Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Value vs. Quality

A great price is only defined by the great value behind it.

It's easy to think that all people want are low prices. Afterall, isn't that what retail empire Walmart was built on?! On the surface it may seem as though the low prices and large selection of Walmart were what kept small town American businesses from being able to compete with the retail giant that took over rural towns, but Walmart was built on giving people the MOST VALUE for the lowest price. Rather than change their business strategies so that they were no longer competing on price, small mom & pop shops across the country gave up hope and closed up shop far too quickly instead of reinventing their business to meet the high quality shopping needs that Walmart was unable to provide.

Ultimately, there are two kinds of shoppers. Those looking for a great value, and those who are looking for great quality. Both shoppers are looking to get the best product for their money- but one is focused on the numbers while the other is focused on aesthetics. I consider myself to fall somewhere in the middle and I'm going to be adventurous and say that many people feel similarly. Sometimes I'm shopping to get the best value for my money (like with gas), while other times I'm shopping to get the highest quality product (like with makeup), even if it means I have to spend a little more money than the value side of my brain is willing to justify. This also leads me to the question - does anyone buy mid-grade gas?!

My shopping decisions are dependent on what I value in life, and how those priorities fit with my pocketbook and my lifestyle. This is why the same person who spends $5,000 on their wedding flowers may only want to spend $2,000 on their wedding photographer. Obviously photographing those amazing flowers is not nearly as important as having the amazing flowers to impress the guests on the wedding day. With the same token, this is also why someone who has a simple outdoor ceremony with only a few guests and a cocktail reception will spend $5,000 of their ambitiously small $10,000 wedding budget on the best photographer they can possibly find- because they want to make sure every moment of their precious and intimate celebration is preserved in the most beautiful way. We cannot change what people prioritize in their lives, we can only hope to attract the people who value the same things we do, which is why we need to make it clear in our pricing and branding as to what shoppers we are hoping to attract.

I need to cut off any notions that simply having a higher or lower price will define your market. It is the VALUE and QUALITY of what is being offered that is MORE IMPORTANT than the price alone.

If someone's service or quality sucks but their price is high, they can still have a very high value! (Huh?!) If they pad their packages with tons of products, it can create a high perceived value of stuff and they can completely devalue the photographic work, but still command a high price for the quantity of the products included, despite the quality missing in the photographic work. This is how some photographers who don't have the greatest quality can demand a high price, because they've padded their packages with lots of valuable products that make the savviest of bargain hunters want to spend more than they had initially budgeted. These bargain hunters like to know they get a lot of "stuff" for their money, because to the person shopping on value alone, the products and perceived value of those products are more important and more valuable than the quality of the work. If someone has crappy work or horrible service and offers no added value by way of products but still commands a high price, than their value is very low and will not appeal to the bargain shopper.... unless they drop their price to where their perceived value becomes higher. Last thought on value from a good friend, Sergio who had reminded me that "expensive" is merely a word to describe a perception that the value is not worth the price, and that perhaps if someone says we are too "expensive", it is simply that we are not providing enough value in our products or services for that person to justify the cost to them, based on their values. Is this making sense yet?

Quality is not quite as easy to measure as value because it isn't defined by numbers alone, which also makes it slightly more difficult to shop for online when you have so many different options to choose from and one of the only ways to sort them out is by price (as is the case on many wedding planning websites). Quality is an intangible and often difficult to define element of a product or service. Yet, somehow we know quality when we experience it. Take a moment to reflect on the brands that you associate with high quality and think about what they all have in common? ...
You may have come up with common traits such as: memorable branding, higher than average prices, beautiful aesthetics, durability and longevity, great service, trusted reputation, etc. Is it possible to "fake" these things? Perhaps you could have a high price, memorable branding, and beautiful aesthetics.. but how about great service, trusted reputation, and longevity? Certainly, some things simply cannot be faked. The difficulty in a service industry such as photography and a short customer cycle such as weddings, is communicating those intangible qualities up front. This is why word of mouth is so important for a service based business, because people who are looking for those high quality intangibles will often seek the advice and recommendation of others in order to find the trusted vendor who has great service ALONG with beautiful work. People who are shopping for quality are not using price as a filter- they are looking for something that trusted and reliable, and they are willing to pay more for these qualities, knowing that they will be taken care of. This is why someone who comes highly recommended is often in greater demand than someone who simply has beautiful work.

