Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Stop Being Taken Advantage of by Demanding Clients

Into every creative's life a demanding client will fall.  Many creatives have a hard time drawing a line in the sand when it comes to working with demanding clients, which is why your fee and business should be structured in such a way that you anticipate every client will eventually become a demanding client.  The more you anticipate and practice responding to requests outside of your agreement, the easier it becomes.

The demanding client lifecycle generally looks something like this:
1. Client negotiates with Creative for reduced rate
2. Creative agrees based on something Creative thinks they'll gain from working with Client
3. While Creative is engaged in work, Client makes little requests here and there
4. Creative agrees to little requests, because they are at first easy to accommodate
5. Client turns little requests into big demands on Creative
6. Creative feels stuck because they have previously honored little requests without additional fees, and haven't implemented a structure for being compensated for additional requests
7. Client gets frustrated and more demanding that Creative is becoming less responsive
8. Creative gets frustrated that Client is becoming more demanding
9. Client thinks Creative is a flake and unprofessional
10. Creative thinks Client is evil and inconsiderate

If you take steps early enough in the process, a client may never reach the point of being considered a demanding client.

Here are the solutions to avoid clients becoming demanding at every step of the process:

- Don't agree to work for any less than full rate. It is far better to charge full rate, and have the opportunity to do a tricky job over again, than to work for a reduced rate with a client who expects full rate service.

- Have a written agreement for exactly what is delivered and how it is delivered.  This needs to make it blatantly clear to the client what is being delivered in what time frame and how many revisions will be allowed on work.

- Prepare client expectations that additional requests have a working fee attached.  By anticipating that the client WILL make requests above and beyond the work you have contracted for, you can be prepared by offering either an hourly rate for additional requests, or a revision rate.

- Notify client immediately when their requests fall outside of original agreement.  As SOON as a client makes a request that falls outside of your agreement, the client needs to know and be presented with options for moving forward.

At any point in the process, I suggest using this wording with a client to address additional requests:
 "This request will require additional time and expense that weren't planned into the original quote.  I've included an invoice to cover the time and expense to honor this request.  If you'd like to add any additional requests at this time, please let me know so that I can be even more efficient in addressing additional requests."

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. With over a decade 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, June 7, 2016

Networking Tips on the Click Cartel Podcast

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of getting to know Christian Grattan in advance of his Click Cartel Podcast being released to the public.  He asked me if I'd share some tips for starting photographers, and I have to say he was GREAT at asking all the right questions of digging into the nitty gritty of business details on networking and sales.  That is definitely one of the benefits of being interviewed by someone in the same industry, and even in the same market, because they already know the challenges and can really dig into how other people overcome them.  It was a great show, and I probably reveal way too much for my own good... but I think I can leave the world a better place knowing that this will absolutely, most definitely, help someone else strengthen their own business.  Check it out now on his blog, and subscribe to all the podcast episodes on iTunes...

Visit the Click Cartel Site:

Subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes:

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Cost to Start Photography Business

I've previously shared what the recurring overhead costs of a photography business can be, but many people want to know what the investment would look like if they started from scratch, so here's a breakdown of costs I would expect someone starting a photography business to incur...

Liability Protection: $600- $800
This usually includes $1-3million of liability insurance to work on-location for events, portraits, and commercial assignments.  Some venues require a certificate of insurance before you are allowed to enter the building with photography equipment of any kind.

Photographic Equipment: $4000 - $9000
In order to be a professional, you can't just have one camera, because if that one camera fails on the job, than you've lost the rest of the job you showed up to do, so every professional needs two working cameras for every job.  There are a lot of other things you also need duplicates of as well: backup batteries x2, extra memory cards x2, backup lighting x2, additional lenses to cover a variety of focal lengths.

Computer Equipment: $2000
While it's tempting to cheap out or hack a computer together, most professionals find that they need a well designed machine that is optimized for processing speed and large storage transfers.  On top of that, there are usually hundreds of gigabytes of photos taken each year which also need backup drives, and perhaps even online cloud storage solutions in order to make sure that images are safe even when drives fail.

Software: $400
Most photographers use Lightroom and/or Photoshop to process their images, along with several other softwares to manage their accounting and/or customer service.  You may also want a website, custom domain name, hosting, etc.

Accountant: $400
While you can do accounting on your own, you will come out much further ahead in many different ways if you have a professional relationship with an accountant who helps keep your business on good financial and tax grounding.

Accessories: $500
A camera bag to protect your gear and help you travel with it safely, a random new lighting accessory, a reflector, light stands and umbrellas for your flash, or other items you may need beyond the basics.

Education: $2000
While this could be an optional expense because there are many free resources like this lovely blog available to help beginning photographers, I find that people who are in the first few years of a photography business tend to spend a lot on education.  Even if they went to school for photography, they quickly realize that there are many more things to learn and understand in the real world that weren't exactly taught or relevant in their university setting.

While everyone's initial costs can be vastly different based on the rate that they acquire equipment before they start a business, this provides a guide for those who want to be prepared and plan ahead.

