Thursday, November 12, 2015

Standing Behind Our Value

I had quite a few challenges to pricing some projects with clients over the last couple weeks.  Prospects and even existing clients were pressing especially hard to try and get me to bring my prices under their budgets while still getting everything they wanted without any compromises on their end.  In some cases, they really couldn't afford to work with a professional, but were trying to find someone who would do a professional job for a non-professional price.  They pulled a lot of stops out of the negotiating bucket:
  • asking me to defend why I price things the way I do
  • saying that someone else prices the same thing much lower
  • talking about how great the exposure will be and how many other clients it will lead to
  • suggesting that a great price on this project will mean more future business together
  • telling me that the project doesn't require as much time/effort as I know it will
  • building a package discount and then trying to remove individual items at full price
  • threatening that they'll take their business elsewhere if I can't give them the price they want

When I was inexperienced and without the deep knowledge of how much time and expense goes into everything I create, these tactics may have made me feel insecure of myself and made me question my own value.  Due to experience and wisdom, these hard bargain strategies don't work on me anymore and I can spot them coming from a mile away.  I also know that the client who tends to use them up front is often a red flag for more issues down the road.  The tactics aren't new and they aren't going away anytime soon.  Not everyone can afford to work with a professional, and that's OK.  The problem is not that clients do these things, but that creative professionals blame clients for devaluing our work or industry.

The fact is, clients don't devalue our work, we do.


We devalue our work every time we don't stand up for our own prices.  We devalue our work when we agree to work for the same price "someone else" charges even when we have no idea who that someone else is or what the situation was.  We devalue our work when we accept exposure as sufficient payment even when we know it's something that should be paid for.  We devalue our work when we begin client relationships with an intro bargain, but then don't ask for more or don't raise our prices to fit our changing market, or professional advancement, or additional experience.  We devalue our work when we let clients tell us how much time or effort something should take, rather than defending our knowledge of the work we put in.  We devalue our work when we allow clients to get away with bad math rather than calling them on their errors.  We devalue our work when we take on projects because we feel desperate or threatened, rather than defending our value and holding space for better clients to come along.

Expect to be questioned about your value.  Expect to be compared.  Expect to be asked to work for free.  Expect to be lied to.  Expect to play hard ball.  Expect that sometimes you have to walk away in order to defend your value.  If you expect these things to happen, than you will only be pleasantly surprised on the occasions when they don't happen.

The difference between creatives with similar styles who charge more or less is often based on how they defend their value.  The $10,000 creative doesn't necessarily create better or more magical work for $10K, they simply won't do the work for less than that and are willing to take whatever risks, gambles, or other income streams are necessary in order to holdfast to that particular valuing of their work.  I'm not saying the market will pay whatever people feel like charging (though some people still debate that), I'm simply saying that our value is ultimately defined by how much we value our own work and are willing to stand behind our worth.  The funny thing is, the more comfortable we are with defending our worth, the more others tend to value it as well.

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.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Are You Creating Buyer Confusion?

I've had several experiences lately where the way a business moved me through their sales process actually invited me to reconsider my choice after I decided on what I was going to buy.  These weren't like considering add-ons or compliments to increase the sale of my purchase, which would be a bonus purchase strategy, but rather, considering completely different products and brands which made me question my initial choice.  The buyer experience was one of confusion and distraction, rather than confidence and readiness.

Example 1: Sharing Information in a Public Sharing Platform 
I was invited by a service provider to view a price list on issu.com, an online magazine layout solution.  When I got to the bottom of the price list, the platform invited me to look at other service provider price lists for the same service!  So, even if I was sold on my first choice, now I was being given many other choices to take me into the rabbit hole of comparison and being completely taken away from my original intent of working with a specific service provider.  Make sure that how you're sharing your information with clients who are ready to make a decision isn't a place that invites them to compare other services.

Example 2: Showing 5 More Options for The Same Item
I was searching for a pair of boots on Zappos.com and when I made my decision and was ready to check out.  I was then given a side bar during my check out to look at 5 more types of black boots that didn't initially come up in my first searches.  Now, instead of checking out, I was spending more time debating my initial purchase instead of actually checking out with my purchase.  While it increased my time on the site to look at more variety, it delayed my purchasing decision and made me question what else I might have missed.  I almost didn't buy the boots I was ready to buy because I was taken down the rabbit hole of distraction.  In the photography world, this might be like showing several different flush mount album providers at the same price point and creating client decision distraction, rather than picking the best one for your workflow and business and only making the client decisions about what kind of cover it should have.

Example 3: Showing Products That Aren't Available
Isn't it the worst when you get to a restaurant and see a special or a dish you really like, only to have a server tell you it's no longer available?  Doh!!  Now we're beginning our experience with a disappointment about what's not available and doubting how many other things may not actually be available.  Make sure that any visual or price list you offer a client is current with the actual products you sell.  Trust is a huge factor in feeling good about a purchasing decision and it's important to make sure our offerings build trust rather than undermine it.

What Can You Improve?
Now that I've shared several distracting sales experiences, take a moment to consider the full sales experience your client has with your products and your services.  Are are you building confidence or confusion?  How can you improve the experience for the client?



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.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Thumbtack Bidding & Closing Strategies

Whenever a new service enters the market, there's going to be a learning curve for testing it out, seeing what it's good for and what it isn't good for.  If you haven't heard of Thumbtack before from my previous post on Where to Find Freelance Work, it's a newer bidding system designed to connect service professionals with people looking for services.

Who It Attracts:
People who search the web for service professionals are usually doing so to research information about hiring someone or because they don't have any referrals from trusted sources.  When you consider the person who uses the web to find services, they also may not have hired a service professional before and are starting their search online with services like Thumbtack.  They may have no idea what to expect or how the process works.  Much like ranking at the top of Google, you'll need to sort through a lot of inquiries that may be duds in order to find the ones that become awesome clients who share your work and create more referrals.

