January 2013 Archive

Do Business BETTER (Part 3): Business savvy > talent

This will be the last (and longest) but most important post in this Do Business BETTER series.  If you haven’t read the other two yet then start with the first one here.  In retrospect, I probably should have put this one second and Identity Crisis last.  My hope is that these posts have been challenging, and honest, and above all, helpful.  The stats are that 85% of photography businesses fail within the first 3 years.  In an over-saturated market where anyone with a digital camera and a website can claim to be a professional, those out there who are really serious about doing it need to stop and asses their situation and do it RIGHT if they want to be one of the ones that succeed.  Are you ready?

There is a saying in the photography industry that owning a successful photography business is 20% talent and 80% business skill.  I remember being told this as I was trying to start a business and I just brushed it off.  It sounds so…cold!  What about passion and artistry and “capturing memories that will last a lifetime!” (insert doey-eyed wonder).

Most of us had similar beginnings…someone told you that you have an eye for photography. You invested in some gear. You started a blog or website. You began shooting your friends and family to build up your portfolio. Once you had a bit of a portfolio built up you decide to begin to charge for your work…

This is all good so far, but there are at least two make-or-break critical points in a photographer’s business where he/she has to put on their big kid business pants and make some tough decisions.  Without business skill and savvy decision making at these two crucial points you end up in scenarios like these:

1. Failure to put on your big kid business pants at point #1:

You begin charging a small fee that you think your clients (friends, extended family, neighbors, friends from school, work etc) can afford. Lets say $50-$100 for a portrait session or $300-$500 for a wedding and you give them all of the digital negatives.  You still don’t even charge some of your clients because you feel bad, or it’s not hard to do a shoot for them or you “are friends.”  A few people pay you for your services but you are having trouble booking new paying clients.  You send them your rates and they tell you that those prices are too high and so you offer them a discount.  After all you are “just getting started” and don’t want to seem too big for your britches. You also don’t want to loose any opportunity to shoot so you try to work out a deal with each of your potential clients. The problem is that months later your business is still in this phase.  You do not understand the role of perceived value and your insecurity about your skill keeps you from establishing its value among your clients. So you can’t seem to book new clients and you barely make any money off the ones you do…which you are ok with…because you are “just starting out.”  Your “business” sadly goes on for months or years in this stage and eventually you decide to move on b/c you never made any traction.

***as a side note – the above scenario assumes that you have given yourself time to build up talent worth charging for.  If you try to launch a business too soon without first investing in growing your talent then the quality of your work is not going to be worth what you need your clients to pay to keep the business running.  Don’t rush this phase.  Get your work critiqued by other successful photographers and ask for input on whether your work is worth charging for yet and what those prices should eventually be.***

2. Failure to put on your big kid business pants at point #2:

…You took the advice of a savvy and successful photographer friend on what to charge and you made it through the fear-of-rejection-gauntlet and fired your friends and family as your clients. (Ok, that sounds a bit dramatic but in all honesty you have to be okay with turning down “friends” who want you to do your work for little or no profit.  A true friend values your talent and respects that you are trying to run a business and will be willing to pay you for that skill. I remember two crucial experiences for me in the early years of my business…the first was when a “friend” told me that they could not afford what I was charging and that I was charging too much in general ($150).  I swallowed the lump in my throat and responded that I understood and referred her on to another newbie college photographer (I did not offer her a discounted rate).  The second was when a very dear friend asked me to shoot her wedding – one of my first weddings. I sent her my full new rates ($1500 at the time) and held my breath, sure that she was going to think I wasn’t worth it and laugh at me.  Well guess what…she gladly hired me for my full rate!! What a boost to my confidence!) 

