Sunday, December 16, 2012

Annual Marketing Evaluation

For many small businesses, the end of the year is the last big push for revenue to close out the year.  If you've built a great marketing plan and stuck to it for most of the year, than you're probably reaping the rewards that come from staying in touch with your target audience and providing opportunities for them to take advantage of your products and services.  If you don't feel like you're ending the year on a high note, than it's time to take a critical look at your marketing efforts to find out what went right or wrong.

Just as you review your finances before you do taxes, you should also review your marketing before creating a stronger plan for the year ahead.  Here are some questions to help you critically evaluate your marketing efforts from the last year:

Direct Marketing:
  1. What forms of direct marketing were used this year (email, mail, text, calls)?
  2. How many clients and potential clients were added to email and/or mailing list this year?
  3. How often was list informed of new products, sales, specials, or awards?
  4. How was additional value provided to clients through mailings (tips, education, reviews)?
  5. Where are potential clients able to subscribe or sign up for direct email/mail?
  6. Which direct marketing efforts performed the best and worst based on the desired outcome?
Website Marketing:
  1. How many visitors did the website receive daily/weekly/monthly/annually?
  2. According to the stats, what are the most popular pages or posts on the website?
  3. What are the website's search engine rankings for the business name and desired keywords?
  4. What are the top ten actual search engine keywords driving traffic to the website?
  5. What are the top ten inbound links referring traffic to the website?
  6. How many inquiries were received through the website this year?
  7. How many subscribers were added to website/blog RSS/reader feeds?
  8. How frequently was the website updated with new products or information?
Social Media:
  1. How many new subscribers were received on social media feeds? (Itemize each one: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, or any other relevant and active social media outlets.)
  2. How frequently were social media feeds being updated (itemize each one)?
  3. How do the social media outlets rank based on most and least interaction with subscribers?
  4. Which ten updates received the most attention (likes, retweets, views, click-throughs)?
  5. Which social media platforms drive the most traffic to business website?
Affiliate/Partnership Marketing:
  1. What types of affiliate/partner marketing were utilized this year (groupon, charity or gift donations, guest articles/interviews/features, link sharing, promotions for/with related businesses, directory listings, professional organization memberships, etc.)?
  2. What is the approximate audience reach for each affiliate or partner?
  3. How did partnerships rank based on most and least beneficial for reaching target audience?
  4. Which efforts were most effective toward generating new leads?
  1. What forms of advertising were utilized this year (blog ads, google ads, facebook ads, radio, TV, magazine ads, billboards, newsletter ads, brochures, postcards, etc.)?
  2. What was the approximate audience reach for each advertisement?
  3. Which ads resulted in the most measurable increase in traffic or leads?
Person to Person Marketing:
  1. What networking events were attended?
  2. What promotional events, trade shows, or markets did business participate in?
  3. How many workshops, demonstrations, events, and/or presentations did business host?
  4. How many new client and industry contacts were received from each event?
  5. How many business cards and/or samples were given at each event?
  6. What methods were most effective for capturing new lead information?
  7. What percentage of new contacts turned into follow-up business?
Please note that this list is not to suggest that you should be engaged in all of these marketing efforts- the smartest strategy is to do what works best for your business and your target audience.  However, if you find that your current marketing strategies are not generating enough leads, than you may want to consider the other opportunities that you have to generate new leads and expand awareness of your brand.

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 in 2004 as an independent small business. She loves helping others find creative and smart solutions to business problems. Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Guest Post: Review of Christa Meola's Paris Workshop Retreat

After reading Christine's review of Christa Meola's Paris Workshop Retreat & Mentoring Program, one fellow attendee also decided to post her own review online on DWF.  Tricia's review can be seen on Christine's original review here on Photo Lovecat.  Sigrid Cardona was originally going to share her review as a comment on Christine's post, but it is too long to post in the comments so she emailed us asking if we would allow her review to be published here as a guest post since she does not currently have a blog.  We all heartily agreed to allow her this chance for her voice to be heard as well.

Sigrid's Review:  

I can attest to EVERYTHING that Christine has stated. I too was at the Paris workshop with Christa Meola. I completely agree with Christine in her disappointment in this Workshop.

I am a newbie to photography workshops. My dream was always to go to Pasadena Art Center to learn photography but I never had the cash to do such a thing. So recently I had been wanting to up the ante in my photography and wanted to learn from a great Boudoir photographer. I stumbled on to Christa Meola's website and the images just blew me away! I knew I wanted to bring my images to that type of a caliber. I read that she was doing a workshop and figured i could REALLY learn how to do this properly.

And in response to the Anonymous folk who questioned in the comments WHY SPEND SO MUCH MONEY... because in ANY Career you need an education. What the hell is wrong with spending money on education????? Yes true you don't have to pay, and instead can take years to learn this on your own. I and many others have chose to PAY for an education and learn from real photographers that want to teach and help you get to the next level in your career. But the blame should not be put on us because we wanted to LEARN. INSTEAD why not ask, "WHY didn't the instructor and in this case Christa Meola teach us anything or at least follow through with what she was suppose to

Now let me back this up for just a second and let everyone here know that during the workshop, and even when I came home, I was content with how the workshop went. I was never personally offended by Christa. And while in Paris I had a conversation with Christa where she didn’t know why most of the girls on the trip where upset. I tried explaining to her from what I had gathered of why they were upset. I even defended Christa when we came back from the trip when all of us Paris attendees had a discussion about the trip.

My thoughts of the workshop began to change when I read Christine's post and I realized that there where many discrepancies in what happened and what was actually supposed to happen in Paris. I must
remind you all that I was a newbie and I had never attended a workshop. So I really didn’t know what to expect and really didn’t set any expectations.

When I came home I learned about Creative Live and have been Intensely watching every live event ever since. Then Christine’s post came to light and it hit me! Christine opened my eyes to what really happened and DIDN'T happen in Paris.

Now also let me tell you that I didn’t just hop on a bandwagon either, after taking all these online Live courses with industry greats such as Sal Cincotta, Jared Platt, Sue Bryce and now Joe Buissink, I now
have realized how a photography instructor NEEDS to instruct and how much is possible to learn from a 3 day workshop. I can honestly say now that I did not learn anything concrete from Christa’s work shop, but instead learned a lot from my fellow attendees.

After editing my images from Paris I have also began to feel bad at the fact that we did not really get any Boudoir or Fine art models. Our supposedly Fine art model was an older drunk lady who NO ONE could tame. In my group more then half the girls just quit trying to photograph her because there was no point! I also just learned that one of the models we can’t even use on our portfolios because she was under age. There really was no Boudoir models nor where there any real fine art models. There was no teaching of how to pose the models until after all the models had gone and she showed us with a fellow attendee who so kindly decided to pose. I struggled through the photo shoots and received help from my fellow attendees because Christa was not around. I was also asked to be a model because we had a shortage of models, which in turn caused me to miss one hour of photographing.


• 3 day workshop not 5 days
• No real fine art models or Boudoir (some models refused to be photographed in lingerie or nude); one of our models was DRUNK; one of our models was under age; one of our models an attendee and I found on the streets of Paris and asked if she would model because we had a lack of models from Christa Meola; attendees were asked to model due to lack of models
• There was no teaching BEFORE models showed up on how to deal with them or even how to pose them or to work with natural lighting.

• No structure in teaching. There was no set plan or agenda of what we where supposed to be taught. The few lessons or I would more accurately call them “Conversations” about subjects where all during
lunch while eating.
• Organization was pretty darn bad. She really needed an assistant.

The lack of structure, organization and concrete teaching from this workshop is definitely very disappointing. For me personally it is disappointing because I know that my family helped me so much to go on this trip and that is not to overshadow any of my fellow attendees, because I know each and everyone of them had their own struggles and sacrifices to make this trip a reality. I truly hope that our voices are heard and that no one else has to be put through something like this and lose their money like we did. I have not spoken to any of Christa’s other workshop attendees or know how she performed in
previous workshops. After getting to know Christa Meola a bit during the trip I don’t think she maliciously or intentionally botched this workshop. I sincerely hope that this was a one time screw-up for her and she will be more organized and have a full lesson plan and be prepared if she does do any future workshops, because not all of her attendees are going to be Newbies like me and they will hold her accountable for her mishaps. Hopefully we will all get an apology if she decides to own up to her faults in this workshop and by that I mean an apology for her lack of teaching, structure and organization and not an apology for how we felt about the trip.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Review: Christa Meola's Paris Workshop Retreat & Mentoring Program

I attended Christa Meola's Paris 5-Day Workshop Retreat in May, 2012 as part of her mentoring program. As the mentoring program (and my review of it) is tied to the workshop retreat, I will be discussing both in this post.

