Evaluating Education Opportunities and more...

Evaluating Education Opportunities

As the photo education industry continues to rapidly expand, and many people plan for WPPI, it's important to evaluate what makes a quality education experience.  Even when you aren't paying to attend a free online webinar or tradeshow presentation, your time has value and it's important that you're able to walk away from an educational experience feeling like you made the best use of your time.  Just as you might search for reviews before purchasing equipment, I think it's equally valuable to do a little homework and make sure that the educational experiences you sign up for are aligned with who you are and what you need.  Use these steps to focus your time and energy productively:

Step 1: Evaluate Your Needs
Make sure the education you pursue is aligned with where you are RIGHT NOW in your life or business.  What's the FIRST thing you need to take action on?  If you don't have a portfolio of work or clients, than your priority should be focused on portfolio development and technical learning, not pricing or business info.  If you know you have a great portfolio but are struggling with bringing clients in the door, focus on marketing and sales.  Be realistic about what you're most likely to take action on immediately so that your time spent learning can be applied as soon as possible.  While this sounds obvious, there are people who like to consume any and every education opportunity possible, and you need to acknowledge if you fall into that category and start getting more focused about what you really need right now.

Step 2: Know Your Learning Style
If you haven't read a non-fiction ebook from start to finish in the last year, than giving your email address to someone for a free e-book probably is going to benefit the writer more than it benefits you.  Do you prefer podcasts you can listen to while traveling or videos that visually demonstrate techniques?  Is it hard for you to focus unless you're in a physical workshop setting with other attendees?  Do you need a printed book or full video that you can review multiple times rather than a webinar that will disappear?  Know what helps you succeed as a learner and avoid tempting offers that will simply fill your inbox without helping you move forward.

Step 3: Understand Your Desired Interaction Level
If you just have a couple quick questions around a topic area that don't need extensive explanation, than perhaps a webinar format can work if it offers Q&A.  If you have an extended set of questions about your specific situation that you don't want don't want to share publicly, than you may want to seek a mentor, coach, or consultant to work with one-on-one.  Is the topic something that could benefit from group discussion?  Than perhaps a group workshop where you can interact with other attendees will be beneficial.  Know how much guidance and feedback you need to help you take action before choosing an educational opportunity.

Once you've taken time to outline your needs as a learner, you can better filter opportunities and be more productive in how you allocate your time for education.

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. With over 10 years of success as a full-time photographer in weddings, portraits, editorial, and now architecture and interiors, she spends any extra time she has helping others find smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

Quoting a Job Without Project Details

The more commercial work I do, the more I find commercial clients who basically want me to give them a price without giving me any information about their project and how much time, effort, and detail it will take.  Trying to elicit more details out of those clients before sharing any pricing only results in responses about 40% of the time, which means the other 60% want to know something about price before they will even engage in a conversation about the project.  While this is frustrating from a creative and budgeting perspective, I've found a couple ways to open the door without committing to a bad price....

Provide An Average Client Range
By telling the client that average projects tend to range anywhere from $$$$-$$$$, they can immediately know if their budget falls in your client averages based on what they're requesting.  Even if it's a huge range from hundreds to thousands, it's amazing how just providing any number range can keep the conversation moving forward so that the client feels more comfortable expressing their project details.

Provide Quotes From Previous Projects
Providing samples of previous quotes can help a client better understand what level they fall in.  This would be similar to having an established price list, but provide more detailed examples of what can be included or eliminated from a quote.  Ideally, you'll be able to provide 3 solid examples from previous jobs you've completed.
Client A: Four hours of on-location photography with highly specialized studio lighting, stylist, makeup artist, and models with delivery of 10 retouched images for print advertising in a major magazine: $$$$$
Client B: Two hours of on-location photography with simple studio lighting to create headshots for 5 executives for an annual report with a delivery of 5 images: $$$$.
Client C: Full day of photography in studio with specialty lighting for commercial website and packaging use: $$$$

Provide A Low & High Estimate
If you think you have a good sense of what the job will be without a bunch of detail, you can provide a low and high estimate to help the client understand more about their needs.  It's a way of providing a soft quoted estimate with plenty of negotiating room.
Budget Option: 2 hours on location, 2 images delivered with option to purchase more $$$
Luxury Option: 8 hours on location, 8 images delivered with option to purchase more $$$$$

If you've had clients fall through the cracks because you weren't able to provide something they could begin to work with, try one of these approaches instead and see if it helps to improve your follow-through with new inquiries.

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. With over 10 years of success as a full-time photographer in weddings, portraits, editorial, and now architecture and interiors, she spends any extra time she has helping others find smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.


