite time-saving features with Pictage was being able to use the P3 payment system rather than having yet another site to jockey orders and payment processing through.  Being able to take credit cards is a huge advantage, and being able to spread payments out over time with pre-approved payment plans and automatic reminders and billing makes it easier on everyone, especially long-term wedding clients.  Good news, if you keep your Pictage membership, you still get this service as well.  The change is that Pro Members are no longer afforded the awesomely low 1.5% that was well under every other billing service available.  They are still providing a small discount at 2.5% for credit card processing, which keeps the option to do billing in a Pro Account lower than finding another third party solution at the typical 2.9% with transaction fees or 3% available in almost any billing service. 
    • If you accept LESS than $2,000 a month in payments using P3, use the Starter Plan as you need it because it's still cheaper than many of the other gallery options out there.
    • If you accept LESS than $10,000 a month but MORE than $2,000 per month in payments using P3, the Premium Plan is for you unless you have multiple photographers.
    • If you accept MORE than $10,000 a month in payments with P3, and/or you have multiple photographers with their own gallery sites and access, than the Pro Plan is going to be the best option to save on monthly fees and credit card fees.
  • ALBUMS: Having the separated wholesale from retail services is kind of a pain in the butt when we've been so used to being able to do everything in one place from the retail gallery.  I'm also going to really miss having the Online Album Design service available to me, rather than having to volley back and forth with an Album Designer for small changes, even if that design service is still free, and the new albums are actually less expensive.  However, this is no more challenging or difficult than every other Album company or online gallery service out there, unfortunately.  This was one of the biggest advantages that Pictage had over its lab competition, and they just pulled one of their hidden ace cards out from under their own winning hand.  In the end, you're still probably better off with the free design service included with this newly separated company rather than having to do the design on your time or hiring out for the design services on top of the payment for the albums.  As of this posting, the album pricing is publicly available, which I'm not a fan of for any wholesale-based professional-only product since it does not reflect the time and creative investment of the professional imagery that fills the pages of those albums.  Good news- more profitability with these new album prices.  If you plan to continue using Pictage and the high quality albums they offer, I would suggest finding a Pictage buddy or PUG Group nearby and making a date to figure out the new wholesale ordering system together.  The reality is that even if you decided to leave Pictage, you'll need to spend time learning a whole new system anyway that may have it's own set of unknown limitations and problems, so decide what is going to be the most efficient use of your time both short term and long term.
This covers the biggest changes to the service as I understand it from the long extended description that was provided in today's open letter about the changes, please visit the site and email Pictage directly for any further clarification.  If you think I've gotten some info wrong, please let me know so I can correct it immediately.

Your Photo Lovecat,
Anne Ruthmann

PS. If you want my personal take on how I'll be handling this situation for my own account, or want to share how you use Pictage and see what my assessment would be for you, click on the comments link below to read more.


Anne Ruthmann is an editorial & event photographer in New York City. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography full-time in 2004 as an independent small business.  She loves helping others find creative and smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

My No Portfolio, No Website Experiment

If you'd prefer to listen, rather than read, I've included a 10min audio file so you can listen along:


Last May I got so sick of listening to myself say, "I need to update my portfolio- the work on my website is over 7 years old!" that I actually decided to completely eliminate my website portfolio.  Yep.  Just deleted the whole thing and reduced my beautifully dense portfolio of weddings and portraits to just a one page, no gallery, about.me page with a photo of my face, one architectural image to suggest my new architectural work, and some text with links:



I actually tried to update my portfolio before deciding to completely eliminate it.  I'd worked with Kristi at Editors-Edge to refine the last 10 years of my wedding work down to several sample weddings and some themed galleries that were perfectly in line with the type of weddings I loved photographing, while also showing what made my style unique.  She helped me map it all out and finally got me to a point where I could stop spinning my wheels and just put my work out there.  It was all ready to go and yet, I STILL couldn't make myself do it.  Something inside me had such a powerful resistance and wall around putting my wedding work back out there that I just eliminated the whole thing.

When I took stock of how my business was shifting since moving to NYC, it became clear that my happy growth path here was going to be in the commercial architecture & lifestyle world rather than the wedding world.  The only problem was that I didn't have ENOUGH architectural imagery that I felt proud of yet to put up a portfolio I wanted to share, so I put up this simple one page site instead and sent out portfolio material as it was requested and as it applied to the client who wanted to see it.