UPDATE: AUGUST 6, 2012: Christa Meola's response can be found in the comments. (August 6 at 4:25pm.)

UPDATE: AUGUST 10, 2012: If you are a member of DWF, you can see another workshop attendee's review (Tricia), corroborating this post - the post is available by clicking here.

For those that have inquired, the PDFs are now available also of the Mentoring Program Promotion email and the Paris Workshop Promotion page from Christa Meola's site. All testimonials on the Mentoring Program document are not from past mentoring clients, but rather people that did her Online Workshop.

UPDATE: AUGUST 12, 2012: A third review from Catherine Schultz has been added in the comments below. A fourth review was too long for comments, and was instead added as a guest post here on PLC from Sigrid Cardona.

UPDATE: AUGUST 13, 2012: A fifth, extremely extensive review from Taranjit has been added in the comments below.


Presenter: Christa Meola, guest speaker Carla Coulson

Date: May 1-5, 2012 (4 days)

Location: St. James Hotel, Paris, France

Price: $4500 for the workshop alone; the workshop was included in $10,000 price for mentoring (along with a long list of other items.) I cancelled my mentoring immediately after the workshop, and paid a total of $3914 out of the $10,000.

Included: 4 nights of hotel (not the 5 expected), "models", breakfast buffet for 4 days, 30 minute mini boudoir session with Christa for regular workshop attendees -- Mentoring clients were told that they would have a boudoir session valued at $3000.

For mentoring clients, additional items were included - the $3000 boudoir session, the $4500 workshop, a portfolio review, a branding call, 6 mentoring calls, watching Christa do a boudoir session with a client, and more.

(Mentoring Program Promotion (testimonials at the end are from past Online Workshop participants, not past Mentoring clients) and Paris Workshop Promotion.)

Workshop Bonuses: Ticket to Crazy Horse Burlesque Show; were told we would have a private tour guide for two museums, but did not. Two splits of champagne and a box of macaroons were in each room upon check-in; we each received a small notebook.

What I Expected: An opportunity for the mentoring clients to get together and advance their mentoring experience, growing their businesses at a more rapid pace. Building business foundations, discussing pricing, marketing, getting published and other advanced business topics.

I expected the workshop to be heavy on business topics and "classroom" learning, with only minimal if any model shoots.

Expectation Met? NO.

The Positive: The women who attended the workshop with me are amazing. I've learned so much from them, I'm inspired by them, and I look forward to a great future with them. They are all wonderful, and I think the world of them.

Key Reasons for Expectations Not Being Met:
(Post updated to add this section on August 8, 2012.)
- The 5 day workshop was 3 days, not 5.
- Only 4 nights of hotel costs and breakfast were covered, not all meal costs as implied in her literature about the workshop for mentoring clients.
- Literature promised models for this "Fine Art Nude and Boudoir Workshop," leading to the expectation that all models would be either nude or wearing boudoir-appropriate clothing. In reality, there was 1 nude model, 2 lingerie models and 4 models fully clothed in "street attire."
- Did not cover the materials she said stated in promotional literature that she would be covering, had no presentations prepared for teaching them to us, and no "classroom" room for us to learn in.
- Included for mentoring students a "valued at $3000" boudoir session (her rate for a normal session); instead delivered a 30 minute mini session instead of her $3000 session. Alerted mentoring students 3 weeks before the workshop that it was only 30 minutes, but they could add another 30 minutes for $1000, even though her stated "extra outfit" rate is $195.
- Mentoring program promotional materials stated monthly calls; once in the program it was revealed that there were 6 calls instead of 12.

This is probably going to be the longest post I've ever written on PhotoLoveCat, but this workshop deserves an extensive review.

This is also a very difficult post to write, as prior to the workshop I admired Christa Meola and what I perceived as her business practices.

I applied and was accepted to Christa Meola's 2012 mentorship program. I was very excited about this opportunity and viewed it as a great way to push my career to the next level, as I have moved my business to have a full time focus on boudoir in 2012.

When you applied for the mentorship, you did not know the price. There was a long list of items involved in addition to the mentoring calls themselves, which included a 5 Day Workshop Retreat in Paris and a boudoir session with Christa valued at $3000, along with a number of other items. These two items are key to this review. Once accepted, the price was revealed. *UPDATE Aug. 7, 2012* - once the price was revealed, you then had the opportunity to sign up. That was when you committed to mentoring. (Christa told me on two occasions that she had only accepted 5 mentoring clients, but through the comments of this post it seems that she offered to accept more, but they turned her down.) *End of editing to original post*

While it was a high price, I felt that the opportunity to take my business to another level would help me cover the costs.

- Mentoring Calls: The mentoring documents stated that there would be monthly calls. (See PDF linked above.) However, once in the program, I was informed that there would be six calls instead of the twelve calls from the promotional materials. I only participated in two out of six mentoring calls with Christa; I opted to save them for after the workshop, as I felt I would need more help then. On the two calls I had with her, we discussed pricing information that conflicted on the second call dramatically with what she said on the first. Instead of having a program for mentoring clients, all calls were "what do you need?" -- a challenge for someone being mentored, as they don't know what they need.

- LIVE Workshop & Paris Retreat -- a Fine Art Nude & Boudoir Photography Retreat “The cornerstone event of the [mentoring] program where the most magic happens! …You are responsible for your own airfare and any spending money needed for lingerie, perfume, and extra croissants.” “You will receive personal coaching from Christa while you shoot and be granted use of all images for your blog and portfolio. Christa will share in-depth info on how to work beautifully with natural light, the art of coaching & posing models, creating high-end sets & styling, creating amazing relationships with clients, pricing, post production, branding & more.” (Directly from Christa's mentorship literature.)
NOTE: We were told this would be a FIVE Day workshop & retreat.

Some of these areas were the exact reason why I applied for the mentorship program. I wanted a push to my work. I was excited for MONTHS about this workshop & retreat. Instead, nothing promised happened in Paris. -- The "five day" workshop was three days. Three & a half if you consider the time we spent from 6pm - 11pm the first night, Tuesday May 1st. Wednesday May 2nd, Thursday May 3rd & Friday May 4th were days with events scheduled. There were no workshop events scheduled on May 5th.

-- The wording in Christa's literature implied it was all inclusive. "You are responsible for your own airfare and any spending money needed for lingerie, perfume, and extra croissants." Yet when I asked  in Paris about included lunches and dinners, Christa laughed at me and said, "OH NO! I couldn't afford THAT!" I guess we were supposed to eat "extra croissants" for all of our meals?

-- Prior to the workshop, I tried several times to raise the issue of the 5 days vs 3 days, it was pointed out to me on the phone that we would be working with 9-12 models, photographing a lot of fine art nudes, getting lots of coaching. This did not happen. I was also told that Christa would be packing in "so much" teaching, we would be simply exhausted. The only times Christa taught were over dinner Tuesday (May 1 - while many had jetlag from arriving that morning in Paris), and at lunch on Friday - a meal specifically "optional" as she said you would not be teaching over lunch & dinner. These were the ONLY teaching times.

-- As a response to my question about the 3 day vs 5 day issue, I was told by Christa several times how we could get together on Saturday & Sunday following the workshop as she would be in Paris for several days afterwards; however when I asked to make plans she declined to do so. Meeting with me personally was supposed to help with the missing two days from the workshop for me, but did not help anyone else attending.

-- Things were not "packed in" but rather at such convoluted times that there was no way we could not be exhausted & drained by the end. Shoots started at 9:30am, days ended at midnight or later. The early-risers among our group missed any late-night conversations because they were in bed by 10 or 11pm.

Food: -- We were told in advance that there would be food options for all price points (which confused those of us that were in the mentoring program, since we were told we only needed money for "extra croissants"); some attendees were on a tight budget and this was brought up in advance on our planning Facebook Group. Yet Christa made people feel bad if we chose to take the subway over taxis, and if we did not want to spend 30-50 Euros (or more) per meal.