If a potential client finds their way to Thumbtack, they can get bids from 5 different "professionals" by making one request in the budget range that they *think* is appropriate and that they can afford.  It's far more effective than trying to search Google because it's a localized result and takes much less time to hear from multiple professionals. This is not to say that they will receive qualified responses if their request seems unreasonable, but there are quite a few pros employing strategies to bring a budget request on board and turn it into a more appropriate professional fee.  I can honestly say that I've used it successfully to find some really wonderful clients, and I think it's a great new service, but it does have a learning curve, which is what I'd like to help you understand before you start using it.

What To Expect:
Based on the info above, you can expect that a lot of people using the service for the first time don't actually know what a professional service should cost.  They aren't awful people and they aren't trying to undercut a professional living.  Thumbtack generally asks for a budget, and if the client doesn't know any better, they may default to the lowest possible option.  This doesn't mean they will choose the lowest bid once they see their options, it simply means they haven't been educated about the differences between low budget and appropriate budget services, and Thumbtack may be their first introduction to the differences between a low-priced service and a professionally priced one.

What The Pro Sees:
The professional sees a new request in their email, on the website, or in their smart phone app with a set of details predetermined by Thumbtack. The professional uses the request information to determine if the job is worth bidding on or not.  The pro pays a fee to make their bid based on a point system, which is similar to what you'd pay if you were using other internet lead services like Google Ad Words or Facebook Ads to secure a new client.  The service is constantly growing and changing, so if you think a request item needs to be added to the service, it's best to suggest it to them.  If they get enough suggestions, than they will be able to add it to the system.

The Bidding Process:
Thumbtack delivers the first 5 bids made by professionals to a client request without regard to relevance, bidded price, or other factors.  Their goal is to deliver service professionals and bids as quickly as possible to the client to help them make a decision quickly.  If the client fails to look at their bids for 48 hours, all bid credits are refunded to the professional bidders.  Once you've made a bid, you then have an opportunity to provide additional information through the Thumbtack messaging system, which keeps most of the client's information anonymous unless the client has provided the info to the bidders.  Clients have the option to get more information before hiring a professional as well, and if they decide to hire someone, they are also prompted to leave a review of that professional's service, which becomes part of the professionals profile.

Tips for Bidding:
Before you begin bidding, create a profile and just sit back for a week and see how many requests come in at different price points and what the categories are- this will help you get a sense of what's happening in your market and what the initial expectations are. As tempting as it would be to bid on everything right away, save yourself some money and get to know what kind of requests are coming in first.  I would also suggest going into Thumbtack knowing that your first bunch of bids are going to be learning experiences rather than paying clients.  It may take you 10-20 bids before you really start to learn what bids will actually pan out into clients who will communicate with you and hire you.  If you feel like you have plenty of business already, than don't waste your time with this system.  It's designed for people who are hungry for more work and can respond quickly to a text message or email notification.  That being said, here are a few suggestions for making the most of your bids:

  1. Create A Specialty Portfolio- If you only want new portrait leads from Thumbtack, set up your profile to focus on that.  If you only want commercial leads, set up your profile for that.  This service works best when you focus tightly on what kind of new clients you want, so make sure you've tailored your Thumbtack profile to reflect that type of work and only selected that niche to receive requests for.  The more relevant the bids are to begin with, the higher chances you'll have of finding the right clients.  People who are seeking portrait work but have portfolios that feature products and vice versa are only confusing the buyer.
  2. Evaluate The Detail of The Bid- At first I couldn't tell which bids were serious or not, but over time I started to notice that serious clients provided more detail in their requests than the clients who never followed up.  This isn't a 100% accurate measure of a serious client, which is why you need to spend a couple weeks just looking at a lot of the requests that come in before you start actually making bids.
  3. Respond Immediately- Once you're ready to start bidding, you have to be lightening fast for some of the service categories.  Portraits and Commercial photography in NYC can receive 5 bids from professionals within 60 seconds.  If you aren't hungry for work and ready to bid, you'll probably find yourself shut out of a lot of opportunities.  That being said, you can increase your chances of seeing requests by setting up text alerts to your phone- just make sure you have an unlimited text plan before doing so.
  4. Choose A Smart Bidding Strategy- You can bid on requests with a fixed price, price per hour, or by saying you need more info.  I would say your best strategy is to give an estimated price up front and then simply explain what that includes in your message, rather than giving no price and saying you need more info.  If you think the request is really a $900 job and they've set their budget to $500, you could use the hourly system to bid $300/hr and suggest that it will be a 3 hour job and provide some additional education.  That way it may at first look like it's under budget, but with the appropriate detail and education of the client, you can walk them into a more appropriate budget for the job.  Likewise, if you think it's a serious client and want to come within their bid range even if it's lower than you'd normally take, you can bid at $500 but then limit the deliverables, the post-production process, or the time for the shoot to help keep it within what's affordable for you and your overhead.  Again, it's better to give a number to open the dialogue, than to provide no number at all.
  5. Ask A Question To Open Dialogue- I generally know how serious a person is about their request if they respond to a critical question included in the quote.  Questions like, what would like to do with the images after you've receive them?  Will you need a stylist or make-up artist, or will you be doing your own styling? A client who isn't serious, simply will not answer the question or provide any response.  A client who is serious will often engage in a dialogue with you and provide more details.  Unfortunately you won't know this until after you've made a bid, but it does give you insight into whether the client will actually move forward or not with the bids they've received.
  6. Follow-Up After Bidding- If 48 hours have passed and you haven't received a response or confirmation of being hired or the request being closed, follow up and ask if they need more information before making a decision.  Offer your email and phone number in case it's easier to have a conversation off of Thumbtack.  Occasionally, following up even a week or two after the request has resulted in a new client.  Some people are making requests as admins or virtual assistants for someone else and need to get approvals or share information before they can move further with a bid.  Following-up shows that you're serious, professional, and willing to help.
  7. Never Lose Your Cool- If you are being "ghosted", meaning that a potential client has suddenly stopped responding, never write back in frustration or anger.  Just be cool if their plans have changed or they ended up going with another option.  Your cool is part of your professionalism and without it, you're taking the whole thing way too personally and expecting way too much out of people who may be exploring a service for the very first time.

