Thursday, July 26, 2012

Business Day Thursday: It's Time To Start Giving Your Work Away For Free!!!

Good Afternoon Everybody,

Westin NOI sure hope today's post title got your attention, but more on that later.  We arrived safe and sound in New Orleans and are settled into our beautiful hotel room at the Westin on Canal Street.  I have to say, LaDawn and I really enjoy our trips to New Orleans.  We were here in January for the Imaging USA Convention and thoroughly enjoyed our visit.  After eating our way through the city, I swear, I think I put on 10 pounds!  I sure can't let that happen on this visit.  I suspect we'll still put on a pound or two from all the good eats, and wonderful food found everywhere.

Test Driving Canon's New 600EX-RT Radio Controlled Strobes

Southern Pro ExposureDon't forget, I’ll be presenting my one day program tomorrow at the Southern Pro Exposure Convention [link] and I'm really looking forward to it.  My good friends at B&H sent me three of Canon’s Speedlite 600EX-RT radio controlled strobes to work with for the next few weeks.  I'm planning to give them a thorough testing.  You'll get all the details of my shooting experience, posted next week at  I've only had them for a day and have just scratched the surface of the Bible thick manual, but my first impressions are quite favorable.  More next week after I've had a few days to run them through their paces.

It's Time To Give Your Work Away - I'm mostly Serious!!!

You know, I've been involved in this business for many years and I've seen wedding photography iterate through many, many changes over all those years. I remember when I first started my business a long time ago. Everybody was trying to make as many double exposures as possible. They were the super cool images in the seventies and eighties. 

Dbl Exp1Everyone was trying to do it and the clients loved the results - hokey as they were by today's standards.  We often times had the bride and groom floating above the wedding ceremony. We had the groom in the bride's silhouette – I once had a bride call it the "brain shot". My staff and I always tried to come back at the end of wedding with at least 5-6 of these eye grabbing, people pleasing double exposures.  I know, to you younger guys and gals it sounds kind of crazy in but it was really trendy and popular in the 70’s – 80’s.

Back in the good old days of wedding photography, and that wasn't very long ago, it was the parents of the bride that made the buying decision for the wedding photography. They were used to making bigger ticket purchases – they had bought a home, a car or two, braces on their kids teeth, etc. Today the buying public is mostly the bride and groom themselves. This is a generation of buyers that has been brought up on a Wal-Mart, Target and Amazon mentality where everything is on sale or value priced all the time and retailers continue to beat up on each other as they lower prices to compete. 

Everybody is always looking for the best price everywhere. It blares from our TV screens, Google Ads, billboards, just about everywhere.

There has been a seismic shift in the business of wedding photography in just the last few years.  I blogged on this topic at length on Scott Kelby's blog about a year and a half ago. You can read that post right here. It's a lengthy read so allow enough time to make it through all 9000 words.

Walmart Low pricesAnyway a quick recap: this  seismic shift was created, and in no particular order, with the advent of  smart phone cameras, Facebook, Craigslist, and easily accessible and inexpensive printing from Wal-Mart,  Sam's Club, Costco, Walgreens, Shutterfly, etc. I mean like $.20 or less for a 4x6 - how's a pro going to compete with that?  Couple that with the fact that many and maybe even most don't print their images - they can get a quick shot of pleasure from their smart phone quickly to Facebook. People just don't care about good photography anymore - it's just not as important to today's buying public as it was just a few years ago.  Therein lies the seismic shift of the business - professional photos are not that important to the buying public anymore and most everyone wants their photos for cheap.

Don't get me wrong.  I still know we have some, albeit a much smaller segment of the photo buying public, who will pay a premium price for premium photography.  Yes, a few customers can tell the difference and are willing to pay for it.  But for too many other people, fine photograph is unimportant.  The camera phone snap is "good enough".  Sorry folks, but those are the sad facts about the profession these days.

Is There A Future For Today's Wedding Photographer?

Yes, I still think there is but it demands a completely different way at looking at the business and how you want to position yourself on the new "playing field" of wedding photography.  Does moaning and groaning solve the situation? Of course not. We can all wallow in each others self-pity but that certainly is not a constructive way out of the current situation.

Ty and ShannonThe reality is that there are many photographers doing quite well in the photography business. Most of these photographers have adopted solid sales and marketing techniques that are really lost on so many other photographers struggling to make a living in this profession. Just two weeks ago  we had our PhotoPro Network Summer Conference. Two of our speakers were young and upcoming photographers, Ty and Shannon Fischer, who are running two successful studios in the Midwest.  They've got their act together when it comes to sales and marketing. Gang, that's really one of the BIG secrets of success!

I think the bottom line is this:  If you give your work away then that client will recommend their friends and family members. And the sad fact is that those new referrals will also be looking for the free photographic lunch. 

Remember, Cheap Customers Recommend Their Cheap Friends

Cheap brideMany years ago I was offered some of the best business advice ever by a local photographer I met at a photography meeting of the local professionals in Cincinnati, OH.  I was new to the Association and feeling quite nervous when I attended my first meeting. This photographer –  Craig Elbe -  walked up to me, put his finger on my chest, and said "So you're another wedding photographer, are you?". I felt a bit intimidated by the encounter but before I could react he gave me the best business advice ever. He said, "Let me tell you something kid.  If you do work for cheap clients they'll recommend their cheap friends. If you do work for rich clients they will recommend their rich friends." I have to say, it was a rather brash way to make the statement but the gist of his message is important for all photographers then and now. 