*Update on Aug. 7, 2012* I've been asked to provide a summary at this point, so that if you do not want to read the full post, you do not have to.

None of the proposed business topics were covered. This was not the "cornerstone of the mentoring program", and out of the 12 attendees, only 5 were in the mentoring program.

None of the coaching, posing, working with clients materials were covered. She did a 30 minute demo of how she shoots on the last day (after all model sessions were done), which covered very basic topics. At the lunch meeting later that day she answered questions - no prepared material - about pricing and marketing, meanwhile making snide comments about the 6 workshop attendees who were not there because (a) they did not want to have to pay 60 Euros or more for their lunch and (b) they were doing their own booked photo shoot. She stated how they weren't doing what was best for their business.

There was no instruction style of teaching in a private space where the group could learn and ask questions. Christa presented twice in public spaces in French restaurants.

I did not attend the workshop expecting it to have any photo shoots, as I have a portfolio already; other attendees were anticipating the sessions though.
- An attendee had to go out on the streets of Paris hours before the workshop started to find models for the next two days.
- Of the models we had, 1 was a fine art nude model, 1 was a model represented by Ford modeling agency. The other 5 were not professional models.
- We had 1 model that was willing to pose nude - for a Fine Art NUDE & Boudoir workshop.
- We had no models that would pose outdoors in lingerie, a specifically promised style of shoot we would be doing.
- Out of the 7 models, only 3 would pose in lingerie or nude. 4 were fully clothed.

Christa provided no assistance with shoots other than criticizing remarks questioning why we were photographing certain ways. She offered no posing or other tips. She did visit our room during our hour long shoots for 5 minutes at most. (There were shoots in 2-3 rooms in the hotel at once.)

The boudoir session was presented as being valued at $3000 for mentoring clients - Christa's normal rate for a 3 outfit, no time limit session with a 5x5 album - were instead 30 minute sessions, rushed, and overlapping with other photographer's sessions. My session was scheduled for after the workshop, and I opted not to do my session due to the rude treatment I had received from Christa up to this point. I did not feel that it would be the empowering experience I expected, and had also no information on what time my session was at or where it was taking place as late as 10am that morning.

I would NOT RECOMMEND a workshop or Christa's Mentoring Program.

I have outlined all of the extensive supporting details below, including a day by day breakdown. These are only the highlights in this summary.
*End of Aug. 7, 2012 edit to this post. Continue reading if you would like further details.*

Day 0 - Tuesday, May 1st:

-- I arrived on May 1, and was surprised to learn when I met up with three of the attendees for lunch and a leisurely afternoon before things began at 6pm that they had been asked, on a French national holiday, to go out on the relatively empty streets to try to find models for us to work with the next day. Models should have been booked & paid for in advance through an agency for people attending a $4500 workshop.

-- We had been told repeatedly that it was "our trip" to Paris too, that we could do whatever we wanted, and that anything on the timeline in italics was "our choice" -- yet I was publicly chastised for being late to what was a welcome cocktail hour when I had to wait for a Metro train during rush hour.

-- After chastising me, Christa went on to state again that *all meals* and *all activities* were optional, and she would NOT be teaching during those times.

-- She asked us not to be late because it is her pet peeve -- and then asked us to be understanding as things changed on the schedule, expecting us to extend a courtesy to her that she couldn't extend to us when we were late for any reason.

-- I've attended many workshops, and normally they start off with everyone introducing themselves. While most of us had been in the Facebook Group, many people did not use their photo as their avatar, so we didn't know who was who. At no point did we have a "go around the circle and introduce yourselves" - and we went straight from the cocktail hour to dinner.

-- Dinner was in a public space in a restaurant (not a private room, as those are rare in Paris) which was quite noisy. Christa then taught to a long table of people. I had the benefit of having my notebook with me, and the fortune of being seated right across from her. Most people at the table could not hear, and did not know to bring anything to take notes with.

Day 1 (Wednesday), Morning:

** This was the day she should have demonstrated posing for us, "how to work beautifully with natural light, the art of coaching & posing models, creating high-end sets & styling, creating amazing relationships with clients" -- before any of us ever picked up a camera. Instead, we went straight in to working with models and other workshop attendees.

-- My roommate & I were never informed that our room would be used for one of the model rooms. When we found out that morning, we had to stop getting ourselves ready for the day to prep the room for people to photograph in it. (Including securing our own valuables and personal belongings, as a model was left alone in our room.) We should have been notified in advance that our room would be used. UPDATE on Aug. 7, 2012: Clarification - as the St. James is a gorgeous boutique hotel, each room is different. We knew that our rooms were being used, and that Christa had visited each room to select which 3 rooms to use as the "sets" -- we discovered from an attendee (not Christa) in advance of about 30 minutes before the start time that our room had been selected. We were not opposed to the room being used, but did expect the courtesy of being notified.

-- We had one professional fine art model to work with, one "model" that was a 20-something woman found on the streets of Paris by a workshop attendee, and then we photographed another workshop attendee. While the workshop attendee was great to photograph and is actually more in line with my target market, they were not Fine Art / Nude models. It also meant that those attendees did not get to photograph one model.

-- The professional art model was modeling in my room, and she drank our champagne and ate our food. Because of this, others had issues with her being drunk - I fortunately was able to push past this and get her to focus on me (although it was so stressful to do I managed to snap at another attendee when I shouldn't have.)

-- The art model was the only model willing to pose nude. The other workshop attendee was fantastic about being photographed and ok doing "implied nudes", the third model did lingerie only.

-- At no point did Christa coach our group. She did step in to the room we were working in twice, criticized poses, stating "she didn't think that was flattering", but that was the only time she was in the rooms while we were shooting. She never asked to see the photographs we took, gave no critique or assistance, and did not talk at all about the "Fine Art" side of things.

Day 1 (Wednesday), Afternoon:

-- We had been told at dinner on Tuesday night that we would be working with nude & boudoir models at the banks of the Seine. The three models we worked with were great as models, but fully clothed. NOT fine art nude or even boudoir. After being told for months about the boudoir sessions we would be doing outdoors, this was very misleading and disappointing.

-- One model was underage, and many workshop attendees can't use any photographs of her on their site because of this fact.

-- One of these models was, in fact, a professional hired photography model, represented by Ford. As far as I am aware, she was the only professional photography model.

-- Again, no coaching for our group, although Christa did criticize if she felt we weren't moving on fast enough to a new pose. We had worked within our group to give each other a chance to pose and a chance to get photos in each setting. Christa specifically called me out at one point for "shooting the same thing" towards the end - not realizing that I had not been able to get a shot at all because our group was large at that time and the space was tight, and I was trying to work with the group so everyone could get the shot they wanted.

Day 1 (Wednesday), Dinner:

-- Christa had planned dinner at the St James Hotel where we were staying, yet did not know that the prix fix menu was 75 Euros with a wine pairing, and had to negotiate another option for the number of attendees that did not drink. (Or want to pay 75 Euros for dinner.)

 -- When some of us said that we were going to leave to get food for less than 27 Euros (the entree only rate), she told us not to go because you didn't want the group split up - a complete contradiction to the fact that all meal times were supposed to be free time if we wanted to eat on our own.

 -- When another attendee & I asked a clarification question about the itinerary, she asked us with a harsh tone, "Have you READ your itinerary?" Yes, we had. We were jetlagged, and it wasn't clear so we asked a question about it. Plus we just wanted to confirm that was the plan. We were then told that the itinerary we had was no longer going to apply, that we would get new ones on Day 2 - but we never again had an itinerary.

 -- When the attendee who had been sent out to the streets to find models told Christa that she had two models confirmed for day 2, Christa made her cancel them stating that she would have three models there already. The attendee asked if they should come as backup, and Christa said no because she didn't want to have to pay them. (This all happened next to me at the dinner table.)

 -- During dinner, Christa approached our table and gave us the option to skip the Musee d'Orsay so that she could do a demo shoot for us. It was unclear why both couldn't take place since the Musee d'Orsay was the guided tour that we were looking forward to doing, and the demo shoot could also take place. However, the other table had already voted, so the majority wanted the demo shoot and the museum trip was cancelled.

