Monday, April 18, 2011

You Already Have The Answers

While consulting for other small businesses, I've found that most people already have the answers to help them overcome the problems they're currently facing, but for whatever reason they ignore those answers or they convince themselves that someone else has a better answer.  There are so many different ways to solve problems or move forward, but the best solution is the one that will work for YOU.  Fortunately, you probably already know what that is.  Unfortunately, you may be spending so much of your time thinking about, and maybe even trying out, the ways that other people do things that you've confused what works best for you with what works best for other people.

For example, I used to look at a lot of blogs and participate in a lot of forums.  If I did enough of it, eventually one of these things would happen:
  • I'd compare myself and my work to that of others and either feel inferior or superior.
  • I'd feel like I had to try what everyone else was trying because it was different and seemed "cool".
  • I'd have an idea I thought was original and want to try it, but as soon as I found that someone else had tried it, I wouldn't even attempt it because it no longer felt original.
  • I'd spend more time focusing on others and what they were doing rather than focusing on what I needed to do.
I've tried to re-enter the world of reading lots of other blogs and message boards, but each time I've spent more than an hour on these things, I start to notice one of the feelings above creeping back in.  In each case, they take me further away from who I am as an artist and as a business person.  I'm not saying there isn't value or inspiration to be found by checking in once in a while to see what's new, or to learn what "everyone" is obsessing about right now; what I'm saying is not to get so consumed by it that you start questioning yourself and your individual style, or that you start judging others rather than just being at peace with the fact that everyone is different and on their own unique journey.

So, how do we solve this problem?

The only way for you to get better at what you do is to listen to yourself.  Listen to what feels right and good for you.  Listen to what you're saying to yourself.  Notice when you say, "I can't" or "I don't know how."  Either find someone who "can" or spend time investing in yourself so that you can "know" for yourself.  Push yourself to try new and different things, but always analyze whether you feel good about what you did, how you did it, and why you did it.  If a task you're doing feels painful or too difficult, it's a clear sign you need to find someone else who enjoys it and thinks it's easy (yes, there are people who love doing the things we hate- like accountants!)  Just because someone else "seems" to be doing it all on their own, doesn't mean that you have to.  You have a unique set of strengths and those are what you need to spend your time focusing on in order to be successful.  

You already have the answers, you just need to take yourself seriously.  If you aren't sure how to listen to yourself, get a mentor, a coach, or a friend to listen to you and be your mirror by sharing what they hear you saying.  Sometimes we dismiss our own thoughts, but they have power and control over us in ways that we often don't realize.  When we hear someone repeat these thoughts back to us- we gain a greater awareness of our own truth and a window into our own best solutions.

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography as an independent small business.  She loves helping others find creative and low-cost solutions to business problems.  Check out her next workshop or free talk at SmarterBusinessWorkshop.com.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Thank You Notes: Ace in the Hole

When I was a child there was one thing my parents were very diligent about and it was sending out thank you cards for every gift I received. Much of the winter months of my youth (due to Christmas and birthday gifts) was spent evading this chore that I hated with a passion. As I grew up though, I began to understand why you send thank you notes and above that how nice they are to receive. I don't know about you, but when I get one in the mail - or even email - from a client, friend or relative it makes me smile and quite literally makes my day. Who wouldn't want to share that kind of love with their clients or potential clients?

Let me make this simple: send thank you cards or notes!

Since I grew up doing this from a young age, this has always been something that I've incorporated into my business from day one but I know that many of you are not. When I meet with a potential client, I send out a card if I have their address or an email if I do not. I let them know that I appreciate them considering me for their wedding and touch on anything that we spoke about during the meeting. When a client books, I send out a handwritten thank you card expressing how thankful I am for their business and state I am looking forward to their day. Finally the day of the wedding I always drop a card in their card box wishing them well and thanking them for letting me be a part of their day. The feedback that I get from these little notes is amazing. Clients just LOVE it and always say that no one else's photographers do that.

Thank you notes are not very time consuming and you don't need to have custom ones made. I've been able to find ones that go along with my branding at Target and Marshalls. Pick up a pack or two and start sending... and let me know what your feedback from it is!

Corey Ann is a wedding & lifestyle photographer from North Canton, OH. She is a mix of everything - fashionista (runs Clothes for Pros, clothing suggestions for photographers), travel guru, deal hound and geek rolled into one. She's had a website online since 1997 and a blog since 1999. When not plotting world domination or her next trip, she can be found reading one of the 100+ books she reads a year. Follow her on Twitter.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dirty Little Secret of the Photography Industry, Pt. 2

There are a lot of photographers "faking it" until they "make it."