I didn't include this third category in the title, because most of the population can fall into the value vs. quality shopping mentality. However, when a product or service is truly unique and customized in a way that cannot be mass-produced (or is at least perceived as not being mass produced), there is a niche market of buyers who will search for uniqueness before all other factors are considered. We are moving from an age of mass production and capturing large markets, to an age of personalized products that sell to fewer people in lots of different markets (for more info, read: The Long Tail, Small Is The New Big, and Microtrends.) You no longer just buy a box of kleenex, you buy a pocket sized packet to carry with you, or the kind with lotion so that it doesn't hurt your skin, or the kind with a decorative box so that it blends into your decor. What used to be a quick fix of caffeine in the morning, has become a definition of who you are as a person- soy chai latte extra hot in my travel mug please! (lactose intolerant eco-nerd who takes too long to drink her tea). Personalized products and customization allow us to define who we are through the things we buy, and some people are willing to pay a lot more just to get something that no one else can or will have. This is why some products and services can survive on sheer exclusivity- because it makes them unique (even if their work isn't actually very unique in and of itself). If only X number of a certain car can be made each year, and only X number of people can actually afford that car to begin with, it's a car that makes a statement about who you are. Be careful of this placement in the market... because only ONE product or service can be the "most exclusive"... and frankly, they often have to find other sources of income to fill the income gaps that come with the high price tag and risk that comes with exclusivity. There also aren't nearly as many people willing to pay a lot of money for something just for its exclusivity... especially not when they can find something that is very unique and of high quality for lesser money, so keep that in mind.

In summary, know who you're selling to and what is important to that customer. Do they feel good knowing they got a lot for their money, or do they feel good knowing that they are getting trusted quality? How can you bring these selling points to the forefront when you meet with clients or present your business on your website? How does this affect the way you market your business? How does it affect what products and services you provide for your clients? When you take time to really think about and answer these questions for your business, you put yourself in the drivers seat and are able to make clearer, more informed decisions- which in turn, should lead you to greater success. ;-)

also posted on DWF 1/30/08

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Recession Time = Rethinking Time

Gary Fong offers some valuable business advice about what products and services sell best in times of recession. Click on the link below to see what he has to say...

Never Say No

Just say how much!

While emailing with another photographer recently, I was reminded of a simple but easily forgotten business practice of never saying no to a client's request. Heed warning, this does not mean you must say yes to everything, only provide alternate options. Here are a few examples of what I mean...

Very often a client requests a date that I'm unavailable. Rather than simply saying I'm sorry, I'm already booked. I often say, here are some other photographers who may be able to help you! This shows the client who was originally interested in me that I have a sincere interest in helping them find what they're looking for. I'm also paying it forward to another photographer, who may return the favor in the future. Everyone comes out on top and I didn't have to say no, only give another option.

One client had a family member that was interested in swapping some people in photos, yet I knew that I didn't have the time or skills for the amount of work that would come with the request. Rather than saying no, I investigated how much it would cost to hire a professional retouch artist for the job and provided the family with a quote. By providing an estimate of how much additional the retouching would cost, it gave the family an opportunity to evaluate if the project was worth it to them. This allows me to provide the service to my clients, and give them the quality that they deserve, while allowing me to focus on the aspects of my job that I do best.

I had a request from a client to take portraits of every family in attendance at the reception. Rather than saying I won't do that because it isn't my style, I instead offered to hire a dedicated portrait photographer who would be available to take family portraits while I focused on the candid work that I do best. I gave them a quote of how much the additional photographer would cost along with the benefits of having someone dedicated to just the portraits they were looking for, and they agreed that it was worth it for them. In the end we all win because I get to do the work I love, they get the family portraits they want to give to their guests, and another photographer gets to be paid for their time.

This last year my turn around times were much too slow and rather than telling my clients they simply had to wait and get nothing, I gave them several options: to simply have their unfinished images as is, or to get a few finished images to use in the paper or for a thank you note before the rest were finished. Most clients opted to have just a few finished images and wait for the quality of work that they had originally paid for rather than getting the unfinished work or nothing for quite sometime. However, if I had not been able to offer any alternate options, I wouldn't have provided the best service possible to my clients.

Hopefully the next time you encounter a difficult situation when you would normally find yourself saying no to a client, you'll instead find a way to offer other options that serve both you and your client better.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

WPPI Party!!!!!!

Blog readers voted and the Party is ON!! Mark your calendar for Monday March 17th 8pm - 12am! Pay It Forward and Photo Lovecat are teaming up to bring you an awesome party in Las Vegas during the WPPI convention! Come and meet other blog stalkers as well as the generous souls behind the blogs that share the love!!! In true lovecat style, there will be AWESOME GIVEAWAYS from some of your favorite companies!!! Attendance is for registered guests only, so...

If you're interested in being a sponsor for this event to make it even more awesome - drop me an email and I'll let you know how you can contribute in a way that will have a very positive impact on your business!

*Special thanks to Lindsay over at the Pay It Forward blog for helping host this awesome party!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I <3 [b]

In case the title is difficult to decipher, it means: I heart Becker. For most of the photographers reading, this man needs no introduction (nor any added press/media coverage!) He's at the top of his game and he's been in this industry a lot longer than most people can even stand it! Here's a man who has heard "Lady In Red" more than most DJs in the business, and is still living it and loving it to tell about all of the things he's learned... not too mention, he's young, fun, and dare I say... a total stud muffin (that was totally for Jessica Claire to read! HA!) I first got to see him speak in Chicago for a DWFU workshop and he had so many valuable insights to offer, and he was completely down to earth and open about sharing it all.