 -- For those of us that flew to Paris on the 1st (Day 0), or for those that were used to going to bed by 10 or 11pm, having our guest speaker, Carla Coulson, start to speak at 10pm was entirely too late. Add to that having it in a dark bar. Out of all of the lectures at the workshop, hers was the most well prepared and the most valuable - I just wish it could have been at 7pm, not 10pm and in a private space. Carla had notes prepared for her talk and gave a very informative presentation. Sadly, I was nodding off at the end as jetlag took over. I would love to hear more from Carla in the future.

Day 2 (Thursday), Morning:

 -- Started late - we were told it would start at 9:30, but instead it started at 10:30.

 -- Told we would be given a new itinerary reflecting the changes from the night before but we never were.

 -- We only had two models to work with -- which would not have been the case if Christa had allowed the other two confirmed models come to the shoot.

 -- Again, we had been told that these would be Fine Art nude models, and that we could photograph nudes in the private gardens on the property. When asked, the models would not do either nudes or boudoir. The first model told us specifically, "no boudoir, no nudes." The second model did agree to model lingerie, but only indoors. She did not have lingerie with her, but the same attendee that had gone out to find models for us had brought lingerie with her, and the model wore it for us.

 -- I was told weeks before the workshop that there would be 9-12 models total that we were working with; we had 7 models and one workshop attendee to photograph. While I did not attend with the intention of building my portfolio, many other people did. This was our last official model session time.

Day 2 (Thursday), Afternoon:

 -- We went to the Musee Rodin for a tour. We had been told originally that Christa would be hiring a private tour guide. When we arrived in Paris, she said that she couldn't find one for us for this museum, but she knew the Rodin so well she would be our guide. We had to cover the cost of our own tickets to the museum. As we advanced through the museum, Christa did not wait for the group to gather to speak, instead speaking to whoever was closest to her and no one else. When she went in to the main building, she left half of the group outside, trying to figure out where to go. It was by no means comparable to a guided tour as she had told us in the weeks leading up to the workshop was going to be one of our "surprises".

 -- There was one statue inside the museum where Christa did take the time to talk with several groups of people about how if it was a model you could photograph it. That was the only time she accounted for people to catch up, and not all made it.

 -- Buying our museum tickets would have made more sense then buying splits of champagne and macaroons for us; especially as several people had pointed out in advance on the FB group that we didn't drink.

Day 2 (Thursday), Evening:

 -- Crazy Horse Show -- a definite highlight of the trip. If you are in Paris, go to see the Crazy Horse Show!

 -- Once again, rude comments from Christa afterwards, as one attendee wanted to go to the Eiffel Tower at night and another attendee & I offered to take her there. Christa asked how many times we were going to go to the Eiffel Tower, and then made a snide comment about how it didn't hold that much interest for her. It was rude, especially as we offered to go with the attendee so that she was not walking alone through Paris with thousands of dollars of camera gear. Plus I like the Eiffel Tower, especially at night.

Day 3 (Friday), Morning:

 -- Again, prepped my room for shoots to take place in there. (All three days.)

 -- The day started late again, although we no longer had an official itinerary.

 -- Christa announced at breakfast that she would be talking about marketing, pricing, etc. at lunch at the Baccarat Room -- adding at the end of her statement the very pointed comment that this was the *only* time she would be covering those subjects, so if people didn't attend lunch they weren't going to hear about the topics. Teaching should have been done in a private space, where budget wasn't a concern, and where everyone could hear and have an engaging dialogue. All three times that any teaching was done, it was in a loud space, and twice over "optional" meals.

 -- Christa originally cancelled the Musee D'Orsay visit so that she could demonstrate how she does a session. She demonstrated with my roommate for roughly 10-15 minutes in our room. She demonstrated for another 10 minutes with another attendee in the garden. She then made a point to ask that attendee to stay out there longer so Christa could do more work with her, while we were dismissed. It was unclear why she didn't work longer with my roommate indoors (as that would have been the best area for the most instruction, pose options, etc.). The instructions outdoors were very minimal - using the sheer dress to get light through it and having her turn to face the light. There was no sense to how Christa would do a session.

 -- At this point, the attendee that had scouted models had two more women come to the hotel to model a anyone that wanted to stay behind was welcome to photograph them. Attendees who photographed them paid for the models themselves.

Day 3, Afternoon:

 -- Baccarat Crystal Room: another meal that was in the 60+ Euro range. Fortunately, due to having a migraine I had eaten before arriving there, so I only had dessert. It was still 26 Euros for dessert and Evian water.

 -- I felt odd going to a high-end restaurant in Paris and only having dessert, but if I wanted to hear the only topics I came to Paris to learn about, I had to do it over lunch. I wouldn't have ordered anything at all, but the waitress clearly would not find that acceptable.

 -- During the talk that Christa gave, she insulted five times that I counted the people who did not attend the lunch. I was so offended by this, I actually wrote down some of the things that she said as I was taking notes. The key point was that they could have been there at lunch learning about the business side of things but instead they were back in the hotel photographing a model - and how Christa was "over" taking photos and didn't even want to pick up her camera.

This solidified her complete lack of professionalism for me. Especially since my own "valued at $3000" boudoir session was supposed to be the next day - and here she was telling me she had no desire to do it, in addition to insulting all of my peers who were doing their best to salvage a very lackluster experience.

-- I am a kinesthetic learner and an extensive note taker; reviewing my notebook, I only took 4 pages of notes from what Christa covered, the whole extent of the "cornerstone of the mentoring program" and when we were going to dig in deep on business. In contrast, I took 8 pages of notes when our guest speaker, Carla, spoke on getting published at the end of day 1. Carla had prepared notes; Christa was speaking off the cuff and answering questions that the 5 of us at lunch asked, with no prepared presentation on this, a key topic of the workshop.

 -- After lunch there was a large afternoon gap - where we could have easily done the originally cancelled Musee d'Orsay tour with the professional guide, or even better where Christa could have taught to the group in a private setting in the hotel. She opted to go to the spa for a massage.

Day 3 (Friday), Evening:

 -- Dinner at the Grand Colbert: I think Christa thanked half the table for attending, but I'm not sure because she stood up and faced just them - never speaking towards the half of the table I was at. It was very clear that Christa was "over us".

 -- Christa told us all pointedly how she had thanked the hotel for us, and seemed surprised that we had all been thanking the hotel all along, because we hadn't been thanking her.

-- This was the only time Christa said "farewell" to the group - there were no activities for attendees on Saturday morning other than hotel checkout. This was the end of Day 3 of a FIVE DAY workshop.

Day 4 (Saturday), morning:

 -- I had requested originally that my boudoir session be the last one of the day because Christa had said it would go longer as a mentoring client. Instead I was double booked with another attendee, and after asking several times I could never find out exactly what time I was supposed to be there for my since we had both received conformation emails for the exact same time. More importantly, I was never told WHERE to go for my session.

 -- By that point, I opted not to investigate further because with the level of disappointment I was feeling as a whole about the workshop, I knew I would never be happy with the photos.

 -- As part of Christa's online workshop, she talked about how she pre-planned sessions with clients, asking them what their vision was for a session, and things like that. While my session was "Valued at $3000" and her regular sessions at the time that I signed up for the mentoring program were just over $3000, I expected a FULL session, and to be treated with the same regard as a regular client. When I received the email 3 weeks before the workshop telling me to sign up for my 30 minute session time, I questioned this via email, and Christa's initial response was to tell me to not attend the workshop because she didn't want me to come with a negative attitude and influence others.

I had already purchased a non-refundable plane ticket and had been looking forward to the workshop for months. I explained to her that I in fact had a very positive attitude about attending & had been looking forward to the workshop, and just wanted clarification. The issue was settled when she said she would do a longer session with me - but when I brought it up in Paris she said it would be a normal session, and by the time Saturday & my session arrived, she had dropped the ball on so many other things - really, the workshop as a whole - that I was shattered and had no desire to do such a vulnerable thing as a boudoir session with her.

We were told that if we did not do the session in Paris, it would not happen at a later time.

Conclusion:  There was no In-Depth explanation of “creating amazing relationships with clients, creating high-end sets, styling" - as Christa advertised, and only extremely limited, very basic information on coaching and posing.