How do you want to define your clients?  Which market segment do you wish to work for?   These are decisions you need to consider as you build your business.  You simply can’t be everything to everybody.  Pick your market and go for it!! It’s the only way to achieving lasting success in this profession.

I also think part of the solution can be found in how we set our pricing.  No longer do I think its about "How much is it for an 8x10?"  Heck, you can pick up and 8x10 for $.99 at Sam's Club or Wal-Mart.  We need to start thinking about is pricing ourselves. We need to be selling ourselves. It's no longer about how many 5 x 7's or 8x10's you're going to get in their wedding album  It's no longer about how many images you're going to have on a DVD. It's about selling your services as the end product and selling your services for what they are worth.  Then it comes to your images - just give them away, who cares?  Position yourself as the artist that they need to hire, no commission, for the job.  Take the prints out the the equation completely. 

Just How Much Are You Worth? - Good Question!

Gold - Fotolia_40784844_Subscription_XXLThat opens up a whole another line of conversation. Just how much are we worth? We are worth what we make ourselves worth. With so many photographers offering two hundred dollar wedding coverages and three dollar photographs, I guess they know what they're worth. I personally know how much time and effort goes into producing an event for my clients. I work very hard when I photograph their event. We spend hours editing those images and tweaking them so we can create a breath-taking  presentation to our clients. We then meet with our clients and help them make their final selection for their  wedding albums.

Yes, I'm still a huge fan of delivering a finished product – a wedding album for my clients.  Anything less than that means that the wedding day memories will eventually fade away and then, no longer be memories anymore. It's an album – that large, heavy, solid album sitting in the bride and groom's lap that they can enjoy on their anniversary, share with family and friends, solidify a small capsule of time that makes all the difference in the world. It's enjoying that album for years down the road, with each other, their children, grandchildren, family and friends that will bring the flood of memories back of the wonderful feelings and emotions they shared with themselves and their family and friends on their wedding day.

But I digress - let's go back to building value into yourself. I think one of the best ways we can do that is to promote ourselves as an artist, not just a wedding photographer. And, how can we do that? I've been doing it for years. As we travel around the world my camera is always over my shoulder. Yes, I’m that geeky, just in case you haven’t guessed. I'm always looking for new things to photograph whether it be a beautiful sunsets, gorgeous landscapes, or urban abstracts. Over these many years I’ve got a wonderful collection of images that go far beyond my wedding images. And, for these past several years we've been building that collection of work into a wonderful portfolio.

Along the way we've been sharing a portfolio of images on websites like Fine Art America and Imagekind - two websites where people can find "David Ziser" images [link] that are not wedding images. I’m often asked to purchase advertising space in local programs that I promote these images and I also blog about my fine art work and  landscapes images. Those of you reading this blog often know that to be the case.

Ziser Imagekind

By defining yourself as an artist you're actually setting yourself apart from other wedding photographers. You're offering a level of expertise and creativity that photographers are not going to get from the run-of-the-mill Craigslist advertiser. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to put down the Craigslist wedding photographer. But let's face it, the Craigslist photographer is looking for a little spare money at the end of the day, I like to call it their beer money.  I’m simply trying to share that if you're going to make a commitment to building a successful business in photography you're never, ever going to do it on Craigslist.

Build Value, Build Respect, Build Credibility, Build Brand!

It's about building value into yourself. And people shopping Craigslist are not looking for the value of a photographer.  They're looking for cheap deal in a photographer.

To build value for yourself you have to continue to build credibility. That credibility comes from creating special relationships with your vendor buddies within the community itself. That demands that you get involved in charities throughout your local community to show that you are doing more than just trying to book a few weddings on the weekends.  You need to place yourself above the photo crowd as a photographer who does something more than wedding photography, but as a person who just happens to be a photographer and is involved in the community.  You have to market yourself differently.

Brand BuildingAll these things have to work together to show that you, the whole package, is much more than just the average wedding shooter with the camera over your shoulder available for hire for some quick candids at the next wedding event. You have to position yourself as an artist in the field, somebody who has raised themselves to the next level of his/her craft into an art. Someone who will make that extra effort and go that extra mile to produce a body of work for their client's wedding that goes far beyond their expectations and far beyond what so many other wedding photographers are doing.

This has to be an ongoing quest. We’re talking about constantly climbing the hill to excellence – excellence in photography, excellence in marketing, excellence in selling, excellence in creating client and vendor relationships that carry you from one generation to the next generation of wedding clients building friendships and lasting relationships.

Folks, this profession will change again in the not-too-distant future. I don't know what that change holds for the photographers shooting 10 or 15 years from now but I can guarantee that it will be different. Too many of us didn’t even realize that our cheese was moving or has moved, until it was too late to survive. Just know that it will continue to move again.  We just can't keep scrambling around in our lives doing the same thing over and over again expecting the results to change.

The fact of the matter is that we need to continue to change with the times.  We have to be proactive and constantly seeking what these ever changing, shall I say even fickle customers, are looking for and constantly be proactive in making the changes that we need to make to accommodate the new photography marketplace.

The bottoms line is building tremendous value in yourself as the commissioned artist. Be someone who is hired for their talents, professionalism, creativity, outstanding product and service.  Forget the prints - give them away.  All you have to sell these days is yourself. Make it your mission and do it proactively only moving forward, never backward, never singing the doom and gloom song. Make yourself the best you can be and price accordingly. 


Hey gang that's it for me today.  We're going to check in with our New Orleans friends, enjoy a bit of the city today and get ready to go to work tomorrow.  If you happen to be in the area of the Louisiana Convention this weekend, please come by and say HI.

Adios everybody,  David

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