I have to say that after watching his latest "Short" video of his humble beginnings, I love him more than ever. His blog has been included in my list of Free Online Resources for Photographers for a long time now, but he recently started really investing into his new and improved [b] School Blog. If you haven't checked out this brand spankin', lip smackin', new blog of his- TODAY is the day to become one of his blog stalkers. He has a lot of wisdom to share, and you would be a fool not to learn from it. In his latest video blog, he shows us some of his humble beginnings and reminds us that we all start somewhere. What are you waiting for?! Laugh with him as he reminisces about the cheesy photos of the past and his humble beginnings.... and while you're there, be sure to leave some blog comment love. Bloggers live for comments!! (click on the screenshot below to visit the [b] school blog)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Dealing With Tough Clients/Situations

I'll definitely expand on this post later, but for now I simply wanted to share with you Jillian's new book on how to respond to tough client questions or situations. Members of the OSP community know that Jillian has helped many photographers get out of sticky situations by offering sensible responses during times when it's so easy to lose our cool. Now you can have Jillian's voice by your side the next time you feel like tossing your client out the window. You can even read the first chapter online as a preview to the book! Click the image below to get your own copy of: "Dear Silly Lady - A Wedding Photographer's Guide to Not Strangling Clients":

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Education: The X-Factor

There are people who KNOW and people who DON'T KNOW. The people who know will always have more power and influence than those who don't. Therefor, one of the best things you can do for yourself and your business is to constantly seek out new educational opportunities and sources of information. Here are a few different ways to go about expanding your education..

These days, every industry has a trade show and conference. For us photographers, the two largest tradeshows are Imaging USA (currently underway) and Wedding & Portrait Photographers International. If you can only afford ONE trip in a year and you've never attended these conferences, be sure to budget one into your calendar. Included in the cost is countless free workshops and speaker sessions. Add to that, many tradeshow booths are now also offering educational vignettes featuring key people in the industry during tradeshow hours. The education never ends! If you feel like you've seen it all when it comes to your industry's tradeshow - why not check out a tradeshow in another industry?! It's amazing how completely abstract fields and ideas can spark and inspire new ideas for your own business.

Workshops are some of the most intensive experiences you can have. They give you the opportunity to participate in real life experiences and one-on-one and discussions with the opportunities to ask questions and get feedback that aren't possible through DVDs and Books. Workshops also provide a community of peers with which you've shared an intensive experience, creating stronger friendships and a kind of community that you can draw on later if you ever need help. Because they are so intensive, there may be little time to process everything that's being given to you at once, so I suggest keeping a journal and referring back to it at a later time. Also, it's highly likely that not EVERYTHING is going to be important or applicable to you at that time- and if you're receiving information that isn't immediately important or applicable, than you're more likely to simply forget that information all together.

Enter: educational books and videos. You can always go back to it. It's not a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and what may not be applicable to you today, may be useful after you've mastered some aspect of the process you set out to learn. Another benefit to videos and books is that they are often much less expensive than attending a tradeshow or workshop and you can read or watch them at your convenience in the comfort of your own home. There may not be the live support that you'd get in a workshop experience, but you may be lucky and have the author answer some of your burning questions over email. ;-)

The internet has revolutionized information sharing, so I would be a fool not to acknowledge its strong role in helping people educate themselves. Most message boards and blogs are free, but there are added benefits to paid message boards such as exclusivity, privacy, and an environment in which to establish a tighter community. Blogs are similar to books in that it's primarily a one-way form of communication, although there is an exchange of ideas through the comments section. Message boards are really the ultimate web 2.0 experience with many different users sharing their experiences and knowledge in a conversational format. If you aren't currently a member of a message board community, visit my previous post about the free internet resources to find one that might be right for you:

Whatever your source of education, I firmly believe that it is the x-factor that separates those who grow from those who simply go with the flow. The best place to look for educational materials and workshops is through your professional organizations and affiliations who often allow presenters to advertise. My best advice when deciding which workshop to attend would be to start with someone you trust and respect who offers something you're interested in. You're much more likely to get something out of it if you're excited about the person presenting the info. An investment in yourself will go a long way toward an investment in the future of your business.

Afterthought: Learning is twice as effective when you take the information you've learned and then SHARE it with others. Some of my best ideas have come from sharing what I know with others and receiving their feedback or advice on my ideas. If you're only absorbing information and not finding ways to share that information with others, you're only learning half as much. Create a community of photographers that get together to share ideas and info. Visit your local camera shop and post a flyer for a get together, or contact a few local photographers that you admire and ask if they'd like to go out for lunch together. If you need help finding people locally, check out the chamber of commerce, google local, or your professional organization's website- most have directory listings by zip code or city. It never hurts to ask, and everyone is flattered when they are valued for their wisdom and experience.