Archive for May, 2008

Economy and us

Friday, May 30th, 2008

AdAge has an interesting commentary on how the rising gas prices are/will affect agencies and, by extension, their vendors…yous guys, as my aunt would say.

Speaking of gas prices, now would be a good time to re-evaluate your CODB and, possibly, raise your prices overall. Or, and this may be preferable as a first tactic, to raise the prices you charge for mileage. Forget about what AAA or (eek!) the IRS says about mileage rates, you need to do your own math. Don’t forget to add in things like insurance, etc., to cover you full costs of operating your vehicle. It’s probably a lot higher than you realize.

Now, if you want to avoid charging your clients mileage, especially for locals, you can do that and it may make for helping you appear more helpful and accommodating (all good); but you must cover those costs somewhere so that will mean burying those costs in your fees someplace. Don’t ignore those costs–they are a significant part of your cost of doing business and if you don’t recoup them, you’ll go out of business eventually. Think of it like a tire with a slow leak.

Someone recently posted on one of the photog forums a question about running ads on his site. I advise against that for your main sites. It just looks cheesy and desperate which pulls down your perceived value in potential clients’ minds. Sure, you can make some $$, but the trade-off isn’t worth it. However, if you have a blog, ads there are better tolerated. I’m not saying you should go out and sell space, but if you really want to, keep it limited to your blog. 

This is a question I’ve been struggling with myself, as I approach the start of law school. I could use the passive income, as my active income will take a major hit during the school year (and every bit helps, of course), but it does squeeb me a bit to think of having ads on my materials. It’s like a tacit endorsement, and I’m too much of a control freak to feel comfy with that.

Still, in these difficult economic times, diversifying income streams is something smart to consider. What new products or services could you offer? Maybe working a co-op arrangement with some of your colleagues would be good–so that you each get a piece of any pie that comes in while offering a more diverse set of skills to your clients: Come to our studio and get the product and the people shot by a team of talented photographers, backed up by a great in-house post-production specialist…or something. Consider doing some consumer work, if you don’t already, or selling framed prints of your work to your corporate clients. Don’t rule anything out until you’ve given it some real thought.

Now is the time to get creative with your marketing as well. As they say, it is cheaper and easier to keep the clients you have rather than winning new ones, so why not offer something special to some of your favorite “regulars” like a phrequent photo (get it?) card–shoot 3 images and get the 4th for 50% off. Like in coffee shops–you stamp or hole-punch the card. Sound goofy? Of course–but that’s part of the concept–make it fun and goofy! Maybe make it more like frequent flyer points, with a point for each dollar spent and “prizes” for reaching different levels–make ’em good like an iPod (engraved with your logo!!) at $10K or something; or, especially if the client can’t take gifts, make an equivalent donation to a food bank or other politically neutral charity.

The point is, in shaky economic times, it’s smart to look at the basics (like mileage costs) to make sure you aren’t “leaking” money, but don’t get so conservative that you forget to reach out there and try stuff. When everyone else is pulling back, reaching out can be just the thing to separate you from the herd.

Godin nails it again

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

Let’s put on a show, he says, and he’s right.

You get to pick who you want your business to be (yes, you read that right)–wouldn’t you rather it be something more than something whatever?

How not to win customers

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

Let’s say you run a service-based business and, like any company, you pretty much always want to get new customers. You offer a really good service, something that really would benefit your customers, and something that there is definitely a need for. There aren’t too many competitors, even, but there are some so it’s not like you have a captive audience or anything. 

Now let’s say a potential customer contacts you in response to some of your marketing–you sent out an email promo to a past customer and it got forwarded to the new potential customer (NPC). This is great! It’s tacitly an endorsement for your company! Then, that NPC not only goes to your site and enters in information about herself and her needs, she actively contacts you to learn more about your offerings. Woo hoo! Specifically, she wants to know how much a defined service costs–not something vague like “unlimited usage” but let’s say something like a headshot for an individual (not a company) for PR use only (no third party rights). You’ve done a billion of these, and you know the price like the back of your hand.

Should be a no-brainer, right? You could email the NPC back and say “That package includes _____ and will cost $XXX.” But instead, your system sends an automatic email replay stating that someone will answer the email “usually within 48 hours.” Then, you follow up with an email stating that “The phone number you provided doesn’t work. Please let us know the correct one so that we can contact you.”

Way to go…you just made your prospect feel not only unimportant (“usually within 48 hours”?!) but also like some sort of criminal rather than someone who just wants some basic info without having to give you all their personal details.

The NPC replies, “Yes, I gave you a false phone number because I don’t want a sales call; I just want to know how much the product will cost, for now.”

The company replies, “We offer products that range from $XXX to $XXXXX and we can’t give you a price until we know more about you and your needs…if you are still interested, please contact us with this information…”

You know what the NPC does? Goes to a competitor. What started out as a potential easy sale has turned into a nightmare of bad customer service. 

This is a real story. It really happened. I know for a fact that a company with a really great product lost a sale because of all this hoop jumping they demanded of their potential customer. And don’t think that NPC didn’t contact the person who forwarded the email to say “that company was a jerk to me!”

Don’t let this happen to you. Instead, if you can answer a simple price question simply, do so. Don’t milk the NPC for more info, don’t try (much) to up-sell, and don’t make her feel like a scumbag. Make it easy for the customer and OFFER rather than demand. If this company had said, “If I understand your request correctly, you are wanting a price for _____ service with these limitations–that would be $XXX. We have other options, though, that we’d be happy to talk to you about, if you are interested–like adding on ______ at a discount.” I bet they would have had a quick and easy sale.