What happened next is actually quite amazing.

Let me caveat all of this by saying that, thankfully, I'd already secured a steady interior photography contract that I could easily rely on even if no one else booked me.  That contract was the turn-key that helped me dive so fully into architecture and interiors.  While the money wasn't anything to brag about, it was frequent work, sustainable, and allowed me to work in my preferred methods, times, days, and locations while still giving me the flexibility to take better clients and opportunities as they came along.

I looked at that contract as essentially getting paid to walk 3-5 miles a day and meet my local neighbors while taking photos of their homes- which has also led to some interesting follow-up work, but not as much as you might think.  This was a win-win-win for me, the company, and the clients I shot for, but I knew that leaning too heavily on one contract was too small of a funnel for any growth.  I knew it was crucial for my continued growth and success to market myself beyond that steady contract.  Knowing that, and how little time and effort I was willing to invest in my online presence, I decided to stop relying on my website or any other online listing to do the work, and decided to take my marketing efforts off-line.

Luckily, I live in a place that would be considered a bee-hive of networking opportunities.  You can literally find networking events every morning and night of the week here.  It might cost you to attend them all, but if you want to hit the pavement with networking, there's no better bang for your time or buck than NYC, especially if you're working in a commercial context.  Even if you live in a small town, there are great networking opportunities to be found, because I've lived in those rural podunk towns too.  Over the years I've learned that networking and developing personal relationships is ESSENTIAL if you're a service business, especially one that generates its greatest income from word-of-mouth referrals.  There are other ways that don't require as much person-to-person time, but you'll just have to spend a lot more money on advertising.

Anyway, here's what happened when I eliminated my traditional photography website...

I actually received 3x MORE traffic to anneruthmann.com while being hosted on about.me than before on my own server.  Why?  Because the about.me platform encourages searching other pages and finding similar connections, which ended up getting more eyes to my site.  Cool beans, right?!  Well, sorta.

We all know that eyes on our sites are only worth something if they convert into paid clients.  I did another thing I would never recommend anyone doing- I put a lengthy contact form on my site that required at least 5 clicks to get to submitting your contact info, and even requested that you set up a specific appointment time and day to actually call me, not just send me an email!  Want to know how many people actually took the time to fill out that form over the last 10 months?  1.  One person actually made it all the way to filling out that contact form, despite having great traffic to my site.  Want to know how many people said they called me direct from my website? 1- and it was a sales call for advertising.

Let me summarize - I gave you no portfolio to look at online and I made it ridiculously difficult to get in touch with me!  To many people, this would appear to be a total business killer.  However, that's because too many people rely so heavily on online marketing to drive traffic and new contacts to their inbox instead of focusing on personal relationships and existing contacts.  I essentially flipped the system on its head and made it impossible to get into my inbox.  You literally had to know someone who knew me personally in order to contact me, and I can tell you that most of those people don't have my business card.  They either had my email or my phone number, and they would have to be able to find it in their phone or in their email if they were going to refer you to me.

What's kind of amazing is that as word of mouth traveled that I was focusing on architecture and interior photography, all the people I had personal connections with made me their point person.  I'm pretty sure half of them hadn't even noticed that I didn't have a portfolio of my work online!  However, because I came highly recommended from a trusted source, even the inquiries were willing to look beyond the lack of website material and simply requested I send them samples directly.  

So, how many new commercial clients did I book this way for something I had no portfolio to represent after just recently moving to this city?  10.  That may not seem like much until you understand that some of those clients became recurring contracts that included multiple shoots over the course of the year, some turned into extended licensing deals, and some have already resulted in more referred work and extended contracts for the year ahead.  Could I have booked more if I'd had a more refined portfolio online or made my contact form much easier?  Probably.  Will I book more in the coming year?  Yes, but it will not be because I will have a new portfolio online (eventually).  It will most likely be because I spent so much time offline, pounding the pavement, shaking hands, and reaching out to help people.