Tips for Closing The Sale:
Because these clients have elected to search for a service online, the more you can move the process forward online, the more likely you are to close the sale.  If you can provide an online quote, an online contract, and an online payment option, you're far more likely to close the sale in a timely manner than if you require these clients to take extra steps offline like having an in-person meeting first.

It's also important to remember the client level of skepticism with hiring someone online rather than from a friend or trusted source- so asking for full payment up front may also make it difficult to close the sale.  However, you may be able to ask for a small deposit up front to pay for the travel arrangements or equipment rental to serve the client, but since you are not a trusted service yet, you will be more likely to close the sale with a quote and a contract that allows for payment to be due at the time the service is provided, but before final delivery of the product.  With all clients, I would suggest not providing final delivery of the finished or high resolution product until you've received full payment.

Have more questions?  Leave a comment and I'll do my best to answer them!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Goodbye Pictage - Now What?

Even if you've never been a Pictage member, it's important to note how this closure affects your colleagues, and to be aware that this is always a possibility with any service that you use as a key partner in your business.  For those who haven't been in the loop already, Pictage announced their final closure for Sunday, September 27th, 2015.



Pictage basically helped me launch my business over 10 years ago and I came to rely on them for nearly everything that happened on the back end of my wedding & portrait business.  Billing, hosting, cloud storage, FTP solution to vendors, printing, album designs, customer support, print orders, packaging, drop shipping, credit card transactions, marketing promotions, etc.

Technology has changed a lot since that point.  There were no iPhones 10 years ago.  Twitter didn't exist.  Facebook was just starting as a way for Harvard students to network with each other.  Digital SLRs were just starting to become affordable for the average consumer with a whopping 6.3megapixel files.  Amazon cloud storage didn't exist yet, but Pictage had created an incredibly advanced online solution for film and digital photographers to serve their clients.

The last year has been the worst year for Pictage.  Some people jumped ship early, but I hung on for quite a while, until I finally had a chance to move my archives to a new cloud solution.  The nail in the coffin for me came when Pictage separated off the free album designs and instant wholesale album ordering along with completely removing the one-on-one support for Pro accounts and the raised credit card rates.  Those were the last remaining advantages that Pictage had over many other services, and when they decided to remove those, I decided it was no longer worth keeping.  I upgraded my systems elsewhere and hired an assistant to help take care of the cloud file transfers via FTP from Pictage to Dropbox using MutlCloud.  I'm now finally ready to say goodbye as well and here's how I've changed my business to accommodate not using them anymore... (this is not a recommendation as to what anyone else should use, just my personal choices and examples).

Proofing: PDF of proofs created from the Print module in Lightroom emailed or Dropboxed to clients, which works out better for my commercial clients, since it allows them to keep and store the PDF for future image orders or sharing with suppliers who may also want commercial usage of images.  This allows them to mark any retouching or alteration requests directly on the document to return to me for editing.  If you plan to sell prints online to clients or friends and family of clients, you'll want to consider an online proofing solution mentioned below.

Invoicing, Billing, Contracts, Project Mangement: If you don't plan to have a proofing solution with built-in billing services, check out 17Hats.  It has been super easy to use, very quick to set up, and it facilitates creating as you go so that you don't have to have it all figured out or set up at once.  You can just use what you need first and then add on from there.  It accepts all major credit cards as well as PayPal and adds no additional credit fees.

Printing & Albums: Most of my commercial clients are doing their own printing or sending directly to magazines for publication and require no printed products.  If my former wedding clients were to want prints or albums at this point, I would still be able to source through the highly experienced team and great quality products at Photo Albums Direct, but would also consider many of the other options out there as well.

If you really need a new proofing solution, I think Julia May did a great job of comparing various online proofing and hosting solutions, so if you haven't chosen a next step yet, or are shopping the market for something better than what you have, check out her post here to compare some of the most used services currently available (chart is from the post linked below):
http://petapixel.com/2014/09/07/battle-client-galleries-comparing-10-best-tools-image-proofing-presentation/

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Business Burnout - Ways to Recover

This year I've seen another round of my peers reach a point of serious business burnout.  Working to the point of exhaustion and losing the joy in their creative work.  I totally get it, I was there once too.

At the time, I wanted to give all of it up and find a completely different career.  I searched high and low for something I thought I'd enjoy more.  I picked up some part-time teaching artist gigs to get back into the classroom and public school system in case I wanted a job there again.  I studied and took the MAT's in preparation for applying for a Master's Degree in a completely different field.  I considered the hundreds of other, easier jobs I could do for the same amount of money or more.  Nothing ever felt more awesome, but my business wasn't feeling awesome either, and I felt like I was just getting sicker on a bad carnival ride that never ended.

I learned that by scaling back and doing something else for a while, even just part time on the side, and putting myself in a position of only taking clients I really enjoyed working with, that I was able to regain some of my love back for my own business.  I became reminded of how much freedom I have to create my own schedule and take on as much or as little as I feel like I can handle, I was reminded of all the things that I disliked about working in environments where other people aren't as passionate about their work, and I really started to acknowledge that I didn't actually hate being a photographer or business owner... I just hated how I was running my business.

I had been letting my clients take over and push me around but the clients had very little to do with it.  I hadn't set appropriate boundaries or expectations that provided the space I needed to do the work in a way that didn't stress me out each week.  I had taken more work than I could handle, but didn't outsource or hire to make up for the increased workflow needs.  I had been a terrible boss: giving myself no days off, expecting me to be available to clients 24/7, and not hiring more help when I really needed it.  If I'd been working a traditional job, you can be sure that I would have quit under those working conditions!

Being a small business owner doesn't mean you need to be slave to your business or your clients.  Your clients benefit more when you have the energy and creativity that comes with being well-rested, taking days off each week, making enough time for self-care each day.  You're happier, you're healthier, and little problems bother you less because your bucket isn't overflowing with stress.

