On Copyright, Clients and Catfights

What's the most important aspect of your business?  What is it that matters most?  Think about it for a minute... of all the things that matter to your business, what is it that drives all other decisions?  I'm guessing it's not copyright.  Sure, copyright is a big deal to photographers.  If it weren't for legal protection, it would be almost impossible to earn a living creating photographs. 

Copyright exists for two basic reasons - so that the person who created a work can 1) control what happens with it, and 2) make money off it.   It used to be that if you couldn't control what happens with your work, you had little chance of making money off of it.

What never ceases to amaze me is how so many photographers seem to be far more concerned about #1 than #2.  Photographers worry about clients taking images and adding Instagram filters to them, and then posting them with their name attached.  Photographers worry about clients editing their own photographs, and people thinking that was the work of the photographer.  Really?

If your client doesn't know any better than to screw with their photos, what makes you think any of their friends are smart enough to know the difference. 

Speaking of your clients - let's be honest.  They don't care about what you care about.  When they hire you, they are paying you to create images.  Most of the time, what photographers do for commissioned work falls outside the original spirit of copyright protection anyway.  It's essentially work for hire.  Of course, protectionist minded photographers would certainly argue differently.  Back to the clients -  what do they care about?  Well, let's think about what they hired you for.

Most likely, they hired you to capture either an important event in their life, or important people in their life.  They've invited you to be a part of the most important thing in the world to them - their family.  They've asked you to use your talent, your skill, your experience, and your abilities, to help them remember. 

When a client pays you to create images for them, they are asking you to provide a service.  Let's be honest, when you turn around and tell a client that the photos they invited you to take,  of the people most important to them, aren't "theirs," there's a huge disconnect.  

So, again, I ask you - what's the most important thing in your business.  Is it creating images?  I think the gut instinct might be yes - but I'd challenge you to get past the easy answer, and get to the real answer.   I don't happen to think that the most important thing a photographer does is create images.  In fact, I believe that images are simply a tool photographers use to create value.

You create value you when you enable people to remember the way they feel as they walked down the aisle on their wedding day.  You create value when you help a mom remember the way she felt as her son took his first steps.  You create value when you help a family remember the way they feel when they spend treasured moments with grandpa.  The images are the tool, but the real value is something more.

That's not a small thing, by the way.  In fact, it's such a big thing that very few photographers ever figure it out.  And if the images are simply a tool to something bigger - creating value, how does that change the way you approach things like copyright.  How does your perspective change when you stop worrying about things like "what will my clients do with these images after I hand them over?" and instead focus on "how can I create value for my clients?"

That, by the way, is how you create value for yourself, and your family. 

Of course, this is a well-argued topic by now.  Many photographers have spent a lot of energy picking sides in what might be the biggest industry catfight I've seen in a very long time.  I guess my question would be - is that really the most important thing to your business?  Is choosing sides, and worrying about what some software company founder believes about your images, really the most productive way to invest in your business?

Let's be clear, I think it that DJ's comments were rather inelegant.  But they weren't wrong.  They bothered a lot of photographers, but they weren't wrong.  Were they self-serving and controversial?  Sure.  And for the record, I don't think I've ever agreed with anything "shoot and share" related, either philosophically, or in practice.  But it comes down to this:

Are you more concerned about controlling your images, or adding value.  One of those will, for sure, make you far more money than the other.  Focus on value.

 

SEVEN MISTAKES PHOTOGRAPHERS MAKE WITH PRICING

If you're a photographer, there's a good chance you've smashed your head against more than one wall, trying to figure out what to charge for your work.  You've probably tried a lot of things, some of which worked - and some that didn't.  At the same time, many of us have made a lot of mistakes when it comes to pricing.  Here are seven mistakes I commonly see photographers make when it comes to pricing:

Scientific-Marketing-Pricing.jpg

1) Worrying about what other photographers charge

Be honest.  When you started out, and were trying to figure out what to charge, one of the very first things you did was to look around, at the other photographers in your area, and try to figure out what they charge.  You're not alone.  

Then again, I remember my mom once told me "just because everyone else is doing it..."  The problem is that you have no idea what their pricing is based on.  You don't know what their expenses are, their product markups, or profit margins.  Even worse, what if they don't know those things (which, lets be honest, isn't totally out of the question).  You don't really know anything about their business, so why would you want to base your pricing on it.

2) Failing to understand their real cost (COGS)

Figuring out the wholesale cost of something isn't really that hard.  You know what the lab charges you for an 8x10 (I hope!).  You probably have a pretty good idea what it "costs" you for each product you sell - except that's just the beginning.  To really get a picture of what a product COSTS you, you have to look at the total COST OF GOODS SOLD (or COGS).