Back to our scenario…

…You took the advice of a savvy and successful photographer friend and knew better then to undersell yourself. You made it through the fear-of-rejection gauntlet and fired your friends and family as your clients.    You did your research on establishing photography rates, you sought the advice and critique of other photographers and you did the market research for your area and set prices accordingly.  You were not afraid to say no. You learned how to properly understand and  leverage perceived value and didn’t stick with rates that undercut the industry as a whole just to book clients.  You began to have a steady stream of paying happy clients who booked you for all kinds of different types of work.   You needed to upgrade your gear so you make another investment. You are trying to keep up with your industry peers by offering fancy albums or other products that cost you a chunk of change to provide.  You invest in fancy boutique packaging. Invest in more gear. Invest in marketing. Invest in going to WPPA and other big conferences. Invest in bridal shows. Meanwhile, you have not been raising your rates accordingly and don’t really keep track of what is coming in vs what is being spent. You don’t invest in the un-fun things like an accountant or liability insurance and you don’t really understand taxes or accounting so you just wing it (if you pay them at all).  You don’t really know how much to be setting aside in taxes as the work comes in so you just hope that it works out in the end.  You don’t properly record your expenses.  You don’t know what the actual cost of a sale or job is (It’s all digital right? So it costs you nothing right?).  You see money coming in and and money going out and so you assume that business is going ok but your expenses are growing while your prices are staying the same but you don’t really have time to research how to do business any better because you have paying client work coming in that you would rather be working on.  Deep down you are not really taking your business seriously but you spend a lot of time and energy trying to convince underpaying clients that they should hire you.

Is this as painful to read as it is to type!?  I will stop beating a dead horse but I hope that if one of these two scenarios is YOU that you will take a step back, be honest about where you are at and begin a plan of action to get on the the right track.  This second scenario makes me anxious just thinking about it!  When you are operating a business under this kind of low level anxiety – just winging it – you stifle not only your chances of really running a successful business but you hurt the industry that you are trying to be a part of making it harder for everyone, including yourself, to make a living as a photographer.

I realize that I don’t provide very many solutions in this post and there are problems that I don’t even address. But there are hundreds of resources out there to get you on track and there are professional photographers out there willing to help.  Just value their expertise enough to pay them for their time and don’t expect everything for free.  The problem is not a lack of resources on the topic – the problem is a lack of willingness to admit the problem and challenging ourselves to grow in our business skill and not just in our talent.  I am preaching to myself here.  Let’s make this the year that we take ourselves and our business seriously and do business BETTER in 2013.

There are one or two seats left at my beginners photography workshop this Saturday, Feb 2nd.  There are also just a few days left to get the early-bird registration rate for the Business and Branding Essentials workshop for photographers on March 2nd.

Here is a list of some other helpful resources that I found compiled by photographer Shanon Holdon.

Better Photo – an excellent site for online classes, inspiration, and learning

Creative Live – a source on online training courses, webinars and vodcasts.

Photo.net – another internet community for amateur and advanced photographers

Flickr – an enormous international community of photographers, and a wealth of inspiration

Professional Photographers of America

Wedding and Portrait Photographers International

National Association of Photoshop Professionals

Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson – a fantastic book for learning the technical side of photography

Digital Photography Review – a website for equipment reviews and technical discussion

Adobe Forums – a Photoshop community

B&H Photo and Video – one of the most trusted equipment stores in the country.


Feel free to comment with additional resources that you have found helpful!  If this blog post series has been helpful to you please share it and lets challenge ourselves both to better personal business ethic and strengthen the industry while doing so!

Marriage Monday: Do you still like me?

“I know you love me…but do you still like me?”

I have found myself asking Graham this question a lot in the past year. 10 years into our relationship, 7 years into our marriage, 2 kids, two states, three houses and countless challenges later we are really good partners.  We help each other.  We love each other. We appreciate each other. But the constant, urgent, exhausting nature of this season of life with young kids has distanced the friendship in a way that makes me often question whether he still actually likes me.  Despite seeing the very worst of me does he still find me fun, funny, charming, or just needy and frustrating. haha. I know that I am not alone in this feeling.

I have been working on the wedding of a really sweet couple that I shot a few weeks ago.  When I look at their pictures I smile because what is so evident and refreshing is their friendship and enjoyment of each other.  Now, I am no marriage expert…but if I have learned anything, it is that genuine, transparent, selfless friendship is crucial to a healthy marriage. And you know what?  What comes so effortlessly easy in those early days becomes something that you have to intentionally fight for as the years go on.  And that is ok.  Actually, its more then ok.  I think God uses those awkward moments when you are sitting across from your spouse without anything to talk about other than the kids to 1)make us rely on Him (God, help me to be a good friend and spouse.  Help us to reconnect.) 2) to force us out of our selfishness (I can either work on this or I can be selfish and wait for him to make the first move and be bitter if he doesn’t) and 3) to really challenge us to ask what marriage is all about.  Is it really all about my happiness, pleasure, enjoyment fulfillment and when I don’t feel that any more then it’s time to move on?  That’s what the world would say isn’t it?  But the scriptures would tell me that marriage is about much more and that the “much more” is worth it. And I believe it.  I have seen it for myself.