This brings the initial investment total to somewhere between $7900 - $15,100... and the recurring annual expenses may be closer to around $16,000 before taking a salary from your business.  If you take out a loan to purchase equipment in the first year- remember that many of your initial jobs will simply go to paying back the cost of investing in your business.  This is also why many people do photography part-time while working other jobs.  If you have a solid business structure and profit margin, you should make enough in your first two years to pay back your initial investment so that you can start seeing a profit in your second or third year, even if you work part time.  Otherwise, photography will be a very expensive hobby until you cross that profitable threshold in your business and finance management.

That being said, you don't need all of this equipment to begin building a portfolio of work that you create for yourself before taking clients, and you don't have to invest in everything at once.  In fact, its best to create a portfolio and expand your creativity with equipment that you already have, and then add equipment needs slowly and only as necessary.  Your eye should be able to make a great images that people want to purchase regardless of what equipment you use.  However, if you're planning to charge someone else to create images for them, backup equipment and liability insurance will be part of the professional expectations.

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, May 10, 2016

Do I Need To Be On Snapchat?

Every time a new fad social media thing comes on to the market, we all have to ask the question, is this something good for me and my business?

The questions I always start with are:
1. Are my current clients using it and inviting their friends to join?
2. How is it currently being used to add value to my clients?
3. Is it aligned with how I want to present my work to others?
4. How effective are you on the other social media channels you're already using?

Right now, the people I see joining snapchat are my colleagues, but not my clients.  Photographers tend to be early adopters and heavy social media users, so that makes sense.  Does this mean clients will follow?  Maybe, but also maybe not.

We thought they'd follow to Twitter, but Twitter has remained quite a B2B environment with most people using twitter for spot news, PR releases, and brief public announcements or questions among other B2B users and marketers.

Did they follow to Instagram?  Only a few here and there- mostly photographers and clients who were already visual artists or business owners at some level and had enough visual content and loveliness that they wanted to share and see from others.

Facebook & LinkedIN are still the two most frequently used social networking sites by people who have jobs and purchasing power.  How are you leveraging those networks- where there's already active engagement for business and professional use?  If you aren't leveraging those networks, how is adding another one going to be any different?

More noise in more places does not equate to more business or more success.  If you aren't already "killing it" and attracting new clients through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Periscope, or YouTube, than you definitely do not need to be using SnapChat for your business or personal life.  Feel free to prove me wrong and then create your own success story of how you landed new clients on snapchat to share with everyone here on this blog.  I love a good success story!

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 InstagramTwitter or Facebook.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Why $300 Should Be A Professional Photography Minimum

I've run the numbers from here to the moon on what it takes to operate as a professional photographer for myself in multiple areas of the world, as well as for dozens of other photographer owners who've consulted with me, and one thing remains the same no matter how the numbers are crunched... it never makes sense to take a gig/job/headshot/portrait for less than $300.

The biggest reason for this bottom line is to make sure you've covered your costs, backup, insurance, and fail-safe options that allow you to operate as a professional, no matter what life throws at you.

For example, let's say a photographer charges $200 for a portrait shoot and they've collected half up front upon booking the shoot, but two days before the shoot, their apartment is robbed and camera equipment is gone.  The insurance deductible to replace everything is $500, but the photographer's credit cards are maxed out, and they were counting on this portrait shoot to provide a little cushion to get by.  The client can't reschedule their shoot because they need the images for a conference presentation in two days.  The photographer doesn't want to disappoint the client, so they need a back-up solution, and fast!!

The photographer figures they can use computers at the local library for processing images and uploading, but since the camera and lenses are in some thief's car trunk, they have to rent a kit to be delivered the next day.  How much will that cost?  About $240 for a very basic kit without any additional lighting, which is $40 more than the client is even paying for that $200 shoot!  On top of that, the photographer needs to pay for mileage, parking, and the online services to help make that shoot happen.  That $200 shoot may also have included all of the files as well, so there won't even be additional sales on the back-end to help pay the insurance deductible to replace equipment.  The price point has created a no-win situation for the photographer who can't operate as a professional and a disappointing situation for the client who counted on the professional they hired.

When creatives charge less than it takes to even RENT the gear needed to do the job, it puts the creative business in an UNPROFESSIONAL position of not being able to serve a client who has expected professional service.  When not charging enough to have easy access to backup equipment, is almost better to not charge anything at all, because at least then it won't attract the expectations that come with being a professional.  Once money is exchanged, a professional exchange is also assumed.

Now yes, there is always an exception.  For example, photographing 4 Rental Property Shoots for $75 each in one day with minimal post-production, which still ends up at $300 for one day of work.  Or doing 10 mini sessions at 15min each for $50 each in the same time and location, with the same amount of post-production as it would normally take for one $500 session.  Most often the frequent exception to the $300 minimum is in the case of guaranteed volume within the same day.

There is one more exception for the advanced professional - those who are really great with post-shoot sales can consistently take a $0 - $200 booking fee and turn it into an average of $1200 in revenue during a sales process after the shoot, with plenty of sales acumen to make up for a client who walks out and pays $0.  When a creative knows how to generate more revenue after a shoot, even when the starting price is low, they are also probably operating a business in such a way that they're already covered for emergency situations from previous sales.  However, this is not the case for most people who are in the under $300 category.

Now, when I wrote about this bottom line in another group, someone mentioned that they thought this would be considered industry "price fixing".  There always is and always will be room for discount pricing, sales, specials, and portfolio building individuals who charge less than a professional rate.  It's impossible to fix prices in an industry with millions of independent sellers.  However, it shouldn't deter individuals from establishing what would be considered a professional pricing strategy.