Your COGS includes the wholesale cost, shipping costs, packaging costs, plus design costs, production costs, the cost of selling the product, the time editing the images, and the time spent in production.  It includes everything that goes into selling and producing that product - not just the wholesale cost of the print or album.  To really begin to know how to price your products, it's critical to begin to understand COGS - and by far, the biggest area where photographers struggle in this area is...

3) Undervaluing their time

You are expensive.  Seriously.  You are an expense of your business.  All of the time you spend on your business - especially selling and producing products - is an expense of your business.  This is true, even if you aren't directly paying yourself.  Often times, we think that if we do it, it's free.  

There are a lot of reasons why that's not true, but here's the only one that matters: Anytime you spend on your business, is time you can't spend on anything else - and there's a price on your time.  You can't get it back.  You can only spend it once, so it has value.  Failing to really appreciate the value of your time is the quickest way to go broke and out of business.  Here's a post that goes in to more detail on how to price your time.

4) Missing the sweet spot

Pricing is one of your most important sales tools.  You can use pricing to motivate people to do what you want them to do, and to buy what you want them to buy.  Too often, photographers create pricing that doesn't make it obvious what the client should buy.  If it's hard for the client to determine value, it's hard for them to make a purchasing decision.

For example, when creating packages, you can use pricing to help clients book.  You can use pricing to drive clients to purchase larger prints, or better packages.  You can also use it to motivate them to purchase the things you value - like albums.  

When you approach your pricing as a sales strategy, you can create a pricing structure that creates the most value for the client - while maximizing profitable revenue for you.

5) Giving too much away

This mistake is about discounting your pricing, because you don't believe anyone will book you for what you're worth.  Guess what, if you don't believe you're worth it, no one else ever will either.  

There are definitely times when using discounts, or added value, can be a strong sales and closing strategy - but too often, we discount out of desperation.  We think we have to lower prices because no one is booking, or no one is buying.  Here's the thing - if you lower your prices to the point where you're no longer profitable, aren't you actually better off if no one books?  At least then you're not working for free.

6) Creating confusing packages and options

Your pricing probably makes sense to you.  After all, you probably spent some time thinking about it.  You came up with prices and numbers, and cute little package names - and you know what it all means. On the other hand, your clients have no clue.  If a client can't easily tell what your pricing means, or what your packages contain, they'll make the easy decision - and go somewhere else.

If you find that clients are frequently asking to swap out items from your packages, or if they're confused about the real difference between two packages, you might want to reconsider how you structure and present them.  My general rule is, whenever possible - simplify.  Make it super easy for a client to know exactly what you want them to do, or buy.  

Don't use strange names that don't make sense.  Don't create packages where multiple variables change at each level - people can't compare value when that happens.  Instead, simplify.

7) Changing their prices too often

This might be the biggest mistake of all.  Not only does it create confusion (often for you), it erodes brand trust, when potential clients sens that you're not really sure what you should be charging, or where the value is.

Certainly, if you're not charging enough to be profitable, you should consider a strategic way to raise your prices.  But, instead of just randomly changing variables until something seems to "stick," take the time to put in the work to create a profitable pricing structure that works for your business.  And then, "stick" with it.  

Changing prices more than once a year, is likely to cause you more problems.  The only exception is if you happen to have far more work than you can possibly take on - in which case, the laws of supply and demand dictate raising prices to create equilibrium.

For more help on really dialing your pricing, check out the FREE pricing guide download.  Just click the link above.  I highly recommend you check out Jared Bauman's Pricing consultations.  He's pretty much THE expert on creating pricing that works for you.

hat do you think? What other common mistakes have you made, or have you seen other photographers make with pricing? Leave a comment below.

ONLY DO WHAT ONLY YOU CAN DO

Running any business is a lot of work.  Running a photography business isn't any different.  Sure, there's no greater freedom that the opportunity to do something with your life that you love, but that doesn't mean it isn't work!

only-do-what-only-you-can-dojpg

As a photographer, you wear a lot of hats.  You're responsible for a lot moving parts that all have to fit together perfectly.  And, if you're like most of the 26 million other small business in this country, you're doing it all on your own.  That means that you're dealing with everything it takes to run a photography business, including: 

Meeting with prospective clients. Handle Contract/payments, Keep track of expenses. Keeping track of client information, Photographing weddings/portraits, Conducting Sales/Viewing Sessions, Backing up Images, Editing Images, Process Images. Uploading Images to online viewing Take Orders, Fulfilling Orders, Packaging and Delivering Orders, Record, File and Remit Taxes, Handle Marketing, Blogging, Designing and Maintaining Website, Design and Selling Albums, Produce Prints/Products, Handle Accounts Payable, Research and purchase new gear, etc...