How to Announce Price Increases

As you evaluate your income and expenses from the last year, it's a great time to evaluate any pricing changes you may want to make for the year ahead.  Did you find that you put much more work into a certain product or service than you're being compensated for?  Did your suppliers increase their prices or change their product line?  Do you plan to add new services or products that will increase your overhead?  Do you need to invest more in packaging,  equipment, education, or marketing?

Whatever the reason for increasing prices, it's often one of the big struggles for small businesses who rely on retaining old clients while attracting new ones.  Most businesses find that their costs and/or prices have to increase year to year in order to stay sustainable and keep up with new market demands.  When businesses don't account for growth in their overhead, product, or service, they end up shortchanging their ability to continue serving clients well into the future.

Based on the many times I've had to change my pricing due to moving to a new market with new overhead costs, as well as helping other photographers who've needed to make changes to their pricing, I've found three strategies that help make it easier to move from one price point to the next without too much shock to an existing or recurring client base.

1. Same Rate, Different Offering
The easiest change you can make to a price list is to keep your rates the same, but redefine your offerings at each price point to more accurately reflect the time and cost that goes into creating that service and product at that price point.  The example below is for a portrait photographer who needs to move from providing too many images and giving everything away, to an offering that will allow for additional images to be purchased in order to account for the many hours they spend in post-production and retouching but hadn't been accounting for in their previous pricing model.
Example:  $250 Portrait Shoot
Before: Includes 2 hours on location, proofs online, all high resolution images
After: Up to 1 hour on location, proofs online, 2 high resolution images (additional images $75/ea)

2. Drop The Smallest Option, Add A Bigger Option
If you've presented your prices in a tiered packaging format that offers 3-5 package options, this method helps establish a new lowest price and highest price for your client offerings and makes it possible to take a big leap in price jumps from one year to the next.  This is ideal for businesses who started out too low to be sustainable and need to make a big move forward from year to year until they reach sustainability.  Since most clients tend to fall in the middle of package offerings, very few people end up booking at the bottom and top ends and generally move themselves into the middle.  When you take something that used to fall in the middle and make it a baseline package, you open up the opportunity for new clients to see a new middle ground while old clients still see a package number they're familiar with.
Package A: $1500 Shooting only, everything else a la carte
Package B: $2900 Shooting + some things included
Package C: $3800 Shooting + more things included
Package B: $2900 Shooting only, everything else a la carte
Package C: $3800 Shooting + some things included
Package D: $4700 Shooting + more things included

3. Baby Steps
People who've been in business for a long time and have very established recurring client bases, sales packages, and a good understanding of their time and cost invested generally only need to adjust prices slightly year by year as needed without much change to their offerings.  The idea is that smaller changes each year are less alarming to regular clients than dramatic changes.  They may even do this without any announcement or fanfare, just making small adjustments as needed.  As clients become comfortable with new prices year to year, the changes don't feel so dramatic that they are suddenly out of budget from one year to the next.
Before: $425 hourly rate
After: $475 hourly rate

"Should I let my clients know?"

  • YES, IF.... you have a lot of recurring clients who need to build your service into their budget.
  • NO, IF.... your client turn over is high and you're constantly serving new clients each year.

"How do I tell them?"
When you're ready to put your new pricing into effect, make it a positive announcement and share any growth you've experienced over the last year as well as any ways that you've improved your service through education or received recognition through awards or publication.  People love working with businesses that are growing and it's far more attractive to stick with someone who is on an upswing in their business than someone who characterizes changes in terms of how costs are weighing down their business.  If you don't have any exciting growth, awards, or improvements to share, you can just serve up a short and simple gratitude sandwich like the example below....

Example: "We want to take this opportunity to thank you so much for your support and business over this last year.  We've attached a new rate sheet for your reference and are happy to answer any questions you have.  We love working with you and look forward to working with you even more in the year ahead!"

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. With over 10 years of success as a full-time photographer in weddings, portraits, editorial, and now architecture and interiors, she spends any extra time she has helping others find smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

Standing Behind Our Value

I had quite a few challenges to pricing some projects with clients over the last couple weeks.  Prospects and even existing clients were pressing especially hard to try and get me to bring my prices under their budgets while still getting everything they wanted without any compromises on their end.  In some cases, they really couldn't afford to work with a professional, but were trying to find someone who would do a professional job for a non-professional price.  They pulled a lot of stops out of the negotiating bucket:
  • asking me to defend why I price things the way I do
  • saying that someone else prices the same thing much lower
  • talking about how great the exposure will be and how many other clients it will lead to
  • suggesting that a great price on this project will mean more future business together
  • telling me that the project doesn't require as much time/effort as I know it will
  • building a package discount and then trying to remove individual items at full price
  • threatening that they'll take their business elsewhere if I can't give them the price they want

When I was inexperienced and without the deep knowledge of how much time and expense goes into everything I create, these tactics may have made me feel insecure of myself and made me question my own value.  Due to experience and wisdom, these hard bargain strategies don't work on me anymore and I can spot them coming from a mile away.  I also know that the client who tends to use them up front is often a red flag for more issues down the road.  The tactics aren't new and they aren't going away anytime soon.  Not everyone can afford to work with a professional, and that's OK.  The problem is not that clients do these things, but that creative professionals blame clients for devaluing our work or industry.

