OBJECTIONS and ANSWERS


SAME SEX MARRIAGES ARE GOOD BUSINESS AND MANY OF THE SHOOTERS REFUSE THE JOB

An intense, soon to be very legal growing market possibility. The same sex marriages tend to be smaller and obviously more intimate unless you live in Hollywood.  Many may come out of the closet but many don't hang pictures in the company elevator either.   That lifestyle may just have more digital enthusiasts than you might think.  I wouldn't count on that revenue for your latest lens purchase, on the other hand as it becomes more prevalent, look for a trend for more than just a civil affair. And Gay and Lesbians tend to have more friends than straights until a hairball causes a cat fight.

 

THIS IS A SERVICE BUSINESS AND YOU PERFORM A SERVICE, HOPEFULLY PROFESSIONALLY

Bottom Line; the old cliché that 20% of those in sales make 80% of the money does really apply to this industry. You have the established big hitters and the rest scrambling in a business that affords you less than 52 opportunities per year for success.  You have to commit to thinking of this as a business, park the negatives and look for opportunity at every corner.  

As said before, it's all about levels and commitments. We will have the top professional shooters with a studio and office, possibly doing portrait and commercial work. We will have a middle echelon of those who will be making it to maintain their comfort level. They also will be supplementing photo income or photo income might supplement their real job. And then we will have the random shooter, try it, seems easy, PRO is easy to spell and put on cards and my camera will do the work for me...  for a while.

Simply put, 52 five hundred dollar weddings is 26,000 dollars a year gross and “that’s if you are lucky or cheap enough to be booked 52 times a year”. That’s a big if. For many it’s 10 to 15. That’s how many friends and freebies they can do.  It's the lack of work and low revenues that drive many out of the business. A small yellow page's ad can cost $200 a month, multiple listings and so forth. Studio, Insurance, Rent, go add it up. Hobbies always appeal to us. I think it’s everyone’s dream to make their play their passion, their provider.

 

COMPETITION IS GETTING TOUGHER
Expect more of this, as bread on a table is essential and it is to be expected, and you should explore both your options and decisions you might have to make.  The additional income lost profit on prints is in jeopardy because the next step is their referral to the local Walgreen’s, Costco, or Wal-Mart, etc.,

The second problem we read about the most is “low-ballers”, those that advertise the lowest prices probably commiserating with their craft and then bump the clients after they have been taken out of the market.  This closely and systematically represents the same feeling you get when you read the car dealer ads. You know they are not true and the small print is too small to read or too fast to understand on the TV.


UNABLE TO MAINTAIN A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS SHOOTING TRADITIONAL WEDDING PACKAGES 
Simply put, explain to the bride she can see your images and the CD’s that are available and show the quality of your work from several different weddings. You should do a better job of selling yourself.  Offer a list of referrals, take the high ground. 

Show a better approach to quality rather than knocking the competition. Utilize the once a lifetime importance of her wedding.  Potential clients are more informed and mis-informed due to the internet and although I hear a lot of complaining about what has happened to wedding photography, you should recognize that you must adapt and not waste energy complaining.

Spend more time learning rather than complaining so that your product is better than the other competitor's product.  Make that information clear on the internet that you offer a better package not necessarily a better deal.  You can offer digital only packages that come with print quality CD's and let the clients take care of their own albums. You will be busier than ever was, have less overhead, can shoot more and as a result, your photography skills will improve greatly.


WHY SHOULD I CHANGE?
Losing business is a good reason.   Everyone needs to adapt to the market, be flexible with lower price alternatives, and learn how to market yourself.  Not like some jerks who put their brand of camera on their business cards.  It says to a client with a brain, he is nothing but a branded freak.  Show them your artistry, passion and finished work. 

People who can and do market themselves well will remain to get those high paying jobs; the high paying weddings should remain relatively unaffected, the “El-cheapo" weddings and wedding photographers are only lowering the value of the low-end weddings.

When people contract Weddings, they are buying things and they have expectations. When those expectations are satisfied, they are comfortable with their decisions. When they are not, they are dissatisfied.  Only when the expectations are exceeded, will they be very happy clients.

No one is denying the low-end photographers cutting their profits and working as more of a part-timer, weekend warrior, or hobbyist than a professional that the market is changing.  Another point offered is the economy is forcing those to think of extra income.  If you are income driven rather than business driven you tend to lower your standards.

There are things we can control and things we can’t control and one of those things is the economy. But it is safer in this game to be doing the higher end quality weddings rather than the low-end stuff simply because of the dollar volume. Your profit goes up faster than your expenditures.