Being a professional means operating under the professional expectations of delivering your service and product no matter what life throws at you.  If you can't afford to rent all of the gear you need with the price that you charge, than it's time to take another look at your pricing and consider what it would cost to operate professionally in the face of unplanned circumstances.

Take Action: Know your rental options and costs in advance by pricing out a rental package that would be needed if everything you needed to do your job was stolen.  Below are some of the most popular national photographic rental companies: 

Lens Pro To Go
Based in Concord, MA

Borrow Lenses
Based in San Fransisco, CA & Boston, MA

Adorama Rentals
Based in New York, NY

Please take a moment to share this information with others to help inform the general public about what it takes to operate as a professional photographer so that together we can raise the expectations of what being a professional means in the photography industry.

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. With over 12 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, April 19, 2016

Is Social Media HURTING Your Business?

Companies do a great job selling us on the idea that Social Media outlets help our business by keeping us in touch with our client base or introducing us to new clients- but what about all of the ways that it might actually be hurting a business?  See if you fall into any of the social media traps that are more harmful than helpful for your business....

1. Wasting Time
Have you ever opened your phone, Facebook feed, instagram feed, pitnerest feed, snapchat, etc. first thing in the morning, or during a break in the afternoon to think you were just going to spend a quick minute checking in to see what everyone was up to, only to find yourself endlessly scrolling and eventually wasting an entire hour looking at nothing particularly important?  How many emails could you have answered in that time?  How many solid work tasks could you have completed instead that would have actually helped your business, rather than mindlessly looking at whatever other people post?

2. Feeling Less Successful
Even though we all know how deceiving social media can be with regards to only showing the highlights of someone's life, we still end up finding ourself fall into the trap of jealousy by comparing our real life to someone else's social media stream.  For many people, these comparisons aren't empowering and motivating, instead they feel self-defeating and irritating because we "think" someone else is doing better or living a cooler situation based solely on their social media stream.  If you can't stop yourself from having those feelings, than the only solution is to cut off the source of that jealousy until you can do the inner work to return to the social media stream with more clarity and confidence.  Constantly comparing yourself to others does nothing helpful for yourself or your business, unless you're using it as positive fuel and examples of how you can move yourself forward.

3. Expecting Social Media to Bring Clients
Social media may appear like a great place to connect and stay in touch with clients, but how many of your social media followers are people who are really paying you for your work?  Too often someone thinks that if they just do all the right "social media" things, they'll bring in more clients, and that's not alway the case.  Social media may have a global reach, but your business may only have a local reach, and if you're too busy connecting with people who aren't going to hire you in a another part of the world to take time connecting with people in your local area who can actually hire you, than you're expecting social media to do the work that you should be doing in person with networking events and local face-to-face connections.  Look at your actual sources of income and where those clients came from - nurture those connections first and foremost before investing heavily in social media.

If you've ever felt like you're drowning in the social media lives of others and not fully living the beautiful life you have, it may be a good time to take a social media vacation by removing all those social apps from your phone to see how differently life feels when you aren't trying to keep up with what everyone else is doing.  It's amazing how much more of your own reality you can start to appreciate when you aren't comparing it to everyone else's social media reality.  You may even find that you may actually want to connect with people more in person, to see what's real and true for them at a person-to-person level rather than a "what I want the world to think about" level.  If you've never tried a social media vacation, it may be time to really step back and consider how taking a break may actually be more helpful to your business and life than always being tied into the stream.

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. With over 11 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 InstagramTwitter or Facebook... but only if you aren't taking a social media vacation... ;-)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

10 Ways to Benefit From Down-Time

When I started as a freelancer, I didn't know how to make the most of the space between clients.  I was either "on" and happily working on client projects or "off" and being a sloth or stressing about not having client projects.  It took me a long time to really learn how to effectively use my "off" time so that it became "on" time, even if it happened in long stretches.

If you're finding yourself in the middle of an "off-client-project" time, here are 10 things you could be doing to stay "on" in your creative business:

1. Trying Out A New Skill or Software
Testing a new skill or software is far easier and less frustrating when you aren't trying to meet a deadline.  If you've put off learning something new, but know it might help your workflow, it's best to catch up on your skills in between clients rather than in the middle of projects.

2. Building Your Portfolio With Personal Creative Work
The work that gets the most buzz is rarely work that created for a client.  It's often an extreme or highly artistic vision, fully cultivated by an artist that creates the most buzz and award-winning creative work.  Pushing your creative limits helps keep you feeling creative, even when client requests demand that you stay inside the box more than you'd like.

3. Attending Workshops / Watching Educational Videos
People who have been creatives for decades know that there's always more to learn, always another perspective to try, and always more knowledge to learn from.  If you're ever feeling stale or out of date, ramp up your awareness about what else is going on by tuning into the latest educational offerings.

4. Meeting With Colleagues & Previous Clients
It's often said that your "network is your net worth" and the way to cultivate that network is through regularly staying in touch with the people you've enjoyed working and interacting with in the past.  Who doesn't love receiving an invitation to hang out, especially when someone else is willing to pick up the tab?

