PHOTO LOVECAT - 5 new articles


My No Portfolio, No Website Experiment

If you'd prefer to listen, rather than read, I've included a 10min audio file so you can listen along:


Last May I got so sick of listening to myself say, "I need to update my portfolio- the work on my website is over 7 years old!" that I actually decided to completely eliminate my website portfolio.  Yep.  Just deleted the whole thing and reduced my beautifully dense portfolio of weddings and portraits to just a one page, no gallery, about.me page with a photo of my face, one architectural image to suggest my new architectural work, and some text with links:



I actually tried to update my portfolio before deciding to completely eliminate it.  I'd worked with Kristi at Editors-Edge to refine the last 10 years of my wedding work down to several sample weddings and some themed galleries that were perfectly in line with the type of weddings I loved photographing, while also showing what made my style unique.  She helped me map it all out and finally got me to a point where I could stop spinning my wheels and just put my work out there.  It was all ready to go and yet, I STILL couldn't make myself do it.  Something inside me had such a powerful resistance and wall around putting my wedding work back out there that I just eliminated the whole thing.

When I took stock of how my business was shifting since moving to NYC, it became clear that my happy growth path here was going to be in the commercial architecture & lifestyle world rather than the wedding world.  The only problem was that I didn't have ENOUGH architectural imagery that I felt proud of yet to put up a portfolio I wanted to share, so I put up this simple one page site instead and sent out portfolio material as it was requested and as it applied to the client who wanted to see it.

What happened next is actually quite amazing.

Let me caveat all of this by saying that, thankfully, I'd already secured a steady interior photography contract that I could easily rely on even if no one else booked me.  That contract was the turn-key that helped me dive so fully into architecture and interiors.  While the money wasn't anything to brag about, it was frequent work, sustainable, and allowed me to work in my preferred methods, times, days, and locations while still giving me the flexibility to take better clients and opportunities as they came along.

I looked at that contract as essentially getting paid to walk 3-5 miles a day and meet my local neighbors while taking photos of their homes- which has also led to some interesting follow-up work, but not as much as you might think.  This was a win-win-win for me, the company, and the clients I shot for, but I knew that leaning too heavily on one contract was too small of a funnel for any growth.  I knew it was crucial for my continued growth and success to market myself beyond that steady contract.  Knowing that, and how little time and effort I was willing to invest in my online presence, I decided to stop relying on my website or any other online listing to do the work, and decided to take my marketing efforts off-line.

Luckily, I live in a place that would be considered a bee-hive of networking opportunities.  You can literally find networking events every morning and night of the week here.  It might cost you to attend them all, but if you want to hit the pavement with networking, there's no better bang for your time or buck than NYC, especially if you're working in a commercial context.  Even if you live in a small town, there are great networking opportunities to be found, because I've lived in those rural podunk towns too.  Over the years I've learned that networking and developing personal relationships is ESSENTIAL if you're a service business, especially one that generates its greatest income from word-of-mouth referrals.  There are other ways that don't require as much person-to-person time, but you'll just have to spend a lot more money on advertising.

Anyway, here's what happened when I eliminated my traditional photography website...

I actually received 3x MORE traffic to anneruthmann.com while being hosted on about.me than before on my own server.  Why?  Because the about.me platform encourages searching other pages and finding similar connections, which ended up getting more eyes to my site.  Cool beans, right?!  Well, sorta.

We all know that eyes on our sites are only worth something if they convert into paid clients.  I did another thing I would never recommend anyone doing- I put a lengthy contact form on my site that required at least 5 clicks to get to submitting your contact info, and even requested that you set up a specific appointment time and day to actually call me, not just send me an email!  Want to know how many people actually took the time to fill out that form over the last 10 months?  1.  One person actually made it all the way to filling out that contact form, despite having great traffic to my site.  Want to know how many people said they called me direct from my website? 1- and it was a sales call for advertising.

Let me summarize - I gave you no portfolio to look at online and I made it ridiculously difficult to get in touch with me!  To many people, this would appear to be a total business killer.  However, that's because too many people rely so heavily on online marketing to drive traffic and new contacts to their inbox instead of focusing on personal relationships and existing contacts.  I essentially flipped the system on its head and made it impossible to get into my inbox.  You literally had to know someone who knew me personally in order to contact me, and I can tell you that most of those people don't have my business card.  They either had my email or my phone number, and they would have to be able to find it in their phone or in their email if they were going to refer you to me.

What's kind of amazing is that as word of mouth traveled that I was focusing on architecture and interior photography, all the people I had personal connections with made me their point person.  I'm pretty sure half of them hadn't even noticed that I didn't have a portfolio of my work online!  However, because I came highly recommended from a trusted source, even the inquiries were willing to look beyond the lack of website material and simply requested I send them samples directly.  