FULL-TIME vs. PART TIME

The problem, if we go back to the beginning is the battle between the full-time business oriented studio owning or at least a store front professional vs. the part time shooter. The full time pro needs to earn enough to pay for equipment, a location, and health insurance, liability, electric, employees, taxes etc.  The weekend shooter needs the insurance and benefits of the day job.   The PRO does not discriminate but broadens his scope.  He does not judge nor does he have prejudice, it’s a job, he is paid and does the best possible job that he can.

In other words, what every business should earn in gross dollars to support an operation. This is really a one or two day a week job when you absolutely must show up.  Health insurance alone easily uses up the profits from one wedding especially if you have family, now add the liability and the business coverage and you are broke.  The hobbyist gets this from his or her other job or if the wife has a secure day job with benefits. He has no real overhead. He retains a larger percentage.  The simple answer is, it’s not a fair playing field.


I HATE WORKING WITH DJ’S, I LOSE CONTROL OVER THE PROCESS AT THE RECEPTION
The complaints I am reading here about digital killing the business or low-ballers is a wedding industry wide complaint.  The DJ business is experiencing some of the same complaints on the transition to digital with people downloading their own music. It does sometimes bring down the price you can get for your professional services as people simply do not want to pay $700 to $1500 for a DJ.

After seeing some of the DJ’s at weddings I have witnessed there is the second industry I would like to see some level of competency in.  I really don’t expect grandma to be doing break dancing on the floor other than with the permission of her orthopedist.   

There are some Gulags that need entertainment on Saturday night. On the other hand, I have seen some that made the evening run smooth.  It also might be “You get what you pay for”.  Referrals are the best way to learn about that cool dude spinning discs for you.  One DJ commented, “I don't think digital has much impact on us at all, it is just a new tool that helps us do our job more efficiently.  That efficiency can directly increase our profit margin being able to create scenarios and music blends. 


WHAT’S THE REAL KEY TO ALL THIS?
If you are a good photographer you will be more sought after.  Both the frugal and high end wedding clients will want to retain you.   At that point, it is up to you to decide what to charge and how busy you want to be.  Just don’t get greedy, they just might have a plan B and you lose.

You can’t ever forget how in a volatile market you must be aware of that market and what others will do to steal your job.  Do not let your ego get ahead of your common sense, and place you far behind the competition.  Someone once told me the best time to tell your lover you love her is before someone else does.

To say that "newbies will ruin their own business" is probably incorrect...everyone must start somewhere, and if a client finds a newbie with greater skills and a style that better relates to their needs, with better prices, and a great personality...watch out.  Keep improving what you are doing, attend good seminars, don't knock the competition, take serious whenever people try to tell you something and stay current. Thats a recipe for success.


WE DON’T WANT TO SPEND MORE THAN XXX DOLLARS FOR THE WEDDING!" 
There will always be clients who can't justify paying 300 dollars for their Wedding.  To them the occasion is more important than the recording of the occasion. It’s more like record keeping.  Sometimes it is more for the friends and relatives and then on with their lives. Imagery is just not a priority with them. It’s not money sometimes, I was told they just wanted the essentials for the parents. They were both wearing Rolexes.

Little you can do other than consider two things you learn in sales. The first is there are two kinds of objections; Real objections such as we only have 63 dollars in the bank. And the excuses such as we must check with Mom or we’ll call you we have another appointment to go to.  The second is: If it is close and you have no other booking that day, a loaf of bread is better than starving on a day that nothing is happening.  Might be a good shoot to see how that new helper can work out or a good time to try a new technique.

 

WHAT IS THE INSIGHT TOWARD PRICING MY BUSINESS, OR THE RULES?
There is an expression in the wedding business "If you start doing cheap weddings you will probably always do cheap weddings”. “For those who lowball, they cannot lowball forever. Sooner or later they must raise their prices to put food on their table.

For those who charge ridiculously high prices, they cannot charge high prices forever.   Sooner or later, they have to lower their prices because the public will realize that there are plenty of other people doing the same kind of work for much lower.”

“Weddings aren't a full-time job for many, and there's a market for budget weddings.”  The question is can you afford to shoot a budget Wedding and take a day away from a chance to do a real top-notch function. There are plans for this called “the bump scale”.  You need a helper or assistant on call.  This is what some will do. 

You book and then bump them to your assistant if you get a better job to do. Not very ethical but I have seen the attitude of the low-end photographers not really caring what people think.  It seems to be an attitude thing.  Seems to be prevalent or a sidecar to the low-priced arena.  

  

MARKETING
It appears. that "going after the business" takes a back seat to waiting for it to come to you.  If business has to find you, you are in the HOPE part of the business, you hope the phone rings or you get an E-mail.  Let's look at the way business finds you.

