Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Listen to Your Excuses

What excuse do you use the most to not do something that you know will move your business forward?  Time?  Money?  Energy?

Often times we let our excuses stop us from taking action on something.  However, if we take a moment to examine why we don't have what we feel we need to take action, we can evaluate what changes we may need to make in order to reclaim control over the things which feel like they are currently holding us back.

Why don't we have enough time?
What are we prioritizing instead?
How are we setting up our schedule in a way that continually limits our time and makes it impossible to have time for improvements or exploring something more beneficial?
How can we improve our time management in order to gain more control over our time?

Why do we feel like there isn't enough money?
Where has our money been going instead?
How are we setting up our spending habits that restrict our ability to invest in business building opportunities or hiring help that would create more revenue?
How can we improve our financial management in order to gain more control?

Why do we feel like we don't have enough energy?
Where are we directing most of our energy?
How are we setting ourselves up to feel drained of our energy so that there's no additional energy left to add anything else to our plate?
How can we improve our personal energy levels so that we can accomplish more?

Examine your excuses to identify where you need to make changes in the way you manage your life or your business.  The solution is often just within reach when we realize that we have the power to make the necessary changes by simply thinking ahead and identifying what habits need to be changed.

Anne Ruthmann helps creatives find smarter solutions to common business problems as a Creative Business Strategist and author of the Pricing Workbook for Creatives.  Her wisdom is steeped in the experience of managing her own creative businesses since 2004.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Asking the Right Offer Questions

Online groups are a great place to test an offer or get feedback on how to deliver an offer.  However, I often see people asking questions that won't be very helpful for getting good feedback, so I wanted to address one of the most common questions that gets asked, and what a better question to ask would be instead...

THE UNHELPFUL QUESTION: "How much should I charge?"

This is question will quickly deliver a variety of responses that may not be helpful.  It's often followed by comments like:
  • Do you know what your expenses are?
  • Have you done your numbers?
  • What area are you in?
  • My so-and-so charged this.
  • I would pay this. 
  • I've never bought that before, but I could afford this.
None of these are going to be as helpful to learning more about how to deliver an offer or identify an ideal client.  What they accomplish instead is just delivering a wide range of opinions that may not apply to you or what you're offering.

THE HELPFUL QUESTION: "I'm planning to offer a (product/service) photography package, for (estimated price) $950, in (specific location) Sedona, AZ and I'm curious what else you would need to know to help you make a decision about wanting this offer?"

This question delivers an example of an offer you'd like to test, and asks questions that help reveal the hidden fears, concerns, and questions that people need to have answered in order to move forward.  With this question, you can better understand the need-to-know factors that go into whether or not clients feel ready to take action on an offer.  The types of questions that follow are much more helpful for refining your offer or understanding client needs:
  • How much time will it take?
  • Can I see examples of previous work?
  • How many images will I receive?
  • Can you do it in a different location?
  • What do I need to prepare in order to begin?
  • Do you offer payment plans?

These questions reveal actionable and answerable items that can be delivered with your offer in order to bring client clarity to a product or service.  Try using this question the next time you want to test an offer in a local group or marketplace in order to get more helpful information that will ultimately make your offer easier to act on!

Anne Ruthmann helps creatives find smarter solutions to common business problems as a Creative Business Strategist and author of the Pricing Workbook for Creatives.  Her wisdom is steeped in the experience of managing her own creative businesses since 2004.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Managing Expectations & Deadlines for Creative Work

Establishing deadlines and expectations for a creative service or product keep both the client and the creative happy in their working arrangements.  Without clear deadlines or expectations, the creative can infinitely revise their own work, or the client can continually expect service without an end point.  Many contracts outline the basics of payment expectations and deliverables, but a great creative working relationship will make sure to outline the following considerations before working together...

When the work will begin:
Let's say you have 10 projects on your plate and you can't even think about the client's project until the end of the month.  Discuss this in advance with the client, and what they can do to prepare themselves before the working arrangement begins so they aren't expecting you to be on call with their project right out of the gate.

When online or in-person meetings will happen for progress updates:
If your project has multiple steps that require client feedback or updates, establish a calendar of when those updates and check-ins will happen up front.  Get the dates into your calendar and into the client's calendar.  This way, even if your schedule or the client's schedule changes over time, you can renegotiate the check-in dates and expectations for updates and feedback.  Just having regular check-ins on creative work can help put a client more at ease than having nothing.