5. Attending Networking Events
It may be impossible to ask a new client or connection out to lunch if they don't know you yet, but it's not impossible to get to know them during a networking event and create a connection that last beyond one event.  Search Eventbrite, MeetUp, and Facebook for events on topics that you're passionate about to find people who might be interesting to collaborate with.

6. Getting Healthy
If you're a freelancer who tends to sacrifice your health while working for clients during intensive projects, than you really need to bring back more healthy-time into your down-time, so that you can return to each future project with more health and resilience than you had before.  

7. Portfolio Organization
Have you ever had a new client ask for examples of a project you know you've done in the past, but couldn't find easily due to a lack of organization or a need to update your portfolio?  The more you can streamline access to your work for future inquiries, the more likely you are to land the next prospect.

8. Seek Publicity Opportunities
Have you wanted to be featured in a favorite website, blog, or magazine?  Spend time pulling together the required materials and developing a pitch for a feature that will drive the traffic of your target market back to your work.

9. Volunteer
Some amazing connections and opportunities can come from volunteering for something that you care about.  Pick an organization that is aligned with your values and find ways to donate your time or talent during your down-time.  When done with an open heart and desire for something greater than yourself, volunteering feels good in a way that goes beyond a simple working relationship.  

10. Spend Time With Loved Ones
Freelancers may often sacrifice time with loved ones in order to serve clients or get projects done on deadline, so it's important to take time to fuel the relationships that are there for you no matter what your work load looks like.  We have precious little time to nurture the closest relationships in our lives, and every little bit of positive guilt-free time together helps strengthen our spirit and ground us in ways that client and colleague relationships cannot.  

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, April 5, 2016

Creating a Business Bank Account

All too often, beginning or part-time creatives get into trouble with money management because they don't separate their business income and expenses from their personal expenses.  This problem can be compounded if you share an account with a spouse or family member who isn't part of your business, yet when they seem to be dipping into business income as if it's all personal income.

If you're a sole proprietor and you track your income and expenses religiously every month, than you may be able to get away with one bank account for personal and business as long as your business name is nothing more than your legal name and you don't need a DBA registration.  However, if you're not very strict about business accounting and you tend to put off most expense tracking until the end of the year or just before April taxes are due, you'd be best served by having separate business and personal accounts so that you can easily track your personal expenses separately from your business expenses.  Most creatives I know fall into the latter category- which is totally OK, and exactly who this post is intended to help.

If your business name is anything other than your first and last name only... even if it's just "Ron John Photography", you'll likely need to file for a DBA in order to legally collect payment under your business name.  It's often a fast process and some states allow you to take care of it all online.  A registered DBA is often necessary before you can open a bank account that will accept payment under a business name.  Certain banks may also require a registered federal EIN, even if you are not a corporation, do not have any employees, and do not collect sales tax as part of your business model.  You'll learn more about what's required from your local financial institution once you begin the process of applying for a business account.

Before I was a photographer, I worked in the financial sector, which gave me familiarity with the different advantages of credit unions and banks.  Credit Unions are often overlooked as a business banking solution because some people assume they aren't as convenient as a big branded bank that offers ATMs at every corner.  However, having those ATMs on every corner comes at a high cost to the average account holder by way of higher fees for regular account management activities.  Credit Unions are membership-based, which helps keep banking fees low while still providing convenient services like depositing checks through your phone, making transfers online, and making deposits and withdrawals at affiliated Credit Unions around the country, and some even pay for the ATM fees charged by other institutions!

If you are already comfortable with a certain banking institution for your personal account, you can always just open a business account at the same institution to make banking with two accounts more convenient- but opening a business account may also be a great opportunity to see what advantages are available at other financial institutions.  Large banks tend to be more beneficial to large corporations rather than small businesses- so definitely spend a little time exploring your options.

These services are important to me as a business owner in my financial institution:
- Free Checking Account: no monthly fees and a low minimum balance requirement
- Online Bill Payment: the ability to schedule recurring payments for credit cards or loans and to easily make one-off payments mailed direct to independent contractors
- Depositing Checks Online or via Mobile App: to avoid waiting until I can get to a bank
Deposit Availability: as a business, I can regularly receive large checks from personal or small business accounts and need to make sure there aren't excessive holds on large deposits
- ATM Availability & Fees: if checking out a credit union, make sure they are part of an affiliated network of credit unions for in-person banking even when you're away from home
- Online Statements: preferably in .xls format to easily import into accounting software, share with bookkeeper or accountant, or for categorization offline
- Online Expense Tracking Software: some very awesome credit unions and banks actually offer a built-in quicken product to help you categorize income and expenses right in your online account
- Online Account Transfers: to quickly & easily transfer from business to personal accounts
- Overdraft Protection: to make sure essential business bills get paid even if a client's check bounces
- Credit & Loan Options: for emergency business equipment purchases and expenses

Do you have any other questions?  Feel free to ask and check back in a few days for a response.

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, March 29, 2016

Incentivize vs. Penalize

Do you have a hard time collecting payment or getting client selections done on deadline?  If there are no incentives for moving quickly, things may almost always wait until the last minute or just after the last minute with an ask for forgiveness or a distaste for a late fee.  By incentivizing clients to act early and on-deadline, you help empower them to make the most of their time by rewarding early and on time decisions.

Take two different sets of language you might see in a creative agreement:
"Orders placed before the early bird deadline of 2/2/16 will receive 10% off the total order."
"Orders placed after the final deadline of 2/8/16 will incur a 10% late fee."

