Archive for August, 2006

It costs what it costs

Thursday, August 31st, 2006

I took my car in for regular maintenance this morning. I use a privately-owned small business mechanic who specializes in my kind of car. The mechanic called me later and said that something had been chewing on a couple of my hoses (this happens out here) and that I should replace them. When he told me the cost I said, “It costs what it costs.” He sounded stunned and still apologized for the cost (which, by the way, was not really that much). I had to tell him twice to just go ahead and fix it.

While he didn’t handle it the best way he could have, his actions serve us as a good model. When a client says “why does it cost so much” the worst thing you can do is apologize for your prices. For production charges it’s fine to say “the props cost what they cost” but when it comes to your fees you should make sure to show confidence. Saying something like “I set my creative fees based on many factors and the usage fee is based on the value of the image in its intended placement,” is true (or should be!) and is, in a fancy and confident way, saying “it costs what it costs.”

If the client can’t afford your fees then you can work with him/her to reduce the usage or get some other value instead of dollars, but whatever you do, do not say “I’m sorry it’s so expensive” and then lower your price.

A quick note about comments…

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

We love comments, but if we can’t identify the sender, they won’t get through moderation. Unfortunately, there are lots of spammers out there who just want a free URL ride. So be honest about who you are when you submit a comment and it will get posted. Thanks!

Fear and business

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

I’ve written about fear in one of my Manuals, but there is something about fear and business that I may not have been clear about: we all have it. Every single businessperson has fear–successful people do, just as less successful ones do. The difference is in how one deals with the fear.

If you are afraid and own up to it, face it, and challenge the fear, you are more likely to be successful. Some call that “courage,” and if that word works for you, then use it. What it is, whatever you call it, is taking risks and being open to living with the results.

We do that every day. Every day we take a risk driving (accidents), playing a sport (hurting yourself) or even just eating (food poisoning). There’s a risk in taking a shower (you could slip) or taking some medication (side effects) and there are big risks in falling in love (a broken heart). And yet we do these things regularly. Why? Because the payoffs are worth it and we know that we can live with the results (even if they are painful).
Can you imagine never being in love? Sure, you’d never run the risk of getting hurt. You could protect your heart and rationalize it by saying that over 50% of relationships break up, etc. That sounds reasonable. But, you’d never know the joy of an intimate relationship or passion or the sublime absolute trust that someone is totally there for you even in your lowest moment.

So it is in business. You can play it safe, not take risks, and be like most everyone else who is trying to do the same thing, or you can try something new and risky, but which might pay off in a big way.

Did you become a creative to do what others have already done, or did you do it because you see things differently and/or you want to express something more in your work?

Take the risk–be your whole self and show your true vision. Be passionate. Put yourself out there. Yes, you may fall on your face, but you’ll be truly alive in the process and, more importantly, you can only be great if you try.

The end of summer

Monday, August 28th, 2006

This is the last week of summer for most folks. Actually, with the change in the school year in so many places, summer may technically be over for lots of you. But, if you don’t have kids or they haven’t gone back to school yet, you stil have a few precious days to “waste.”

I encourage “wasting” days–with activities like my last post. Go to a museum, go to a beach and read a really tacky novel, go camping. Just go.

These little escapes can really recharge your batteries and make you a better, happier creative. Definitely a more productive one. And the one other benefit is that the phone seems more likely to ring when you aren’t there to answer it. So, if you go “waste” a day, do NOT forward your phone to your cell and/or turn off your cell. The chances that you will actually lose a worthwhile project by not answering or returning a call immediately are extremely small. Check voicemail once a day, at the end of the day, and return the calls only if absolutely urgent.

You owe this to you and your creative work. Do it.

Don’t make me beat you. 😉

When was…

Friday, August 25th, 2006

When was the last time you…

…shot for yourself?
…turned OFF your cellphone?
…didn’t check your email for more than 24 hours?
…took a vacation?
…took a break without the kids?
…shot something in a completely different way than normal (for you)?
…read a novel?
…took a long walk in nature?
…shot film?
…delivered images to a client in person?
…sent a handwritten “thank you” note?
…watched a classic movie like Casablanca?
…spent more than 30 minutes eating dinner?
…didn’t watch TV for 24 hours (or more)?
…didn’t use the ‘net for 24 hours (or more)?
…told your assistant s/he did a great job?
…told your significant other you love her/him?
…participated in a group art project?
…wrote a short story or poem?
…ate a real breakfast, sitting down?
…got 30 minutes of exercise, regularly, for more than a week?
…lit candles?
…had great sex?
…went to an art museum/gallery?
…listened to classical music?
…let someone else drive while you looked out the window?
…took a train or a boat?
…went to group meditation or church or temple or mosque?
…forgave someone?
…admitted you were wrong?
…taught students of any kind?
…smiled for no apparent reason?
If you have to think about it, it’s been too long. All of these things will help your business because all of these things are good for your health, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Try to do at least a couple of them every day.

