Thursday, July 28, 2011

Q & A: More Simple Marketing Tips For Emerging Professionals

From time to time, readers send in questions or ask for help. In the coming weeks, I'll try to answer a few of them here.

- Do you have any other marketing suggestions to give to those who are in their first year (or so) in the photography business?

RAISE YOUR PRICES! Seriously . . . there is nothing more difficult than starting at a low price point and experiencing difficulty raising prices at a later date because clients balk. Start them out expecting to pay for what you are worth.

UNDERPROMISE AND OVER-DELIVER - There is nothing worse than getting a client's expectations up and then disappointing them with low-quality or late delivery. Just because your lab turns things around in 3 days is not a good reason to tell them that their images will be ready in a week. Take into account the fact that you have to prepare the images along with all of the other things that go into running your daily business. It's much better to tell them to expect 3-4 week turnaround and actually deliver in 2 weeks . . . that makes you a hero rather than a goat.

WORD OF MOUTH CAN MAKE OR BREAK YOU - The biggest problem is, you never hear the bad things until it's too late. Set your expectations up-front and then stick to your deadlines. After delivery, make sure to thank your clients with a card and give them an opportunity to refer their friends.

- David Grupa 

Do you have a question you like a member of the Camp David team to answer? Send your questions to !

Monday, July 25, 2011

Beat the Competition By Outperforming, NOT Underpricing - Part 2

In the first part of this article, I talked about how so many of us got into the industry because of our love of photography and the desire we had to create beautiful images with our cameras. It was so completely enjoyable, we may have even thought we'd do it for free! (Sadly, by under-pricing, many photographers do work for little or nothing.)

While desire, energy and passion are great, those qualities alone will not be enough to make you a successful photographer or run a profitable business. You must set yourself apart from the competition. Many photographers realize this, but few actually understand what it means.

In this segment, let's discuss how to put some distance between you and the other photographers who are competing for the same dollar. Since we know don't want to slash prices (and profits) to achieve this, we have to find better methods. Not surprisingly, almost all of them are centered around education.

Last time I talked about some of the biggest mistakes I made, so this time (just to prove that I wasn't a total idiot) I'll share some of my best decisions.

  1. Become an active member of professional associations.
    This is easily the single smartest and best thing I ever did; my only regret is that I didn't do it sooner in my professional career.

    - Why it was a great move: Membership in professional associations - specifically PPA and my state and local affiliate groups - provided me with the resources I needed to position myself as a professional studio. Especially now, in a market where every digital SLR owner prints 250 free business cards online and brands him / herself as a "professional", membership in PPA and affiliate groups add an extra level of credibility and accountability to you as a professional.

  2. Take full advantage of the opportunities offered by these associations.
    When I said to become an "active" member, I mean get involved. It does you minimal good to pay the dues and not take advantage of the benefits, educational and networking opportunities that these memberships offer.

    - Why you should "go for it all": This is where I really started to blossom. When I began attending meetings and seminars, not only did I learn from the presenters, but it seemed I learned equally as much from my own colleagues who were in the very same room. Here were the very people I was thinking were my "competition" sharing their own tricks and secrets with me, the new guy! I couldn't figure it out. After accepting an invitation to visit a nearby (within 2 miles of my studio!) colleague, I asked why they were sharing all of this information with me. His both response surprised me and stuck with me to this very day. "If I help you learn the proper way to run a successful business, we're not really competing with each other. We're just raising the bar for photographers everywhere and showing the public what they can expect from a professional studio." No matter which group I got involved with, my experiences were similar.

  3. Challenge yourself by entering print competition.
    I know, you're thinking "I don't need to enter print competition. Why do I care what another photographer thinks? My work is just fine!"  The truth is, if I had a dollar for every time I've heard this, I'd be wealthy. (And that's just from my former business partner!)

    - Why you should enter:
    The truth is, participating in print competition IS scary, but it will ultimately make you a better photographer. Seeing the work of other photographers and hearing the critiques of experienced professionals will give you ideas and background on what makes a great portrait. Seeing the actual image and listening to the reviewers' commentary often drives home the need to step outside of your own comfort zone. Print competition has challenged me to stretch my personal limits and has made me a better photographer.

  4. Roll up your sleeves and get involved.
    A number of years ago, a photographer friend was telling me about a new member in their group who had come to him with the complaint about the group being "cliquey". The member went on to tell him "I really don't know what to do . . . it's almost as if there's a secret password to get to know people." My friend smiled and replied "Well, there is sort of a secret phase. To meet new people, walk up to anyone who's busy and say "How can I help?"

    - Why you want to do this: Did you ever notice how some people walk? They avert their eyes downward or only look straight ahead as they walk. While they end up getting to their destination, they often miss all of the wonderful experiences around them along the way. The same is true for your involvement with any group. Roll up your sleeves and help take down equipment after a seminar. Don't worry about making a long-term commitment or being elected president. Simply hang around after the meeting to help put away chairs, roll up cords, whatever is necessary. I guarantee people will learn your name and you will instantly become better acquainted with a greater number of people.

