Friday, July 25, 2014

Photo Business Wisdom After 10 Years - Interview w/ Anne Ruthmann

When Dave Conrey asked to interview me for his Fresh Rag podcast, he initially wanted to chat more about my recent transitions in the photography world, after seeing my post on My Evolution As A Professional Photographer.

Fresh Rag Interview Anne Ruthmann

Of course, once he had me on the record button, he dug in deep about the photography industry and we ended up talking about moving from low-end to high-end markets in those early stages of business, gaining a national reputation, how to find other revenue streams in photography, as well as making that transition from one subject matter to another.  He really ran the gamut with me on getting an insider look at the photography industry, even beyond the scope of the event and portrait business.

If you find yourself wanting a thought-provoking interview to listen to on a long car ride, or maybe just over your lunch in your office, click play on the google hangout below and load up the podcast for an hour of juicy photo industry wisdom.  I'd love to hear your thoughts as well on what you think about some of the questions he asked!

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. With over 10 years of success as a full-time photographer in weddings, portraits, editorial, and now architecture and interiors, she spends any extra time she has helping others find smart solutions to business problems. Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Wedding Blogs Allowing Watermarks on Photos

A few years ago I wrote an "Open Letter to Wedding Bloggers" on my personal blog about the allowance and usage of watermarks on images.  I felt like I did a great job of outlining the reasons why it's important for a watermark to appear on an image - both for the photographer needing copyright protection and for the image protection of the clients featured in the photo.  Yet, not much has changed in the wedding blogger world.

There was a suggestion put forward for me to create a blogger list of shame for those blogs that don't allow watermarks, but I don't think that's nearly as helpful as highlighting all of the amazing and gracious wedding blogs that DO allow watermarking of images on their site.  I find it's far better for everyone involved to feed advertising dollars and attention to bloggers who are doing the right thing for their audience and content providers.  

Below is a list of blogs that allow watermarks ON your images, so that when your images are pinned or shared elsewhere from the blog, they can continue to be protected for you and your clients.  It's by no means a complete list, so if you know of more, PLEASE share them in the comments so we can keep growing this list to make it a great resource for all!  Special thanks to our awesome wedding photography colleagues Zofia Crosby, Adam George, and Dina Douglass who helped me update these resources for you.

Submission Links to Wedding Blogs that Allow Watermarks:

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle photographer in New York City. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography full-time in 2004 as an independent small business.  She loves helping others find creative and smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Friday, June 6, 2014

5 Steps to Making Your Business Legit

While there are many more things involved in running a business, you can set foot on much more stable ground if you have these five things in place before you start to collect money for your services.  I've been surprised to find that even people who have been in business for up to 2 years don't actually have some of these business basics taken care of yet (I may or may not be talking about myself as well when I started over 10 years ago.)  If you want to call yourself a professional, than you need to operate as a professional by answering all of these questions first:

1. Do you have a Federal Employer Identification Number?

2. Do you have a business bank or credit union account with your DBA name?

3. Do you have Business Liability & Equipment Insurance?

4. Have you contacted your local small business agency or chamber of commerce to understand your local business laws regarding operating, employment, benefits, and promotions in your city and state?

5. Do you have a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) to advise you on your bookkeeping, expense tracking, sales tax, and income tax reporting?

... also, while there are many resources available online for contracts and legal documents, you will also want to make an appointment with a local small business lawyer to look over any documents which you use as agreements with your clients in order to make sure you've covered all of your bases to protect yourself and comply with any local laws regarding your offerings.

Anne Ruthmann is an editorial & event photographer in New York City. 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 smart solutions to business problems. Stay in touch on Twitter or Facebook.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Where to Find Freelance Photo Work

In 2011, I was preparing for a year of traveling around the world and taking a sabbatical from the demands of my wedding photo business for a while.  Since I had to stop taking wedding clients 12 months in advance of traveling, I also had to create a plan to help me live a more freedom-based lifestyle while still being a photographer with professional recurring bills to take care of.

At first I was terrified to give up my security blanket of wedding clients who always planned well in advance, rarely ever cancelled their shoot, and were a very predictable source of income, however, after I'd paid off enough debt and saved up enough money, I had a little more courage to take some leaps of faith and try a more fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants style of booking and serving clients.  What I ended up finding was how much I really enjoyed short-assignment and easy-for-me work that I could pick up on the fly and turn-around in less than a week.

Disclaimer: if a lack of security or routine throws you into a stress ball of unhappiness, this may not be the road for you to travel, but it can be a chance to pick up some side jobs in your free time.  However, if you're zen like a surfer riding a tsunami, than the freelance lifestyle will actually serve you far better than a more predictable routine-and-commitment based type of work.

Bonus Tip: if you're overworked, these can also be great resources to find your ideal virtual assistant, retoucher, white-balancer, graphic designer, web coder, video editor, and more!


The most obvious and freely available resource for finding wanted requests as well as promoting your creative services is by far, the Craigslist job boards (mostly in the United States).  People get used to using the site for all sorts of things like apartments, furniture, tickets, etc, and because the board is so vast, they just use it to look for everything else they need as well.  The really nice thing about Craigslist for an in-person service business is that it's locally focused, so you're most likely to get local leads that are easy to serve rather than national or international leads.  Granted, there are a lot of people out there giving their work away, but that doesn't mean that a buyer can't recognize the difference and value of hiring a professional.


