Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Competition Illusion

Over the years I've conducted several surveys of professional full-time photographers and it's amazing that the results stay consistent from year to year no matter how the market changes.

Survey Question:"When you look at the clients who actually booked your services, how did they find you?"


The percentage year to year tends to stay around 80% of booked clients coming through word of mouth referrals from previous clients, vendors, associates, friends, and family.  The other 20% tend to fall into website searches, social media, or trade shows.  There are a few rare businesses who flip that number on its head with a strong sales push or limited-time-offer at a convention, conference, or some very heavy targeted social media or website effort, but most full-time creative professionals who aren't selling education online are actually making their living on a strong referral business.

This is why competition is an illusion.


Most people are referring the 1 person they have trusted experience with.  Now, maybe a potential client has 3 friends who all refer different people, it still means you're only competing against those other 2 referrals.  Which is why, with referred business, you're not competing against every directory listing or search engine result available on a public website- only with other people who have great referral business in your marketplace.

Focus on referrals to eliminate competition.


- What can your clients say about you as a professional that makes the experience of working with you stand out from working with other professionals?
- Did you set reasonable expectations and exceed them?
- Were you pleasant and gracious to work with in person?
- Have you stayed in touch outside of projects you've worked on together?
- Did you do anything special that made their work or life easier?
- Did you find ways to connect them to other resources or help they were looking for?

When you focus on doing great work and working in a way that feeds your referral business, the competition is more of an illusion than a reality.  Each inquiry from a referral is exponentially more likely to book than an inquiry from a directory or search result.  How are you eliminating your competition by increasing your referrals?

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.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

3 Responses to Low Budget Requests

Rather than getting frustrated with people for not understanding your costs of doing business or not valuing the time and talent you invest into your work, stop assuming what they should understand and start educating to help provide more awareness around what professional rates should look like.  In order to be compensated at a professional level, it's important to respond to every unprofessional rate request with a more professional option.

Here are 3 different responses you can use when being asked to work for unprofessional rates:

1. Provide a more appropriate appropriate price for the request:
Thank you for your interest in working with me!  Based on everything you've outlined in your request, it appears that the appropriate pricing for that would really be $$$$.  Would you like to change the nature of the request or change the budget to a more appropriate rate for everything you'd like to accomplish with this photoshoot?

2. Describe what you can actually do for that rate:
Thank you for your interest in working with me!  At the budget you've described, I can provide two hours of documentary coverage at that rate, which that will allow me to produce approximately 60 images to choose from for this type of event, from which you're welcome to select 12 favorites for high resolution commercial licensing.  Would you like to move forward with this offer or discuss additional options?

3. Explain the price difference between professional and amateur:
Thank you for your interest in working with me!  I'm afraid that price is quite low for the professional resources and experience I provide- my normal rate for this type of project is $$$$.  Were you looking for an insured professional who can guarantee results, or did you want to work with an amateur who is still learning and may not have sufficient experience with this type of request?
(*This could be misconstrued as snarky, so use with caution and make sure you have the ability to provide an amateur resource like craigslist or a photo school of students who need to practice on clients.  Being able to provide an amateur resource if they want one shows that you're still a professional and willing to help others find a solution more appropriate to their request.)

If these responses don't seem to fit your situation, try this basic response recipe instead:

Step #1 - Express thanks
You'll notice all responses start with gratitude for the client's interest in your work.  We are truly lucky when people reach out to us individually to work with us.  In some cases, we may be the only creative they got the courage to contact directly.  If they were referred by an existing client or seen our work and fell in love with it- it's important that we honor their interest in working with us.  

Step #2 - Provide more appropriate information
In order to get people to adjust their perception or idea about what to expect, you must offer an updated set of information that helps them understand what they're requesting when it comes to working with the professional they're requesting it from.  Only when you provide more accurate information with regard to what it will cost or how much can be delivered within their budget, can they begin to adjust their own expectations and perceptions about what they can request from a professional.  Sharing is caring, and it's far more professional to care and share than to diss and dismiss.