Facing reality

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

What do you need to be in business…really, honestly, what do you need to run a successful business as a commercial photographer? Well, you don’t need a camera or lighting gear, as all that can be rented (yes, it is better to own, but you can rent it and still shoot a project). You don’t need a studio–that too can be rented on an as-needed basis. You don’t need a full-time assistant, or an SUV, or even a computer–all those things can be rented/hired.

You do, however, need an effective website and other promotional/marketing materials. You can’t get business if people don’t know about you and what you offer and, in today’s tight-fisted and competitive marketplace, you need to get and keep their attention. This is stuff you can’t “rent” as-needed because you need it 24/7. No marketing/bad marketing = no business, period.

I would argue that the most important tool for your business is your website–it’s the main representation of what your business is to people who do not know you (well). If you cannot afford to get a good website (say $3000+ to launch), you can’t afford to be in business. Harsh? No, not really–that is just reality.

Way too many of you think that you can design your own sites (and promos, etc.). You can’t. You are not designers and you do not have the in-depth technical abilities to construct a good site. And you shouldn’t–you are photographers, not interactive designer/programmers! When you try to save money by making your own sites you are not only producing a marketing tool that is not effective (and often downright bad), you are tacitly telling the world that anyone who can learn the technical basics of any creative profession can replace the creative professional.

How is it different for a designer (or end-client) to learn how to use a digital camera and NOT hire you to shoot a project? It isn’t. They’ll (more than likely) make crap “good enough” images just like you’ll (more than likely) make a crap “good enough” website.

Be a professional photographer and devote your talents to making the best creative images you can, and pay a professional to design/build your website (and other materials). It’s an investment that will pay off.

New day, new media

Monday, August 21st, 2006

Next time a client says they want unlimited usage, you’ve got another reason to raise the price: grocery store checkout conveyor belt usage.

Marketing budget woes

Monday, August 21st, 2006

When I talk to groups or post on forums I often get asked about setting marketing budgets. When I give the standard info (one should set a budget of around 10% of desired billings) often the response is “I can’t afford that!”

Actually, you can’t afford not to do that. The equation is pretty simple, little marketing = little business.

Recently, John Backman of Backman Writing & Communications shared something he read in The Marketing Report (a subscription newsletter): an article discussing how companies often cut marketing budgets when business slows, in an attempt to save money, and how this is not a good strategy. The writers of the Report (the Marketing Science Institute) found data that seriously suggest cutting your marketing budget is not only NOT effective, it’s a bad thing to do for your business.

It seems that their data show that companies that made the short-term move to reduce marketing spending underperformed their peers significantly in the first year and, over the longer term, the negative impact only got worse. In other words, that money you don’t spend on marketing today could equal over 40% lower sales (when compared to your peers) in 5 years. Ouch!
Now, I’m not suggesting that a business doesn’t have to watch its spending–it does. But not every dollar is equal in its effect. It would be better to put off buying a new Mac or not upgrading to a bigger studio or even changing your insurance to something with a higher deductible rather than cutting into your marketing funds.

I want you to be successful. Making good budget choices will help you on that path.

Humming the Go-Gos

Wednesday, August 16th, 2006

I didn’t want y’all thinking I was ignoring you or anything, but I’m out of the office for the rest of the week so there won’t be any more posts until Monday.

If it’s been a while since you’ve taken a couple of days off, schedule some time. Productivity increases post-vacation and an over-worked mind is a stressful, uncreative one.  You’ll be better off physically, too.

Why bad things are good

Monday, August 14th, 2006

In my article Fear (available in the Manuals section), I talk about how fear holds people back. We are afraid to tell a client “no,” for example, even when it is the right thing to do busness-wise, because that may mean not getting or losing that client. It’s scary losing work, but sometimes it’s the best thing that can happen to you.

For example, my husband is an architect. Okay, technically he’s not really an architect because in the state of California you are not permitted to call yourself an architect unless you are licensed and, though he has been working in the industry for many years, he is not yet licensed. Last week he got laid off. Losing one’s job is generally accepted as a bad thing. But in this case, it is most definitely a good thing.

First off, he wasn’t getting to do creative work at that firm, so he wasn’t loving his work. Secondly, and more importantly, he was so wiped out physically and emotionally from that non-creative job that he was having difficulty scheduling the time to study and take his exams (and there are lots of exams to take). Now, because he is no longer working for the firm that didn’t use his best skills or encourage his creativity, he has the time to study and take his tests, thus getting his license much sooner than he had ever hoped. He also has the time to work on his portfolio and be as creative as he wants to be.

After he gets his license he will be more marketable. He can open his own firm or he will be able to get a much better position. And with a more creative portfolio, either choice will be enhanced.

And all this because of a “bad” thing.

Next time you lose a client or a project, think about how you can maximize the positive from that “bad” event.