Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How to Schedule Appointments Faster

How annoying is it when you need 20 emails to nail down 1 appointment?
OMG.. please stop killing me with email tag just to set up an appointment!
Make a decision so we can all move on with our lives!
BIG peeve of mine.  I really despise wasted time.

Here are a few strategies to STOP wasting your time and get clients and appointments quickly scheduled into your calendar.  These are most effective when you do them right away with a client to help move the client from indecision to decision.  By providing options to meet and discuss details in your initial email, you quickly create action toward closing a sale as soon as possible.


Option A: Provide 3 Specific Date & Time Options

Example:
"I'm so excited to photograph XYZ for you!!  I'd love to meet you over Skype or in person to chat more about XYZ.  Here are the next 3 chances I have to set up a 60min meeting, what works best for you?
3pm Wednesday June 2,
6pm Thursday June 3,
or Tuesday 10am June 8
Thanks,
Anne"

Benefit: 
You control your schedule, you determine when the best times to meet are, you set the expectation of how long the meeting will be, and you provide very specific dates and times that can immediately be checked against the other person's calendar.  It moves the process forward quickly and efficiently to the end goal.  If clients can't make any of those times, they will usually just tell you.  If they go radio silent, it's easy to follow up with, "I'm still looking forward to meeting you!  Here are a few more dates and times that work- and if you need an alternative time, just let me know what works better for you?"  People like to know they've responded appropriately to email, so giving a very specific action item to respond to makes it easier than creating an open-ended situation with no specific response needed.

Option B: Use a Scheduling Software

Example:
"I'm really looking forward to photographing XYZ!  In order to make sure we're on the same page about everything involved, I'd like to set up a time to chat.  Click on the link below to find a time in my calendar that works best for you to schedule 60 minutes to meet in person or over Skype:
http:linktoaschedulingsoftware.com"

Benefit:
If you can't be bothered to look at your calendar and prefer that an online system manage your life and your schedule for you, this is a great option and can even be an automated email that you send along with a price-list.

Appointment Scheduling Softwares:
There are many scheduling softwares out there, some are free, some are paid- but before choosing one- make sure it has all the options you really need.  Ask yourself these questions before deciding:
1. Does it sync with the calendar system you use most often?
2. Does it allow you to block off times when you can't schedule appointments?
3. What information does it allow you to collect when setting the appointment?
4. Does it provide reminders or alerts to you AND the client?
5. Are the appointments and info available offline if needed?
6. Does it need to collect payment for appointments, or integrate with any other payment systems you prefer to use?

Option C: I've tried everything else and nothing is as effective as A or B

Every other method I've tried has always resulted in far more emails and indecision than when I've just said here's what I've got for you- what can fit your schedule?  Clients deeply appreciate that I am not wasting their time with additional back and forth emails.  Clients also appreciate my time more when they see how limited it is by only providing very specific days and times to meet.

I prefer Option A because it's always based on what my schedule looks like right now at this point in time.  I've had mixed success with online calendar systems.  The worst thing is when you set up a recurring calendar with the hope that this will help you streamline everything so you can send an automated response, but because your schedule changes frequently and sometimes you forget to update the software's calendar, haven't had a chance to put something important in your calendar, or it doesn't sync properly with your calendar, someone may end up scheduling a time that you're actually not available and then you have to go through a rescheduling process.

Another alternative that I did not mention, but seems to work well for a friend of mine is to hire a Virtual Assistant to make scheduling on your behalf with access to your calendar.  This is only effective if your clients tend to answer the phone.  Not all do, which is why I continue to prefer Option A or B.


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.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Offering Photography Internships : Dos & Don'ts


There are people in your immediate area who are hungry to learn the craft of photography, design, freelancing, or being a creative entrepreneur without making the financial investment in a school program.  They're willing to commit 6 months of their time, once or twice a week for several hours, to learn the craft, art, and business of photography.  I've been amazed by how many applications I receive for internships, and that they far exceed the number of applications I receive for PAID positions!  It baffles my mind, really, but it also demonstrates that there are many people who are very hungry to learn from you and want to do it in a low-risk exchange for their time.

If you've never done an internship yourself or hired an intern, I suggest brushing up on what the US Department of Labor considers an internship and how it's different from a paid position:
http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.htm

Essentially, an internship is always of greater benefit to the intern than it is to the company.  In my experience, and in the ways that I've designed my internships, this is definitely true.  I don't gain any additional time from taking on an intern, I simply trade the time I give them for the time they give me in return and it ends up being a net zero on my time.  In many ways, I'm mentoring my potential competition.  I get a few extra hands, but those hands may also come with a lot of time explaining things and quite a bit of hand-holding.    Ultimately it is a mentoring relationship, and you have to honor that relationship by really treating it as a learning experience.