This service has only emerged in the online marketplace in the last couple years, but has aimed to streamline the process of finding LOCAL creatives and services by allow people to create a posting with some guidelines for their request and a local area that they want to be served in and then the first 5 bids to respond are shown to the client.  This really streamlines the process for the person who's making the request so that they aren't overwhelmed with bids that are outside of their budget or from people who are unavailable.  It makes the process for service providers easy so that they only need to respond to a request if they have the time available to take the client.  It's free to create an account, but there is a small charge for each request you bid on.


One of the first and still most popular places really dedicated to connecting creatives with job opportunities.  Client billing and payment is managed entirely through the site, so if you need help with contracts or billing, they can help streamline that process for you.  You search for projects that fit your skills when you have time to apply, you make bids, and you're either accepted or not, but I believe the Elance cut is taken only when you're hired and paid through their system.


Very similar to Elance, but also provides public profiles so that clients can seek you out directly by searching for available help rather than being directed to posting a job first and getting whatever comes in.  This freelancing article on FreshBooks shares some of the pros and cons of these similar systems.

The Creative Loft

Rather than a service that collects a commission or fees for transactions, this is a membership-based service for access to creating a profile and/or a listing for requests.  It seems to focus more on the community aspect of working as a freelancer, by providing forums and message boards for creatives to connect more easily and share.


This may be more ideal for commercial or studio work in which a product that needs to be photographed for a website can be shipped to the photographer.  Because the site doesn't easily filter by location, it's more ideal for someone who can provide their services virtually.

People Per Hour

Also ideal for people who prefer to work virtually, but this allows you to define a specific task that you're willing to perform at a very specific rate so that clients can hand-pick from services and prices like they would if they were in a grocery store.  There's also a bidding process that can help streamline inquiries, but they seem to do a great job of making the resource easy and user friendly.

Because I tend to stay busy on referrals alone, I've only tried two of the services above, the rest are things I found when I was looking for extra assignments to take on, so I'd love to hear about your experiences.  I used Craigslist while I was building my business from the ground up almost 10 years ago, but haven't used it for photo assignments since then.  I signed up for Thumbtack recently after moving to NYC, and there are many requests that come in too low or too far away for me to serve them professionally, however, there are a few gems in the rough and on a rare occasion I do actually respond to a request if it looks like it will fit my working style and schedule.

Are there other services or sites that you've tried and had success with?  Please share your experiences and thoughts in the comments.

Anne Ruthmann is an lifestyle & event photographer in New York City. 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 smarter solutions to small business problems. Stay in touch on Twitter or Facebook.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Working For Free: When You Should and Shouldn't

Donating our time as creatives comes naturally to us when we love what we do.  After all, we were probably doing our work for free long before we decided to make it a business.  There are situations when donating our time can really benefit us creatively and as a business, but there are other times when donating our time dampens our creativity and takes us away from paying projects.  Here are the questions to ask yourself when deciding if you should or shouldn't take on a pro bono project:

1. Are you doing this for attention or exposure?
If you're hoping it will give you more exposure, and it doesn't lead to anything, or worse yet, someone uses your work without giving you any credit at all, you may wind up feeling very upset with the people you worked with and as if you could have spent your time marketing yourself more wisely in other ways.  If you still want to do the job in the hopes of gaining some exposure, make sure the client understands that this is a trade of your time for full credit whenever your work is used, and make sure to get it in writing so that you have rights to refuse any illegal or uncredited usage.

2. Did they ask you, or did you offer?
If they asked you, than they really need your services and should most likely be hiring you rather than asking you to do it for free- if you say no, they'll likely move on and look for someone else who will do it for free.  If you're offering, do it because you have some time in your schedule to spare and enjoy the work or the mission of the organization, or because you're comfortable working out an appropriate trade agreement that recognizes the value of your donated time, since you can't claim your time as a tax donation.

3. Are you in a desperate situation financially?
If you're in a desperate situation, taking on more free work isn't going to help your situation.  If anything it will simply worsen your morale because you're continuing to devalue yourself.  You'd be better off taking small jobs or craigslist requests that pay something rather than doing any additional free work that will weigh down your schedule when you could be working for others who will pay you.

4. Are you falling behind on other work?
If you can't keep up with the work you have on your plate, and an opportunity that you've always said yes to for free in the past walks in the door, than it's time to let them know that you can't do it for free anymore because it will take you away from caring for your paying clients.  If they'd like to become a paying client, perhaps it can become a priority for you, but you'd need to make it very clear as to how it will be different than what you've done in the past.

5. Do you want to help make a difference?
If you're doing pro-bono work for a non-profit organization or individual out of the love of your heart, make sure you still have all of your contracts in order about how the images will be used on your behalf and on behalf of the organization.  Also, if you'll be using sensitive subjects or stories on your own website or portfolio, make sure you get model releases and permission from the organization and/or the subjects before sharing the work.