What excites you more?  What makes you look forward to completing your order early and on time?  What language creates stress for you if you don't complete it on time?  How do you want your clients to feel about working with you?

Here's another example:
"Prepaid packages save 10% when paid in full during booking."
"Payment options available for 3% more."

Another photographer recently said to me, "why would I want to give anyone a discount for paying their bill early or on time?"  My answer is that you should already have this "discount" built into your pricing profit margin for negotiation purposes anyway, and when you recognize that clients who wrap up their orders early are actually creating LESS work for you, you realize that you're actually saving even more money by way of administrative time.  When clients pay early it means you can wrap up their project earlier, it means their work isn't on your to do list overlapping other work you have to do, and it's one less bill to chase down and create a payment system for.

Please keep in mind that I'm not suggesting you shouldn't have late fees or extra fees for added administrative work - merely that by providing incentives for the client side of your process, you can wrap your projects up more quickly and ultimately provide both you and the client with a more rewarding experience.

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, March 22, 2016

Why $60,000 Revenue = $30,000 Income

$30,000 is the U.S. national median of photographer salaries according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.  Which breaks down to $15/hr when you divide that by a traditional U.S. working life of 50 weeks a year ($600/wk), and 40 hours a week ($15).  Obviously, photographers don't stay in this profession for the money; they stay because they are passionate about creating great images and can't imagine doing anything else they love more.

What many starting photographers don't understand is that in order to make that $30,000 salary, most photographers actually need to bring in $60,000 in revenue.  Here's an example of how that can break down in expenses for a full time photographer:

Individual expenses will obviously vary from person to person.  One photographer might save more by not upgrading equipment as frequently, but may spend more on education.  Another photographer might have a large marketing campaign budget (which I didn't include as a separate item), but gets health insurance from a spouse.  These numbers are just examples to provide a clue of where the money may go after it walks in the door.

This is also the reason that I suggest a lot of beginning photographers start with a 50/50 split on the revenue that comes in from clients.  Put 50% in a business bank account and 50% in a personal bank account.  This helps make sure that you're beginning your business with a solid practice of paying yourself while also setting money aside for business needs and expenses.  By splitting the revenue into expenses and income right when it comes in, you prevent the practice of not making anything to pay your bills, while also making sure your business can cover expenses to survive another year.

Have you been in business for a while and tracked the percentage of your revenue that goes to expenses versus income?  What percentage has been true for your revenue and expenses?

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, March 15, 2016

The Branding Illusion

"I have a friend whose website looks AMAZING, but she can't seem to find any work"
"People say they love my work, but I feel like no one is hiring me"

You'd be surprised how often I hear this.  

That pretty shell, that fabulously curated website, that swoon-worthy instagram account, all of those styled shoots- they all create a grand illusion of a brand having its shit together, but it doesn't mean the person behind it is making a living from their art.

I'm not saying having a lovely brand means people don't have their shit together.
I'm saying don't assume a lovely brand means a lovely business bank account.

How many of those gorgeous images were done for free?  How many were styled shoots with friends who are stylists or make-up artists?  How many were personal projects?  There are a lot of great artists in the world.  There are many fewer great artists who are also great business owners.

Don't assume someone's stage act resembles their behind-the-scenes life.  You'd think in a world full of social media we'd be beyond the assumptions of the illusion by now.

"My website and portfolio are such a mess, I never get around to updating because I'm working all the time"

You only hear this when you meet working creatives in person.  You probably never even heard of them.  You probably never visited their website.  Yet, if you see a brand online and their work looks old or their website outdated, as a fellow creative you might assume something about their business.

The point is, don't compare yourself to an illusion in either direction.
Don't assume an old or outdated website means no business.
Don't assume a pretty website means great business.
An online brand is just an illusion, a stage act.

You don't have to have a well-put together brand to have a thriving business.  I'm not saying you shouldn't strive to keep your website updated, or you shouldn't do personal work when you don't have any clients, or that you shouldn't strive for a lovely brand.  I'm saying you don't NEED any of that to be successful as an artist and a small business owner.  It's just wrapping paper.  The real gift is underneath all of that.

All those things you think will make you "look" better are great for the ego, they are great for making you feel confident about putting your work out into the world, however they don't guarantee that clients will hire you.

The brand is the impression we want people to have of our business, but the actual business and financial exchange comes from our SERVICE and our desire to serve others with our talents.  The real brand experience comes from how we SERVE.  When people meet you in person, are they excited to work with you?  Was it your website that gave that brand impression, or was it your energy and passion?

You don't even need a website to be in business and to make a living as a creative.  Yep.  That's right.  You still exist, and you still have the ability to serve as a professional creative, even if you don't even have a website, even if you don't have a pretty brand.

Stop comparing.  Stop holding yourself back.  Stop thinking you're not good enough to serve with your talents if you don't look like you have it all together.  Stop underselling your gifts.  Stop thinking you need to look a certain way in order to serve others.

Get out and serve.  Find your clients offline.  Set up meetings with people.  Listen to what people need.  Offer to work together.  Spend more time focusing on your service to others than you spend on your brand.  Your bank account will thank you.

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, March 8, 2016

When Client Doesn't Understand Time Needs

A question I see frequently on photography boards is how to address clients who want 100 images to be created in 30 minutes of time- or some variation of how to deal with a client who is expecting too many images in too short of a time frame.