We are working to rekindle the friendship.  Regular date nights help.  Long conversations help. Being honest about the situation helps. Asking meaningful questions helps. Growing together spiritually really helps. Breaking out of the routine and doing something fun and new helps. Putting each other before the kids helps. Prayer helps.  I’m praying that this year is one where, despite life likely only getting crazier, we will take the time to brush the dust off of the amazing friendship that brought us together all those years ago. And by God’s grace I am able to see it happening even now.





Everything is going to be all white.

Get it!? Sorry – that was really cheesy.  I just couldn’t resist. So, I want styling practice but I don’t have a lot of fun stuff around my house to shoot…but you know what I do have? White dishes.  LOTS of mix and match white dishes. Haha.  So that was what I set out to style and shoot today!  I know, I know, not very original but hey, I have to start somewhere!  I am now officially an expert (sarcasm) on Clementines and white dishes. I tried to play around with texture and negative space for editorial type (I’m sure there is an actual fancy name for that). I am learning things about my personal style along the way, like, while I really really appreciate and am drawn to the beauty of dark moody dramatic food and product images, I really do prefer to create more of a bright airy style myself.  I also think that I like things to look neat and clean in my images…I don’t love a tipped over cup as much as an upright cup and I don’t love lots of crumbs and “messy” details in a shot…or my life. haha. Interesting…



And before you envision me in my beautiful and inspiring office in an outfit that matches my throw pillows with a gentle breeze blowing through the open windows and soft inspiring music playing as I sip my latte in between shots…I wish you could have seen the almost one year old clinging to my legs wailing and trying to pull down my camera from my face by the dangling camera strap while my almost 4 year old darts in and out throwing herself onto the couch (goodbye throw pillows) and singing at the top of her lungs “helping” me with little sister. Hello real life. I do love that little face though!

Do Business Better: Part 2 – Identity Crisis

Hello there friends! I am assuming that you are reading this because you either 1) have a photography business or 2) are secretly (or not so secretly) hoping to start one 3) you are a personal friend of mine and feel like you for some reason have to read all my blog posts. haha. I’m sorry if you fall into that last category.  You are officially free from that expectation!! If, however,  you are one of the first two groups of people, and you don’t want to be among the 85% whose businesses close up shop within the first 3 years, then start HERE before you read this second post in my three part series.

Everyone with me? Great.  If you have got the talent and have put in the time to invest in your skill early on through practice and lots of learning then that brings me to the second reason that photography businesses fail – and how to make sure yours doesn’t…

Identity Crisis

Google “Photographers in Tampa, FL”.  No really.  Ok, if you live somewhere else you can insert your own city.  My point? Literally 1,320,000 result were found for my search.  Do you see the problem? So do you want to just be the cheapest and that’s why they hire you or do you want to STAND OUT from the crowd and actually have a thriving business that you LOVE doing? I am going to be BRUTALLY honest in this post and I am not trying to pick on any specific person’s branding or site.  I have BEEN THERE myself. I actually still have a long way to go in the process. But in all honestly, I get to see a lot of upcoming photographer’s sites and they all tend to look so much the same that I can hardly remember them. It is not the lack of talent that is keeping these businesses from being successful,  it is that they are just doing what they see everyone else doing instead of leveraging THEIR unique assets and intentionally creating a brand that emotionally connects with THEIR ideal client.  Part of why I know this is because this has been me for many years!  In order to break out of this we have to be willing to take an honest assessment of the situation.  By now you have likely already invested hundreds, if not thousands of dollars into your business.  It’s game time.  The pressure is on to make it work. This is where you either sink or swim and in order to swim you have to be willing to do the dirty work of self assessment and find and use the resources you need to make this business of yours succeed. Otherwise, you might as well sell your gear and just be happy to take decent pictures of your kids from here on out. The market is SO oversaturated that what we’re talking about here can make or break you. Let me spare you from wasting your time and money.