The lesson of this story is, don't expect your website do all of the talking for you.  You can have all the SEO in the world sending thousands of visitors to your website, get hundreds of inquiries a week, and still find that the majority of clients who actually pay to work with you, come from word-of-mouth, rather than online marketing.  So, get out from behind the computer and meet the people who like to make connections.  Get to really know the people who talk to your clients before you ever do.  Figure out who you can help and how you can help them- not because you expect a direct return, but because you enjoy your work and love serving others.  When you love what you do, it shows when you talk about your work, and it attracts people who value your expertise and passion for your craft.

I hope this has been an inspiration for you, and encourages you to take action in your own business to make more happen offline instead of relying purely on your online presence.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Photo Business Wisdom After 10 Years - Interview w/ Anne Ruthmann

When Dave Conrey asked to interview me for his Fresh Rag podcast, he initially wanted to chat more about my recent transitions in the photography world, after seeing my post on My Evolution As A Professional Photographer.

Of course, once he had me on the record button, he dug in deep about the photography industry and we ended up talking about moving from low-end to high-end markets in those early stages of business, gaining a national reputation, how to find other revenue streams in photography, as well as making that transition from one subject matter to another.  He really ran the gamut with me on getting an insider look at the photography industry, even beyond the scope of the event and portrait business.

If you find yourself wanting a thought-provoking interview to listen to on a long car ride, or maybe just over your lunch in your office, click on the image below and load up the podcast for an hour of juicy photo industry wisdom.  I'd love to hear your thoughts as well on what you think about some of the questions he asked!

Fresh Rag Interview Anne Ruthmann

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Wedding Blogs Allowing Watermarks on Photos

A few years ago I wrote an "Open Letter to Wedding Bloggers" on my personal blog about the allowance and usage of watermarks on images.  I felt like I did a great job of outlining the reasons why it's important for a watermark to appear on an image - both for the photographer needing copyright protection and for the image protection of the clients featured in the photo.  Yet, not much has changed in the wedding blogger world.

There was a suggestion put forward for me to create a blogger list of shame for those blogs that don't allow watermarks, but I don't think that's nearly as helpful as highlighting all of the amazing and gracious wedding blogs that DO allow watermarking of images on their site.  I find it's far better for everyone involved to feed advertising dollars and attention to bloggers who are doing the right thing for their audience and content providers.  

Below is a list of blogs that allow watermarks ON your images, so that when your images are pinned or shared elsewhere from the blog, they can continue to be protected for you and your clients.  It's by no means a complete list, so if you know of more, PLEASE share them in the comments so we can keep growing this list to make it a great resource for all!  Special thanks to our awesome wedding photography colleagues Zofia Crosby, Adam George, and Dina Douglass who helped me update these resources for you.

Submission Links to Wedding Blogs that Allow Watermarks:


Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle photographer in New York City. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography full-time in 2004 as an independent small business.  She loves helping others find creative and smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Friday, June 6, 2014

5 Steps to Making Your Business Legit

While there are many more things involved in running a business, you can set foot on much more stable ground if you have these five things in place before you start to collect money for your services.  I've been surprised to find that even people who have been in business for up to 2 years don't actually have some of these business basics taken care of yet (I may or may not be talking about myself as well when I started over 10 years ago.)  If you want to call yourself a professional, than you need to operate as a professional by answering all of these questions first:

1. Do you have a Federal Employer Identification Number?
http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Apply-for-an-Employer-Identification-Number-(EIN)-Online

2. Do you have a business bank or credit union account with your DBA name?
http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/2013/05/07/doing-business-as/

3. Do you have Business Liability & Equipment Insurance?
http://www.sba.gov/content/types-business-insurance

4. Have you contacted your local small business agency or chamber of commerce to understand your local business laws regarding operating, employment, benefits, and promotions in your city and state?
http://www.sba.gov

5. Do you have a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) to advise you on your bookkeeping, expense tracking, sales tax, and income tax reporting?
http://accountantsworld.com/

... also, while there are many resources available online for contracts and legal documents, you will also want to make an appointment with a local small business lawyer to look over any documents which you use as agreements with your clients in order to make sure you've covered all of your bases to protect yourself and comply with any local laws regarding your offerings.

Anne Ruthmann is an editorial & event photographer in New York City. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography in 2004 as an independent small business. She loves helping others find smart solutions to business problems. Stay in touch on Twitter or Facebook.
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