The Problem: 
Generally, clients have this expectation because they haven't fully understood how much time professional image creation takes.  You're the expert, and perhaps you even provided them with timeline suggestions, but somewhere along the line your suggestions weren't understood or were trumped by someone else who told your client that it wouldn't take that long.  As far as the client is concerned, taking a photo is like taking a selfie- a few seconds and you're done- so you need to help them understand why it takes longer when working with a professional.  They aren't ignorant, they just aren't professional photographers who see 100x more detail in every image and spend extra time making sure it looks better... which is exactly why you're being hired in the first place.

The Solution: 
Address this as early and as soon as possible by quantifying the amount of time each image takes for the client.  Help them understand the process and what happens during that time so that they can be realistic in their time goals.

Wedding Example: If it takes 5 minutes to round up the right people and create a great formal portrait at a wedding, than let the couple know that every posed image request needs to have 5 minutes allocated in the timeline.  If they request 50 posed images in 30 minutes, remind them that each pose can take 5 minutes to get everyone in place and properly focused, and then ask if they'd like to add more time or remove some of the requests.

Commercial Example: If it's a product shoot and you know it takes about 1 hour to get the lighting right with all the variations you need in post-production, than help the client understand that every photo request will also require 1 hour of time from the stylist, studio, and lighting crew.  By helping a client understand what is involved in the creation of each image before you get to the shoot, you save everyone time and frustration in the end.

Be The Expert:
Clients come to you for your expertise because they don't have a full understanding of what it takes to create the work you create.  Make sure you educate clients and help them understand as much as possible in order to have a successful shoot with realistic expectations.  A client needs to know when their expectations aren't reasonable or accurate, and you are the only one who can help them understand what time is needed to create your professional quality.

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, March 1, 2016

Adding Value Into Pricing

When a client requests a price list, how do you quantify that value beyond a number of images or time invested?  If you've been in the business for a long time and are no longer booking based on a low price point, do you also quantify your experience, professionalism, and good reputation?

Since many clients collect a series of price lists in advance to compare side by side with other price lists- you can also use this opportunity to include some variables that other creatives with a similar level of image quality and pricing may not be able to include or compare to....

Example A: Time & Deliverables
-8 hours of on-site photography
-second photographer
-at least 600 images
-online proofing gallery for 3 months

Example B: Experience & Excellence
- 2 Award winning photographers with 10 years of experience
- Verified excellence in service with over 100 five star reviews
- Professional album design team
- Professional retouching team
- Archival quality print lab
- 10 International photography awards
- $2m in liability insurance
- 8 hours of on-site photography
- 20 hours of post-production artistry
- minimum 600 images delivered
- 3 months of image hosting & sharing online

How can you demonstrate your value beyond the basics?  Clients are going to make comparisons no matter what, but if you can give them more variables to compare with that will help demonstrate the value of experience and excellence, than they will at least start considering those variables as they make their comparisons.

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, February 23, 2016

The False Promise of Directory Listings

Do you feel like there's a new photo directory popping up every other week and somehow you've received an "exclusive invitation" to be one of the first ones to list your service and website on it?  Does it mention how revolutionary this directory will be compared to the hundreds of others out there that already exist?  Isn't it funny how no one else is raving about it?  Isn't it weird that they're contacting YOU to sell you a listing, rather than you finding them and thinking they're awesome?  Funny how that works.

My first experience with the directory listing business model was actually with a publishing house that held a "poetry contest" and sought to give me an award for my poetry and publish me in a book when I was about 12 years old.  At that age, any opportunity to receive recognition for my original work, especially in a national outlet, felt like a major achievement!

When the "award letter" arrived announcing that I was "being selected for publication" with a special offer for me to purchase the book I was going to be featured in for $50 (cleverly listed as 50% off of $100 as a "discount for contributors"), my parents didn't think that the price being asked for the book was appropriate for my contribution, and simply refused to buy it without telling me why.

Once I got over pre-teen emotional let-down about not getting to own my "first publication", I slowly realized that it was actually a money-making scheme all along that preyed on young poets wanting to be published, and the families that would be excited for them.  My family didn't seem to have the heart to tell me directly, but I came to realize that no one else in the world would actually end up seeing these books on bookshelves or would actually buy a book of poetry by randomly selected amateurs for $100, let alone $50 unless they were the ones being published in it.  That was the year I gained wisdom into the crafty world of directory sales & marketing tactics.

Unfortunately, artists tend to be easy prey for these ploys of visibility.  Often thinking that the promise of being published, featured on a website, or part of some larger directory will help them gain more visibility, and that more visibility will lead to more clients, when in reality it's just another pay-to-play scheme.

I'm not saying that ALL photographer directories are worthless.  Some are useful for reasons beyond having a listing alone- and I'm sure that you will easily be able to figure out which ones those are.  I'm just saying that if you've never heard of the directory and they're calling you or emailing you to tell you how much you need their directory, or how awesome your business will be after signing up, they probably aren't actually that awesome, which is why they are always searching for new customers.

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, February 16, 2016

When Inquiries Go Silent

  • Do you feel like you send information and then don't hear anything back from inquiries?
  • Did your response ask any questions to help keep the conversation moving forward?
  • Do you keep a calendar of people you plan to follow up with a second or third time?