When you learn how to take back the control you've had all along, but unintentionally had let slip out of your hands, you start gaining some of your joy back in your career and your life.  A lot of it starts with setting appropriate business expectations and acting accordingly.  That means, if you declare your working hours are 10am - 6pm, you literally turn off your computer and don't accept business calls after 6pm.  Period.  You don't open up your computer by your bedside at 9am.  You get up, take a shower, have some breakfast, and get ready like normal people before you open your computer.

That immediate response time is only expected when you make it a regular habit.  If you begin your client relationship by letting them know how long it generally takes to respond to emails and phone calls, than they can have more appropriate expectations up front.  I tell my clients that email may take 48 hours and I don't usually answer it on the weekends, but phone calls can usually be responded to within the next business day.  Just because they're thinking of some question at 11pm at night, doesn't mean I need to respond to them at 11pm at night.  To help make this easier for myself, I completely removed email from my phone.  If I'm on location, I'm not trying to answer emails on my phone.  I'm far more likely to write something rushed and mistaken when I'm trying to respond between travels and clients than if I put myself in a collected and thoughtful place behind my computer.

When you start taking back your life, you plan vacations and get togethers with friends and family and schedule them into your calendar so that you aren't tempted to schedule every weekend with no recovery.  You decide that there will be no shoots on Monday or Wednesday (or whatever days work for you) because you need a couple office days to catch up on email and post production and you want to get to the gym those nights.  You hire and outsource tasks that you're always procrastinating on, because you recognize that your time and stress level are more important than something someone else can do for $15-$20/hr.

You may have to take a break for a while to be reminded of all the things you love about being in business for yourself.  Of course, if you take a break and find something else far more freeing and awesome in the meantime, than isn't that a better situation than being stuck in a cycle of stress and burnout?

If you can't even fathom taking a break (especially in the middle of the season), start simple by implementing one new boundary or rule at a time.  Like declaring Monday is always a recovery day, or no email in bed, or portrait shoots only on Tuesday and Thursday.  Practice it for several weeks before adding another.  Allow yourself room to mess up and try again.  Be real with yourself when you're putting your mental and physical health on the back burner to serve a client, and then find ways to make up for it in the week ahead by taking a day off, scheduling lunch with a friend, or scheduling more gym time- whatever helps you get your groove back and feel more like a human than a slave again.  As you gradually reclaim the time and space you need to feel rested and recharged each day and each week, you'll gradually get yourself back to a place where you love owning a business again because you're really in full control of your schedule and your life again.

For more related posts see:

How to Stop Running Behind & Feeling Overwhelmed
http://photolovecat.blogspot.com/2012/03/how-to-stop-running-behind-feeling.html

What WON'T You Do?
http://photolovecat.blogspot.com/2012/04/what-wont-you-do.html

Hire a Remote Photo Assistant
http://photolovecat.blogspot.com/2012/03/how-to-hire-remote-photo-assistant.html

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.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Handling Late or Missed Payments

If you've never had a client miss a payment deadline or bounce a payment, either you've been incredibly lucky, or you simply haven't been in business long enough.  Into every business owner's life a little late or missed payment will fall.

It's always best to approach this situation with the mindset that your client really does want to you pay you, but for whatever reason, life has gotten in the way and something slipped through the cracks.  Do not assume the worst before you've given your client plenty of time to resolve the situation.  Start the conversation with openness and understanding, having total faith in your client- this will take you much further than starting off with defensiveness and a combative attitude.

Hopefully you've set up your payments in such a way that final product is only delivered upon full receipt of payment being cleared so that you aren't giving your work away before it's been fully paid for.  If you've already provided your final work before receiving final payment, you may feel a little more antsy and defensive about the collection process, but you still need to approach it with the same level of professionalism and due process.  Chalk this one up to a learning experience in changing your policies so that you aren't in a situation of giving away your work before it's been paid for.

Step 1:  Email a payment reminder (ASAP)

As soon as possible after the missed payment, email a payment reminder with the scheduled due date that was missed.  If you haven't specified a late payment agreement with a fee, provide a grace period.  Offer the client multiple payment options and a direct link if possible to making the missed payment online with a credit/debit card, and offer a deadline by which you expect the payment to be resolved.

In this email, it's also good to state that a $$ late fee will need to be billed for any payments that need to be paid more than ## days after the payment deadline.  This both helps to incentivize quicker payment, as well as providing proof of notice that a late fee was announced for delayed payment processing and continued follow-up on collecting payment.

It's good to allow a full 14 days from payment due date in the event that the client is on a bi-weekly salary schedule, and to give them enough time to resolve any issues with their bank, or time to borrow money from family and friends if necessary.

Here's a sample email:
"Hi Jennifer,

We're looking forward to working with you and wanted to make sure that you had an opportunity to make the payment that was due on January 10, 2015 for the amount of $5,000.  We totally understand that sometimes life gets in the way and sometimes things slip through the cracks.  As a courtesy to you, no additional late fee will be charged if payment can be made before January 24, 2014.  

You're welcome to pay by check, mailed to: 123 Street Ave, City, State, Zip, or by Debit/Credit/PayPal using the link below:  http://linktoinvoice.com

We'll send confirmation as soon as payment has been received and cleared our accounts.  Please note that any payments received after January 24, 2014 may have additional late fees added to the invoice to cover our time and additional service to continue following up on payments not yet received.  

Please email or call us if you feel you need additional time, or have questions about this missed payment: 800-888-88888

All the best,
Service Provider"

Step 2:  Send A Second Email Reminder & Phone Call (7 Days)

If you don't receive payment or response within a few days of your first notice, prepare to send a second notice and make a phone call a few days before the grace period ends.  It's important to make a phone call in order to confirm that all of your emails have been received by the client.  They could be in another country, or their email may not be working, and all payment requests you've sent may not have gone through.  It's important to continue giving the client the benefit of the doubt, until you've confirmed the client has definitely received any of the information that you've sent so far.  In your follow-up email, note that the deadline to pay without additional fees is coming up and you'd like to help your client take care of this as soon as possible.

