To be successful in our business, it's crucial to continually hone your craft. It's equally as important to work on your business skills. As creative professionals, we tend to get caught up in creating, and forget the business aspects of our profession.
In an "I want it now" society, the bottom line is slowly being eaten away. It's important to think about new ways to maintain our income.
High-quality digital cameras are one of the greatest achievements in professional photography. Anyone who started by shooting on film will agree that digital capture has reinvigorated his or her passion for photography. As an added bonus, digital technology has removed the cost and stress of waiting for film processing.
In the past, advances in the industry were seen merely as improvements that helped one get the job done more efficiently and, in some cases, more creatively. Since the advent of digital capture, the perception of photography has been changing from a creative art to a commodity. We must dispel this perception every chance we get.
Digital photography has made our jobs easier. However, the perception that it is a commodity has forced me to rethink how I run my business.
We live in a "microwave society," where everybody "wants it now." Digital photography lends itself to that mentality--everyone from portrait customers to commercial clients expect immediate delivery.
Over the past 12 to 24 months, I've seen a marked increase in requests for digital files on disc from my portrait and wedding customers. When I was shooting film, it was extremely rare for a customer to request the original negatives. When they did request negatives, it was easier for me to explain the reasons I would not relinquish them.
Digital technology has made it very easy for a photographer to burn a copy of the images and hand it off without thinking of the ramifications for the business. Before handing a disc to a client, think about the decreased revenue it represents due to loss of reprint sales.
Will a vendor that a client chooses reproduce my work to my standards? Because this is now out of your control, how will your work be perceived by others?
The potential for lost revenue should be a photographer's first thought before burning a disc for a client. I understand, though, that it's tough to compete with photographers who are giving their work away. This trend has had a profound effect on our bottom line. If you say no to a potential customer, you'll most likely lose the job to someone who is willing to give it away.
During your initial sales meeting, it's important for your customers to get a sense of your passion for your craft and to understand how much care is put into creating their images and producing the prints. If you must include the disc in your package to close the deal, try to put the delivery date within a three-to-six-month window from the event date. When you hand over the disc, include instructions on where to get the best-quality reprints.
The Emotional Sale
Weddings and other important family events are emotional moments in your customers' lives and spark impulse purchases. By pushing your delivery of the disk three to six months out, you can take advantage of your customers' impulses immediately. To take advantage of the potential impulse buy, make your images available for sale online.
Make sure you spread the word at the event with cards directing potential customers to the site. Have the customer notify friends and family that their photos will be available online. Get the images online as fast as possible after the event--within a few days, if possible.
Print quality is an issue we need to pay attention to in this environment. Today, everyone with a home computer thinks it's easy to reproduce a quality print on his or her own printer or by taking the file to the local pharmacy or big-box retailer. The last thing we want is a client printing out a poor-quality print at home and displaying it in a frame.
As a photographer, your worst nightmare is for someone to see an inferior print and ask for the name of the photographer. Do you want your name associated with an image that you had no control over printing? As the sole person responsible for your studio's image, it's important to think about how your photographs are represented to the public.
As the market evolves, we need to embrace these changes and put serious thought into how we retain customers, increase our close rates, and keep our income stable.
Digital photography has opened up many opportunities for incremental income. Here are just a few of the ideas I have implemented into my business:
• Engagement sessions with "Save the Date" cards
• Thank-you cards
• Album design
• Albums and press-printed books
• Retouching services
I've always been told that "change is good," but I had a hard time accepting it. Digital photography has opened my mind from a creative as well as a business perspective. I'm now ready for anything that this industry has to throw at me. Bring it on!
Joel Plotkin (www.plotkinphotography.com) has been photographing professionally for 20 years and is the full-time staff photographer for a Fortune 50 company and owner of Plotkin Photography, which focuses on wedding and portrait photography. Plotkin is also a founder and president of efotolab.com (www.efotolab.com), an online lab and ecommerce solution for professional photographers.