Archive for July, 2011

Managing your message, redux

Monday, July 25th, 2011

Cnet is reporting that Facebook won’t permit ads for or even mentioning Google+ on its service.

When you read the article, you get the impression that it’s some sort of first amendment issue. Hey guys… news flash… it’s not. It’s not about free speech in any way. Facebook is its own business, not a government, not public (as in governmental), and it can do very much whatever it wants in the way of regulating speech.

Whether banning G+ talk or ads is a good business decision is something that we’ll not likely know for some time. I suspect, however, that this is a good idea for Facebook (if handled well). Some users might not like the inconvenience of not being able to cross-advertise as they may like, but why should Facebook promote its business competitor?

This brings me back to why I monitor comments and don’t post ones I don’t like, especially anonymous ones–I’m managing my message and there is nothing wrong with that. All good businesses do exactly that. This is my space. This is not a public space. I offer to you what I put on this blog and I hope you get something out of the material I present here, but this is not a public forum. You want to write that I’m a total idiot or, as some commenters have tried to post, that I should be put in a dark hole someplace without a trial, well, you go write that on your own blog and I can’t say bupkis (well, unless you actually slander me or pose a credible threat).

For your business blog and other social media tools, this means that you can and should control your message. You need to use your tools to promote what you offer. You owe no space to those who offer negative comments or your competition. In fact, I think the best thing you can do is ignore any of those outside attitudes and focus completely on what you want to say to the world. Everything should relate back to your core message.

For those of you who have read my books, you know already about the Vision Marketing Statement (VMS). This is your core message. It’s the heart of what you want the world to think of when they think of your business. If you don’t have a VMS (or similar), then you don’t have a message to manage. So start there.

Know who your business is (yes, I said “who”) and who you want it to be. It has a personality (mostly your own personal one I bet)–what parts of that do you like and want to show and what parts do you think might be off-putting and might be better played down? Once you have that, you can better use all your tools (not just the social media ones even).

Don’t sit on your hands

Monday, July 18th, 2011

You snooze, you lose is the old saying, but I’m not a big believer in A or B situations. I like shades of grey like in real life. That’s why when I announced my current sale, I did a graduated discount.

That means, although you can no longer get 40% off my selected services (see this post), you can still get 35% off. To do that you need to contact me and book the service before midnight (PT) on July 23, 2011 (and if you are unsure, I mean 11:59:59 pm PT on 7/23/2011).

Don’t forget, you don’t need to use the service right away–only book it. That means committing to doing the service, paying an up-front at booking, and actually using the service before the end of 2011 (balance invoiced after completion).

For those of you who have been, for example, meaning to update your website or re-do your book, this is the perfect opportunity to force yourself into action.

So, don’t sit on your hands and lose out on saving money while still getting solid marketing help from me.

_______

Oh, and don’t forget the BAP2Go app is on sale (big!) this month too!

Today is Day 1*

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

[*Last night I tweeted and FB-posted the following: Tomorrow, it’s the first day of everyone’s *new* business. A fresh start for all. Tomorrow, make your first $1. How? You’re creative, figure it out.]

Here’s something to help you get your business on the right road. As I hinted at yesterday (also on Twitter and Facebook), starting today it’s the Burns Auto Parts Super Mega Humungo Act Fast Summer Blow-out Sale! (™ of course… and with big starbursts and a logo the size of a hat, ha!).

Seriously, though, I do want to help shake things up a bit for everyone; so, as promised, I am offering some of my services on a big discount. We all need a leg-up now and again, after all. The thing about a leg up, though, is that you have to pull yourself the rest of the way up.
And so it is here.

Here’s your pull-up: in order to get the biggest discount, you have to book asap. The longer you wait, the less of a discount you will get.

Specifically, if you book (not do the work, but sign up to do it):

  • Now through July 17, 2011, you will get a 40% discount on selected services.
  • July 18, 2011 through July 23, 2011 the discount will be 35%.
  • July 25, 2011 through July 31, 2011, the discount will be 30%.

After that, no more discount. Oh, and you can’t add in some other discount. Thank you for playing.

The services discounted are the Test Drives (where I review your existing website and/or your book and make suggestions for improving them) and the Rebuilds (where I look at a greater body of your work and edit and sequence your website and/or your portfolio). Shoot me an email and I’ll give you more details on the services.