Since some people misinterpreted my last post on percentage of full time photographers in our industry, let's be clear about what I mean by "faking it":

  • suggesting that a portfolio full of images created at a workshop came from hired jobs
  • telling clients that you've been photographing weddings for 5 years when 4 of those years you were just attending as a guest and bringing your camera along
  • creating styled bridal shoots and wedding set-ups and passing them off as real weddings
  • using images created by other photographers to represent your own professional portfolio
  • using models that you've done trade work for and claiming they hired you
  • claiming you're an award-winning photographer without actually receiving an award
  • selling with images from photographers that are no longer part of your company, or are not a regular part of your photography team
  • passing off your images as a second shooter as if you were the primary shooter

Deception of any kind is just wrong. What makes me sad is that there's a lot of it floating around in our industry and because clients and newer photographers can't tell the difference between what's real and what's not, they can get sucked into it like a moth to a flame.  I've even heard of workshops that advocate people "fake it until you make it," but I really don't see a lasting business strategy in that.  Having confidence in your abilities wherever you are- yes, but saying you have experience that you don't- no.  The minute your colleagues find out what you've been doing- you've lost their respect for you and your business because they won't know what else you may be lying about.  Also, you're only putting yourself in a really awkward situation when you claim to have more experience and then find yourself in a situation in which other people are taking a financial risk on you bringing that to the table, but you can't.

I have so much respect for people who are humble about their situation and can sit down with a couple and say, "look, you're my second wedding and I'm giving you an awesome rate because you're putting a lot of trust in me." I really don't see the need for people to lie about where they came from or how long they've been in this- if people like your work, they really aren't going to care how long you've been in the game- so why lie about it?  There's actually more power in being real and honest- which helps clients be more understanding and knowledgable of when and if something goes wrong, and establishes a level of trust and respect built on honesty.  That honesty helps you create a better connection with your local photography community- which becomes your first line of help if something goes wrong and you need a backup.
An honest business will always outlast a business built on a foundation of lies.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Dirty Little Secret of the Photography Industry, Pt. 1

80% of people who call themselves a professional photographer are not making their full time living as a professional photographer.

Unfortunately we don't have a way to get the hard facts on this number because it might actually be something more like 90%. How would we measure it? Photography websites compared to tax returns? If you restrict the answer to a survey stemming from a professional organization, than it's going to look very different because you're surveying a set of people who have already fully invested in joining a professional organization. So, this number is based on my personal experience of living and working as a full-time professional photographer, talking with other photographers, and engaging in community groups with other photographers.

Photography is a great part-time hobby turned extra source of income for a lot of people, but very few photographers are able to make a full time living doing this. Many photographers won't reveal to their clients- or even to other photographers- that they have another job because they are afraid it will make them seem less serious as a photographer. While I don't fault people for this when it comes to working with clients (as long as they're still giving their clients the best service possible- though I think it would help clients have a better understanding of a lot of things), this lack of full-disclosure is most dangerous with young photographers or aspiring artists who don't know the full story. They have no idea what percentage of the websites and blogs that they see are actually doing photography for a living. They end up thinking photography is an easy way to make a full-time living doing what they love and then base their own business off of people who may not even be running a business that's profitable enough to pay the bills.

In Boston, we have five major photography schools that pump out at least 150 photography graduates each year who expect to make a full time living in photography just because they now have a degree in it. They get starry eyed reading photography blogs and they assume that people who post a lot on their blogs are making a full time living in photography. They have no idea what's really happening behind the scenes, or how what seems like a "career" on someone's blog is really just a part-time job that helps cover expenses like iPads, nice lenses, and the latest camera gear for 80% of the photographers out there.

I work out of a studio where I'm surrounded by over 150 other artist studios. When I look at the people who are making a full time living doing what they love, I see people who are spending at least 50% of their time on running, managing, and marketing their business. They are both business savvy and artistically creative and they work hard at furthering themselves in both areas on a regular basis. Without the two, it's pretty difficult to make a full-time, self-employed living doing what you love. Now, you could actually be a horrible artist and still make a living from art if you're very business savvy, which tends to piss off a lot of artists, but..
If you're an amazing artist without much in the way of business smarts (or someone managing your business for you) than you're going to spend a lot of time living the "starving artist" lifestyle.

There, I said it, someone needed to.

(Update: This post has stirred quite a discussion... view the comments to see what other people have to say about the topic...)

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography as an independent small business. She loves helping others find creative and low-cost solutions to business problems. Check out her next workshop at SmarterBusinessWorkshop.com.