Step #3 - End with a question
Every price inquiry response should end with a question to help continue the conversation.  I find it important to leave yourself open to continuing the conversation so that you aren't shutting the door to opportunity, but merely providing a window into what a more professional arrangement looks like while giving the client a chance to respond and negotiate their own interests further rather than shutting down alternative options or possibilities that meet closer to your mark.

If you see any colleagues struggling with unprofessional pricing requests, I hope you'll share this resource with them so they can stress less and work smarter about dealing with it in the future.

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.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Budgeting Equipment Replacements

People do taxes because they have to, but many fewer people do budgeting for annual repairs and replacements.  Every creative business relies on a set of tools to get an idea from thought form into a tangible form that can be sold.  Computers, cameras, paints, brushes, pencils, paper- all just a part of being a creative.  Whenever I do pricing consultations, one of the things I often encounter is that people aren't planning their equipment upgrades and replacements as part of their overhead costs and costs of doing business.  Yet, these tools are as essential as having a website, phone, or email to serve clients with.

If you haven't been in business long enough, the best clue about how often you'll need to replace something is in the warrantee information.  If you're buying a computer or a camera and even an extended warrantee won't cover that piece of equipment beyond three years, than you know that you'll need to expect to replace it after three years because even the company doesn't think it will keep working well after that.   If you have budgeted to replace equipment based on warrantees, you'll never be surprised by a tech failure- because it will already be in your budget.

If you happen to keep a piece of equipment beyond its extended warrantee, than either you aren't using it very often, or you happen to be lucky.  Most professionals use their equipment twice as much as the average user, which means getting closer to that warrantee guarantee quicker as well.  Here are a few quick actions you can start taking to better budget for your equipment replacements:

Take Action Now:
1. Create a spreadsheet of equipment you need to do your job
2. Record the price, serial number, month/year each piece of quipment was purchased
3. Record the warrantee expiration date based on your date of purchase
4. Tally replacement costs for each year based on warrantees
5. Create a monthly equipment replacement budget to help plan for costs

Here's an example of what that equipment budget might look like for a professional photographer:
- 2 Pro Cameras - $7,000 - Maximum 3 Year Extended Warrantee / 36 Months = $194.44/mo
- 1 Pro Level Computer - $3,000 - Maximum 3 Year Extended Warantee / 36 Months = $83.00/mo
- 3 Pro Lenses - $5,000 - Maximum 3 Year Extended Warantee / 36 Months = $138.88/mo
Even if we just account for these three essential things,  photographers who budget ahead know that they'll need to set aside around $417 every month for their camera, lens, and computer replacements.  Or if you prefer to look at it in another way- if you shoot 30 jobs a year, $167 of each job needs to be banked for the use of just these pieces of equipment.

Previous related posts on this topic:
How Much Does Each Click Cost?
Photography Overhead Costs (or Why Photography is Expensive)
Why $300 Should Be a Professional Minimum

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.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

WPPI 10 Years Ago & Now

In thinking about attending WPPI this year, I was trying to remember what year I first attended.  Thanks to the mighty power of Google, I was able to travel back through time to uncover my relationship the WPPI expo and conference...

In this 2006 post on how my business started, I already knew the importance of being part of a professional organization like WPPI for leaning, mentoring, and growing my business:
http://photo.net/wedding-photography-forum/00FLt3

In 2007, which was I believe my first WPPI Expo, I got to connect with people I admired and reconnect with friends I met while attending the Foundation Workshop earlier the same year:
http://anneruthmann.blogspot.com/2007/03/wppi-las-vegas.html

In 2008, I started hosting the PhotoLovecat Giveaway event:
http://photolovecat.blogspot.com/2008/03/giveaway-gala-photos.html

In 2009 we hosted another PhotoLovecat Giveaway event and our blog became a place to share a public review of the WPPI events & workshops:
http://photolovecat.blogspot.com/2009/02/wppi-2009-review.html