In your phone call, ask for confirmation about the receipt of the email, and offer to take any payment options over the phone so that it can be taken care of right away.  If you have to leave a message, state that a paper bill will be sent with an additional late fee if payment isn't received by the grace period deadline provided over email.  Thank them for their business and let them know that you really enjoy working with them and totally understand that sometimes things happen, and you want to help them resolve the situation easily.

Step 3: Mail a Paper Invoice After Grace Period (14 Days)

If two weeks have passed and payment has still not been received, it may be time to send a written invoice for the payment.  Again, it's best to give the client the benefit of the doubt.  Perhaps someone ended up in the hospital, or they were on an extended vacation, or who knows what else could have happened.  You'll feel really terrible if you start attacking your client when their spouse or parent just died and they're having a hard time coping with life in general.  Be human.  It goes a lot further toward gaining repeat business and new clients than being a jerk.

In paper, send a copy of the contract, a copy of the emails sent, and notice of when you called.  Just document it all and share the documentation.  Write a letter showing that you're concerned you haven't heard from them and you're willing to set up a payment plan if that is needed.  Offer multiple ways to help your client honor their commitment.  Call within a few days of mailing your letter, once again, to talk on the phone and help create a solution.

Step 4: Determine Your Next Steps (30 Days)

If a client has gone completely missing after 30 days with zero response to any of your attempts to get in touch and resolve the bill, you will need to consider if you can ride out another 30-60 days of sending notices by email, phone, and mail every couple weeks before taking any legal steps.

It's in your best interest professionally and legally, to attempt to resolve any bill collection on your own before attempting to engage the courts or a lawyer.  A lawyer may make the case that they should be involved immediately, but you'll have a much stronger case for any additional fees above and beyond your original contract if you demonstrate how much time you put into attempting to resolve the issue on your own expense first.  I think 90 days is a good amount of time to help a client directly resolve any financial issues, especially if those issues have come about because of death, unemployment, or other sudden life changes.

If your client has remained unresponsive, than you will need to determine your next step of action.  Is this a small claims court issue, something a collection agency can help with, or is this substantial enough to engage legal representation for?  Will the amount for the service you pursue exceed the amount owed?  Consider all of your options before deciding which one may be best.

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.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How to Schedule Appointments Faster

How annoying is it when you need 20 emails to nail down 1 appointment?
OMG.. please stop killing me with email tag just to set up an appointment!
Make a decision so we can all move on with our lives!
BIG peeve of mine.  I really despise wasted time.

Here are a few strategies to STOP wasting your time and get clients and appointments quickly scheduled into your calendar.  These are most effective when you do them right away with a client to help move the client from indecision to decision.  By providing options to meet and discuss details in your initial email, you quickly create action toward closing a sale as soon as possible.

Option A: Provide 3 Specific Date & Time Options

Example:
"I'm so excited to photograph XYZ for you!!  I'd love to meet you over Skype or in person to chat more about XYZ.  Here are the next 3 chances I have to set up a 60min meeting, what works best for you?
3pm Wednesday June 2,
6pm Thursday June 3,
or Tuesday 10am June 8
Thanks,
Anne"

Benefit: 
You control your schedule, you determine when the best times to meet are, you set the expectation of how long the meeting will be, and you provide very specific dates and times that can immediately be checked against the other person's calendar.  It moves the process forward quickly and efficiently to the end goal.  If clients can't make any of those times, they will usually just tell you.  If they go radio silent, it's easy to follow up with, "I'm still looking forward to meeting you!  Here are a few more dates and times that work- and if you need an alternative time, just let me know what works better for you?"  People like to know they've responded appropriately to email, so giving a very specific action item to respond to makes it easier than creating an open-ended situation with no specific response needed.

Option B: Use a Scheduling Software

Example:
"I'm really looking forward to photographing XYZ!  In order to make sure we're on the same page about everything involved, I'd like to set up a time to chat.  Click on the link below to find a time in my calendar that works best for you to schedule 60 minutes to meet in person or over Skype:
http:linktoaschedulingsoftware.com"

Benefit:
If you can't be bothered to look at your calendar and prefer that an online system manage your life and your schedule for you, this is a great option and can even be an automated email that you send along with a price-list.

Appointment Scheduling Softwares:
There are many scheduling softwares out there, some are free, some are paid- but before choosing one- make sure it has all the options you really need.  Ask yourself these questions before deciding:
1. Does it sync with the calendar system you use most often?
2. Does it allow you to block off times when you can't schedule appointments?
3. What information does it allow you to collect when setting the appointment?
4. Does it provide reminders or alerts to you AND the client?
5. Are the appointments and info available offline if needed?
6. Does it need to collect payment for appointments, or integrate with any other payment systems you prefer to use?

Option C: I've tried everything else and nothing is as effective as A or B

Every other method I've tried has always resulted in far more emails and indecision than when I've just said here's what I've got for you- what can fit your schedule?  Clients deeply appreciate that I am not wasting their time with additional back and forth emails.  Clients also appreciate my time more when they see how limited it is by only providing very specific days and times to meet.

I prefer Option A because it's always based on what my schedule looks like right now at this point in time.  I've had mixed success with online calendar systems.  The worst thing is when you set up a recurring calendar with the hope that this will help you streamline everything so you can send an automated response, but because your schedule changes frequently and sometimes you forget to update the software's calendar, haven't had a chance to put something important in your calendar, or it doesn't sync properly with your calendar, someone may end up scheduling a time that you're actually not available and then you have to go through a rescheduling process.

Another alternative that I did not mention, but seems to work well for a friend of mine is to hire a Virtual Assistant to make scheduling on your behalf with access to your calendar.  This is only effective if your clients tend to answer the phone.  Not all do, which is why I continue to prefer Option A or B.