Lack of a true knowledge of yourself as an artist and your brand as an extension of who you are will result in 1) closing up shop for lack of business or 2) burnout from doing work that you don’t love.  Every talented photographer out there who is really making it “big” has come to this conclusion and CHANGED their trajectory because of it.

So what are the signs of identity crisis? You may be guilty if…

– You have too much mediocre work on your site and your best work is buried somewhere amidst all of that. You are not even sure what your “best work” is because you are just trying to put a little bit of everything that you think will please a potential client.
– You offer every category of work (children, weddings, babies, dogs, Bar Mitzvas, engagements…you get the idea.) You do this out of fear of losing a potential client.

– Either you or a friend designed your logo
– Either you or a friend designed your website
– You have a cheesy song that plays when someone goes to your site (and you did this because other photographers seem to do it)
– You have an “About me” section that is full of cheesy catch phrases like “my passion is to capture your memories” and “I believe in capturing life’s little moments” along with a list of some of your “credentials.”
– You do not even have a picture of yourself on your site or if you do, it is plain-Jane and does not reflect you or your personality.
– You picked your session packages based on what you saw other photographers offering.
– You either pulled your rates out of nowhere (made them up) or you based them on what another photographer is charging.
– You could not explain how your logo reflects who you are.

- You have never thought of who your “ideal client” is let alone branded yourself to connect with them.

- You have no idea what your “client experience” is.

- We can’t tell anything about who YOU are as a person by going to your website…what you like, dislike, are passionate about, your personal style, your sense of humor. Nothing.

If you are still reading and are not too mad or offended then please hear my heart in this.  Owning a successful photography business is HARD and you have to be willing to invest in the right things (not just more gear) if you really want to make it be profitable. you have to be willing to take the time to ask WHY.  Why is this work up on my site? Why is this my logo? Why is this the color of my website? WHY (specifically!) am I really doing photography in the first place.  I want to see this business WORK for you and not just work…but I want to see your business thrive!  I honestly do.  I want to see you have clarity about who you are as an artist, what it is that you really enjoy doing the most in life, and then see you connecting with and doing amazing work for clients who share your vision, who love you, and who hire you over and over again! There is something unique about YOU that will connect with your ideal client and enable you to have a flourishing business that bring you and others joy.  Do you believe me?

So if you are really in this for the long haul…If you really want to run a profitable business that brings you and others joy?  Here are just a few basic suggestions…

1) Start asking the WHY.  For every business and branding decision you make, take the time to ask “Why am I do this? Does it communicate who I really am? What do I hope to achieve?”

2) Study up. Learn all that you can about branding and business identity development. Lara Casey and Emily Ley of Making Brands Happen have some helpful advice on their blog. If you are in Florida then make it a point to come to the Business and Branding Essentials Workshop on March 2, 2013.  It will rock your world…if not change it. (Yes, that is a personal plug. Sorry. Not sorry.This workshop is that awesome!)

3) Work with a graphic designer who you can afford but who understands the process of unique brand development and will take the time to walk you through it.  If you cannot afford to hire a graphic designed maybe you can find one that would be willing to swap services with you!

3) Stop doing it all yourself unless you are really able to do it well (logo, web design, web graphics, etc).  If you want to have a business then you have to be willing (and able) to make the necessary investments and outsource the parts of your business that you are not good at (accounting, graphic design, etc)

4) Stop looking at other photographer’s sites and trying to mimic what they are doing!  Instead, identify brands that you love (J.Crew, Apple, Kate Spade) and try to pinpoint what they are doing that works so well and apply it to your industry.

5) Read this post…it will get you thinking.


I believe with 110% of my heart that there is something unique about you and your passions, your likes and dislike, your style, and that there are people out there who identify with those things and who can become some of your best and most loyal clients. Here is to asking the hard questions and doing business BETTER in 2013!


Mommy Mondays: Practical wisdom for those first few crazy weeks!

If you are reading this and you have cried more than 3 times in the past 24 hours, you smell like a mixture of a boys locker room and sour milk, you are not sure what day of the week it is, you havn’t worn a bra (let alone makeup) in at least a week and you almost always hear crying in your head but can’t tell if it is the baby or just your imagination…then you might be a new mom.  If this is you sweet sister, stop, take a deep breath, give yourself a little hug and remind yourself that it won’t be like this forever.