I should add that I've attended and hosted (for other speakers) many workshops over the years, and I do have a high expectation of workshop / retreat hosts, especially for a workshop that costs $4500. I expect the workshop presenter to be professional and courteous. At nearly every meeting with Christa, she was rude & dismissive. She repeatedly blamed her assistant Ursula for the lack of models instead of resolving the issue -- if she told us anything at all.

The workshop was poorly organized, and if we questioned anything for clarity we were treated like misbehaving children for asking. We were scolded for not having the itinerary memorized, then told we would have a new one, and then never provided with one.

There was no personal coaching, no instructing our groups.

I left Paris feeling as though I had funded a grand vacation for Christa and a trip where she could go buy $300 underwear (which she told us about over dinner), but couldn't hire models for us out of the funds we paid.

She made a point of commenting when Carla came to speak on how great it was that one person's family chipped in for her to attend -- ignoring that ALL of our families sacrificed for us to be there. She may have an unlimited budget (I can only assume since spending money seemed to be no issue for her) -- but many of us did not.

"Boudoir Session with Me -- Need I say more? $3,000+”
-- I actually used the boudoir session with Christa as a BIG selling point to my husband. She was well aware of how angry I was when I then received an email that this would be a 30 minute session. Only once I pushed the issue did she mention that she planned to give the mentoring clients files (which was the price difference) - but none of the other mentoring clients were ever told this in advance of the workshop. As I cancelled my session, I do not know if the files were delivered.

 -- From the documentation, it was written as though the workshop attendees who weren't mentoring clients had mini sessions. It was a bait & switch for those of us that were mentoring clients.

 -- In addition, in the orignal mentoring documents the boudoir session was sold as if we would get THE Christa Meola experience. That she would talk to us in advance about our goals, our plans, the "story" of our session, just like she mentioned in the online workshop. She did none of those things for the mentoring clients who were expecting to receive something valued at $3000.

 -- Christa said repeatedly in her online workshop how she educates clients all along on her pricing, but we were also never given a pricelist in case we did want to purchase anything from her. (Prints, albums, etc. from our sessions.)

 -- Due to Christa's attitude towards us workshop attendees, it was clear to me that doing a session with her would not be the experience I had been told it would be when I signed up in January. This was a huge disappointment, as I had been working hard for 4 months to prepare for my session - working out, spending a significant amount of money on outfits and makeup. She made me feel small and insignificant, not empowered -- and no woman should go in to a boudoir session feeling that way. EVER.

Below is a reconciliation of what the mentor program advertised and what I paid for and received by the time I sent the above information to Christa at the end of May, 2012. (this version has been slightly edited from what I sent to her - to which she never responded.)

In that email, I also stated to Christa that I would not be continuing the mentorship program and I would be paying no additional funds beyond what I had already paid to date.

- Online workshop - $495
- Call 1: (1 hr) - $500
- Call 2: (1/2 hr) - Rushed, completely conflicting information from what was given on previous call, focused more on how I should not "talk so fast" even though I was short on time. No value.
- Paris Boudoir Workshop & Retreat - did not meet the mark on any of the selling points, one "fine art nude" sessions, very limited boudoir. Only teaching at meals. = $200 to account for fees paid to models
- Paris Workshop Hotel + Buffet - 4 nights at $250/night (my half of the room based on the online advertised price of approximately $500/night at Oyster) + $25/day for 4 meals, not buffet. (Ordered off the menu, told to take from buffet but that they would not be charged at buffet rate by hotel staff.) = $1000 + $100. = $1100
- Boudoir Shoot with Christa = $0
- Crazy Horse Ticket = $140
- Total = $2435.00

 Payments Made by Me
Nov. 2011 (Black Friday sale of online workshop) = $495
Jan. 2012 = $863.92
Feb. 2012 = $851.33
March 2012 = $853.47
April 2012 = $851.20
Total Paid to Date = $3914.92
Difference = $1479.92 in my favor

As of this time, I have not sought a refund for the balance of monies that I have paid.

Recommend? I would not absolutely NOT recommend working with Christa Meola in any workshop or mentoring capacity, based on the experience that I had.

Note: I want to reiterate that this is my views on MY experience and I realize other attendees may have had positive experiences with the Christa Meola Workshop and Retreat.

Christine Tremoulet is a Houston, Texas Hot Mama Boudoir photographer and wants you to have a Business of Awesome. She is a creative geek, having blogged since 2000 at BigPinkCookie. When she isn't taking photos or knitting, she is busy devouring all the info related to Marketing & Social Media and its powers that she can find online. Follow her on Twitter.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Charging Travel Fees for Destination Clients

When estimating travel costs for out of town or destination work, it's important to take into consideration all of the costs associated with doing business away from home:
  • Transportation- flight, taxis, car rental, gas, tolls, parking fees, insurance, emergency changes to transportation options, additional fees for handling of extra baggage or equipment
  • Lodging- hotel, wifi fees, hotel parking or valet fees, shuttle service to/from airport
  • Food- eating out, room service, groceries
  • Travel Insurance- in case of cancellation, to refund booked flights and deposits placed with travel agencies or resorts (often less expensive than a refundable ticket) and possibly travel health insurance in case you end up in the hospital due to a local infection or encounter with poisonous material (hopefully you'll have researched this stuff in advance)
  • Personal Travel Agent- who can help you deal with any last minute changes in travel plans without losing your head
  • Discretionary Funds- in case you need some piece of equipment at the last minute, like a power adapter for a different country to charge your batteries, or a power strip because there aren't enough outlets in the room, or even a pre-paid phone to communicate with clients overseas because yours isn't working, or to pay for international roaming charges on your current cell phone to stay in touch with clients
  • Working Time Lost During Travel- the most underestimated cost is the amount of working and communication time lost while in-transit.  Getting to and from a destination reduces your work week by at least 2 full days- putting you two days behind in your workload and preventing you from serving other clients during that time.
For these reasons, I don't recommend an itemized bill of travel costs, but rather a flat travel rate included in the contract up front.  By providing an all-inclusive flat travel rate up front rather than itemizing everything, a client is less likely to negotiate paying less or using their frequent flier miles to purchase any of your trip- which you need to retain full control over at all times in order to make any emergency changes to the itinerary.  Occasionally, I will allow a client to pay for my lodging, in the event that they get a better rate through their travel agent for a group booking, but will only take 30% off of my flat rate in order to make sure there is enough for the rest of the fees.

While you need to decide what distances and travel rate is reasonable for you based on your location and fees, I am happy to share what I do as an example of what works best for me as of this posting date in my East Coast location (note my fees and distances were different when I lived in the Midwest, and when prices were different for gas and airfare):
  • Travel within 50 miles - Included (because I can drive there and back in the same day)
  • Travel between 50-100 miles - $500 (2 hotel nights, driving expenses, eating out, and any emergency expenses for being too far away to get anything at the last minute if needed)
  • Travel over 100 miles, within the continental US - $1000 (2-3 hotel nights depending on the scarcity of flights into remote areas, flight & car rental/shuttle/taxi expenses, eating out, emergency, travel insurance, travel agent, etc.)
  • Overseas travel- Quote based on location (on top of all travel expenses mentioned above I always include 3 hotel nights minimum- one for the arrival day, one additional day for any emergency flight cancellations/reschedules and-or jet lag adjustment, one for the wedding night- and if I get lucky, a fourth night for myself to just enjoy the location.  It's also important to include costs for an additional shooter while working abroad in case you fall ill to some strange location based disease from accidentally brushing your teeth with bacteria laced water, or in case you need a local photographer who can help translate the local language.)
While many American photographers are often excited to travel abroad for international destinations, be advised that traveling for work is NOT the same as traveling for a vacation.  There are international working visa considerations for each country that need to be dealt with, potential immunization requirements for health reasons, as well as constantly being "on the clock," especially when staying in a resort with all of the guests from the wedding.  If you underestimate the costs of doing business internationally, you may travel a lot, but at the end of the year you could find yourself without enough in the bank to upgrade equipment or clean your camera out from all the sand, humidity, and wear and tear it's acquired from its travels.