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 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.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Offering Photography Internships : Dos & Don'ts

There are people in your immediate area who are hungry to learn the craft of photography, design, freelancing, or being a creative entrepreneur without making the financial investment in a school program.  They're willing to commit 6 months of their time, once or twice a week for several hours, to learn the craft, art, and business of photography.  I've been amazed by how many applications I receive for internships, and that they far exceed the number of applications I receive for PAID positions!  It baffles my mind, really, but it also demonstrates that there are many people who are very hungry to learn from you and want to do it in a low-risk exchange for their time.

If you've never done an internship yourself or hired an intern, I suggest brushing up on what the US Department of Labor considers an internship and how it's different from a paid position:
http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.htm

Essentially, an internship is always of greater benefit to the intern than it is to the company.  In my experience, and in the ways that I've designed my internships, this is definitely true.  I don't gain any additional time from taking on an intern, I simply trade the time I give them for the time they give me in return and it ends up being a net zero on my time.  In many ways, I'm mentoring my potential competition.  I get a few extra hands, but those hands may also come with a lot of time explaining things and quite a bit of hand-holding.    Ultimately it is a mentoring relationship, and you have to honor that relationship by really treating it as a learning experience.

What I have gained from having interns in my business is a better understanding of who I am as a photographer and a business owner.  If you're a reflective business owner always striving for improvement, you can't help but learn a lot about yourself in the process.  You'll learn what tasks you can give to someone else, and what tasks are critical for you to retain control over.  You'll learn what you can train someone to do and what is so innate and difficult to train that you have to pre-select someone for (like their visual aesthetic).  You'll learn how much you can or can't rely on others and when it's best for you to handle a situation versus anyone else.  It's a great way to figure out exactly what you need to hire skilled people for and what you can share with someone who's still learning.  If that's something you're interested in, read on about what to do and not to do regarding interns:

DO:

  • Have an application process and deadline for applications.
  • Post your internship opening on your blog, Facebook page, and in your newsletter.  Start with the people who already know you and follow your work, as they are your best referral source for finding talented people near you.
  • Set a regular time and date for the internship to take place, either decided and advertised in advance, or negotiated with your intern after they've been selected.  I've found that a 3-6month commitment is a good period of time for an internship and that 4-8 hours per week is ideal.
  • Consider how much travel cost will be involved for your intern and make the arrangements easier on them when possible.
  • Be flexible with interns, but also have defined cancellation notice periods for both you and the intern in case changes need to be made last minute.
  • Create an agreement that defines the days, times, cancellation policy, non-disclosure agreement, and basic expectations of the internship so that there is something in writing that outlines the expectations.
  • Offer to cooperate with schools and universities that need documentation for the internship.  It's often just a series of surveys about the student and a few paragraphs about their work with you.
  • Have regular check-in points during the internship to make sure the student is learning what they came to learn, and that you are providing that for them in the experiences and tasks you share.
  • Offer internship perks like borrowing equipment, going on important assignments, and reviewing proposals or client emails that deal with tricky situations.
  • Feed interns.  Don't hold them hostage for more than a few hours without feeding them.  Hangry interns make very cranky office mates.
  • Create additional space for an intern to share your desk or your office. Whether you work from home or from a studio space, just create a little extra space.  Creating a space helps interns know that they are special and important to you.  Warm fuzzies make happy office mates.
  • Allow interns to understand the financial aspects of running a business.  When this information is hidden from them, they may walk away with a glamorous view of what it's like to be a freelancer without understanding the real costs and expenses.  If you're at all concerned about your intern becoming your competition, sharing the financial realities makes it more clear as to whether they'll pursue photography as a hobby, business, or work for someone else.

DON'T:

  • Give an intern essential tasks in your business.  Not only are you setting them up for failure if they don't have the experience or training, but you're also putting your own business at risk.
  • Hide information from interns.  Trust is essential in this type of working relationship.  A non-disclosure agreement should be all you need to establish a code of trust between the two of you.  The more they learn about the business, the better informed they'll be in all of their future photography decisions, which creates a healthier photography community in general. 
  • Expect an intern to pick-up understanding just by watching you.  You need to explain a lot of what you're doing, how you're doing it, and why you're doing it along the way before an intern can really understand how to do something for you.
  • Lose patience.  Your professionalism toward your intern is just as important as your professionalism with your clients, and your intern will share the emotional experience of with you well beyond the time you spend together even if they disclose nothing about your business.
  • Take an intern for granted by expecting an intern to do something you'd normally pay someone else to do.  If you'd normally pay for it, you should be paying your intern for that task as well.
  • Forget that an internship is a mentorship not an apprenticeship.
  • Assume that every intern is going to turn around and create a full time business with what they've learned.  Many don't become your competition because they see how steep the learning curve really is once they've had a chance to experience it at the fullest.  Sometimes knowing more actually means that people decide being a photographer isn't the right thing for them, and your internship is a way for them to experience that without making a huge investment in gear, mistakes in their own business, or in an education that doesn't result in a job opportunity.
  • Get upset if they do become your competition.  If you can, try to hire them if you feel like they're a great fit, and hopefully you've educated them about why it's easier for them to work in your business than to go out on their own.

Anne Ruthmann is an architecture & 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 freelancers find creative and smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

How to Automate Online Marketing & Social Media w/ Mike Allebach

automate marketing social media mike allebach brandsmash


Since emerging on the wedding & portrait photography scene, Mike Allebach has created strong online brand recognition around himself as the Tattooed Bride Photographer.  His Allebach Photography Facebook Business Page has over 21,000 likes and his TattooedBridePhotoGuy Instagram Feed has nearly 5,000 followers.

When I personally met Mike in March of 2014, he had just given his first WPPI Platform Talk with Jaleel King and they were so popular that they were invited back a second time to talk about going viral and getting press.  Getting press is awesome, but I wanted to know how he MANAGES that constant marketing cycle that's needed to expand marketing reach?  Is he working with a social media manager?  A publicist?  How does he have time for it all while still serving clients?

On Thursday May 7th at 4pm EST, Mike shares one of his most powerful automated workflow solutions for managing his brand and growing his following.  This will be hosted as a LIVE webinar demonstration of how he actually does it as well as a Q&A session for attendees.  No recording will be available for review, so I do hope that you can carve time out of your schedule to attend!