The fact is, clients don't devalue our work, we do.

We devalue our work every time we don't stand up for our own prices.  We devalue our work when we agree to work for the same price "someone else" charges even when we have no idea who that someone else is or what the situation was.  We devalue our work when we accept exposure as sufficient payment even when we know it's something that should be paid for.  We devalue our work when we begin client relationships with an intro bargain, but then don't ask for more or don't raise our prices to fit our changing market, or professional advancement, or additional experience.  We devalue our work when we let clients tell us how much time or effort something should take, rather than defending our knowledge of the work we put in.  We devalue our work when we allow clients to get away with bad math rather than calling them on their errors.  We devalue our work when we take on projects because we feel desperate or threatened, rather than defending our value and holding space for better clients to come along.

Expect to be questioned about your value.  Expect to be compared.  Expect to be asked to work for free.  Expect to be lied to.  Expect to play hard ball.  Expect that sometimes you have to walk away in order to defend your value.  If you expect these things to happen, than you will only be pleasantly surprised on the occasions when they don't happen.

The difference between creatives with similar styles who charge more or less is often based on how they defend their value.  The $10,000 creative doesn't necessarily create better or more magical work for $10K, they simply won't do the work for less than that and are willing to take whatever risks, gambles, or other income streams are necessary in order to holdfast to that particular valuing of their work.  I'm not saying the market will pay whatever people feel like charging (though some people still debate that), I'm simply saying that our value is ultimately defined by how much we value our own work and are willing to stand behind our worth.  The funny thing is, the more comfortable we are with defending our worth, the more others tend to value it as well.

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. With over 10 years of success as a full-time photographer in weddings, portraits, editorial, and now architecture and interiors, she spends any extra time she has helping others find smart solutions to business problems. Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.


Are You Creating Buyer Confusion?

I've had several experiences lately where the way a business moved me through their sales process actually invited me to reconsider my choice after I decided on what I was going to buy.  These weren't like considering add-ons or compliments to increase the sale of my purchase, which would be a bonus purchase strategy, but rather, considering completely different products and brands which made me question my initial choice.  The buyer experience was one of confusion and distraction, rather than confidence and readiness.

Example 1: Sharing Information in a Public Sharing Platform 
I was invited by a service provider to view a price list on issu.com, an online magazine layout solution.  When I got to the bottom of the price list, the platform invited me to look at other service provider price lists for the same service!  So, even if I was sold on my first choice, now I was being given many other choices to take me into the rabbit hole of comparison and being completely taken away from my original intent of working with a specific service provider.  Make sure that how you're sharing your information with clients who are ready to make a decision isn't a place that invites them to compare other services.

Example 2: Showing 5 More Options for The Same Item
I was searching for a pair of boots on Zappos.com and when I made my decision and was ready to check out.  I was then given a side bar during my check out to look at 5 more types of black boots that didn't initially come up in my first searches.  Now, instead of checking out, I was spending more time debating my initial purchase instead of actually checking out with my purchase.  While it increased my time on the site to look at more variety, it delayed my purchasing decision and made me question what else I might have missed.  I almost didn't buy the boots I was ready to buy because I was taken down the rabbit hole of distraction.  In the photography world, this might be like showing several different flush mount album providers at the same price point and creating client decision distraction, rather than picking the best one for your workflow and business and only making the client decisions about what kind of cover it should have.

Example 3: Showing Products That Aren't Available
Isn't it the worst when you get to a restaurant and see a special or a dish you really like, only to have a server tell you it's no longer available?  Doh!!  Now we're beginning our experience with a disappointment about what's not available and doubting how many other things may not actually be available.  Make sure that any visual or price list you offer a client is current with the actual products you sell.  Trust is a huge factor in feeling good about a purchasing decision and it's important to make sure our offerings build trust rather than undermine it.

What Can You Improve?
Now that I've shared several distracting sales experiences, take a moment to consider the full sales experience your client has with your products and your services.  Are are you building confidence or confusion?  How can you improve the experience for the client?

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. With over 10 years of success as a full-time photographer in weddings, portraits, editorial, and now architecture and interiors, she spends any extra time she has helping others find smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.
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