What I have gained from having interns in my business is a better understanding of who I am as a photographer and a business owner.  If you're a reflective business owner always striving for improvement, you can't help but learn a lot about yourself in the process.  You'll learn what tasks you can give to someone else, and what tasks are critical for you to retain control over.  You'll learn what you can train someone to do and what is so innate and difficult to train that you have to pre-select someone for (like their visual aesthetic).  You'll learn how much you can or can't rely on others and when it's best for you to handle a situation versus anyone else.  It's a great way to figure out exactly what you need to hire skilled people for and what you can share with someone who's still learning.  If that's something you're interested in, read on about what to do and not to do regarding interns:

DO:

  • Have an application process and deadline for applications.
  • Post your internship opening on your blog, Facebook page, and in your newsletter.  Start with the people who already know you and follow your work, as they are your best referral source for finding talented people near you.
  • Set a regular time and date for the internship to take place, either decided and advertised in advance, or negotiated with your intern after they've been selected.  I've found that a 3-6month commitment is a good period of time for an internship and that 4-8 hours per week is ideal.
  • Consider how much travel cost will be involved for your intern and make the arrangements easier on them when possible.
  • Be flexible with interns, but also have defined cancellation notice periods for both you and the intern in case changes need to be made last minute.
  • Create an agreement that defines the days, times, cancellation policy, non-disclosure agreement, and basic expectations of the internship so that there is something in writing that outlines the expectations.
  • Offer to cooperate with schools and universities that need documentation for the internship.  It's often just a series of surveys about the student and a few paragraphs about their work with you.
  • Have regular check-in points during the internship to make sure the student is learning what they came to learn, and that you are providing that for them in the experiences and tasks you share.
  • Offer internship perks like borrowing equipment, going on important assignments, and reviewing proposals or client emails that deal with tricky situations.
  • Feed interns.  Don't hold them hostage for more than a few hours without feeding them.  Hangry interns make very cranky office mates.
  • Create additional space for an intern to share your desk or your office. Whether you work from home or from a studio space, just create a little extra space.  Creating a space helps interns know that they are special and important to you.  Warm fuzzies make happy office mates.
  • Allow interns to understand the financial aspects of running a business.  When this information is hidden from them, they may walk away with a glamorous view of what it's like to be a freelancer without understanding the real costs and expenses.  If you're at all concerned about your intern becoming your competition, sharing the financial realities makes it more clear as to whether they'll pursue photography as a hobby, business, or work for someone else.

DON'T:

  • Give an intern essential tasks in your business.  Not only are you setting them up for failure if they don't have the experience or training, but you're also putting your own business at risk.
  • Hide information from interns.  Trust is essential in this type of working relationship.  A non-disclosure agreement should be all you need to establish a code of trust between the two of you.  The more they learn about the business, the better informed they'll be in all of their future photography decisions, which creates a healthier photography community in general. 
  • Expect an intern to pick-up understanding just by watching you.  You need to explain a lot of what you're doing, how you're doing it, and why you're doing it along the way before an intern can really understand how to do something for you.
  • Lose patience.  Your professionalism toward your intern is just as important as your professionalism with your clients, and your intern will share the emotional experience of with you well beyond the time you spend together even if they disclose nothing about your business.
  • Take an intern for granted by expecting an intern to do something you'd normally pay someone else to do.  If you'd normally pay for it, you should be paying your intern for that task as well.
  • Forget that an internship is a mentorship not an apprenticeship.
  • Assume that every intern is going to turn around and create a full time business with what they've learned.  Many don't become your competition because they see how steep the learning curve really is once they've had a chance to experience it at the fullest.  Sometimes knowing more actually means that people decide being a photographer isn't the right thing for them, and your internship is a way for them to experience that without making a huge investment in gear, mistakes in their own business, or in an education that doesn't result in a job opportunity.
  • Get upset if they do become your competition.  If you can, try to hire them if you feel like they're a great fit, and hopefully you've educated them about why it's easier for them to work in your business than to go out on their own.

Anne Ruthmann is an architecture & 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 freelancers find creative and smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

How to Automate Online Marketing & Social Media w/ Mike Allebach

automate marketing social media mike allebach brandsmash


Since emerging on the wedding & portrait photography scene, Mike Allebach has created strong online brand recognition around himself as the Tattooed Bride Photographer.  His Allebach Photography Facebook Business Page has over 21,000 likes and his TattooedBridePhotoGuy Instagram Feed has nearly 5,000 followers.

When I personally met Mike in March of 2014, he had just given his first WPPI Platform Talk with Jaleel King and they were so popular that they were invited back a second time to talk about going viral and getting press.  Getting press is awesome, but I wanted to know how he MANAGES that constant marketing cycle that's needed to expand marketing reach?  Is he working with a social media manager?  A publicist?  How does he have time for it all while still serving clients?

On Thursday May 7th at 4pm EST, Mike shares one of his most powerful automated workflow solutions for managing his brand and growing his following.  This will be hosted as a LIVE webinar demonstration of how he actually does it as well as a Q&A session for attendees.  No recording will be available for review, so I do hope that you can carve time out of your schedule to attend!

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER FOR THE WEBINAR

An email reminder will be sent to your registration email one day before the meeting and one hour before the meeting.


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.

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 FREE Album Templates and FREE Album Design Service that used to only be available to Pictage members.  Having a free album designer can save you up to $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.
  • DISCONTINUED SERVICES (updated 6/18/15): Pictage recently announced their full chart of continued and discontinued products and services direct through Pictage galleries.  Some of the services that I found to be the most convenient and unique to Pictage versus every other service out there, are now being completely eliminated.  I'm pretty sure this is one of the things that will put the nail in the coffin for Pictage's existing membership, and perhaps the future of the company entirely: http://www.pictage.com/p-hub/uncategorized/pictageproductlist/
  • 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.
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