Even better, then provide a direct email and phone number for the NPC to use to contact a specific person (the one who sent the email reply). This person in this story got emails from several different people…another way to make the NPC feel unimportant. And make sure to contact any NPC within one business day, always (except for vacations). Make the PC feel important–valued by you and your company–not like some sleaze-ball who dared contact you. Asking, even, “How can we make this process better for you?” at some point is a great idea. 

Think about how you would want to be treated by a company, if you were the NPC, when you design your customer service. And yes, you should plan (design) your customer service as well as other aspects of your business. Doing so will help make sure that you don’t lose customers by coming off as an aloof or paranoid jerk. 


New Creative Lube

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

New Creative Lube podcast episode available on iTunes, or you can access it here, too.

More technology

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

PicScout you’ve heard me mention before. Now there are more companies developing similar tools to track images on the web. Here’s one such company–idéeinc. With tools like these, many of the Orphan Works issues will become less threatening.

Maybe the sky isn’t falling after all. 🙂


Holiday Monday

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

Take Monday off. It’s a holiday (in the US). Do something fun. No email checking, no cell phone…just go have a day off…really off. You need it.

New uses

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

I was playing Wii the other day when I decided to check out the “news channel” they offer. There I found articles, mostly from the AP, including photos. Click on the photo, get it full-screen. So, when you license to AP, they license to Nintendo…but are you getting any more money for that usage? You can bet AP is getting paid for that use.

Just about every week I find some new or unusual use for images…Wii, grocery store conveyor belts, lampshades, youtube, etc. Whenever a client asks for a “buyout” or “all rights” or “unlimited usage” you have to remember that these things HAVE to be included. Asking your client if they need rights for the Wii or grocery store POP in India will help them see how they don’t really need “unlimited” rights.


Great, twisted mind

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

I love this Belgian woman’s work–Frieke Janssens. And I love how her site includes the comps for the ads. Make sure to click on ’em to see the “before” ideas she renders so well. 

Make sure to look at her personal work too–notice how much her commercial work is like her personal work? How do you think she got the (fun) commercial stuff… 😉


(I wish the images on her site were a bit larger, but still…cool)


[hat tip to Clay]

Economies of Scale

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Ugh…I hate that phrase, “economies of scale,” when it has anything to do with creative work. But, unfortunately, it’s happening all over. The Wall Street Journal has this article about off-shoring digital advertising.

The thing to remember about scale, is that it is even more vital to hold onto your rights and license them. Better to make $20K over 5 years than $10K now.

Issues like off-shoring and price-shopping by major companies like GM are going to affect the creative industries more and more. How are we going to respond? How can we serve our clients and grow our businesses in the future? We need new ideas and need to be willing to look at ideas rejected in the past for whatever reason. We cannot rely on “this is the way it is done” for a successful future. 

Google and the future

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

As a life-long Apple user (my first Apple was pre-Mac), I’ve definitely been one of those who demonized Microsoft. Today, I feel differently about that company. Why? Because, while I still think their operating systems are terrible for most users and can’t imagine buying a PC ever (though I will have to use Windows to take tests in law school), they are strong supporters of copyright and other intellectual property protections. They are even trying to reach the youth to educate them about copyright. 

Google, on the other hand, is one of the worst companies when it comes to intellectual property rights. But it has felt like no one was saying it–like the emperor’s new clothes or something. Finally, someone with a strong media presence has said it: Jim Cramer of CNBC. While I’m not endorcing Mr. Cramer, a lot of people follow him and his advice, and so it is great that he is speaking out in this way. In a recent piece in the LA Times, there is this quote about Google:

“It’s just a parasite,” he says. “It doesn’t create content, it steals it, borrows it, shares it.”

Finally! Woo hoo! 

Trouble is, of course, Google makes great tools (I, regretfully, use several myself) and is immensely popular. They make their products “friendly” and easy to use and (most importantly) mostly free to use (paid for by ads), so we easily forget or don’t even bother to ask about how they do it. As the old saying goes, we don’t want to see how the sausage is made.

But Google is arguably the biggest enemy to intellectual property rights out there. Their book scanning project alone threatens to destroy authors’ rights, but it is couched in the mantle of “freeing” knowledge. Everyone wants information to be free, right? That’s their argument, and on the surface it sounds great! But the reality is that all this will do is shift how/where the money goes. And the artist/author gets screwed.

Where the artist (author, etc.) now gets paid a bit for each book sold (staying with the book example), Google will eliminate a huge portion of books sales, offering the material for free to consumers (readers) online (so far–the future could include more portable reader-devices of some sort) and making money on the ads it sells which accompany the material. They will keyword (I bet) the texts so that, for example, when you read about Ford Prefect in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you will get a Ford Motors ad. The author/artist will get bupkis, or maybe some one-time payment, but Google will get paid for every ad on every page of every text, over and over. 

Google is one of the backers of the Orphan Works bills. They are also trying to argue “fair use” as a much broader thing than it (arguably) is. They are trying to break down copyright and IP law wherever they can WHEN IT HELPS THEIR BUSINESS. 

And they are amazing at how they spin it “for the good of the people” and “freeing” etc.

My point? Well, it’s only that we need to look deeper and longer at things that seems good (or bad) on the surface. Sometimes the things we think are bad aren’t and the things we think are good are terrible. Sometimes we have to sacrifice the ease of, say, using GoogleMaps to protect our long-term interests (protecting IP rights) now and in the future.