How much will you save? Well, at a minimum over $100 (Web Test Drive) and if you do the Web + Book Rebuild you could save over $500! Here are the actual numbers:

But wait! There’s more. (I just couldn’t resist saying that, you know, but really, there is) The BAP2Go app will also have a big discount for the rest of the month starting tomorrow (July 14… Bastille Day). In the US, you’ll save $20 and in other countries the discount is similar.

Oh, and please let others know about this by sharing the link on Twitter, FB, G+, LinkedIn, or whatever medium you choose.

Today is Day 1 for us all. 🙂

Be Careful Out There

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

One of the great things about the internet is the access to all sorts of information. Another is that the medium gives people the opportunity meet and/or to learn from other people they might not never have known of or had the opportunity to meet. The internet can be a great teaching & learning tool, but it can also be a dangerous place.

Sadly, there are a lot of people out there who put on a great show but who are, in fact, not experts or at least who have questionable backgrounds. In fact, there is the whole range–from real, giving experts and professionals to scam artists, and everything in-between.

The trouble is, it is very difficult to tell who is who. Although there is a lot of information out there, it’s difficult to know what is legitimate and what isn’t, so whom you follow for crucial business advice may be a great resource or someone who looks great but who is a convicted con man.

So, all I’m saying is that you should do your research and not just believe what you read on someone’s blog or website (including this one!). Ask questions and ask for credentials. Be a bit skeptical. Trust but verify, as they say. It could save you a lot of pain in the end.

On the Cult of Free

Friday, July 8th, 2011

I bet every reader of this blog has been asked to work for free. Certainly you’ve been asked to do it for insanely cheap, but I’m betting “free” has come up at least once in your career. There are usually three contexts for this.

First, you get the client who has no budget or is a not-for-profit. This client tugs at your heartstrings with pleas of “we can’t afford to pay” or “everyone is donating their efforts for this worthy cause” or even “we’re a start-up and if we hit, then we’ll pay you on shoots–we’ll remember–just help us out!”
I’ve always advised that if you want to donate because you want to donate (and this does not apply to the start-ups), go ahead and give of yourself; but, if you are only agreeing to do it out of guilt, do not do it.

The second group are the really evil bastards who act like they are doing you a favor for giving you the opportunity to work for them. Think of the publicity! You will be connected with this person/entity in the public’s eye! Lucky you!
Never, ever fall for this. They are making you their bitch from the very get-go and you will never, ever get the slightest respect, or money, from these people, no matter how sweetly they put it. It is never worth it.

The third group are the ones who seem oblivious to the fact that this is your business, that you have to make money, and sometimes they are even shocked that you would expect to get paid or get paid anything near what your rate is. Often, this is the result of the erosion of the apparent value of the service you are providing because others have given it away for free or very cheaply.
Here, just say “no.” You can try to educate them, but likely this client is looking for free or very cheap and really doesn’t care at all about your actual value. Walk politely away.

In my business, I get a bit of number 1, almost no number 2 (with one huge exception), and a whole lot of number 3. I get emails all the time from photographers who want me to review their portfolios or websites and when I say “it’ll cost $X” they act stunned. These days, there are a ton of consultants and photographer service providers who offer free out the yin-yang, and that makes it more difficult for me when I quote my rates.

Y’all have the same problem. Because there are so many photographers who will do it for a credit line or for cheap, the rates have been depressed. You have to face that as I mentioned in the post from a few days ago. Like me, you have to find a way to differentiate yourself from the hoards. For you, that way is by making unique work. If your work isn’t like anyone else’s, you’ll be the go-to person for that work.

For me, I seem to have picked a perfect time to go to law school to add that to my quiver. I’m the only consultant/lawyer that I know of.

See, here’s the thing about the cult of free: it’s fading. As the economy continues to swirl the bowl more and more regular people are commenting on how people cannot make a living. They get it. People understand that things cost money. The Long Tail is the emperor’s new clothes (see this, and this, and most of all this) in the real world where products we buy, like groceries, actually cost money.

So while we’re still in a tough place and we all have to deal with the schmoes who want it for free or next to free, none of us are alone in it and, I think, it’s getting better.

At least I hope so, because I can’t pay my rent with only good press either. 😉

You are an artist, not a lawyer (doctor, accountant, etc.)

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

I grew up with two older brothers who were Star Trek fans so I became one at a young age. Lately, the words of Leonard “Bones” McCoy ring in my head. He used to say “I’m a doctor, not a miracle worker!” or “I’m a doctor, not a brick-layer!” He knew what he was and he was more than confident and competent at it. More importantly, he knew what he was not.