When middle parts of the project are due:
Consider the wedding photography internal deadline like the client family who needs engagement photos to send newspapers, or a framed photo order they want to place before the wedding.  Consider the website design client who may have a deadline for a landing page before the full site is ready, or a deadline for a product logo before the rest of the work is completed.  By discussing project deadlines that need to happen in the middle of the project, the creative creates more clarity around the process and internal deadlines that the client is expecting to have ready in advance.

When client contributions are due:
How many times have projects been delayed because the creative was waiting on the client to deliver something necessary for the creative to move forward?  By establishing client deadlines and expectations for contributions - AS WELL AS late fees and late consequence expectations for not delivering on deadline - the client and creative have opportunities to discuss the importance of the client contribution in advance of working together and signing a contract.  This also gives the client an opportunity to be better prepared to contribute in advance.

What are the communication expectations (video, phone, or email?)
In the age of a million ways to communicate, we now have to address HOW we should expect people to communicate with us.  If your client is a phone person and you hate talking on the phone as a creative, is the Video Call the next best solution for both of you, or do you need the client to send emails only?  What should the expected turn around response time be before a client asks if you received their email?  These things actually need to be discussed in advance now so that the creative and the client can have the best understanding of what communication method they should expect to be the most effective for working together.

When updates should be expected:
By scheduling project updates into your creative work calendar, you can help regularly reassure clients, who do not understand what happens the creative process behind the scenes, that in the silent moments between the time they hear from you and the time they don't hear from you, you're still working on their project.  This also helps set appropriate expectations that help the client know how often they should expect to hear from you, so that they don't expect project updates to be sent just because they want to check in regularly.

When creative or client won't be available (in case of vacations):
If there are periods where you simply won't be available or the client won't be available for long stretches of time due to vacations scheduled in advance, those should be outlined in advance to set the expectation of when someone should not expect to hear from you.  By putting it in the contract or in an advance schedule, the client will have a reference document to turn to rather than asking the creative random questions about why they aren't getting in touch.

When the project or contract will be finished:
Establishing the deadline for when all work will be completed and provided helps make sure that clients and creatives are not wasting each other's time with additional requests above and beyond the contracted arrangements.  Setting both a deadline as a date, as well as a full outline of what will be provided by that date, means establishing expectations that both the client and the creative agree upon in advance before beginning the work.  This also creates a clear and clean cut-off as to when the work and the contract have ended, so that a new contract for work can be established, or so that the creative and client can walk clean and clear away from a working arrangement they don't want to have anymore.

Have any other deadlines or expectations you think need to be discussed up front?  Comment and let us know!
Anne Ruthmann helps creatives find smarter solutions to common business problems as a Creative Business Strategist and author of the Pricing Workbook for Creatives.  Her wisdom is steeped in the experience of managing her own creative businesses since 2004.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

4 Things Professional Photographers Need to Like

People often think being a professional photographer is just about taking great photos.  While great images are important if you're going to make professional photography your career, it's also important to like the four things below in order to enjoy running a business as a professional photographer:

1. Gear & Gadgets
The photo industry is full of gear and gadgets.  I am not a gear or gadget person.  I got along just fine on my minimal upgrade schedule by always having backups, but no matter how long I'd put off an upgrade (because I am not the early-adopter type),  it was still inevitable that my cameras, computers, and gadgets needed frequent replacing and upgrades just due to heavy professional usage.  So, a love of playing with new gear and gadgets all the time is very helpful if you're in the photography industry, because you will always need new gear and gadgets from one year to the next.

2. Post-Production
Even when I was able to get my images amazingly close to what I wanted in camera, I still always wanted to do some extra post-production on them.  It's also the biggest difference between what the camera sees and what the photographer envisions when taking an image.  I'm quite relaxed on how much post-production I like because I don't love staring at a screen for too long, but still can't really get away with not doing some post-production.  Even while post-production was my least favorite part of the job, I always had a hard time letting other people do it because I was still picky about it.  I only found a couple post-production people over the span of my career who could see color and brightness in the same way I did, and it was a dream when I could rely on them for client deadline work.  However, their paths all eventually diverged as they wanted to focus on other projects of their own and weren't available for post-production anymore.  If I loved post-production, I might have kept doing photography for a longer time, but I feel so much more free without needing to worry about finishing post-production on other people's deadlines anymore!

3. People
Most photography has some element of dealing with people on a personal basis.  If you're one of the lucky ones who makes money on fine art, landscapes, or nature - you probably still need to deal with the agents or gallery owners who sell your art or the clients who buy your art.  You have to like people if you're going to be a professional photographer, otherwise, you're going to end up turning down a lot of opportunities that could otherwise support you making a living.  If you don't like people, you could probably focus on post-production and retouching, and just mange inquiries and outcome online through email.  However, most photographers need to enjoy people to do their work.  Luckily, I like people- even people who probably don't deserve to be liked- so the people part of the job was always interesting to me.

