Thursday, February 23, 2012

When Clients Say You Charge Too Much

When a potential client says someone else offers the same product or service, but for less- the first thing you want to do is probably delete their email or throw them out of your meeting. I know, because I was there once and it only took two comments like this before I took it to heart and realized I needed to figure out where things were going wrong.

Even when you've done the numbers and you know you're worth what you charge, you may still be tempted to lower your prices because other people in your market have. The problem is, you don't know how long they've been in business, if they're running a profitable business, or if they're going out of business next year because of their discount pricing strategy (have you seen a Groupon discount disaster happen in your area?)

As much as you want to justify your prices, quality, creativity, or exceptional products- the problem is there's something ELSE about your outward branding, portfolio, or marketing that's giving off that "not really worth it" vibe.

OUCH! I know that's not what you want to hear, but obviously that's what those inquiries are saying loud and clear. Rather than swallowing a tough reality pill and taking it to heart as an opportunity for change and renewal, our ego immediately puts up defenses and writes it off as uninformed, uneducated babble. The problem is, writing it off doesn't solve your problem or prevent you from hearing that phrase from someone else in the future. It's time for a reality check.

Please note- having someone tell you they can't afford you, is very different than someone telling you that your competition charges less. When someone says they can't afford you, it means "you're worth the price, but I'm broke (or cheap)." When you hear "XYZ photographer offers more for less" it means your customer can't see the outward value of what you offer as being any different or more valuable than your lesser priced competition. I realize this may infuriate you, but please, grab a glass of wine, take a bath, and really think about why a client would say that if it didn't appear to be true? When you've calmed down (and ONLY when you've gotten over the initial sting) read on about the action steps you can take to start making changes....

Since most people find you through referral from a person, online listing, or web search and start at your website- that's most likely where clients are receiving mixed messages about the value of your service and product. Since you have an attachment to the brand you've created, you're probably too close to the branding to see where the mixed messages are coming from. That's why it's key to get outside critical and objective opinions. A truly objective approach takes advice from two key sources:

  1. Outside Business Mentor - someone who has no prior experience with your company but understands your market as a whole- such as a photography mentor, photo agent, or event coordinator who has experience working with different photographers.
  2. Clients Who Didn't Book- seeing a mentor's perspective is very informative, but some things like outside factors, response times, service or product offerings can only be revealed by people who were interested in hiring you, but decided not to.

Finding a business mentor opinion is easy- simply reach out to 5 people you admire and respect for their awesomeness. However, surveying people who decided not to hire you can be a bit trickier, so here are some concrete steps to reveal the mixed messages clients perceive in your marketing materials:

  1. Create a list of email addresses from the last several months of inquiries that were interested in learning more about your services, but did not hire you. A list of 30 would be a great start.
  2. Create a survey with no more than three questions.  You want as many responses as you can get, so keeping it short and simple is the easiest way to get the best response rate.  I'll include a sample email here to help you get started- but please customize it for yourself so it sounds like your voice and not mine.
  3. Click send and then go do something to completely take your mind off of it.  Seriously.  If you sit and wait for emails to come back, you're just going to get all worked up over nothing and then hate reading them even more.  Find a happy place instead.
  4. Don't expect everyone to respond.  I generally survey my recent inquiries who didn't book about 1-2 times a year- or whenever I'm feeling like I need some fresh info and statistics to pour through.  After doing this for several years, I've found that I only hear back from 10-20% if I'm lucky.  You definitely get more information if you send this email closer to the time when you've confirmed the client hasn't booked you.  The further away from that point you send it- the less relevant the responses will be because the experience isn't fresh in the client's mind.
Sample Email:

Dear Jennifer,
Thank you so much for considering me for your wedding photography!  I hope you found an awesome photographer that you're thrilled to work with!  As someone who was interested in working with me, I really value your opinion and would love your feedback on a couple things:
1. What was the deciding factor in your photography decision?
2. How can I improve my website, products, or services to be more appealing?
3. Who's the awesome photographer you ended up booking for your wedding?
Thanks so much for taking the time to respond- I really care about serving my clients and want to make sure I'm giving them the best experience possible!
All the best,