6. Are you doing it to test equipment, try something out of the ordinary, or build a portfolio?
This is probably the best reason to do something for free, because not only is it a way to improve yourself as a creative and take risks you don't want to take on a paying client, it's also going to benefit you in the long run if you create something successful and have the permission to share it with your audience.  This is how many people fill their time with personal projects that generate buzz around their work.  If you're going to do it for free, the best reason is to do it all on your own terms.

Anne Ruthmann is an editorial & event photographer in New York City. 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.  Stay in touch on Twitter or Facebook.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

5 Quick Steps to Clean Up Your Inbox

If your email is overflowing with distracting emails and it's hard to find your client communications, it's time for an inbox intervention.  I used to have that situation until I developed a system that helps me quickly view what's important and keep it separate from the unimportant.

There are generally three types of emails that land in your inbox:

  1. Actionable Email: inquiries for new business, customer support for current business, or certain social media messages or invitations that may need immediate responses
  2. Reference Email: important information that doesn't need a response but may need to be referenced such as newsletters, additional client information, sales and promotions you're interested in, social media updates, product updates, event announcements that don't need RSVPs
  3. Spam: unsolicited and unwanted junk emails

The biggest problem is that you have lots of #2 & #3 sitting in your inbox, which gets in the way of #1.  So here are 5 simple steps to cleaning up your inbox quickly!  If you spend just one hour doing this every once in a while, you'll find that your inbox stays much more clean on a regular basis.  Please note, this was written primarily for people who use an email system that can manage multiple accounts offline, like Microsoft Outlook or Mac Mail.  It is still possible to do this in Gmail or with other online services, but the method of execution may be slightly different- the important part is understanding the concepts of the sorting method and applying it in a way that works for you.

Step 1: Create Your Action, Reference, and Spam Folders
Regardless of what email system you use, you should have the ability to create folders or categories for sorting your inbox.  Set up these three folders in your inbox so that you will be able to quickly sort all inbox email into one of these three categories.
Create New Folder -> Label "Action "
Create New Folder -> Label "Reference"
Create New Folder -> Label "Spam"

Step 2: Quick Sort Your Inbox into Action, Reference, and Spam Folders
There are two ways to make your quick sort even easier!  Instead of looking at emails by date, organize your emails by sender.  This allows you to quickly identify major senders of spam, reference, or actionable items very quickly, and then do a bulk selection of each sender and sort large amounts of email more quickly.  Occasionally you may want to follow this with organizing by subject in case you have a situation where you receive similar emails from different senders, but with the same subject headings.  These different ways of organizing your inbox make for much quicker sorting than just going chronologically.  You can always return your inbox organization to chronological when you're ready.
-> Sort by Email Sender -> Move messages in bulk to correct folder
-> Sort by Email Subject -> Move messages in bulk to correct folder

Step 3: Unsubscribe, Mark as Spam/Junk, or Delete Your Spam Emails
Obviously deleting spam email is the quickest way to get rid of it, however, if you'd like to prevent spam from making it to your inbox in the future and wasting your time again, try marking the email as spam or junk within your inbox AND using any unsubscribe links in the emails themselves, then delete.
Open Spam Folder -> Unsubscribe and Delete Emails

Step 4: Filter Reference Emails
Organize your reference folder by sender or subject and create a filter in your email program that automatically sends future emails from these senders straight to your reference folder.  In Gmail, this would be under the "More -> Filter messages like these", in Mac Mail it would be "Mail -> Preferences -> Rules -> Add Rule".  The goal is to get it out of your Inbox as soon as it comes in so it doesn't crowd important actionable emails.  For example, if you like to get and keep the promotional emails from your favorite stores to see what sales are happening, assign the sender of those emails to your reference folder.  If you'd like to be even more organized, you can create a filter just for all promotional emails from all your favorite stores so that you can quickly find what's on sale when you need a new piece of equipment or pair of shoes (another photographer claimed that by implementing this method, she saved $1,000 a month on not shopping just because there was a sale email in her inbox.)  Other things I like to filter are the subscribe and unsubscribe messages from my blog or newsletter feed- they don't require action, so they don't need to be in my inbox, but it's nice to have them for reference.  Using this filtering method, you can also create stars or flags on important incoming messages from your website contact form or other inquiry sources to quickly identify new inquiries immediately in your inbox.
Open Reference Folder -> Sort by Sender or Subject -> Create New Rule/Filter

Step 5: Take Action on Action Emails
If used effectively, your inbox can now function more like a To Do list than a holding area for random information.  When the only things that land in your inbox are actionable items, because everything that isn't actionable is getting filtered out of your way automatically, you'll spend less time traveling down the rabbit hole of distracting emails and promotions, and more time serving your clients and being responsive to new inquiries.  Sometimes just your ability to respond in a timely manner is a deciding factor in whether a client chooses to work with you or not, so any advantage you can have in providing better service can lead to more clients and less time wasted!
For some video demonstrations on taming your inbox, check out this post: Efficient Email Management
Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & event photographer in New York City. 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.  Stay in touch on Twitter or Facebook.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pricing Help for Photographers & Freelancers

Pricing is often one of the factors in a creative business that seems difficult for many people to work through, but we've spent a lot of time writing about the how and why of pricing over the last few years.  Here's a resource page of our posts on the topic of pricing your services and your work....

Hidden Costs & Pricing Factors

Why It's Hard to Talk Pricing Publicly
The things no one can tell you when you ask for pricing help in online groups.