We can learn from Bones.

The internet has made lots of information available to everyone. We have access to information that used to be essentially unavailable to people not in those professions. We can find instructions on how to build a house or even a nuclear device. We can access legal tomes. We can read medical journals. However, access to these materials has not made us architects, nuclear physicists, lawyers, doctors, or anything more than dilettantes in these arenas.

Yes, I said “we” and I am including myself. Before I went to law school, I thought I knew a lot about contracts and licenses and copyright. I thought what I didn’t know couldn’t be that much because I knew so much. I did know a lot, and a hell of a lot more than most people, but it was a cup of knowledge in an olympic sized pool. I never would have known how little I actually knew, relatively speaking, if I had not gone to law school.

Why am I bringing this up? Because there are a lot of very well meaning photographers and consultants who are posting about terms of service and releases and contracts and copyright (etc.) but they do not really know what they are talking about. Why? Because even though they may have read a bunch, they don’t know the law. It is very rare when someone posts “I talked with my lawyer and she said _____.” No, instead, it’s an authoritative sounding declaration from some photographer who, meaning to help, simply gets the law wrong.

Cries of “It’s a rights-grab!” spread through the photo community via social media like novovirus on a cruise ship. Sometimes the terms at issue are bad, sometimes not, but which is which gets lost because it’s almost impossible to fix a falsity once it’s been spread. There are just too many points of spread to fix them all, and thus bad info gets out and becomes an accepted truth. Frustrating.

So, please remember, you are an artist. Be a great and confident artist. Do your profession with all of the joy and enthusiam you have in you. Don’t let anyone tell you how to make your work and, most importantly, make your very own great work.

But leave the law to the lawyers, medicine to the doctors (and nurses), accountancy to the CPAs, architecture to the architects, etc. There’s a reason these professions require years of intense study and wicked-hard tests and are licensed by the state–because the material is complex and the issues are life affecting.

So, please, don’t share tweets or posts that offer a legal interpretation without first running it by your own lawyer. Don’t accept any legal sounding advice posted anywhere (yes, even from me) without making that same check. These issues are too important to leave to well meaning non-pros. This is your professional life, and those of your colleagues, you affect when you pass on that information.

Fighting the Good Fight

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

More on the Maisel/Baio situation has come out recently and what is being done to Mr. Maisel is a shame. It is, in fact, criminal in some cases, but whatever, it’s terrible that someone who did nothing more than defend his intellectual property rights has been attacked as he has.

Although it is incredibly tempting to want to, oh, smack freetards upside the head (or worse), we have to keep our fight above such tactics. Leave the bullshit attacks to them and rise above it.

What can we do? Calmly and articulately post comments and blog posts everywhere we can, defending Maisel and intellectual property rights in general. Fight against CC and the Lessigites (including groups like Public Knowledge and EFF) and call on your professional organizations to come out 100% against these IP-weakening “tools” and the groups which support them!

Don’t call names (okay… “freetard” is acceptable I think, but not much worse) but instead focus on the importance of IP in the global economy and on your personal economy. Make the case–you only can make your art if you are paid and IP rights are how that happens, etc.

Trust me, I know how hard this is. It’s so tempting to want to fight back on their terms, but don’t go there. I have been personally attacked via anonymous emails and tweets for writing against CC and Lessig in particular. I swear like a sailor in real life but some of the names I’ve been called even I wouldn’t say. Ugly is an understatement. But I know that if I start posting anonymous attacks on their sites, I will do no good at all and will, in fact, be lowering myself. No, fight the good fight instead.

These people, the freetards, the anti-strong-copyright people are tough enemies. They hide often behind anonymity. They are adept at spinning the rhetoric to make it sound like any strong copyright laws are an attack against free speech. We have a hell of a battle ahead, but the tide is, in my opinion, starting to turn for the better.

The government is understanding how much our economy has been hurt by piracy and it is trying to plug the holes in enforcement with PROTECT-IP and the like. More regular people are beginning to understand that artists of all kinds need to be paid for their work. We can win this war, if we keep fighting the good fight.

That means calling out bad terms like I did on the Assignment Wired “contest” and lauding those companies who do right by artists. It means weathering the name calling and tweetbombings and staying on message: strong copyright laws are necessary and good for everyone, even when it is occasionally inconvenient for some.