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER FOR THE WEBINAR

An email reminder will be sent to your registration email one day before the meeting and one hour before the meeting.


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 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.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Pictage: Should I Stay or Leave?

Pictage's CEO, Mike Grant, finally released a full explanation of what's been going on with the company over the last 12 months and what the changes mean for the months and years ahead.  Personally, I'm relieved that I'm finally hearing from the CEO, because it's been far too long since he has made any public statements about these changes, why they are occurring, and what it means for the future.  To have this knowledge and know what I need to plan for is better than not having any knowledge.  If you haven't seen the announcement, I've posted a link at the bottom.  Here's my take on what this means:

If you are NOT a Pictage member, here's what it means for you:

  • As a professional photographer with a resale number, you now have direct access to high quality professional prints, canvases, and albums through Photo Albums Direct, a new spin-off company that separates the Pictage printed services that used to only be offered to its members,  by using the ROES ordering system.  If you already have these services in place, you probably have no desire to switch. If you don't have these services in place, read on to see why you might want this one.
  • Non-members also have free access to the FREE Album Templates and FREE Album Design Service that used to only be available to Pictage members.  Having a free album designer can save you up to $400 on each album.
  • Non-members have always had the ability to use ShootQ, which was once combined with Pictage service, and has now separated again
  • Pictage has changed their service offerings and tiered packages, which may work better for you if you need a more hands-off retail gallery or if you're frustrated that you're paying more than you thought you'd be monthly under your current system: https://discover.pictage.com/pricing/


If you ARE a Pictage member, here's what it means for you:

  • SERVICES: Pictage is separating into several different companies: ShootQ already separated, Photo Albums Direct will be the future source for all wholesale orders placed by photographers, and Pictage will remain as an online gallery that offers P3 payment billing plans, unlimited galleries, and unlimited image storage* (still need confirmation on how long this unlimited image storage will last now that they're starting to take down archives), and online galleries with regular sales tax management for client orders, direct shipping to clients, the excellent email campaign marketing that has made their photographers additional funds during holidays and anniversaries, and the private community where only members get to vent and help each other solve problems.
  • DISCONTINUED SERVICES (updated 6/18/15): Pictage recently announced their full chart of continued and discontinued products and services direct through Pictage galleries.  Some of the services that I found to be the most convenient and unique to Pictage versus every other service out there, are now being completely eliminated.  I'm pretty sure this is one of the things that will put the nail in the coffin for Pictage's existing membership, and perhaps the future of the company entirely: http://www.pictage.com/p-hub/uncategorized/pictageproductlist/
  • RETAIL GALLERIES: If you're like me and have 10 years worth of images stored with Pictage, and have always relied on them to keep those images online, you NEED TO ACT IMMEDIATELY regardless of staying or leaving Pictage on the request to Return Images Galleries to you by April 29, 2015, or you may lose your archived galleries completely from the server.  Personally, I will be requesting that ALL of my galleries become available for the Image Return so that I can have more than 30 days to make a decision about ANY of them, as well as having MORE than 30 days to download them to another cloud storage option if needed.  This part of the changes is likely to cause the most panic among members, but your galleries should be safe if you take the time to act as they have requested.
  • P3 BILLING: One of my favorite time-saving features with Pictage was being able to use the P3 payment system rather than having yet another site to jockey orders and payment processing through.  Being able to take credit cards is a huge advantage, and being able to spread payments out over time with pre-approved payment plans and automatic reminders and billing makes it easier on everyone, especially long-term wedding clients.  Good news, if you keep your Pictage membership, you still get this service as well.  The change is that Pro Members are no longer afforded the awesomely low 1.5% that was well under every other billing service available.  They are still providing a small discount at 2.5% for credit card processing, which keeps the option to do billing in a Pro Account lower than finding another third party solution at the typical 2.9% with transaction fees or 3% available in almost any billing service. 
    • If you accept LESS than $2,000 a month in payments using P3, use the Starter Plan as you need it because it's still cheaper than many of the other gallery options out there.
    • If you accept LESS than $10,000 a month but MORE than $2,000 per month in payments using P3, the Premium Plan is for you unless you have multiple photographers.
    • If you accept MORE than $10,000 a month in payments with P3, and/or you have multiple photographers with their own gallery sites and access, than the Pro Plan is going to be the best option to save on monthly fees and credit card fees.
  • ALBUMS: Having the separated wholesale from retail services is kind of a pain in the butt when we've been so used to being able to do everything in one place from the retail gallery.  I'm also going to really miss having the Online Album Design service available to me, rather than having to volley back and forth with an Album Designer for small changes, even if that design service is still free, and the new albums are actually less expensive.  However, this is no more challenging or difficult than every other Album company or online gallery service out there, unfortunately.  This was one of the biggest advantages that Pictage had over its lab competition, and they just pulled one of their hidden ace cards out from under their own winning hand.  In the end, you're still probably better off with the free design service included with this newly separated company rather than having to do the design on your time or hiring out for the design services on top of the payment for the albums.  As of this posting, the album pricing is publicly available, which I'm not a fan of for any wholesale-based professional-only product since it does not reflect the time and creative investment of the professional imagery that fills the pages of those albums.  Good news- more profitability with these new album prices.  If you plan to continue using Pictage and the high quality albums they offer, I would suggest finding a Pictage buddy or PUG Group nearby and making a date to figure out the new wholesale ordering system together.  The reality is that even if you decided to leave Pictage, you'll need to spend time learning a whole new system anyway that may have it's own set of unknown limitations and problems, so decide what is going to be the most efficient use of your time both short term and long term.
This covers the biggest changes to the service as I understand it from the long extended description that was provided in today's open letter about the changes, please visit the site and email Pictage directly for any further clarification.  If you think I've gotten some info wrong, please let me know so I can correct it immediately.

Your Photo Lovecat,
Anne Ruthmann

PS. If you want my personal take on how I'll be handling this situation for my own account, or want to share how you use Pictage and see what my assessment would be for you, click on the comments link below to read more.... the story continues...