So, how many new commercial clients did I book this way for something I had no portfolio to represent after just recently moving to this city?  10.  That may not seem like much until you understand that some of those clients became recurring contracts that included multiple shoots over the course of the year, some turned into extended licensing deals, and some have already resulted in more referred work and extended contracts for the year ahead.  Could I have booked more if I'd had a more refined portfolio online or made my contact form much easier?  Probably.  Will I book more in the coming year?  Yes, but it will not be because I will have a new portfolio online (eventually).  It will most likely be because I spent so much time offline, pounding the pavement, shaking hands, and reaching out to help people.

The lesson of this story is, don't expect your website do all of the talking for you.  You can have all the SEO in the world sending thousands of visitors to your website, get hundreds of inquiries a week, and still find that the majority of clients who actually pay to work with you, come from word-of-mouth, rather than online marketing.  So, get out from behind the computer and meet the people who like to make connections.  Get to really know the people who talk to your clients before you ever do.  Figure out who you can help and how you can help them- not because you expect a direct return, but because you enjoy your work and love serving others.  When you love what you do, it shows when you talk about your work, and it attracts people who value your expertise and passion for your craft.

I hope this has been an inspiration for you, and encourages you to take action in your own business to make more happen offline instead of relying purely on your online presence.
    


Photo Business Wisdom After 10 Years - Interview w/ Anne Ruthmann

When Dave Conrey asked to interview me for his Fresh Rag podcast, he initially wanted to chat more about my recent transitions in the photography world, after seeing my post on My Evolution As A Professional Photographer.

Of course, once he had me on the record button, he dug in deep about the photography industry and we ended up talking about moving from low-end to high-end markets in those early stages of business, gaining a national reputation, how to find other revenue streams in photography, as well as making that transition from one subject matter to another.  He really ran the gamut with me on getting an insider look at the photography industry, even beyond the scope of the event and portrait business.

If you find yourself wanting a thought-provoking interview to listen to on a long car ride, or maybe just over your lunch in your office, click on the image below and load up the podcast for an hour of juicy photo industry wisdom.  I'd love to hear your thoughts as well on what you think about some of the questions he asked!

Fresh Rag Interview Anne Ruthmann

    


Wedding Blogs Allowing Watermarks on Photos

A few years ago I wrote an "Open Letter to Wedding Bloggers" on my personal blog about the allowance and usage of watermarks on images.  I felt like I did a great job of outlining the reasons why it's important for a watermark to appear on an image - both for the photographer needing copyright protection and for the image protection of the clients featured in the photo.  Yet, not much has changed in the wedding blogger world.

There was a suggestion put forward for me to create a blogger list of shame for those blogs that don't allow watermarks, but I don't think that's nearly as helpful as highlighting all of the amazing and gracious wedding blogs that DO allow watermarking of images on their site.  I find it's far better for everyone involved to feed advertising dollars and attention to bloggers who are doing the right thing for their audience and content providers.  

Below is a list of blogs that allow watermarks ON your images, so that when your images are pinned or shared elsewhere from the blog, they can continue to be protected for you and your clients.  It's by no means a complete list, so if you know of more, PLEASE share them in the comments so we can keep growing this list to make it a great resource for all!  Special thanks to our awesome wedding photography colleagues Zofia Crosby, Adam George, and Dina Douglass who helped me update these resources for you.

Submission Links to Wedding Blogs that Allow Watermarks:


Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle photographer in New York City. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography full-time in 2004 as an independent small business.  She loves helping others find creative and smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.
    


5 Steps to Making Your Business Legit

While there are many more things involved in running a business, you can set foot on much more stable ground if you have these five things in place before you start to collect money for your services.  I've been surprised to find that even people who have been in business for up to 2 years don't actually have some of these business basics taken care of yet (I may or may not be talking about myself as well when I started over 10 years ago.)  If you want to call yourself a professional, than you need to operate as a professional by answering all of these questions first:

1. Do you have a Federal Employer Identification Number?
http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Apply-for-an-Employer-Identification-Number-(EIN)-Online

2. Do you have a business bank or credit union account with your DBA name?
http://www.freshbooks.com/blog/2013/05/07/doing-business-as/

3. Do you have Business Liability & Equipment Insurance?
http://www.sba.gov/content/types-business-insurance

4. Have you contacted your local small business agency or chamber of commerce to understand your local business laws regarding operating, employment, benefits, and promotions in your city and state?
http://www.sba.gov

5. Do you have a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) to advise you on your bookkeeping, expense tracking, sales tax, and income tax reporting?
http://accountantsworld.com/

... also, while there are many resources available online for contracts and legal documents, you will also want to make an appointment with a local small business lawyer to look over any documents which you use as agreements with your clients in order to make sure you've covered all of your bases to protect yourself and comply with any local laws regarding your offerings.