Many creative businesses think that providing information after a first inquiry will either confirm or deny whether a client wants to work with them and then leave it up to the client to move the conversation forward after one response.  However, there are many clients who inquire while they're only in the stage of doing research and not actually ready to book.   These clients may not be ready to make a decision for several months based on all the information they're gathering up front, and how you do or don't follow up with them after that first inquiry may actually be a factor in whether they work with you or not.

In a sea of competition, follow-through is one of the things that can make your business stand out among the rest.  How does your level of service stand out from the rest?  Are you letting an inquiry go silent and not really give it a second thought, or do you check back in after a couple weeks to see if the client has any questions about what they've seen, or take the time to send additional resources that can help the client?

Lead follow-through doesn't need to be complicated or automated by a special system, in fact, here are a few steps you can take no matter what kind of inquiry system you're using:

1. Create a Follow-Up Email Template
It should be a response that you can save as a draft or signature in your email program and easily copy/paste.  You want to confirm that they did receive your info, and give an opportunity to continue moving the conversation forward in a way that they may not have done with anyone else yet...
Here's a sample email draft- but change the wording to fit your personality and business...
"Thanks so much for contacting us last week!  We haven't heard back from you, so we want to make sure you received our last email?  We'd love to set up a time to chat about what you're looking for and answer any questions you have- which time would work best to talk on the phone or via Skype?   Tuesday 6pm, Wednesday 12pm, Thursday 3pm?"

2. Schedule a Weekly Follow-Through Date
By putting follow-through as an appointment in your calendar, you'll have to move it around if you fail to do it one day, but by keeping it as an appointment, you're more likely to spend the time going through your inbox and follow-through with old clients than if you don't put it in your calendar at all.

3. Decide on Appropriate Frequency
You may want to wait 1 week to follow up after the first email, but then 2-3 weeks if you haven't heard anything after following up with a second email.  You don't want to be spammy or pushy and get blocked, so make sure you're adding value and being helpful with each follow-up email.

4. Create an Email Folder for Active Leads & Dead Leads
When you're waiting to hear back from a client the first or second time, they would be considered an active lead and it would be easiest to find their email again if it was in a dedicated folder for leads you plan to follow-through with.  Likewise, there may still be helpful information to gain from a dead lead down the road, so keeping a folder of people the you've contacted several times and never heard back from may be helpful for some future research.

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, February 9, 2016

Evaluating Education Opportunities

As the photo education industry continues to rapidly expand, and many people plan for WPPI, it's important to evaluate what makes a quality education experience.  Even when you aren't paying to attend a free online webinar or tradeshow presentation, your time has value and it's important that you're able to walk away from an educational experience feeling like you made the best use of your time.  Just as you might search for reviews before purchasing equipment, I think it's equally valuable to do a little homework and make sure that the educational experiences you sign up for are aligned with who you are and what you need.  Use these steps to focus your time and energy productively:

Step 1: Evaluate Your Needs
Make sure the education you pursue is aligned with where you are RIGHT NOW in your life or business.  What's the FIRST thing you need to take action on?  If you don't have a portfolio of work or clients, than your priority should be focused on portfolio development and technical learning, not pricing or business info.  If you know you have a great portfolio but are struggling with bringing clients in the door, focus on marketing and sales.  Be realistic about what you're most likely to take action on immediately so that your time spent learning can be applied as soon as possible.  While this sounds obvious, there are people who like to consume any and every education opportunity possible, and you need to acknowledge if you fall into that category and start getting more focused about what you really need right now.

Step 2: Know Your Learning Style
If you haven't read a non-fiction ebook from start to finish in the last year, than giving your email address to someone for a free e-book probably is going to benefit the writer more than it benefits you.  Do you prefer podcasts you can listen to while traveling or videos that visually demonstrate techniques?  Is it hard for you to focus unless you're in a physical workshop setting with other attendees?  Do you need a printed book or full video that you can review multiple times rather than a webinar that will disappear?  Know what helps you succeed as a learner and avoid tempting offers that will simply fill your inbox without helping you move forward.

Step 3: Understand Your Desired Interaction Level
If you just have a couple quick questions around a topic area that don't need extensive explanation, than perhaps a webinar format can work if it offers Q&A.  If you have an extended set of questions about your specific situation that you don't want don't want to share publicly, than you may want to seek a mentor, coach, or consultant to work with one-on-one.  Is the topic something that could benefit from group discussion?  Than perhaps a group workshop where you can interact with other attendees will be beneficial.  Know how much guidance and feedback you need to help you take action before choosing an educational opportunity.

Once you've taken time to outline your needs as a learner, you can better filter opportunities and be more productive in how you allocate your time for education.

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, February 2, 2016

Quoting a Job Without Project Details

The more commercial work I do, the more I find commercial clients who basically want me to give them a price without giving me any information about their project and how much time, effort, and detail it will take.  Trying to elicit more details out of those clients before sharing any pricing only results in responses about 40% of the time, which means the other 60% want to know something about price before they will even engage in a conversation about the project.  While this is frustrating from a creative and budgeting perspective, I've found a couple ways to open the door without committing to a bad price....