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 in 2004 as an independent small business. She loves helping others find creative and smart solutions to business problems. Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

How To Give Bad News To Clients

In an idealized world, you would never have problems and your plans would always work out the way you planned them.  Cars, trains, and busses would always work reliably, people wouldn't break their ankle just walking along the street, and electronics would never crash.  However, this is planet Earth, where reality means taking the good with the bad, and where success is achieved by overcoming problems- not avoiding them.  If you haven't had to give a client bad news before, than you probably haven't been in business for very long or you're extremely lucky.  When you do encounter a situation in which you need to deliver some bad news, know that you aren't the only one and that giving bad news is sometimes just part of running a business.  I've found that no matter what the bad news is, there are some key strategies for dealing with it and delivering it:

1. Put it in Perspective: 
  • Has anyone died?  If not, than you can rest assured that this is not the worst possible news you could give someone. 
  • Can the work be redone. recreated, or replaced?  If so, than you have some great options you can offer your client.
  • Will additional time give you an opportunity to correct the problem?  You may not even need to deliver bad news if you can simply take more time to solve the problem.

2. Ask Peers for Help:
  • Even if you've never had the problem before, chances are that other people in your profession have had the same problem before.  Find out what they learned from that experience.
  • Find out what solutions you might be able to provide your clients in the event that the problem can't be solved without their involvement.

3. Sleep On It & Relax:
  • Don't ever deliver bad news until you've had time to come up with some solutions, and you've had at least one night of sleep to gain perspective.
  • Being able to respond reasonably requires a healthy state of mind - so, it's also good to start your day with something that relaxes you and helps relieve your anxiety so that you don't pass any of that anxiety on to your client.
  • The one time when sleeping on it will NOT make it easier to deal with is if the issue is related to missing a deadline- in which case it's best to communicate any issue or delay before the deadline, or at the soonest possible moment.  If this is the case, skip #4 and #6 and find ways to get in touch as soon as possible.

4. Choose Good Timing:
  • If you're a wedding photographer, don't ruin a couple's honeymoon by delivering news while they're sipping Mai Tais.  Wait until they are back into reality and ready to deal with real life again.
  • Likewise, Monday morning is also probably not the best time to add another problem to someone's plate.  Consider any additional stress factors you can on the client's end in order to reduce the impact.

5. Have Good News Ready:
  • Difficult situations are much easier to deal with when they are balanced by something positive.
  • Offer alternative solutions as part of the good news, so that they are better received as possibilities.

6. Request A Phone Appointment:
  • If your client typically deals with you via email, this is the one time you really want to get them on the phone.  Likewise, if you avoid talking to clients on the phone, you're going to be much better off in the long run if they can hear your words in your own apologetic tone rather than read your words over and over again in email with whatever doomsday voice they might add in their head.
  • Request a phone appointment by email or voicemail, letting a client know that you have a few questions you'd like to task them about the work you're doing for them.  Offer three times and days that are good for you to chat on the phone and ask if there are certain days or times that are better for them- with the goal of finding a time as soon as possible when both of you are prepared to have a conversation without distractions.

7. Deliver News Without Drama:
  • Let clients know what happened without dramatizing it.  Just state it as it happened, rather than framing it as a problem.  Accept responsibility and apologize for anything you had control over, and let them know what attempts you've already made to solve the problem.  Let them know that you really care about them and would like their opinion as to what they think the best solution would be.  Provide options for possible solutions, always ending with a question as to how the client would like to proceed.
  • Give the client time to think and process the information.  Be patient and don't assume that silence is a bad thing, just let them think about the options you've presented, rather than trying to fill any gaps with apologies or excuses.  Just answer questions that are asked with facts, and always steer the conversation back toward focusing on a solution.

8. Implement Agreed Upon Solution:
  • Make solving the problem your number one priority, and hire or enlist additional help if needed to get the project done.
  • Keep clients updated more frequently on the solution in order to let them know that you aren't silently turning to other projects in the background.  Being proactive about your progress and communication means that they are never left to wonder about your dedication or efforts to serve them.

9. Be OK With Disappointment:
  • Delivering bad news also means being OK with disappointment.  Learning how to deal with disappointment without it crushing your soul or taking time away from being productive makes you stronger and more successful in the long run.
  • Some people will be unhappy no matter what solutions or options you've given them.  Know that you aren't not responsible for someone else's happiness or unhappiness.  You are only responsible for the job you were hired to do, and for doing your best to fulfill that job.  If you have done your best to solve the problem, and the client still does not seem satisfied, than there is nothing more that you can do.  Let go of any hurt, anger, or frustration, and resolve to do better in the future.

10. Remember To Be Grateful:
  • Put one job in perspective by remembering all of the other jobs that have gone well.
  • Reach out to past clients that you enjoyed working with and send them a note of gratitude for choosing to work with you.  Your gratitude to many clients will spread more good will to counterbalance any negativity you may worry about from one client.

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 smart solutions to business problems.  Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review: CG Pro Prints Canvas

A few months ago I came across a review on a forum I frequent online raving about a new canvas company they'd discovered called CG Pro Prints. I was skeptical but for the price I figured that it was worth a shot to see if they would even come remotely close to the quality I've come to expect from my normal go-to printer for canvases.

Item: CG Pro Prints Canvas


Price: $12.99 - $64.99 (you read that right!)

What I bought it for/what I was expecting: For the price I was expecting something along the lines of the cheapo canvases that are always offered on Groupon or at Walgreens. I'm just being honest. Something most of the normal population would be wowed by but almost all professional photographers would sneer at.

Expectation met? Holy moses, boy was I wrong!!!!


+ High quality canvases.
+ Sturdy as sturdy goes frames/backing. My CAT decided to lay on mine and they were totally fine.
+ Hardware already attached. + Closed back (I like this better than the open back due to dust issues).

- Not quite as sharp as other companies, make sure to sharpen your images a tinge before printing.
- Some of my canvases had stray fibers that needed to be cleaned up.
- You have to digitally stretch the image yourself or choose a solid border for what wraps around the outside of the frame if the subject is too close to the border (most of the higher end companies do this for you).
- Is the low price a gimmick or is it going to stay low? I want to restructure my pricing for them but worry that they will rise as popularity surges.

Final Thoughts: As you can tell, I wasn't expecting much. Even though other photographers were raving about their product, I was somewhat ho-hum about it. How good CAN it be for that cost? I was floored when I got the canvases in and was so elated by them! I was crazy excited to hang them up in our home - I decided to be my own guinea pig because I didn't want to risk it on a client order. While side by side you can tell the other canvas from a different pro company is a bit more expensive, you'd be hard pressed to pick it out off of a wall and I can't justify spending 3 to 4 times the cost for the other canvas. Beyond that the CS from CG is brilliant and amazing. I couldn't be more pleased!!!

Want to see some pics?  I posted some over on my blog and detail shots of them here.
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.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Making It Big Without A Big Investment

Did you know it's cheaper to start a business than it is to get an MBA?  To top that off, if you invest in a business for 2 years and only break even, you will be better off than someone who has gone to school full time for two years and has to pay back a $30,000 loan for the next 30 years.  Plus, when you work for yourself, no one can fire you and you can create your own pay scale.  This is why I enjoy being an entrepreneur and making my living by doing what I love the most.

Inevitably, the diatribe I get from new photographers is... "but, I can't afford the fancy equipment, the fancy blog, the fancy website, yada yada yada yada."

Who said you needed these things?  Not me.  I certainly didn't have any of those things when I started out.  What did I have?  I had a hand-me-down Olympus OM10, 35mm with manual focus and manual advance.  I just gave people photos as gifts after family gatherings or weddings.  My photos ended up on their walls and on their coffee table, and THAT was how my business started- even before I knew my business was starting.
 I actually didn't set out to become a professional photographer- people just loved my work and asked me if I could work for them.  
I had no website.  All of my images were being posted to Shutterfly galleries (after I finally got a small point & shoot digital camera and learned that labs would scan my film to disc), just so other out-of-state friends and family could see them.  I did headshots for people who wanted to be actors, models, and performers - simply because they were my friends and I had the technical know-how of working a camera with depth of field.  They paid for my film, and my processing, and I even got a little extra to help me upgrade my lenses and buy more batteries.  Eventually I was asked to photograph a wedding and I knew I couldn't photograph a wedding without an auto-focus SLR to get the results I wanted, so I just asked to be paid enough to cover the cost of a 35mm Canon Rebel and an extra flash.  They got all of their images to scrapbook, and I put a few on a basic "dot mac" website, as well as on a free gallery and on a flickr gallery.