I promise.

Being a mom is hard. Period.  Being a first time mom of a newborn is pretty much as hard as it gets.  I’m not talking about those first few days while you are still soaring along on pure adrenalin.  I’m talking about that second and third week when you are exhausted and depleted emotionally and physically  and your body and hormones are going crazy and all of a sudden you feel totally inadequate to do this mothering thing.

Take heart.  You CAN do this.  It will NOT always be this hard.  Like your new baby rests in your provision, God is telling you to rest in HIS provision for both you and this little one.  Here are some very practical pieces of advice and verses to meditate on that I shared at a recent baby shower for a sweet friend (pictured above) who is in the midst of those first few difficult months as a first time mom to sweet little baby Zeke.

Approaching baby’s birth:

~ Do not be anxious – Phil 4:6 (about the delivery/transition/c-section), instead PRAY! Cast every care and concern onto Him. He loves you so much! 
~ Keep a big picture perspective – Col 3:2  At the end of the day what matters is not HOW the baby came into the world but that a healthy baby was born!
~ You CAN do it with Christ – Phil 4:13 (He has made you for this very purpose and will enable you to do whatever he has for you!)


After baby arrives:

~ Expect to become a living sacrifice for this new life. – Romans 12:1  As a mom, your life literally becomes a living sacrifice.  It is a difficult and beautiful and sanctifying thing.

~ Again, this season is HARD but will NOT last forever. No bible reference here…just speaking from experience! :)

~ In every decision you face, keep a big picture perspectiveCol 3:2  You will face many decisions that, at the time, feel like life or death issues – breastfeeding, immunizations, schedules…What truly matters is that you provide a safe, loving, gospel centered environment for this little one.  NOT how they were fed or diapered! Take a deep breath.  Trust your gut and try not to assign to much importance to the “small” stuff.

~ Keep prioritizing your husband over baby to stay on the same team. – Gen 2:24 In the midst of the constant urgent needs of baby, the important needs of your husband and the marriage can quickly be pushed to the side. Make an effort from the beginning to take time to still pour into your marriage and the partner that God has given you.  You become “one” with your husband…not your children. haha.  Even if it means just going for a walk together to listen to how his day went.  Try to make time to still be his wife and friend as your first priority.  This will bless you and serve your marriage and family well if you get these priorities in order early.

~ Stay involved with your biblical communityHebrews 10:25 These are difficult and exhausting times and many new moms feel isolated and alone.  Try not to isolate yourself from a biblical community of other women and mothers.  They will prove invaluable emotional and spiritual nourishment to refresh your soul and remind you that this is normal and that you are doing a great job!  You will need some kind of nourishment from God’s word and that kind of free time will be hard to find. Making the difficult effort to get out the door to be in community with your church will be worth it!

~ Share your burdensGal 6:2, Prov 27:9 – We have all been there!  You are not going crazy!  Let people in on what you are going through and let them love on and help you!

~ Learn from othersTitus 2:4 – Us mom like to try to convince ourselves and others (moms, mother in laws, friends) that we have it all together.  Don’t! Ask for help.  Learn from others who have done this before! Being a mom is hard!  You need biblical perspective and practical biblical wisdom!

~ Do not feel the need to “satisfy” everyone with your parenting style.  God will give you the wisdom to make decisions for your family if you ask Him. - James 1:5, 2 Peter 1:3 –  You will get all kinds of unsolicited advice, opinions etc. Some will be helpful, some will be downright hurtful.  Take what you think will work best for you and YOUR family.  Pray through your decisions and don’t be afraid to say,” I’ve decided to do things differently!” God gives us the grace to make certain parenting style decisions for ourselves and he equips you through Him and his word to have the wisdom and discretion you need to be an amazing mom who glorifies God!


Deep breath in.  Make yourself a cup of tea.  Sit outside in the sun for a minute while baby sleeps. Listen to some worship music to refresh your heart.  You can do this sweet sister.  God chose YOU to be this little one’s mom.  Not anyone else.  And the profound thing is that by giving you this little one with many needs, He will show you how he cares for your needs and loves you and will make you into an even more beautiful woman of God through this journey.


From one tired mom to another.



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