How Much Does Each Click Cost?
Should you buy new equipment or rent new equipment?  Check this out to find out what might work best for your situation.

Photography Overhead Costs (or Why Photography is Expensive)
Learn more about the hidden costs of professional photography services.

How Much Do You Need To Make?
Determining your service rates based on your income goals.

How $60,000 Revenue = $30,000 Income
Understanding how revenue and income are different, and how to plan ahead.

Budgeting for Equipment Replacements
One of the hidden overhead costs of digital creative work is replacing equipment regularly.

Why $300 Should Be a Professional Photography Minimum
Can you do a professional job no matter what happens?  Only if your price can handle it!

Charging Travel Fees for Destination Clients
What to prepare for in your budget for travel fees.

Formulas for Pricing Products & Services
A detailed explanation of pricing products and services in a creative freelance business.

Presenting Your Pricing Online

Why Hiding Pricing Only Hurts You
The drawbacks of being secretive about your pricing online.

Pricing Critique Webinar - Best Pricing Page Practices
How you present your prices can be just as important as what your prices are.  This post shares best pricing page practices.

On Sharing Pricing Up Front
How to win over clients with up front pricing.

Incentivize vs. Penalize
How the language used in presenting options affects buyers.

How to Quote a Job Price Without Project Details
How to manage a client that doesn't know the scope of the project yet but still needs a budget quote.

Psychology of Pricing
Does your pricing strategy match the clients you want to work with?  A checklist of things to think through and apply to your pricing methods.

Price Matters, Price Always Matters
Thinking like a client about online purchasing.

How to Announce Price Increases
Moving up the pricing scale without scaring recurring clients.

Quality Vs. Quantity

Quick Thoughts on Buyer Behavior
The difference between price shoppers and quality buyers.

Adding Value Into Pricing
How you describe your prices and packages may add more value without more items.

How Many Clients Do You Need?
More clients may mean more work but less profit if not considered carefully.

Things We Can Learn From Apple
How having a premium product can be a better position than a bargain product.

When Potential Clients Say You Charge Too Much
Are they trying to get a discount, or is it really not in their budget?  These subtle differences help you know if they're worth working with or passing on, as well as if you need to step up your quality.

How to Respond When A Client Says "Too Much!"
How to respond to clients who experience sticker shock on product prices after you've already shared their images with them.

3 Responses to Low Budget Requests
How to turn a budget client into a potentially higher paying client.

Standing Behind Our Value
When to hold and when to fold.

Stop Being Taken Advantage of by Demanding Clients
How to prevent clients trying to take your work beyond scope without paying for it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What Will Bring In The Most New Clients?

I had a great question while consulting for another photographer recently and it was one that I had never really stopped to consider so concretely.

"If I can only invest my time and money into one part of my business right now to have the biggest impact on bringing in new clients, where should I focus?"

I knew the answer immediately, because it's the single most important thing that has always made the biggest difference for me.  No matter how outdated my website portfolio is, how messy my branding might be at the moment, when my last blog post was, how active I've been on social media, or how many website directories my page is listed on, by far the biggest impact on my business is directly related to how happy my clients and fellow working colleagues are with my quality of work and how easy I am to work with.  It seems so common sense that most people don't even mention it, but it really is the single biggest factor in being successful as a creative.

Service businesses are highly recommended by former clients on one of two factors: how cheap they are or how amazing they are.  Being cheap may be a great way to start and prove you can do the job, or allows you to sustain a side-business as a hobby or part-time venture, but it isn't a model for longevity or sustainability if you're going to work as an individualized creative service.  So, my recommendation is to be highly recommended for being amazing to work with.

How does that play out in a list of actionable items?

  • Make promises with your clients that you can exceed regularly, which means having all of your business and production ducks in a row so that you never need to apologize, only surprise!
  • Prepare your clients expectations by detailing your process and how you work
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate  - return calls, emails, texts as soon as you can
  • Check in with your clients when you've completed a job to find out what they loved and what you can improve
  • Stay in touch with your clients through an email newsletter, loves notes, phone calls, or facebook friendship, because people aren't checking your blog or website on a regular basis after they've worked with you already, but because they've worked with you, they'll be the first to help recommend you to new people who are looking
  • Give your previous clients opportunities and ways to work with you again by running specials on products they may not have purchased, or offering additional services that benefit them
  • Revisit other people you've worked with on a shared project, like wedding vendors, makeup artists, venues, etc. and see if you can collaborate on a future project that would benefit them
  • Thank people for their referrals when you know who the referral came from and let them know how much you appreciate their support of your work and service
  • Create work that your clients will want to share with everyone they know by going above and beyond in ways that you know will make them happy
  • Be easy to work and a joy to be around by not letting your ego get in the way of doing something that would help out a client or another vendor
If you can do this for every client you work with, you will see exponential returns on your investment of time and dedication to client happiness in ways that support rates that exceed industry averages and provide the demand that supports being selective in who you work with.  

Note: If you don't have a list of clients that you've been able to be awesome for yet, than your job is to go out and create awesome work for people you really admire or are inspired to work with, but then treat them with the same level of professionalism that you would with any paying client.  Too often people who do complimentary work to build their portfolio don't do it in a way that would make someone want to work with them again, and therein lies the cycle of destroying working relationships before they've ever been created.