  1. Hoping your Website does the job.
  2. Your ads placed in the local paper.
  3. Showing your current and past work at a Wedding Show, better if you talk yourself up.
  4. Networking through co-workers, friends and relatives who know you.
  5. Just being asked to shoot a Wedding because it's a friend or relative is more of a favor than a career.   
  6. Promoting yourself with Wedding Gown sellers, Hairdressers, Wedding Stylists and Consultants, Flower Sellers, Catering Halls, Church Planners and other people of position that might help you.


WHAT ARE YOU DOING
So, what are you doing to promote yourself?  It appears that you are having to go after the business.  So here are some ideas I gathered.  

  1. First, contact all the local vendors in your immediate area and invite them to look at your work on your website.
  2. Offer to come and meet them at their business to find out more about what they do.  Networking face to face.
  3. For those you like and who’s style of business products fit your own ideas offer a reciprocal website linking.
  4. You can also establish in your area, an ‘Approved Vendors pack’ which contains cards and brochures from all the vendors in your area that you have no hesitation in recommending, so also offer to include their information in this pack.
  5. When attending wedding fairs make a conscious effort to meet and introduce ourselves to the other exhibitors...even competing photographers/studios.
  6. I think it's important to appear friendly and professional. It helps networking and build invaluable contacts, and you might meet nice competing wedding photographers and studios who you can recommend to future clients for days when you are already booked. 
  7. What goes around will come around, so hope that this is something that will benefit all in the long run.

 

ETHNICITY SIDEBAR

 As a side effort, one of my Black Box users, started aggressively targeting the ethnic South Asian community; as he and his spouse are both of South Asian descent.  

  1. To my Indian friends it makes sense to target their contacts as their Weddings are long, complex, and require an understanding of the sequencing and rituals.  They are tough sometimes to deal with.
  2. Some not all Jewish Weddings I have done, but very loyal customers. 
  3. Leave business cards at various ethnic shops, formed informal referral rings with LA based videographers and DJ's, and designed posters to be hung in shops and ads to be printed in countywide publications that reach various ethnic sub-communities. 
  4. Referrals are a great way to get business, so you must strive most importantly to aggressively secure weddings through people you know, and to then work at a level that exceeds client expectations. In so doing, you will generate a lot of buzz in the community.
  5. Florists:  What I have done for florist is to shoot their entire stock of flowers and create a slide show for them to give away to their potential client, hoping that if they get a potential client, that they will recommend me. 
  6. Working a niche or specific ethnicity or group. Large extended families' are a great referrals and usually those large groups "literally take you in” as part of and that can build a very successful following. 
  7. Hairstylists are a really good source of referrals if you give away a couple head shots. My partner has two stylists who send him a good amount of business. Women talk a lot at these places. They know who is and who is not getting married and many women listen to their personal hair dresser more than their personal psychiatrist.
  8. I will admit some weddings, I really did not care to do because of previous dealings with those persons.
  9. Bridal shows are a Love or hate relationship, the bridal shows will bring you a few clients if you stay out of the cat fights. Some will steal your ideas or badmouth you.  Bridal shows are also designed for the wholesale bride, looking for a bargain, ideas and unique features.  You maintain your confidence, politeness and stance. Let your persona and offer pricing stressing quality not quantity, but you do have budget arrangements.   Only 60% of a cow is usable meat, the rest they call hamburger or dog food.
  10. Once I get a bride as a client, I keep her contacted and excited. I get her to talk about me. Once she gets her stuff, I find as many ways possible to keep her excited about the pics to show them off and ask for referrals. If I do get one and it pans out I do a family portrait for them 
  11. Don’t limit yourself, I shoot all sorts of things. Kids soccer, the local newspaper, charity dinners. It is the NUMBER ONE way I get clients outside of my website. The occasional 8x10 or 4x6 given out to a mom, works into "Hey my niece is getting married, do you have a card?”
  12. Finally, the best marketing device you have, is you. This is your mantra. Believe in it and it will come true.  Some people just have that certain "it" quality that makes people want to hire them. Promote as much as you can. Make sure your name is in the top local magazine, at local bridal shows and charity events. As a full-time photographer, you must have shoots. It is your business and I treat it like a business.
  13. A Gift Certificate for a referral that pays off is always welcome. I usually give a $35 dinner at a casual place like Outback, Applebee's, T.G. Fridays, with a cute thank you card.  Listen 35 dollars won't get the filet mignon and champagne but it will get you at least two burgers with all the trimmings. Nothing too fancy, just a thank you they'll remember every time they are hungry.