Because that's written in my voice, which is happy, energetic, and fun - please edit it to fit your tone and branding so that it doesn't seem out of character for you. It would be really bad if they got emails from other photographers with the EXACT same wording- which will make them think there's something weird going on and just not respond. Again- please be prepared for people not to respond, or not to answer all of your questions- especially the last one. I always want to know who people are comparing me with so that I can better evaluate my marketing efforts AND so I can discover people I might be able to exchange leads with if we have a similar enough photo and business style. When a client responds, always follow up with a simple THANK YOU for giving their honest opinion and feedback. DO NOT try to explain anything or justify your side of things. JUST SAY THANK YOU and take their advice as a gift.

True story: after sending this email, I actually had a client cancel her discount photographer and book my regular package- so don't fear the feedback and always be gracious.  Feedback is one of the best ways to learn how to become better- so you must be willing to swallow your pride and open yourself up to feedback if you really want to improve and move forward in your creative business.  There is another way to get feedback and outside opinions during our Live Online Critique Sessions.  If you'd like to join a FREE live website critique session with the PhotoLovecat editors, sign up with the link below:

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. Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Photographer Pricing Critique Webinar - Best Pricing Practices

Thanks to everyone who joined in on our Live Pricing Critique Webinar last week. For those who weren't able to attend, we're happy to say that we received permission to publish the price lists from REAL photographers shared in the live critique! The following is a Slideshare presentation of the slides used in the webinar. While it isn't as detailed as the live critique was, this simplified version allows for quick browsing and consideration. Please do remember that the price lists shared here are not meant to be examples of what you should do- only of what other people have done. We also need to give thanks to the photographers who were willing to put themselves and their price lists out there for critique- this wouldn't be possible without their courage and contribution.

Slideshare Tip: Expand the presentation with the button on the bottom right.

If you'd like to join our next PhotoLovecat Live Critique Webinar on Websites & Branding, please click below to sign up via Fisheye Connect.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

How to Move Your Business to a New Market

I've received a lot of questions about this topic, probably because I've started my small business in three different locations over the last 6 years. As most people know, it takes two years to really build a business, so what do you do if you have bills to pay and need to relocate?  You need to find work as soon as you can, so you can keep paying the bills after your savings has helped you make the transition.  From my experience, there are lots of ways to do this, but many require you to stretch yourself in new ways and change a few habits that come from getting comfortable in one place.  In this interview with Dane Sanders, I share some of the ways that I've made it possible to move my business three times and now live in Australia and travel the world for 8 months.  If you know someone who needs some advice on moving their business, please share this with them!  Also, make sure you check out the Fast Track Coaching archives, which are chocked full of interviews like this one!!

Click play on the video below to watch (the video is about 45 minutes long- feel free to leave any questions in the blog comments and I'll be sure to respond)...

Was there a key piece of advice that was meaningful to you?  
Do you have any other suggestions for people re-establishing their business in a new place?  
Do you have questions we didn't answer?  
Please leave a comment and let me know!


Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 successful years in marketing & management for 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.  Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pricing Critique Live Chat - This Thursday

It doesn't seem to matter whether you're a newbie or you've been in business for years- price lists need to be revisited on a regular basis to make sure your profit margins are good, your clients are getting what they need, and you can stay in business for years to come.  While we've posted quite a few Tips on Pricing here on PhotoLovecat, this is the first time we'll be doing a LIVE critique of a few different price lists.

