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.

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