Anne Ruthmann is an editorial & event photographer in New York City. 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.  Stay in touch on Twitter or Facebook.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Interns Part I: Finding interns to make your life remarkably better

This guest post is from Phillip, who I recently met at the Art Directors Club in New York City.  While we were meeting, he had several local interns working away in the room near us on a Wednesday afternoon... I thought he'd have a little advice to share with you about how he finds his interns. - Anne

This article could be written and finished in one sentence: "Finding an intern to work for you is as easy as creating a Craigslist ad ( and asking for help."

 As a former educator and mentor and tutor, I love working with high school students. In my hometown of Santa Barbara there were a few arts programs in some of the high schools that required the students to do 40 hours of internship time with a creative professional. Students I knew started contacting me to fulfill their internship hours and before I could say "extra pair of hands" I had multiple students available last Summer to assist on family photo shoots, carry gear, count receipts, etc. I didn't train these interns in highly technical stuff like editing, retouching, second shooting, etc. They were simply an extra pair of hands on every shoot I went on. And they were great!

If you want someone more like an office manager or in-house retoucher/editor and you need to spend a little more time cultivating your intern, you can do something like this on Craigslist (click to view larger):

This was accompanied by ONE lovely sunset photo of a couple on a beach:

And that's it. Within 24 hours on a MONDAY I had over fifteen people email and I shut the advertisement down. I received requests from "Brookies," students at the prestigious Brookes Institute of Photographer, college students, high school students, people with extensive resumes, and people with no photo experience whatsoever (but they really liked photography). All of these people were willing to put in time and gain knowledge from the experience.

In the end, I chose the one guy whose response made me chuckle. He said he had an unhealthy addiction to Pinterest. And someone else in town knew of him and recommended him. We met once over coffee, and I hired him immediately. I feel very lucky to have met Matt Misisco because he has become a great friend, was the best assistant ever, and is really a great human being. I also figured out how to pay him because I highly valued his help (I gave myself a $25/hr raise and paid him $10/hr for five hours each Monday). I would recommend hiring someone based on personality over qualifications, absolutely. All you really need for a good intern/assistant is someone with a YES attitude and who will show up on time. And that's it.

Fluffy resumes don't mean a thing. You want someone who will represent you well on a job, no matter where you are. Technical skills don't matter. If they are trainable, that is preferable, because you aren't working with someone who thinks they know how to do things right (even if it's not how you manage your workflow/editing).

Some issues I've run up against when working with other interns that I would be careful of: Lack of transportation. Know-it-alls. Social ineptness. Dramatic/complicated home life.

I want to make clear how easy it was to find an intern: It took me less than five minutes to build that request on Craigslist, and it was the best decision for my business I ever made.

I wish I had done it sooner.

Curliest Photographer You Know

Phillip Van Nostrand built his business in Santa Barbara, CA, where he has shot over 50 weddings, countless head shots, and events for the past 5 years. He travels abroad at least once a year and is almost up to 30 countries traveled. Published in the New York Times, Huffington Post, New York Times Magazine, featured on Under Armor for Women’s web page, featured in Santa Barbara Dining and Destinations Magazine.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Free Website Tests You Can Do Right Now

We've hosted several free website critique webinars on, based on the best practices that we've identified in our industry and across websites in general.  Since we don't have the time to test everyone's websites, here are some resources to help you get feedback on your own website right now!

UserTesting - Peek
UserTesting offers a free "peek" of their services in a 5 minute recorded video of a user clicking around your specified website and sharing what they love and don't love about how your site navigates as well as the information available on it.  This is a great way to see how an objective general user interacts with your navigation menus, contact form, and online content so that you can see what fixes you might be able to address in order to improve your website for visitors.
peek usertesting

HubSpot - Marketing Grader
HubSpot is one of my favorite free services for analyzing your site's inbound marketing strategies with SEO, Lead Generation links, Social Media reach, and other online markers of presence and accessibility.  The software is fully automated, so it's less high-touch, but it approaches your website from a similar perspective as a content web crawler like Google would. This is a great way to see what social media and marketing strategies you aren't currently implementing that you can improve upon.

Pingdom - Speed Test
Pingdom focuses on improving website speeds by identifying slow loading materials on a page as well as what loads first and last.  One of the factors in how your website ranks in search results is how fast your content can make it to the search engines, so running a speed test can help you identify the images or code that need to be cleaned up for faster loading.  Pingdom also gives you a sample of how your website stacks up against other sites that are being compared so that you know where you stand in loading times.

Try each test now and see what you can work on!  Have you seen any other awesome website tests people should run their website through?  Share in the comments!

Anne Ruthmann is an editorial & event photographer in New York City. 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.  Stay in touch on Twitter or Facebook.

Monday, March 17, 2014

What If You Lost Everything?

Have you ever seen the movie "The Impossible"?  It's a true story in which over 150,000 people were wiped out by tsunami. Man, nothing like an end-of-the-world scenario to make you appreciate life, right?!  It inspired me to have a conversation with my spouse about what our strategy and recovery plan would be if something like that happened to us, or heaven forbid, I was wiped from the earth while there were still clients who needed to be taken care of.  Thankfully, I already know that my high resolution images and business contracts with relevant client contact info have been backed up in an online cloud with Pictage and ShootQ, so I'm not really worried about something like my hard drives being damaged or clients being left high and dry.