Topics we'll cover in the live chat & webinar:
- What a price says about a service and a product
- When to use packages vs. a la carte
- Pricing for service vs. product
- Live screen critique of 2-3 real photographer price lists

Please note this event is only available LIVE at the scheduled time and date for registered attendees. This allows us to answer any questions you have and clarify things that might come up along the way.  There is a limit on spaces for this free event, so even if you're unsure if you'll be able to make it, feel free to claim your spot in advance:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cheap Eats at WPPI

Since the last time I blogged a lot has changed at the MGM and areas surrounding it so I thought I'd update the cheap eats thread as quite a few of you said that you referred to it when going to WPPI in the past :)

My mind has still yet to grasp how expensive food is in Vegas. I always had this thing in my head where it was soooo cheap to eat at and you got massive steaks for $10 and it was a happy place for food lovers. It is a fantastic place for food lovers but I found out quickly that it'll cost you!

First I recommend that you read the first post and still listen to everything up to the places at MGM. I still find the best way to eat cheaply is to hit a grocery store and pick up some snacks or even hit a nearby convenience store (near M&M world) and pick up some snacks, water and soda to lighten the costs for when you just want a snack or something to drink. It's crazy how vastly the difference in cost is for a bag of chips at the MGM vs. a store! Make sure to take those snacks with you in a bag when over at the convention center so that you aren't tempted by their food carts. They may look good but they are NOT cheap. I think my husband is still recovering from the shock of those prices!

Cheap Eats at MGM Grand

Sadly, the card that was AMAZING that we got the first year at WPPI that got you buy one get one free at almost every place you went is now gone (restaurants AND bars). The card you get now is not nearly so awesome. Generally it makes you eligible for a few restaurants for a prixe fixe menu and a few bars for certain drinks. The only deal I found worth it last year was a cheaper rate for the buffet. Just thought I would make sure to let people know who knew about/read about the original discount card and were banking on that awesome deal. Diego also no longer does lunches and I'm VERY sad about this because that was my favorite place for lunch!

The food court within the MGM is the obvious place to start for a quick and relatively cheap bite to eat. The food court has changed a bit since 2009. Inside the food court you will find: Haagen-Dazs, Nathan's, McDonald's, Bonanno's Pizzeria, Starbucks and Asian Fresh. Everyone was swooning over Asian Fresh last year saying how amazing it was but keep in mind it is not crazy cheap and the food does take a bit of time to make. Avoid the "lunching hour" if you can (11:30-1:00) to avoid the lines and waits. There is also an Auntie Anne's

Also note, while not a deal if you want your morning Starbucks keep in mind EVERYONE does too. The one by the food court is generally the most busy with the one in The Signature picking up behind as staying there has became more popular. You MUST try a TopPot donut if they have them still, they are divine and featured on a ton of food shows. Yum. If you want the shortest line hit up the Starbucks at the "front" of the MGM near the Rainforest Cafe/West Wing. You may think it's a waste of time to walk that way but last year we saw that line, went to the other Starbucks and walked back and the people that would have been ahead of us were still waiting. Insane!

If you want a step above fast food but don't want to go as crazy as Craftsteak, hit up either the buffet (with the discount card it's not much more than McDonalds!), Studio Cafe, Stage Deli, Delights (located in The Signature - my personal favorite cheap-ish eat!), 'witchcraft, or Rainforest Cafe. Here's a tip - if you hit the buffet near the switch over time from one meal to the next (breakfast is best) you get in for a cheaper rate and can then enjoy both meals. Yes, I know this sounds horribly tacky but when you are pinching pennies every penny counts!

Cheap Eats Nearby

There are quite a few options within walking distance of the MGM that are also pretty tasty and on the cheaper side of things. My favorite is still the pizza over at NYNY but now it is called New York Pizzeria. I have tried it since they changed from Sirricos and it is still delicious and open late (1am on weeknights, 4am on weekends).

There is also nearby food courts. The one at Showcase Mall includes Wendy's, Subway, Del Taco, Noble Romans, Panda Express, Weinerschnitzel, Dreyer's Ice Cream and Duffy's Fish Fry. In the same building is a Hard Rock Cafe along with Denny's if you want something a tinge more formal but not expensive. Over at Excalibur you will find Auntie Anne's Pretzels, Krispy Kreme, Popcornopolis, Cold Stone Creamery, McDonald's, Quiznos, Pizza Hut Express and Manchu Wok. Also at Excalibur you will also find Baja Fresh outside of the food court.