4. Products & Sales
Photographers who understand how to sell their work, and how to sell products of their work, are far better off than photographers who don't know how to sell.  You can still get by without liking sales or doing a lot of sales, but you'll be much better off if you learn how to like sales.  Think about it- half the time you're selling something people might be able to get from a family member- so if you can't sell, than you're going to have a hard time positioning yourself as being more helpful than a friend or family member who can send digital files.  This is just the reality of public perception, and it makes understanding sales and how to sell a critical part of being a professional photographer who can sustain and grow their business for the long-haul.  I personally love selling and find it deeply satisfying to make sure a client is going to walk away with a physical representation of their images because of the products I was able to share with them and help them choose for their home and keepsakes.

What else do you think professional photographers need to like to do their work well?  Leave them in the comments and let's compare notes!

Anne Ruthmann helps creatives find smarter solutions to common business problems as a Creative Business Strategist and author of the Pricing Workbook for Creatives.  Her wisdom is steeped in the experience of managing her own creative businesses since 2004.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Toxic Email Replies that Hurt Your Business

Into every business, a series of problems will fall.  HOW business owners and service teams deal with problems when they arise is often MORE important than the problems and solutions themselves.  Let's look at some common creative business owner replies that lead to toxic client interactions, resentment, and lack of referrals for service businesses:

Client Email Example: "Hi, Just checking in on my project progress... can you give an update?"

In the client's mind, this is an innocent email that helps them understand where everything is in the process, what they may need to be aware of or how they may need to manage their schedule and expectations moving forward.  However, if a business owner is mired in stress, dealing with other difficulties, or feeling guilty about not making enough progress on a project, they may feel defensive and use one of the toxic email replies below that end up causing more harm to their client relationship, potential referrals, and future business success.

1. Business Owner Reply: "I'm sorry I was really busy on another project"

How client feels inside:
Well, thanks for letting me know you have another client who is more important and gets higher project priority than I do.  Glad to know my project is being put on the back burner while you deal with other people- not.
Client's actual email reply:
"I understand, thanks for letting me know.  When do you think we can sync up again?"

2. Business Owner Reply: "Life has been really hectic lately"

How client feels inside:
Uh oh, if life is so hectic that he needs to say something, does this mean my project is going to be delayed or given less attention?  Does he have the resources to manage life and business right now?
Client's actual email reply:
"I'm sorry to hear things aren't going well, I really hope things get better soon!"

3. Business Owner Reply: "A client/family member had an emergency"

How client feels inside:
I wonder what kind of emergency?  How long does it take to fix emergencies?  Is this going to delay my project?  Does this mean my project and deadlines are less important because they aren't emergencies?  What if I have an emergency?
Client's actual email reply:
"Oh no!  I hope everything is OK!  Let me know when you can chat again."

What's the BEST reply a business owner can give instead?

Best Business Owner Reply:
"Thank you for checking in!  I'd love to connect over the phone or zoom so we can make sure we're both on the same page for the timing ahead.  Which of the times below will work for you to sync up over the phone and talk about the next steps?
4/4  Monday 4pm
4/6 Wednesday 10am
4/7 Thursday  2pm"

The important ingredients of this reply are:
  1. Gratitude that makes the client feel seen and acknowledges their desire for an update.
  2. Affirmation of desire to work with client and move the project forward.
  3. Specific, detailed, date and time calendar options that give the business owner control of when they can offer headspace and time to focus on communication with client, to help the client manage the time until they feel like they will have undivided attention.
By keeping the response simple, light, and free of outside drama or issues, the business retains a high service standard without causing their client any alarms or insecurities about the business owner's ability to do or complete the work.  When a business engages the client in drama by sharing personal or client issues that don't have anything to do with the client's project, it creates a sense of doubt and concern about whether or not a project will be completed.  This creates a snowball of more fears and concerns that span not just one client project, but all projects the business is currently managing, which can lead to even more drama and toxic gossip that ends up hurting a business in the long run.

So, even if you're experiencing drama or issues that feel out of control in your business or life, save as many business relationships as you can by not spreading the drama or problems around your business.  It may make the difference between one client relationship blowing up and ten client relationships blowing up.  Minimize the damage by minimizing the spread of drama.

Anne Ruthmann helps creatives find smarter solutions to common business problems as a Creative Business Strategist and author of the Pricing Workbook for Creatives.  Her wisdom is steeped in the experience of managing her own creative businesses since 2004.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.