    If the group goes out afterwards, join them! Grab a bite to eat, or have a soda or a drink and join the conversation. Some of the best learning experiences happen outside of the actual classroom and who knows . . . you may even make a new friend or two. Some of my closest friends are people I've met through professional photographic associations.

  5. Step outside of your comfort zone by pushing yourself to achieve new heights.
    Become a Certified Professional Photographer. Work toward a PPA degree. Set a goal of creating one new image per session by not following the same "mental checklist" you always use.

    If you're feeling really adventurous, single out one area where you feel really proficient and participate in a discussion or <gasp> give a program on that subject.

    - Why?: Why not? it's all about learning, growing, paying it forward and setting yourself apart from the crowd.

David Grupa, CPP, M.Photog.Cr., AFS-MNPPA owns David Grupa Portrait in Maplewood, MN. A true believer in the power of professional associations, he is a Past-President of both the TCPPA and MNPPA and serves PPA members in Minnesota as a Councilor. In his desire to "pay it forward" in the photographic industry, he founded Camp David Photographic Education.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Q & A: Simple Marketing Tips For Emerging Professionals

From time to time, readers send in questions or ask for help. In the coming weeks, I'll try to answer a few of them here.

- What is the best low-cost marketing idea a beginning photographer could implement?

Partner with people you do business with to take advantage of their client base as well as your own. How cool is it for them to be able to offer a free portrait session as a thank-you gift to their clients? It puts your name in front of an entirely new group of people for a minimal cost on your part. Get involved with business groups and get your name in front of other business professionals.

Discount your sessions, not your print prices. I made up business cards that I gave to just about everyone that offered them a no-charge basic studio session. I still ask my clients for referrals and offer them a referral credit for each person they send to my studio.

Rather than discounting print prices, offer rewards or incentives for reaching a certain order level or placing the order within a specified time-frame. Cutting your print prices only encourages clients to ask for print discounts in the future and ultimately, brings you more people who are looking for a "deal" or "cheap photography".

- David Grupa

Do you have a question you like a member of the Camp David team to answer? Send your questions to !

Monday, July 18, 2011

Beat the Competition By Outperforming, NOT Underpricing - Part 1

Photography is a funny industry. If you talk to someone who's been around, they may sound a bit bitter regarding the state of the profession, saying something like "digital is the worst thing that ever happened to photography. Nowadays, everyone thinks they are a photographer just because the can see an image on the back of their camera and hand over a disk of files for a few dollars. And they call themselves professional."

On the other hand, you may also run into someone who looks at life with more positive view. "Digital is the best thing to ever happen to photography! I can finally create the image I had envisioned because of the incredible tools we now have at our disposal. Better yet, I can charge more for my product because it's something that nobody else can duplicate!"

Of course, there is also the group of new photographers who are excited to create, eager to learn, thrilled to have the opportunity to make a living doing something they love . . . and desperately need someone with experience and knowledge to point them in the right direction.

When I think about it, I'm really not that different than any of today's new photographers. You see, when I began in this business back in 1976 I was a 17 year old kid with a new camera, a fistful of business cards and a dream to make my hobby my profession. I had the desire, I had raw talent (which needed serious refinement) and I had the energy and blind courage to succeed as an entrepreneur.

However, I just needed something more to get me over the hump.

While desire, energy and passion are great, those qualities alone will not be enough to make you a successful photographer or run a profitable business. You must set yourself apart from the competition. Many photographers realize this, but few actually understand what it means.

When I began photographing "professionally" (ie: when I began charging for my photos) I was working with a friend I'd met in high school. We became business partners and put ourselves through college shooting weddings. Things were going well (so we thought) and we soon rented retail space for a studio location. It was at this point that some of the worst decisions ever were made. Rather than explain them in every sordid detail, I'm going to make a list of the biggest errors (and tell you why they didn't work.)

1.      "People will choose us because our pricing will be less expensive than other studios."
In theory, this sounds great. Everyone likes to save a dollar and as is the case today, we were also in the throes of a recession at that time.

- Why it didn't work: Because we were new and inexperienced, price was not the deciding issue for many clients. While some clients were fine with "good enough", many opted to use competing studios who charged more because of the quality of their final product. Average photography at any price is still just average photography. Since we were operating on a low price-point, there wasn't enough profit to use top-shelf materials and still make money, nor was there enough funds to attain the education we desperately needed in order to do it right.

2.      "If we charge less, we can book more clients and make up the difference in volume."
This is great for stores such as Target or Wal-Mart, where they can lure you in with a low price on one item, knowing that while you're there you will most likely "stock up" on other items you regularly purchase. Clothing, food and other products all carry a significant markup that allows a retailer to sell certain specific items as a "loss leader".

- Why it didn't work: The strategy was wrong in many ways. Yes, more weddings and portrait sessions were booked because of lower prices. They turned out, however, to be clients who came in only for the low-priced items. Additional sales on these were virtually non-existent because the low price on the initial investment was what caused them to book in the first place. There was no love of our work or photography in general. Coupon-clippers (Groupon users) are not going to spend extra money and add-on sales are what was needed to make this strategy work.