Finally, there is the very well known Hooters across the street which I've heard is good but have yet to eat at. They are also open quite late - no end time is listed on their website so just buzz over and find out (directly across the street from the lobby of MGM). They also have a few cheap eats here as well including the Mad Onion which DOES have the mythical $10 steak (prime rib) as well as .25¢ wings after midnight. It's also open 24/7!

Do you have any tips on food for WPPI?

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, February 5, 2012

It's Not the Economy, It's You - How To Get Unstuck

It's easy to blame the economy when things are going tough.  However, the fact is that there are still people who survive and thrive no matter what the economic circumstances are.  How do they do it?  They revisit, rework, and retool their strategy to fit the changes happening around them.

If you're feeling like you're in a slump, it's because you're resisting changes you need to make, or you're unable to identify where you have opportunities for change.  

If you're resisting change, than you have already identified what change is needed- but now you need to have an honest conversation with yourself (or your business mentor) about why you aren't motivated to make the changes you know will help your business.  However, if you're simply at a loss for ideas to make changes, here are several ways to change and rework your business:
  • Service Offerings
  • Product Offerings
  • Overhead Costs
  • Workflow Systems
  • Marketing Plan
  • Budgeting
Do any of the items above stand out as something you've been neglecting or know needs improvement?  If so, than you know where you need to focus your energy already.  Below I've provided some basic ideas about how to create change in these areas.  This is in no way an exhaustive or complete list of possibilities, but merely a sample of things I've seen work in various businesses that I've worked with.  As you read these, see which one(s) stand out to you as something you need to do and write them down in a list.  I'll share what to do with your list after you've read through them:

  • Change business hours to provide added convenience to clients
  • Offer smaller introductory services to allow more people to develop a relationship with your company 
  • Pair down services to focus business strategies, or expand services to reach new markets

  • Simplify your product line to make client decisions easier and to streamline production time
  • Expand your product line to offer more customizable, unique, or affordable products for clients
  • Eliminate outdated products and introduce innovative products

  • Eliminate unused or underutilized assets and services with recurring costs
  • Let go of unproductive employees to make room for highly skilled and motivated ones
  • Invest in assets or property that will produce ongoing income

  • Find automated solutions for common repetitive tasks
  • Outsource production or administrative work that is easily reproduced by others
  • Streamline workflow process and production schedules to be more efficient

  • Create an annual marketing schedule for promotions, social media communication, and newsletter updates
  • Analyze return from previous marketing efforts and eliminate those which do not produce income or measurable results
  • Identify strategic relationships with other brands for partnership marketing opportunities

  • Analyze spending habits to get a clear picture of where money is going and when- use this information to create a month to month budget for spending
  • Create an annual budget for marketing, equipment, supplies, overhead, labor, etc. to find opportunities to cut back spending or to eliminate unnecessary upgrades
  • Work with an accountant or bookkeeper to help you gain control of the numbers and to keep you financially organized

It would be impossible to do all of these at once, so once you've established a list of the things you feel your business needs, prioritize it from most needed to least needed changes.  The key is to pick just ONE thing you want to focus on changing at a time.  Make that change before moving on to the next.  By making one change at a time, you can give each change your full attention.  Once you've completed a change that benefits your clients, spread the news to reinvigorate your brand and demonstrate growth.  Growth and change attracts positive attention and forward momentum, both of which are great for attracting new business!

Once you know what you're going to start working on first, get additional ideas from by clicking on a category keyword listed on the right of this blog, or try the search box at the top left of the blog for more posts and ideas.

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.  Follow her on Twitter or Facebook to see her daily adventures and thoughts.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What Matters To You?

We've created this blog for you- the small business entrepreneur and professional photographer.  Because we value you as a reader, we'd like to make sure our content stays relevant and interesting.  In the poll below (or in the comments), please let us know what topics are important for you so we can focus our time on sharing information that is valuable and resourceful to you and your business:

Thank you for your continued support!

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.  Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.