In 2010 I was getting back from a trip to Australia and settling into a new Photography Studio in Massachusetts, but Corey Ann held the torch and continued hosting a PhotoLovecat meet-up:
http://photolovecat.blogspot.com/2010/03/wppi-2010-review.html

In 2011, we were able to start tracking WPPI Parties on Eventbrite and WPPI Attendee Twitter accounts to keep track of who was sharing what from where during the conference - may be interesting to see how many of those people will be at WPPI 2017?
https://twitter.com/AnneRuthmann/lists/wppi-2011
http://photolovecat.blogspot.com/2011/02/wppi-2011-parties.html

In 2012, Corey Ann carried the torch for WPPI again, while I was living in Australia and following my dream of traveling the world for an extended period of time.  I still participated in online mentoring and webinar workshops, but was definitely more interested in exploring everything I could in Australia and Europe that year.
http://photolovecat.blogspot.com/2012/01/wppi-2012.html

It seems the world of Wedding Photography starting changing dramatically in 2012-2016.  Major photography labs started closing.  Photo Schools started closing.  Online labs gathered more business.  Online photo workshops became more popular.  iPhones started to have printable quality images.   People could create Facebook groups for their wedding and guest's wedding photos.  Photo booths took over the job of formal portraits.  The world of immediate sharing and instant gratification started to become far more important than high quality imagery and beautifully curated artful moments from trained professionals.  Perhaps it is simply returning to what it once was when we operated in film: a luxury service for those who can afford the work of a trained professional, while non-professional instant gratification is satisfying enough for everyone who can't afford a professional.  I'm speculating, but would love to read your thoughts in the comments as well.

There will always be a low-end of the market for the entry level professional starting out and serving the people and referrals in their immediate area.  I have no doubt of that.  I also think there will always be a high end of the market for people who value working with a creative professional and want archival products of their once-in-a-lifetime moments.  I think the middle has been squeezed the most - forced to serve either the low end of the market with a lot of volume or the high end of the market with fewer clients and additional workshops and education services to fill the gap.

Personally, I started to trim down the amount of weddings I photographed and move into editorial and commercial not because of anything happening in the industry, but because I wanted more weekends and weeknights to enjoy time with my family and friends who work 9-5 jobs.  I knew weddings would likely be a 10 year run for me, simply based on how many people I saw leaving the industry in their late 30s and early 40s.  I also had a taste of what it meant to be constantly teaching in the photography industry, and decided that I didn't really want that to be my primary workload either.

I never wanted to be someone who lost their passion for the amazing moments of the wedding day or found any of it to be too mundane or typical.  Now, when I do get the chance to shoot weddings, it really is special again because it's not something I do every weekend or get too formulaic about.  I've been able to keep that passion by making it something I more rarely do when I'm not photographing editorial, commercial, or architecture & interior work.

Even though Weddings are no longer my main focus in professional photography, it has given me so much of what I needed to help me reach where I am now.  I still love the wedding photography industry and how, even though most people quickly cycle in and out of it every 2-4 years, it becomes a training ground for the professional photographer, for the budding creative entrepreneur, and for the future solution provider in the photography industry.  It has been very interesting to see how people who were once "just wedding photographers" have become innovators, educators, and amazing entrepreneurs in other capacities.

This year I will be returning to WPPI for just one day - the last day of the Expo, Thursday 2/9/17 to say hello to friends who are instructors and trade show vendors, to give hugs to people I haven't seen in years, and to host a gathering for anyone who would like to reconnect over dinner on the last day between workshops and awards.  We've come a long way baby, and I'm grateful for the role that WPPI has played in my own professional photography development and how it continues to support new and emerging photographers in many different ways.  If you'd like to join me for WPPI 2017, visit the Facebook event page below for the details and RSVP so I can save you a spot at the table...

WPPI 2017 Photographer Meetup
https://www.facebook.com/events/193074804502583/

If you can't make it, feel free to follow along on the WPPI 2017 Twitter List I've started:
https://twitter.com/AnneRuthmann/lists/wppi-2017

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.