3.      "Since I'm just starting out, I can't charge as much as everyone else."
This is perhaps one of the biggest mistakes made in the industry today. When you begin, the bulk of your client base comes from friends and family, all of whom expect "a deal". Others will feel that because you are a new photographer, they can pay less because you "need the business."

- Why it didn't work: By pricing yourself low from the beginning, you are essentially training your clients to believe that you will always be cheap. Rather than start with unrealistically low pricing, set your numbers where you want them (higher!) While you are "building your portfolio" you can then offer a discount from your "regular" prices, but only during the time you need that specific type of subject for sample images! For instance, during the month of October you'd like to increase volume for outdoor family portraits. Run a special offering a reduced rate on family sessions. Want more kids? Do an Easter or Spring portrait session special.

The bottom line is this: once you've photographed enough sessions of that particular subject at the discounted rate an d have the sample images you need, end the sale and go back to your regular (higher) pricing!

4.      "I can't raise my prices. All of my clients will complain or leave!"
Once you get established and realize that you actually want to start keeping more of the money, you will find that you have two choices; raise your prices or photograph more sessions. Since there are only 24 hours in a day, increasing the amount of work you take in can only be done to a certain level. You can't add hours to the day.

- Why you just need to bite the bullet and do it: Ultimately you will be forced to raise prices, either due to increased product costs and fixed expenses, the need to purchase new and updated equipment, the desire to take home more money and a long list of other necessities.

There's an old saying that goes something like "If your clients aren't complaining about your prices, you're probably too cheap." The fact is, people often determine value based on a price. If you're too low in your prices, there may be an entire group of people who never give you a second look. Many people equate "low price" with "poor quality". My former partner would say things such as "I'd never pay that much for photographs." If he didn't think his work was worth it, how would he ever be successful at the sales table?

The truth is, when we increased pricing we lost some of the low-end clients. What also happened is that we gained clients in an entirely new group. To these folks, we were now "affordable" in a higher price-point category.

Be fearless and move forward. Continue to make this industry an awesome place to make a living!

David Grupa, CPP, M.Photog.Cr., AFS-MNPPA owns David Grupa Portrait in Maplewood, MN. A true believer in the power of professional associations, he is a Past-President of both the TCPPA and MNPPA and serves PPA members in Minnesota as a Councilor. In his desire to "pay it forward" in the photographic industry, he founded Camp David Photographic Education.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Finally, You Can Comment as Yourself (Not Your Business!) on Your Facebook Business Pages

One of the biggest frustrations among Facebook Business Page users was the fact that there really wasn't a way to comment on your business page as anyone other than your business. For sole proprietors this probably wasn't a huge issue, but for pages with multiple admins or a business with more than one employee, it could be confusing.

Be confused no longer.

With all of the tweaking and upgrading happening at Facebook these days, it was only a matter of time before they adjusted the settings to allow you to comment on your business pages as yourself from your personal account and not just under the business name.

It's a simple adjustment; here's how to do it:

- Go to the business page on which you want to change the settings.
- Click the "EDIT PAGE" button in the top right hand corner of the page.
- On the Left Side of the page click "Your Settings"

- Uncheck the box that says "ALWAYS POST AS your page name

That's it! Now, your posts will show up as your personal name. If you want them to show up as posted by your page/business name, simply click the link on the right hand side of your business page that says "USE FACEBOOK AS your page name". Once you're done, click the box again to go back to using Facebook as yourself.
I hope this settings adjustment helps you out in your postings!

- David Grupa

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Great Day To Celebrate For So Many Good Reasons!

Every year on July 4th, Americans everywhere celebrate the birthday of our nation. We do it in many different ways, with picnics, parades and fireworks. There was always something deeply special about this day; from the time I was a little boy all through adulthood and watching my own boys celebrate. I love the excitement.

I'm also a lover of quotes, so today I've selected a few lines to share from various people in all walks of life who - in my eyes - have really shared what Independence Day is all about.

"You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness.  You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism." ~ Erma Bombeck

However, we also raise our flags proudly and celebrate the brave men and women who, for the past 235 years, have stood in defense of this freedom. The sacrifices they have made - many giving the ultimate sacrifice - allow you and I to enjoy our days and live our lives without fear. We don't constantly have to look over our shoulders or worry about the oppression of radical governments. Life in this country is pretty darn awesome.

"How often we fail to realize our good fortune in living in a country where happiness is more than a lack of tragedy." ~ Paul Sweeney

And finally, I think back to a moment I shared with my sons during the 7th-inning-stretch of a ballgame. After we finished singing our traditional "1-2-3 strikes your out", the following verse of a familiar song played on the stadium speakers. My boys both stood and sang out loud, after which one said to me "Dad, I really like that song."

"And I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free. And I won't forget the men who died, who gave that right to me." ~ Lee Greenwood

God Bless the USA!

- David Grupa