By the way, that's not even an exhaustive list!  It's just some of the things that photographers deal with in their business on a regular basis.  It just scratches the surface of what you have to do to build a profitable photography business.  There's just one problem - doing all of those things isn't sustainable. 

It's not possible for you to do everything, but even if it was - you still shouldn't.  In fact, I have a rule.  I didn't make it up, but it's one of my core values as an entrepreneur and business owner. 

ONLY DO WHAT ONLY YOU CAN DO. 

What do I mean?  Exactly that.  Look at your business honestly, and figure out the stuff you need to be doing, and only do that.  Find someone else, or create a system, to do the rest.   Why?   Because, If you're a wedding or portrait photographer, chances are, you have very little margin in your business - and as a result - in your life.  

Systems Create Margin 

I like to think of margin as the difference between all the things we're doing (our responsibility), and all the things we're capable of doing (our capacity).  For many of us, we have little or no margin - and end up feeling like our friend above.  If you scroll down, you'll see this post, where I share results about how photographers spend most of their time.

The fact is, most of us spend much of our time on things that don't necessarily help us grow our business - they just help us barely keep our head above the water.  So, what if we were able to create systems that helped free up some of that margin - so we could spend more time on things that really helped us build our business.

So what do I mean by "systems?"  Everything you do on a regular basis should have a system: a repeatable process to complete common tasks.  In my business, I have systems in place for our accounting, our workflow, client relationship management, sales, and ordering.  Each of these systems is designed to be efficient - saving me time. 

For example - I block time each day for responding to email and other communication that needs my attention.  My image editing workflow takes me about 4 hours on Monday, and my album pre-design takes about 1.5 hours on Wednesday.  I create repeatable systems for the things that have to get done. 

It's Not Always Cheaper To Do It Yourself 

Far too often, photographers fall for the fatal flaw of running a business - the belief that  it is always seems cheaper to do something ourselves - than to pay someone else to do it.  While there are numerous reasons that this isn't true, there are two specific reasons that I think it's worth it to consider hiring someone else (outsourcing) to handle aspects of your business.

My general rule is this: If it's IMPORTANT, and you either 1) hate doing something, or 2) aren't any good at it, or 3) it doesn't make you any money,  it's worth it to pay someone who is.  

Basically, outsourcing to a trusted partner can save you time and grief when it comes to a lot of areas of business.  Outsourcing can also save you a LOT of money when you begin to consider what your time is worth - and what you can do with your time to grow your business when you take things off your plate.

Here's a few of the partners I trust to help me grow my business: 

ShootQ for client relationship management, booking, workflow and communications

ShootDotEdit for image post-processing

ShootProof for online hosting of image galleries for wedding clients

Preveal for in person client viewing software on my iPad. (It's super simple, and it's gorgeous!)

 

Your turn!  What systems and partners have you found that make running your photography business a little bit easier?   Leave a comment below...

RUNNING A BUSINESS ISN'T SEXY

Art is sexy.  Creating powerful images that resonate with people is sexy.  Doing things you didn't think you could do is sexy.  Getting up in the morning and deciding that you're going to create something that changes people is sexy.

running-a-business-isn't-sexy

Bookkeeping isn't sexy.  Hiring people isn't sexy.  Filing taxes isn't sexy.  Post-processing your images isn't sexy.  Workflows aren't sexy.  Post-it notes aren't... you get the idea.

Running a business isn't sexy, and yet it is incredibly beautiful.  Running a business is beautiful because running a business means freedom.  Running a creative business means saying "I'm not interested in a life of someone else's choosing, instead I choose to devote my life to something I love."  I could simply create, but instead I choose more.  I choose to build something sustainable, that allows me create art and create value.

Do it right, and it adds value to your life, to you family, to who you are.  Running a business means creating something where nothing existed before.  It means adding value to this world - adding value to your family.  

Sure, running your own business means laying awake at night wondering if you'll ever have another client.  It means that your brain is always racing with all of the things "to do."  Running your own business means that all of the decisions are your responsibility, all of the successes are to your credit, and all of the failure is your fault.  There's nothing easy about running a business.

In fact, I don't think there are many things harder than starting, and building a profitable & sustainable creative business.  But is there anyone that would argue that hard work isn't absolutely beautiful?

There are a lot of sexy things you could do with your life.  In this country, where we live, there are an almost incalculable number of choices you could make, for what you want to do with your life.  You could, almost literally, do anything with this life, and yet - you choose this.  You choose to wake up each morning, and devote each day to building a business. 

That may not be sexy, but it sure is a beautiful thing.

IT'S BEEN A WEEK

It's been a week since you joined us.  We are now a family of 6, which seems somewhat strange, and at the same time, perfect.  We're so grateful to finally meet you, and - as you can see - your brother and sisters are completely in love

Happy one week birthday Mason!