Now, let's forget major natural disaster scenarios and just consider worst-case scenarios in every day life.  What if all of your equipment was stolen?  Does each job you do provide enough cash to cover renting the equipment you need until you could get replacements?  Do you have insurance that would make it easy to buy new equipment?  Do you have enough savings built up if your insurance reimbursement didn't come in for months?

Last St. Patrick's Day I also acquired a sprained ankle on my last day in a trip to Ireland (I guess my St Patty's luck was that it wasn't broken!)  Fortunately, I had enough recovery time built in after my trip that I didn't have to cancel any jobs, but I also knew that I had people I could call to replace me if I needed them.  Do you have people who can fill in for you and provide the same level of quality and professionalism if you can't make it to a job you've been contracted to do?  Are you connected to a professional network of highly qualified people?  Do you have disability insurance if you're permanently injured and need time and money to pay your bills while you figure out a different business model?

Those who are prepared for disaster are the "lucky" ones because they can bounce back much more quickly and continue running a business after something dramatic happens.  If you didn't back up everything or have systems in place to do a job regardless of what happens, that's on you, not mother nature.  The biggest difference between being a creative business owner and a hobbyist is being prepared for the unexpected, and making sure clients will be taken care of whether you can be there or not.  What are you going to do this week to make sure your business is safer in the years ahead?  If you don't do it NOW, when are you going to have time to do it later... or when it's too late?

Anne Ruthmann is an editorial & event photographer in New York City. 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.  Stay in touch on Twitter or Facebook.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Why Hiding Pricing Only Hurts You

What was the last major purchase you made in which you couldn't easily find a price before talking to a sales person about the product?

A home?  Real estate listings online generally list home value before you attend an open house.

A car?  Sales prices are generally listed online before you need to walk into a store.

A painting?  Art sales prices are generally listed on a sales sheet in the gallery which you can pick up before viewing the work.

A TV?  Airfare?  Vacation Package?  Rug?  Furniture?  Pair of shoes?  Phone?  Jeans?  Haircut?

…. yeah, I can't think of anything either…. so why do photographers and some other creatives hide their pricing information?

Hiding pricing hurts you in several ways:
  • clients may assume a price above their budget based on not seeing a price at all and just not contact you about their project
  • clients may assume a price in their budget based on other pricing they've seen elsewhere and assume you're a budget service only to contact you and find out that you aren't in their budget at all, which wastes both your time and the client's time
  • clients and event planners may just be doing online research and not know how to value your work against other work they're considering, and thus they throw you out of their pool entirely because they don't have enough info
  • by not providing a value for your work up front, you don't give clients advance notice about what they should plan to spend with you, which would help them prepare their finances up front and be more ready to book you on the spot before getting in touch
You don't need to give out your entire price list, but you should at least give a starting price or a price range and inform clients if you expect to prepare a custom collection for them based on their needs.  Not only will it save you and your clients a lot of headache and heartache, it will also present your business as honest, straightforward, and trustworthy - which are all desired traits for anyone looking making an investment in a quality service.

Check out Christine's previous post on this same topic for more thoughts on providing pricing:

Anne Ruthmann is an editorial & event photographer in New York City. 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.  Stay in touch on Twitter or Facebook.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Case Against Being Too Focused

From my experience in marketing, I'm very familiar with the idea of something being more powerful and more marketable when it's highly focused on its audience, product, branding, and method of delivery.  However, from my experience in finance, I also know that it's much more financially stable to be highly diversified across many different sectors in order to fight off a feast or famine cycle of income.  So when it comes to running a business, there's a case to be made for both arguments of being highly specialized, and for being very diversified.  They key is knowing what works best for YOU, because in order for you to thrive in any direction, you need to work in a way that suits you best.

As for me?  I thrive on diversity and change, and I used to think this was a bad thing because everyone around me was trying to get me to choose JUST ONE THING.  Just the thought of doing only one thing forever was stifling, it made me want to crawl out of my skin.  I tried being a music teacher in a public school where the setting was the same every day, I'd have to work on the same pieces of music with the same group of students every week, and see the same people who had the same problems over and over again.  I got so bored with the overall environment of complacency that I started doing photography on the side, and because I was THRIVING in working with different people and subjects all the time in photography, I was able to go full time into photography after only one year.  I did occasionally return to schools to teach a workshop here and there, or to work as part of a teaching artist program, because I still love teaching and helping students dig into their own creativity, but I found a way to do it that wasn't stifling for me- a way that gave me the variety and freedom that help me thrive.  In turn, when I was feeling stuck in photography, having this other creative teaching outlet then helped fuel my love and creativity in photography again.