Provide An Average Client Range
By telling the client that average projects tend to range anywhere from $$$$-$$$$, they can immediately know if their budget falls in your client averages based on what they're requesting.  Even if it's a huge range from hundreds to thousands, it's amazing how just providing any number range can keep the conversation moving forward so that the client feels more comfortable expressing their project details.

Provide Quotes From Previous Projects
Providing samples of previous quotes can help a client better understand what level they fall in.  This would be similar to having an established price list, but provide more detailed examples of what can be included or eliminated from a quote.  Ideally, you'll be able to provide 3 solid examples from previous jobs you've completed.
Client A: Four hours of on-location photography with highly specialized studio lighting, stylist, makeup artist, and models with delivery of 10 retouched images for print advertising in a major magazine: $$$$$
Client B: Two hours of on-location photography with simple studio lighting to create headshots for 5 executives for an annual report with a delivery of 5 images: $$$$.
Client C: Full day of photography in studio with specialty lighting for commercial website and packaging use: $$$$

Provide A Low & High Estimate
If you think you have a good sense of what the job will be without a bunch of detail, you can provide a low and high estimate to help the client understand more about their needs.  It's a way of providing a soft quoted estimate with plenty of negotiating room.
Budget Option: 2 hours on location, 2 images delivered with option to purchase more $$$
Luxury Option: 8 hours on location, 8 images delivered with option to purchase more $$$$$

If you've had clients fall through the cracks because you weren't able to provide something they could begin to work with, try one of these approaches instead and see if it helps to improve your follow-through with new inquiries.

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, January 19, 2016

How to Announce Price Increases

As you evaluate your income and expenses from the last year, it's a great time to evaluate any pricing changes you may want to make for the year ahead.  Did you find that you put much more work into a certain product or service than you're being compensated for?  Did your suppliers increase their prices or change their product line?  Do you plan to add new services or products that will increase your overhead?  Do you need to invest more in packaging,  equipment, education, or marketing?

Whatever the reason for increasing prices, it's often one of the big struggles for small businesses who rely on retaining old clients while attracting new ones.  Most businesses find that their costs and/or prices have to increase year to year in order to stay sustainable and keep up with new market demands.  When businesses don't account for growth in their overhead, product, or service, they end up shortchanging their ability to continue serving clients well into the future.

Based on the many times I've had to change my pricing due to moving to a new market with new overhead costs, as well as helping other photographers who've needed to make changes to their pricing, I've found three strategies that help make it easier to move from one price point to the next without too much shock to an existing or recurring client base.

1. Same Rate, Different Offering
The easiest change you can make to a price list is to keep your rates the same, but redefine your offerings at each price point to more accurately reflect the time and cost that goes into creating that service and product at that price point.  The example below is for a portrait photographer who needs to move from providing too many images and giving everything away, to an offering that will allow for additional images to be purchased in order to account for the many hours they spend in post-production and retouching but hadn't been accounting for in their previous pricing model.
Example:  $250 Portrait Shoot
Before: Includes 2 hours on location, proofs online, all high resolution images
After: Up to 1 hour on location, proofs online, 2 high resolution images (additional images $75/ea)

2. Drop The Smallest Option, Add A Bigger Option
If you've presented your prices in a tiered packaging format that offers 3-5 package options, this method helps establish a new lowest price and highest price for your client offerings and makes it possible to take a big leap in price jumps from one year to the next.  This is ideal for businesses who started out too low to be sustainable and need to make a big move forward from year to year until they reach sustainability.  Since most clients tend to fall in the middle of package offerings, very few people end up booking at the bottom and top ends and generally move themselves into the middle.  When you take something that used to fall in the middle and make it a baseline package, you open up the opportunity for new clients to see a new middle ground while old clients still see a package number they're familiar with.
Package A: $1500 Shooting only, everything else a la carte
Package B: $2900 Shooting + some things included
Package C: $3800 Shooting + more things included
Package B: $2900 Shooting only, everything else a la carte
Package C: $3800 Shooting + some things included
Package D: $4700 Shooting + more things included

3. Baby Steps
People who've been in business for a long time and have very established recurring client bases, sales packages, and a good understanding of their time and cost invested generally only need to adjust prices slightly year by year as needed without much change to their offerings.  The idea is that smaller changes each year are less alarming to regular clients than dramatic changes.  They may even do this without any announcement or fanfare, just making small adjustments as needed.  As clients become comfortable with new prices year to year, the changes don't feel so dramatic that they are suddenly out of budget from one year to the next.
Before: $425 hourly rate
After: $475 hourly rate

"Should I let my clients know?"

  • YES, IF.... you have a lot of recurring clients who need to build your service into their budget.
  • NO, IF.... your client turn over is high and you're constantly serving new clients each year.

"How do I tell them?"
When you're ready to put your new pricing into effect, make it a positive announcement and share any growth you've experienced over the last year as well as any ways that you've improved your service through education or received recognition through awards or publication.  People love working with businesses that are growing and it's far more attractive to stick with someone who is on an upswing in their business than someone who characterizes changes in terms of how costs are weighing down their business.  If you don't have any exciting growth, awards, or improvements to share, you can just serve up a short and simple gratitude sandwich like the example below....

Example: "We want to take this opportunity to thank you so much for your support and business over this last year.  We've attached a new rate sheet for your reference and are happy to answer any questions you have.  We love working with you and look forward to working with you even more in the year ahead!"

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.