Anne Ruthmann is an editorial & event photographer in New York City. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography in 2004 as an independent small business. She loves helping others find smart solutions to business problems. Stay in touch on Twitter or Facebook.
    

Where to Find Freelance Photo Work



In 2011, I was preparing for a year of traveling around the world and taking a sabbatical from the demands of my wedding photo business for a while.  Since I had to stop taking wedding clients 12 months in advance of traveling, I also had to create a plan to help me live a more freedom-based lifestyle while still being a photographer with professional recurring bills to take care of.

At first I was terrified to give up my security blanket of wedding clients who always planned well in advance, rarely ever cancelled their shoot, and were a very predictable source of income, however, after I'd paid off enough debt and saved up enough money, I had a little more courage to take some leaps of faith and try a more fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants style of booking and serving clients.  What I ended up finding was how much I really enjoyed short-assignment and easy-for-me work that I could pick up on the fly and turn-around in less than a week.

Disclaimer: if a lack of security or routine throws you into a stress ball of unhappiness, this may not be the road for you to travel, but it can be a chance to pick up some side jobs in your free time.  However, if you're zen like a surfer riding a tsunami, than the freelance lifestyle will actually serve you far better than a more predictable routine-and-commitment based type of work.

Bonus Tip: if you're overworked, these can also be great resources to find your ideal virtual assistant, retoucher, white-balancer, graphic designer, web coder, video editor, and more!

Craigslist

The most obvious and freely available resource for finding wanted requests as well as promoting your creative services is by far, the Craigslist job boards (mostly in the United States).  People get used to using the site for all sorts of things like apartments, furniture, tickets, etc, and because the board is so vast, they just use it to look for everything else they need as well.  The really nice thing about Craigslist for an in-person service business is that it's locally focused, so you're most likely to get local leads that are easy to serve rather than national or international leads.  Granted, there are a lot of people out there giving their work away, but that doesn't mean that a buyer can't recognize the difference and value of hiring a professional.

Thumbtack

This service has only emerged in the online marketplace in the last couple years, but has aimed to streamline the process of finding creatives and services by allow people to create a posting with some guidelines for their request and a local area that they want to be served in and then the first 5 bids to respond are shown to the client.  This really streamlines the process for the person who's making the request so that they aren't overwhelmed with bids that are outside of their budget or from people who are unavailable.  It makes the process for service providers easy so that they only need to respond to a request if they have the time available to take the client.  It's free to create an account, but there is a small charge for each request you bid on.

Elance

One of the first and still most popular places really dedicated to connecting creatives with job opportunities.  Client billing and payment is managed entirely through the site, so if you need help with contracts or billing, they can help streamline that process for you.  You search for projects that fit your skills when you have time to apply, you make bids, and you're either accepted or not, but I believe the Elance cut is taken only when you're hired and paid through their system.

ODesk

Very similar to Elance, but also provides public profiles so that clients can seek you out directly by searching for available help rather than being directed to posting a job first and getting whatever comes in.  This freelancing article on FreshBooks shares some of the pros and cons of these similar systems.

The Creative Loft

Rather than a service that collects a commission or fees for transactions, this is a membership-based service for access to creating a profile and/or a listing for requests.  It seems to focus more on the community aspect of working as a freelancer, by providing forums and message boards for creatives to connect more easily and share.

Guru

This may be more ideal for commercial or studio work in which a product that needs to be photographed for a website can be shipped to the photographer.  Because the site doesn't easily filter by location, it's more ideal for someone who can provide their services virtually.

People Per Hour

Also ideal for people who prefer to work virtually, but this allows you to define a specific task that you're willing to perform at a very specific rate so that clients can hand-pick from services and prices like they would if they were in a grocery store.  There's also a bidding process that can help streamline inquiries, but they seem to do a great job of making the resource easy and user friendly.

Disclaimer:
Because I tend to stay busy on referrals alone, I've only tried two of the services above, the rest are things I found when I was looking for extra assignments to take on, so I'd love to hear about your experiences.  I used Craigslist while I was building my business from the ground up almost 10 years ago, but haven't used it for photo assignments since then.  I signed up for Thumbtack recently after moving to NYC, and there are many requests that come in too low or too far away for me to serve them professionally, however, there are a few gems in the rough and on a rare occasion I do actually respond to a request if it looks like it will fit my working style and schedule.

Are there other services or sites that you've tried and had success with?  Please share your experiences and thoughts in the comments.


Anne Ruthmann is an lifestyle & event photographer in New York City. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography in 2004 as an independent small business. She loves helping others find creative and smarter solutions to small business problems. Stay in touch on Twitter or Facebook.