While I absolutely love shooting weddings, the every-weekend-in-the-summer-routine was starting to wear on me after 7 years and I wanted more weekends to enjoy spending time with friends and family. So, I started exploring other types of photography work that I could shoot during the week, which allowed me to take fewer weddings and enjoy more weekends, but also really love and appreciate each wedding I was shooting again because it wasn't every weekend.  I started shooting entrepreneur portraits, images for website companies, events for a university, real estate, and more.  While some other photographers around me, who were only focused on weddings, started feeling like their business was slipping away from them, I was thriving on the variety of work that I had and wasn't feeling as affected by changes in the market.  I was still creating work I loved, and doing it in a way that I enjoyed, but I was no longer confined to one subject or working style.

Some of my friends, who had heavily invested in their narrowly focused branding and website design were really starting to feel the pinch that came from focusing so heavily on one market and one client that just didn't seem to exist in the numbers they were hoping for, and that narrow focus was actually hurting them in some ways, especially because they felt like they couldn't expand until they'd worked out an entirely new set of branding.  Amazingly, I didn't even have a portfolio of work for all of these new jobs I was taking, they were all just coming based on word of mouth connections and networking that I had been doing along the way (which is also a lesson about not waiting for your website to be finished or perfect before putting yourself out there.)  Not everyone thrives on having variety in what they photograph or in how they work, but even for those who love to be highly focused, there are ways to expand a financial model without changing subject matter.

I have several photographer friends who focus narrowly on pet photography, but find that the pet owner market, which is willing to spend hundreds each month on extras for their pet, isn't always interested in paying for a photo shoot of their pet.  In this case, they can still focus narrowly on the subject matter of pets, but expand the possibilities of who might be interested in buying the photography, and expand the product lines and how they are sold.  Instead of focusing on the sales of individual shoots, creating a themed book that can be widely sold and distributed while also raising money for a charity, or pitching a series of images for an ad campaign for different types of pet products. Perhaps one of the most notable pet photographers, William Wegman, turned his pet work into gallery art, a book, calendars, and cards that could scale his work and be widely distributed to a larger audience, which also led to additional commercial work.  While his subject matter and control over his work remained highly focused, his sales model was expansive and allowed for many different types of purchasing.

So, if you're struggling with the idea of being told to just do ONE thing, I'm here to tell you that you don't really have to.  If you need variety to thrive, embrace it and own it, don't run from it or feel bad about it.  No need to hide your variety or push it aside in favor of something else.  Stand up for your unique way of working- not everyone has the talents that you do, or the ability to work in multiple ways!  Do the work you love and more of what you love will come your way.  Likewise, if you need focus in order to thrive, just focus and find more ways to share your highly targeted focus.  There is no one way that's right or wrong, only what's best for you.

Need more support in bringing your many different interests together in a career?  Check out this book: Refuse to Choose!: Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams

Anne Ruthmann is an editorial & event photographer in New York City. 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.  Stay in touch on Twitter or Facebook.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Why is Everyone Else Doing Better?

There's a reason they call it March Madness, and it has nothing to do with the NBA- unless we're talking about "Not Being Already-booked."  It's that point when photographers have spent far too much time online- fielding emails for inquiries of people who haven't cleared their winter brain fog, going over last year's work and deciding if they should rebrand or create an entirely new website AGAIN, and spending too much time on social media or forums where they can size-up and compare themselves to others.  Whether we think we're better or worse than what anyone else has going on, the danger is in the comparison itself, and taking the attention off of our own intentions and focusing it on others instead of ourselves.

This is also the time of year I end up doing more consulting with people who want to get ahead by putting plans in place now before it gets busy, and one of the things I hear over and over again is people saying something to the effect of, "this person is doing SO well, they're sharing new work ALL the time."  Of course, they rarely seem to stop and consider that perhaps that work isn't paid work, or perhaps it's actually recycled old work from last year that's just now getting shared, or any other combination of things that appear to be one thing when maybe they're actually something else.

You see, the illusion created is that other people appear busy while you're just hanging out online, and regardless of what's actually going on behind the scenes.  You just fell for an illusion, or even worse- compared yourself to that illusion like looking at a photoshopped magazine cover model.  If you were busy implementing your own plans and getting down to work on your craft, you'd have no time to dilly dally with comparisons or other people's illusions.  If you were shooting, or out networking, or creating your next newsletter, or developing your next pitch for a special sales event, you wouldn't be on facebook or twitter watching the world go by your browser window.

The reality is that you're not getting ahead because you aren't creating work for yourself, instead, you're waiting for work to walk in the door.  If you aren't creating work for yourself, than you also aren't sharing work to promote yourself, leaving you even more time to spend looking at what everyone is doing rather than creating your own buzz-worthy projects and sharable shoots.

See where I'm going?  Do I even need to finish?

If what you want is to get ahead, you have to take some action and create something that's in line with what you love and what you want to attract.  Have fun with it, go big, get crazy, be outrageous, try things you'd never try with a paying client, answer only to your own sensibilities- and in doing that, you may create something entirely unique and buzz worthy.  Share it unabashedly like it's your newborn child.  Share it in as many ways as you can and leverage that work to attract new work.  Don't stop there, rinse and repeat.  Make it a practice that when you don't have work from others, you create work for yourself, so that you can always keep moving ahead to your next great client.  Start your process now by telling us in the comments what your next awesome project will be!