Tuesday, January 24, 2017

5 Tax Organization Tips

If you're getting ready to work with a CPA, or do your business taxes by yourself (which I don't recommend), here are a few things you'll want to start gathering and organizing to make the process easier.  Disclaimer: I'm not a CPA, just a small business owner who pays taxes every year. Always take final consultation from a professional CPA with regard to your situation.

1. Do you have an assistant or contractor you paid over $600 total last year?
If they aren't on payroll as an employee, and have been working as an independent contractor, you'll likely need to send them a W-9 form request for their tax filing information and then a 1099 Misc. form with the total fees you paid them during the year.  This information needs to be gathered and shared with your contractors before January 31 to allow them proper filing time as well (you can still file late, you just pay an additional fee).  This helps you legitimize the expense for the independent contractor and it helps them document received income from your business.  If you paid them via an online service like PayPal or Venmo, you can likely easily search all payments made to an individual according to year.
Official IRS information on documenting independent contractor payments:
https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/forms-and-associated-taxes-for-independent-contractors

2. Did you travel to any of your jobs or clients last year?
If you're an on-location photographer, you likely traveled for almost all of your jobs.  The good news is that you most likely can expense that cost to your business.  If you took Taxis, Uber, Lyft, Car Rentals, or Airlines - you likely have records of all those purchases in your bank accounts or in the apps you used.  If you don't claim a car as a business asset & expense because you also use it regularly for personal and family travel, you can still claim the mileage you drove to meet and serve clients as well as any parking fees incurred during the job.  If you weren't tracking this all along with an app like Expensify, perhaps you have the addresses on your contracts or in your calendar that can help you determine the mileage you traveled for each business meeting, job, networking event, or on-site project, coupled with any debit card records made to parking structures.
Official IRS information on documenting & expensing Business Travel: https://www.irs.gov/publications/p463/ch01.html#en_US_2016_publink100033773

3. Did you entertain or buy meals during business meetings or travel?
If your work required you to eat away from your home office location, or if you bought meals for clients, vendors, or contractors while doing business,  you may be able to deduct those as well.  This is generally only a 50% tax deduction, even if it was a 100% expense to your business, so it would be best to talk to your CPA with regard to what is considered a Meals & Entertainment expense.  If you usually use a debit or credit card for these transactions, you likely have evidence in your monthly statements of what you've purchased by date while on a job or meeting.  If you haven't been tracking it all along and need to do it retroactively, an online financial organizer like FreshBooks or Mint can help you pull multiple credit and debit cards together in the same place to organize expenses.
Official IRS information on documenting & expensing Meals & Entertainment:
https://www.irs.gov/publications/p463/ch02.html#en_US_2016_publink100033862

4. Did you buy equipment for your business last year?
New computer?  New software?  Online services?  Cloud storage?  Paper and ink to print contracts on?  Office desk & chair?  Currently, the IRS allows $500,000 in business equipment deductions, up from $25,000 in previous years.  For many freelancers, the overhead expenses of keeping equipment updated are often the sleeper costs that surprise them year to year, so it's important to consult on which business expenses are considered deductible.
Official IRS information on documenting Equipment Expenses:
https://www.irs.gov/publications/p946/ch02.html

5. Did you use any home utilities or home office space to run your business?
You probably needed a faster than normal internet connection to deal with all of those file uploads and deliveries to clients.  You probably needed a cell phone and/or business line to manage phone calls with clients who panicked at the last minute about their project.  You probably needed electricity to charge your phone and keep your computer running to deliver projects to your clients.  All of these things can be considered in the appropriate percentage for how they are used for business versus personal use.  Make sure you're keeping tabs on all of these expenses as they apply to your business so that you can properly deduct what's used to keep your business running.
Official IRS information on documenting Home Office expenses:
https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/home-office-deduction

Again - always consult with your local CPA to make sure your record keeping and tax deductions are relevant to your situation.

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. She has been a small business owner since 2004 working as a 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.


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