______

UPDATE/NOTE

I will not approve any anonymous and/or freetard comments. I give you no space on my blog to “share.” Don’t even bother trying, okay? Thanks.

_____

UPDATE 7/13/2011

If you want to know why I don’t approve negative comments, read this.

The ONE Thing

Monday, July 4th, 2011

© Leslie Burns

There is one thing you can do, today, on Independence Day (USA), that is absolutely free and will improve your business on a fundamental level. Anyone can do this, and in so doing, you will see an improvement in your business.

What is it? What can you do?
Stop blaming anything external for the state of your business.

The economy, your family obligations, your equipment, other photographers, your clients… you name it, I can find examples of photographers blaming the outside world for their woes. And though you might feel better after a bitch-fest, it doesn’t change anything to blame anyone or anything. All it does is make you a victim… a helpless, hapless victim.

My advice? Get over it.

Instead of looking at all the crap outside of you and your business, look instead to what you can do.

  • You can make images–make more of them and make them better than and different from anyone else. You have that power.
  • You can call your targets.
  • You can research better, more appropriate targets.
  • You can reduce your costs.
  • You can improve your production flow to save money and increase profitability on each project.
  • You can get a second job to get the money to send fabulous promos to your A-list targets (or get a professional edit of your portfolio and/or website, etc.).
  • You can start running your business like a business, with solid paperwork.
  • You can register ALL your copyrights.
  • You can start respecting yourself as a professional including not working with clients who treat you like crap.

And so much more.

The list of what you have the power to do is longer than you might think, especially if you are focusing on the external stuff. Nothing can hold you back unless you let it and you are not powerless unless you choose to be.

So on this Independence Day, I suggest you declare independence from your victimhood. The fireworks you watch tonight? They are for you–you live in a country that makes it (relatively–compared to many other countries, for sure!) easy to follow your professional dreams and run your own business. Celebrate that.

And tomorrow, when you start the second half of 2011, do it with all the fire and passion you ever had.

It’s a $10K job so it’ll cost you (the client) $7K

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

I’m hearing that a lot of photographers are getting busy again. Huzzah! That’s fantastic! But pretty much every one of them has had to lower his/her prices. That sucks.

Sadly, the title of this post is a reality and not just in photography. In 2007 if you could get $10K for a project, you might be able to get $7K today. Ugh.

Architects and designers and illustrators and writers… well, pretty much every traditionally creative discipline has been forced into lowering prices. There are many causes for this but really, none of that matters now–leave that to the economists and instead focus on your business looking forward. What matters to you is how you can do a $10K project for $7K today, so that you can stay fiscally competitive.

You can’t just drop your rates. Unless you pulled your rates out of your butt in the first place, you need to make a certain amount of money in order to be profitable and you based your rates on that. That number should be a function of your cost of doing business plus profit. And, since profit is not an option (remember no profit = no business!), this means you need to look at your numbers and see what you can do in all areas.

Start with production costs, always. When you look at how you have been producing jobs, where can you cut back without sacrificing quality? This is tough to do often because many photographers are already shooting with too-small crews.

You also need to think about where you can cut back on shoot-related creature comforts, but without making your client or your crew suffer on set. For example, can you work out a deal with someone to provide craft services for your shoots–all your shoots, exclusively for a year–at a lower rate? Maybe they get to advertise on the set (signs like “craft services provided by Betty’s Eats 213-555-1212”) more than before? Buy your drinks in massive quantities at Costco if you aren’t already. Try to work out a deal on other rentals like tents, RVs, etc. like with the craft services.

Check also that you are billing for items that the client expects to pay for, like studio rental and pre-production costs like scouting fees and assistant travel days. Even if you own your studio, you should bill a fee for its use and you should never expect (or, worse, demand) that an assistant pay her/his own way for a project. Billing for these items is common practice and a place to make some income. These items on an initial estimate show that you are thinking like a professional who understands production and they also give the client a place to ask you to cut without harming your bottom line as much.

The last thing you should look at is your profit, unless it’s been really unreasonably huge. Your net profit, I mean after paying out everything including yourself, needs to be somewhere in the 6-10% range to have a company that sustains itself and has slow (sustainable) growth.

In order to know those numbers, you need to pay yourself a salary and I know many of you do not do that. But you need to. Figure out how much you need to live on and set your salary high enough to cover your personal nut but not so high as to force your company into bankruptcy. Live by that number.

By the way, if your business does great, you can always give yourself (and your best crew!) a bonus at the end of the fiscal year.