Anne Ruthmann is an editorial & event photographer in New York City. 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.  Stay in touch on Twitter or Facebook.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Stop Apologizing For Not Blogging

I fully admit that I have been guilty of apologizing on my blog for not blogging, as if I was letting myself and everyone in the world down for not writing a post every day, week, or month.  However, when I started reading posts with these apologies at the top, I found them to be really distracting from the content that I had clicked to read- drawing attention to the fact that someone had been away from their blog and felt guilty, which I may not have noticed if they hadn't written anything!

While blogging consistency does lead to increased traffic, the only one who sets expectations about how often you should blog is you.  Therefore, apologizing for not doing something that only you have expectations about actually highlights the fact that you set unreasonable expectations for yourself, and frankly, that makes you look bad. Instead, just blog when you want to blog, and don't blog when you don't want to blog.  If you don't want to show how long it's been since your last post, just remove the date in your layout or post template.  If people are really concerned, they'll write you and ask how you're doing, but not blogging isn't a crime or a public offense that you need to apologize for.

I had this weird expectation that I should blog all the time, or at least once a week, or for every single client, or else I was letting my business and my clients down.  Once I stopped feeling guilty about blogging infrequently, it actually made it easier to get back to the blog when I had some free time. It was no longer an obligation that weighed me down and took me away from the core parts of my business, and it became more enjoyable because I wasn't pumping out posts full of crap just to have content up.  I started spending more time writing quality posts that were inspired by something meaningful, in ways that weren't just helpful to me, but also to my audience.  Yes, blogging is a great SEO tool and marketing piece for your business, but if you're so busy serving clients offline that you don't have time to create more content online, there's certainly nothing wrong with that!

Anne Ruthmann is an editorial & event photographer in New York City. 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.  Stay in touch on Twitter or Facebook.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Need A Little One-On-One Help?

The annual Thirst Relief Mentor Auction is one of the few ways you make a charitable contribution that saves lives by providing clean water, while also getting some one-on-one photo business help for yourself.  Most of the time, when you sign up for a regular workshop with any of the mentors listed, you aren't getting much one-on-one time; you're generally just getting a lecture-style workshop where you can ask a few questions, but the answers need to be applicable to a larger audience.  One-on-one mentoring is even more valuable because you get to really dig into your specific situation in a private conversation and discover what might help move you forward in a way that is unique from everyone else in the room.

The Thirst Relief Mentor Auction starts tonight 2/6/14 and ends on Sunday evening 2/9/14.  There are many great photographers available to mentor you, including yours truly, but take a look at the list and see who might be a best fit for you and what you're looking for.  I've been a mentor for the auction for about 4 or 5 years now and I when I look back at the people I worked with, I can see how just a little push or problem solving in the right direction can make a huge difference, but also how their winning bids made an even bigger difference in the world!

Here are a few tips to make sure you get the most out of the Thirst Relief Mentor Auction:

  • Identify 3-5 people you'd like one-on-one mentoring with.
  • Note the different mentor ending times listed on Ebay, so that you can move your bid quickly if you're outbid.
  • Remember that your bid is going to charity, not to the person you're bidding on, and that the value of your bid is ultimately going to benefit a family or an entire community with clean water, and not just giving you some one-on-one help.
  • If you run out of people you're familiar with to bid on, bid on someone you've never heard of!  Mentors are generally in the auction because they have something valuable to offer and they really want to help others.  Not only might you find yourself pleasantly surprised with the help and knowledge you receive from someone you've never heard of, but your winning bid will still be a charitable donation for Thirst Relief.

Good luck and generous bidding!

Thirst Relief Mentor Auction

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer in New York, NY. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography as an independent small business in 2004.  She loves helping others find creative and smart solutions to business problems.  Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Year End Review - A Creative's Annual Report

For many creatives, a year-end review is simply pulling together income and expenses for their tax accountant, but it's important for creative businesses to also have a narrative year-end review that recaps some highlights and lowlights of the year, expresses changes to the business structure or direction, and tells a general story about what the year was like.  For companies with investors, this is considered an annual report, which is made publicly available and expected to have detailed numbers to measure.  However, freelancers and small businesses who do this can make it much more creative or interesting to their audience, and be selective about what they want to include.

I've been able to do a public year-end narrative review on my blog most years that I've been in business, and it's been a great way to look back on previous years to remind myself of the struggles I've overcome as well as how my business has changed over time.  For example, in the first few years of my business, my annual reports reveal how difficult it was to get my workflow and systems under control and how much it was impacting my business and personal life, but if you look at my last few annual reports, you can see how much more freedom and enjoyment I've had now that those problems have been solved.

Some creatives recap their year with a few "Best of 2013" style posts, sharing images from their favorite projects or themes, and while those are good SEO marketing efforts, they don't tell the story of how the business has grown or changed, as well as obstacles that were faced or overcome, which is really the purpose of a year end review.  So, I encourage you to be courageous and put a little more of your business out there.  Clients put more trust in a business that can reflect on its actions, admit mistakes, and demonstrate change over time.

Just for fun, here are a couple of annual reports that break the mold and inspire a different way to recount the year:

MailChimp's "Year by the Numbers" - takes a twist on the traditional annual number reporting by making it graphic and including random items

WarbyParker's "On This Day in History" -puts all the highlights, facts, and figures into a 365 day calendar format that makes discovering info more exploratory than linear

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer in New York, NY. 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.