That was how I started as a professional photographer- no website, no fancy lab, no fancy gallery, no fancy lenses, no fancy cameras, just whatever I could put together with what I already had.  Of course, that's not how my business or my equipment looks now, but that's what got me to where I am now- where I can own all the professional equipment I want to own, where I can hire people to help me, where I can go to the workshops I want to attend, where I can pick and choose the clients I want to work with, and where I can take vacations and time off when I want to rejuvenate.
The reality is, if people want to pay you for the work you're already doing, with what you already have, than it's a good sign that you have enough talent and skill to earn a living from your craft.
Whether you have the talent and skill to run a business and turn a profit is an entirely different subject, but you most certainly can rely on the economic engine of people wanting to hire you for your talent to be a good judge of whether you can become a professional.  Actually, this is how many entrepreneurs start out- by simply sharing their passion with other people and creating from their heart.  Anytime someone says "I will pay you to do XYZ for me"- it means that you have a talent or skill that is valuable enough and desirable enough for other people to pay for it.  The key to being profitable and making a living from it, is to always spend less money than you make.  If you only make a little but spend even less, than you're creating good business habits that will help you sail easily toward long term success and a great retirement plan.
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 smarter solutions to business problems. Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Take Days Off!

It's that time of year again!!!  Wedding season!!  When weekends are a bust, free time is at a minimum and when you question why you ever got into this field in the first place.  The temps begin to soar and you look longingly at swimming pools where your friends are basking in the sun and you are running off to another shoot.  The summer holidays everyone enjoys with a cold beer in hand you spend with a cold lens in hand instead.  Most of the time though, it's worth it but sometimes you stop and think about all of the fun you are missing.  You look at the schedule that is bearing down on you for the upcoming season and feel a bit of dread about losing the weekends you've gotten used to having over the winter break.  We've all been there and if you claim you haven't, you are lying.

When I first started out a little over 5 years ago, I would take every booking and let them have any day I was free.  The first two "wedding seasons" for me were May - October solidly booked with no weekends off at all, many weekends were with multiple weddings.  It took me a few years to finally see that I needed breaks in the summer and started scheduling days off during my wedding season.  It took me another year or so to stop feeling guilty about doing so.

Look, I like money.  I just happen to like my sanity a bit more.  

*insert catty remark about my lack of sanity here* ;)

I'm not saying you need or should take every weekend off but when you start booking up with weddings or portraits, step back and look at your calendar.  After a year or two you should know where your sanity threshold is and when you start to hit the burnout stage from back-to-back weddings.  I found for me, 6-8 weeks is my max in a row that I can happily do.  More than that and I get a bit antsy.  Go through your schedule and schedule those weekends off on your calendar and make sure you stick to it unless it is something that you TRULY want to shoot.   Also, I know a lot of photographers refuse to schedule sessions on Sundays to take a day off from shooting during the week all together and to have one weekend day with their family.  I really like this idea and have been trying to transition to this myself.

I really hope that you take a moment after reading this and hit up your calendar and take sanity breaks for yourself.  Even if you've already booked up most weekends with weddings, take Sundays off and stick to not shooting or working that day.  I promise you, those little breaks will become a haven for you in the busy months ahead!

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 10, 2012

What WON'T You Do?

A lot of people set out do define themselves and their business in terms of what they WILL do, however, you should also create a set of intentions for what you WON'T do.

This week I had to fire a client. I had to do it because they were starting to cross over into an area that I have determined unacceptable for me and my business: rescheduling a shoot more than once.

If this were a direct client for my business, I would have asked for a non-refundable retainer for the appointment that would be applied to their total package. This ensures I'm still compensated for spending the time and travel even if someone doesn't honor their end of the request and commitment. However, in this particular circumstance, I was serving as a contractor for an agency that entrusted me to serve this client and to get the job done no matter what- which meant no retainer fee or penalty to the client for not holding up their end of the commitment.

After the client scheduled and cancelled three times, I decided that it would be in the best interest of the agency who hired me if I just fired this client. I never have this problem with my own clients, so I was a bit nervous about how it would be handled by the agency when I acted on their behalf, however I also let the agency know about the client abusing their service offer. I told the client that due to the number of scheduled cancellations, I would need to cancel their request for photography and they could resubmit a new request when they were ready to communicate more clearly and honor their commitment. Within hours of firing this client, I received three new requests from the agency for clients that were all able to make a commitment within the next two weeks. Obviously, karma was on my side and I made the right choice.

While I've been traveling the world, I've also decided that I WON'T work on the weekend, unless it's a very special circumstance that I know will be of a greater long term benefit. In fact, not only have I decided not to work on the weekends, but I've decided I won't do any shooting gigs with my professional gear on Monday or Friday either. This allows me to have more four day weekends and to make sure that my work load is manageable while I'm working with reduced internet speeds and occasional internet outages or times of disconnection. This also means that I'm not using my professional gear for personal projects that aren't going to result in additional income to pay for the wear and tear on the limited gear I'm traveling with.

I started defining what I WON'T do a couple years ago when I needed to maintain more control over an incredibly busy shooting, meeting, and speaking schedule. I decided that if Saturdays were shooting days, than Sunday and Monday were days off and any shoots that were photographed on Saturday weren't going to be ready until at the very least Wednesday or Thursday- because I knew that Tuesday was also going to be a day to catch up on inquiries and communication with clients. Putting limits on when I'll work has helped me create clearer expectations for clients and has allowed me to define my time off and to really take it without guilt for what I'm NOT making progress on. Feeling guilty about taking a break is pretty much the worst feeling ever because you never feel like the time really is YOURS to have when there are outstanding projects. However, if you've set clear expectations with your clients that you don't work on certain days in order to have time to connect with your family and friends, than they can also have more reasonable expectations of the fact that you deserve weekends in your work week as well.

I hope that this post can inspire you to define what you WON'T do in your business so that you can avoid being taken advantage of as a creative soul & business. The healthier and happier you are as a creative business, the more people will value your time and want to work with you.

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 smart solutions to business problems. Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Filing Taxes & Finding An Accountant

With taxes on the mind for many small businesses and other productive procrastinating perfectionists, I'm happy to share this guest post from Kathy Rappaport...

It’s almost April 15th! Whenever the tax due dates fall on a weekend or holiday we get extra time to procrastinate on filing our taxes. When you need more than than a couple extra calendar days, you do have the option of filing an extension. That would make your due date October 15th and once you file it’s called an Automatic Extension TO FILE. Sadly, that doesn’t mean you get more time to pay.

You would file Form 4868 but you must include how much tax you have paid and how much you estimate you will owe. And you might need help from an accountant or tax preparer to figure that out. As a business owner, it’s recommended that you actually have an accountant review your profit and loss quarterly to coincide with your quarterly estimated payments so you have no penalty and won’t owe when it comes time to file your actual return. Doing this actually eliminates that “heart attack” when you hear the actual amount of tax. If you do have a review before the year end, you can actually plan ways to reduce your tax obligation by opening a retirement account, spending money on tax deductible expenses and grouping deductions into one year to maximize deductions. Often, you can save whatever amount you might pay for the service to have it figured for you.

And this assumes that you are filing as an Individual. You may have a small business return that you file with your personal tax return called a Sole Proprietorship and you file a Schedule C for your business return.

To choose an accountant that is right for your business you should have an idea of the different designations of people who can prepare your tax return and why they are qualified:

1. Certified Public Accountant (CPA): This is the most educated person regarding business and tax; they’ve gone to school for a Bachelor’s Degree, taken a multipart test and done a two year internship in various types of accounting. Most have a specialty like working with Closely Held Businesses or Entrepreneurs or Corporate Tax Work or Audits or Financial Planning. Highest Caliber of Tax Knowledge and business knowledge. Licenses by state and can represent you in front of the IRS for tax matters.

2. Enrolled Agent: This person has studied tax and accounting and passed a test administered by the IRS which allows them to represent you at an audit. No degree or formal course of study required.