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 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.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

My No Portfolio, No Website Experiment

If you'd prefer to listen, rather than read, I've included a 10min audio file so you can listen along:


Last May I got so sick of listening to myself say, "I need to update my portfolio- the work on my website is over 7 years old!" that I actually decided to completely eliminate my website portfolio.  Yep.  Just deleted the whole thing and reduced my beautifully dense portfolio of weddings and portraits to just a one page, no gallery, about.me page with a photo of my face, one architectural image to suggest my new architectural work, and some text with links:



I actually tried to update my portfolio before deciding to completely eliminate it.  I'd worked with Kristi at Editors-Edge to refine the last 10 years of my wedding work down to several sample weddings and some themed galleries that were perfectly in line with the type of weddings I loved photographing, while also showing what made my style unique.  She helped me map it all out and finally got me to a point where I could stop spinning my wheels and just put my work out there.  It was all ready to go and yet, I STILL couldn't make myself do it.  Something inside me had such a powerful resistance and wall around putting my wedding work back out there that I just eliminated the whole thing.

When I took stock of how my business was shifting since moving to NYC, it became clear that my happy growth path here was going to be in the commercial architecture & lifestyle world rather than the wedding world.  The only problem was that I didn't have ENOUGH architectural imagery that I felt proud of yet to put up a portfolio I wanted to share, so I put up this simple one page site instead and sent out portfolio material as it was requested and as it applied to the client who wanted to see it.

What happened next is actually quite amazing.

Let me caveat all of this by saying that, thankfully, I'd already secured a steady interior photography contract that I could easily rely on even if no one else booked me.  That contract was the turn-key that helped me dive so fully into architecture and interiors.  While the money wasn't anything to brag about, it was frequent work, sustainable, and allowed me to work in my preferred methods, times, days, and locations while still giving me the flexibility to take better clients and opportunities as they came along.

I looked at that contract as essentially getting paid to walk 3-5 miles a day and meet my local neighbors while taking photos of their homes- which has also led to some interesting follow-up work, but not as much as you might think.  This was a win-win-win for me, the company, and the clients I shot for, but I knew that leaning too heavily on one contract was too small of a funnel for any growth.  I knew it was crucial for my continued growth and success to market myself beyond that steady contract.  Knowing that, and how little time and effort I was willing to invest in my online presence, I decided to stop relying on my website or any other online listing to do the work, and decided to take my marketing efforts off-line.

Luckily, I live in a place that would be considered a bee-hive of networking opportunities.  You can literally find networking events every morning and night of the week here.  It might cost you to attend them all, but if you want to hit the pavement with networking, there's no better bang for your time or buck than NYC, especially if you're working in a commercial context.  Even if you live in a small town, there are great networking opportunities to be found, because I've lived in those rural podunk towns too.  Over the years I've learned that networking and developing personal relationships is ESSENTIAL if you're a service business, especially one that generates its greatest income from word-of-mouth referrals.  There are other ways that don't require as much person-to-person time, but you'll just have to spend a lot more money on advertising.

Anyway, here's what happened when I eliminated my traditional photography website...

I actually received 3x MORE traffic to anneruthmann.com while being hosted on about.me than before on my own server.  Why?  Because the about.me platform encourages searching other pages and finding similar connections, which ended up getting more eyes to my site.  Cool beans, right?!  Well, sorta.

We all know that eyes on our sites are only worth something if they convert into paid clients.  I did another thing I would never recommend anyone doing- I put a lengthy contact form on my site that required at least 5 clicks to get to submitting your contact info, and even requested that you set up a specific appointment time and day to actually call me, not just send me an email!  Want to know how many people actually took the time to fill out that form over the last 10 months?  1.  One person actually made it all the way to filling out that contact form, despite having great traffic to my site.  Want to know how many people said they called me direct from my website? 1- and it was a sales call for advertising.

Let me summarize - I gave you no portfolio to look at online and I made it ridiculously difficult to get in touch with me!  To many people, this would appear to be a total business killer.  However, that's because too many people rely so heavily on online marketing to drive traffic and new contacts to their inbox instead of focusing on personal relationships and existing contacts.  I essentially flipped the system on its head and made it impossible to get into my inbox.  You literally had to know someone who knew me personally in order to contact me, and I can tell you that most of those people don't have my business card.  They either had my email or my phone number, and they would have to be able to find it in their phone or in their email if they were going to refer you to me.

What's kind of amazing is that as word of mouth traveled that I was focusing on architecture and interior photography, all the people I had personal connections with made me their point person.  I'm pretty sure half of them hadn't even noticed that I didn't have a portfolio of my work online!  However, because I came highly recommended from a trusted source, even the inquiries were willing to look beyond the lack of website material and simply requested I send them samples directly.  

So, how many new commercial clients did I book this way for something I had no portfolio to represent after just recently moving to this city?  10.  That may not seem like much until you understand that some of those clients became recurring contracts that included multiple shoots over the course of the year, some turned into extended licensing deals, and some have already resulted in more referred work and extended contracts for the year ahead.  Could I have booked more if I'd had a more refined portfolio online or made my contact form much easier?  Probably.  Will I book more in the coming year?  Yes, but it will not be because I will have a new portfolio online (eventually).  It will most likely be because I spent so much time offline, pounding the pavement, shaking hands, and reaching out to help people.

The lesson of this story is, don't expect your website do all of the talking for you.  You can have all the SEO in the world sending thousands of visitors to your website, get hundreds of inquiries a week, and still find that the majority of clients who actually pay to work with you, come from word-of-mouth, rather than online marketing.  So, get out from behind the computer and meet the people who like to make connections.  Get to really know the people who talk to your clients before you ever do.  Figure out who you can help and how you can help them- not because you expect a direct return, but because you enjoy your work and love serving others.  When you love what you do, it shows when you talk about your work, and it attracts people who value your expertise and passion for your craft.

I hope this has been an inspiration for you, and encourages you to take action in your own business to make more happen offline instead of relying purely on your online presence.
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