3. Enrolled Return Preparer: This person may have just worked down the street for that national chain that is well known for filling in the blanks. In some states they must complete annual testing and limited studies in Tax Preparation to know what to fill in. They may not represent you in front of the IRS or actually give you advice on what to do with your taxes.

How do you choose the right tax preparation for you?
First ask people in the same line of work you are in if they are happy with the person they use; You need a professional who can guide you in important choices for your business like whether to incorporate or become an LLC or S-Corp you would want a CPA who can recommend what is right for YOU; one size doesn’t fit all. Interview them. There are many options to select from and what is right for your friend is not right for you. Education is important but you should also be comfortable with the person you choose. They should never “pat you on the head” and tell you not to worry about it any more; you should be educated and informed so you know what is going on. After all – it’s you who is ultimately responsible if they make an error in your filings. Do you have bookkeeping issues you might want help with? Then you may want someone knowledgeable in QuickBooks or other accounting software who can help you. If their office is messy, will they lose your paperwork? Do they pay attention to you as a client? Are they listening to your concerns? All of these questions are just as important as the one question everyone wants answered – How much do you charge and how much will I owe?

Kathy Rappaport is a full time photographer with a studio in Woodland Hills California. Her first career was banking for 17 years when she opened a Bookkeeping and Tax Business which she now consults exclusively with Photographers. She is married to Frank – a CPA with a tax practice specializing in small businesses and entrepreneurs. Both Kathy and Frank are Certified QuickBooks Advisors.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Do You Get Forum Rage?

It's that feeling of disgust when reading someone else's post on Facebook or in an online forum. Another person's post can make you feel angry, hurt, or frustrated all because "someone was wrong on the internet." It's quite similar to road rage in that it can actually be dangerous to your health (or your computer) if you allow it to continue bothering you.

Forum rage often peaks mid-to-late slow season, when normally productive people are spending more time online sharing ideas and thoughts in the same space, or in the middle of winter after too much cabin fever has settled in. When people are busy being productive, they don't react as angrily to what is being posted online. They take it as a grain of salt and move on. However, it's hard to react without rage when you aren't feeling as happy and healthy as you usually might when there are other things to do and think about. My advice if you ever feel yourself getting wound up about something you see online:

  • Stop what you're doing and step away from the computer.
  • Go for a walk outside, or take a shower, or run an errand, or head to the library, or a cafe, or anything else to get yourself away from the computer and out in some fresh open air.
  • Walking around helps regulate blood flow and calm blood pressure.
  • Fresh air helps clear the mind and restore a sense of balance.

Several years ago I got forum rage from reading posts on DWF. Most of my frustration came from reading very mean and nasty comments from obviously unhappy curmudgeons who did little more than talk about how awful the photography industry was rather than actually getting out and doing something about their own lack of work. I also got rage when my posts would be censored for trying to help other people by offering up solutions that worked for me, but apparently were not allowed because my solution providers weren't supported advertisers on the forum. Eventually that frustration turned to anger nearly every time I visited that forum. Then I asked myself, why am I paying for a forum full of mean people who are also censoring my attempts to help people nicely?! It all seemed very backward and unproductive. I decided my money could be better spent elsewhere on something that I loved and really made me feel good - like a gift for an awesome client or extra trips to the cafe in the middle of the day when I wanted fresh air. (For the record, I've heard moderation is better now, but I have other communities I love more now too. I know how to step away from it all now, so there's a chance I'd go back, but I really don't feel like paying to share my wisdom- that's why I'm on PhotoLovecat- it's free, uncensored, and no one else has to pay to read it!)

There are plenty of "private" places you can hang out for free and share or ask questions online. You might already have a local photography Facebook group, and if not, why not start one? Or how about a private Facebook group of your own set of friends for the really sensitive information that you don't want to trust beyond your inner circle? Some people prefer Google Hangout - whatever is most convenient for you. However, I would caution you that any place with more than ONE member is never truly "private", but I'm sure you're internet savvy enough to know that by now. Truly private matters that would damage you or your family should never be shared online ANYWHERE. Screen capture and copy & paste are far too easy with instant updates that can archive your words long after you've deleted them. Remember, online words are FOREVER, even after they seem to have been deleted or removed.

A few more reasons not to stay in an angry environment online:

He who angers you conquers you. ~Elizabeth Kenny

For every minute you are angry, you lose sixty seconds of happiness. ~Author Unknown

If you kick a stone in anger, you'll hurt your own foot. ~Korean Proverb

Are there any forums, or maybe even just Facebook friends in your online life that create rage for you? Were there some that made you angry last week that you want to avoid this week? If you feel like you can't unfriend them or leave them, you can still "hide", "block", or turn off any alerts from them so that you aren't being triggered or tempted to get sucked into the drama. You might be amazed how productive and happy your day feels without any drama in it! ;-)

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 smart solutions to business problems. Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

It's OK to Say What You Think

I don’t know when or how the “Rockstar” stuff started in this community. I came into it in 2007 and I honestly didn’t know anyone from Adam. After spending some time online I saw some names were thrown around more than others but I didn’t really know one more than the other. I attended my first WPPI in 2008 and I was FLOORED to see girls squee-ing and giggling about taking a picture with Jesh de Rox. I had no clue who he was other than some guy who reminded me of a hippy from the 60s (mind you, nothing is wrong with that, my Dad was one). I mean sure, some of these people had amazing work and worked with some pretty awesome people but fangirling over a picture with them? Really? I met Jerry Ghionis and asked if he was a photographer. True story. I’ve somehow maintained that attitude throughout my career in the wedding world. I know who the “Rockstars” are now but I have never really held them above others in the field.

At that WPPI, I took a Plus Class with Mike Colon and to be quite honest, it just didn’t live up to my expectations. He seemed like he knew his stuff but the format was kind of crazy and I really felt more frustrated than anything at the end of the class. When I was on DWF a few weeks later people asked for reviews and I gave an honest review of my perspective of the class. There were a few people that shamed me but for the most part it was accepted well. I didn’t realize it at the time, but back then most people went by the old adage, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Oops. After that I somewhat took my “say it like it is” mentality and ran with it. I haven’t looked back since.

Others have been slower to say it like it is online. For the most part photographers online tended to bite their tongues and keep their true feelings about workshops or wares that Rockstars were selling to themselves (and a few close friends). No one was willing to stick their necks out and say what they truly felt about the products and workshops because they were afraid of what the Rockstar would do. When I asked a friend who had a terrible experience at a workshop why they wouldn't say so publicly, they replied, "what if they get mad!??!"

About a year ago Scarlett Lillian hosted a workshop. Once the reviews of Scarlett’s workshop hit the interwebs and they were NOT rave reviews it seemed to start a slow trickle, than a flow of people standing up and saying their honest thoughts about products, workshops and seminars by other photographers. However, they are often anonymous and sometimes you can tell they are still a bit watered down. I feel that we really are getting there with getting honesty in the wedding photography business. The past year has really given me hope that people are finally rising above the hero worshipping and not being afraid to say it like it is. This past week I feel that we as a community have came even further than before with not being afraid to voice our dissent when something is not right. I have been SO proud of my fellow photographers this week for taking a stand.

So what I want to do is encourage you to speak your mind and say what you think. I promise you that good or bad, you will be OK! I am living proof that pissing off a Rockstar (or ten) will not hurt you in the least. I still have a great career and am still booking weddings. Heck, while I was making waves yesterday, I managed to book a wedding with one email! My clients don’t know, nor care, that I made a new enemy today. However, my fellow photographers know my feelings and some have even told me that by my saying my peace about things, they’ve had their eyes open up and are so happy I was brave enough to take that step. I can’t even begin to tell you how many people have thanked me for my honest reviews I’ve done here and how they had a similar experience or that I’ve saved them money (even though they’ve said they are afraid to comment and say so).

Keep in mind, saying what you think ≠ slamming. I hate that so often people see a review that isn't oozing with compliments and immediately call that reviewer a hater or even funnier, jealous. Just because you disagree with a viewpoint does not mean that one is a hater or is jealous. Remember to not get personal and stick to the facts. Keep it classy when/if giving an honest review or critique.

Say what you think and trust me, you will be OK. You will still book clients and who knows? You may even make a friend or two.

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.