We hear it all the time… “It must be so amazing to be able to work together!” That or we hear, “I have no idea how you do it, I could never work with my husband/wife. They would drive me crazy”. It has become a super common thing that comes up during weddings or family sessions.
The truth of it is that it’s both of those. It is amazing and there are days where we don’t know how we’re going to do it. It’s also one of those things that needs constant work because things change. Patience and I have gone through several different phases of our business where we did different things and sometimes it didn’t work out very well but we kept working at it. We kept adjusting and learning because that’s what it takes to find success.A few weeks ago we were asked this question by Cicely from Rusted Van Photography…
“How do you balance your own creative and artistic vision while maintaining a brand and cohesive look? My husband and I are still trying to find a way to both play an active role in our business, but it’s a challenge! We both love to shoot, and we both enjoy editing – so, we are finding that we end up tripping all over one another and we aren’t sure who should be doing what. Sometimes I think this leads to one of us overstepping the other and one always feels artistically “slighted”.”It really got us thinking about how we got to where we are now and what we went through to figure this question out for ourselves. A lot of it was trial and error and a lot of it was not giving up when we were discouraged about our place in the business. Patience used to ask me after sessions, “What is my role in the business? I don’t feel like I’m contributing anything to the shoots we are doing.” That is a really tough thing to deal with because we both need to be involved for this whole thing to work and it took some pretty serious growing pains to get to a point where we are both pretty comfortable and confident in the part we play to make what everyone knows as “Joe and Patience”.
After several years of going around and around about the whole business role thing we finally sat down with a pad of paper and a pencil and went through every single part of our business we could think of. Once we had all of the tasks and workflow steps listed we started assigning them to the person who we felt was the strongest at completing those tasks at the time. This is going to be the point where you need to let go of your pride and be honest with yourself and your spouse. These assignments are business related and are not meant to be taken personally. If you have never done this I want you to say this to yourself out loud. “These assignments are are for the good of our business and I will not take it personally.” This is really, really important and like Patience and I, it may need to be saved for a time when you’re in the right mental state to take some criticism in the form of being taken off of doing certain tasks that you enjoy doing.I completely understand that it may be pretty difficult to release some control but it will be a really good thing. By doing this you’ll avoid the constant stepping on each other’s feet that we experienced in the first couple of years being in business together. You’ll avoid sending nearly duplicate emails to the same client, paying your bills twice and ordering your client’s products twice as well. Yep, we’ve done all of those and more. This will literally save you money in the long run and it will help you to avoid embarrassing situations with your clients. It’s 100% worth the time and potential of temporarily damaged pride to get it done sooner rather than later.
The most important thing to remember is that you and your spouse have a common goal with your business. Maybe you’re trying to get to the point of leaving a 9-5 or you’re doing it on the side to be able to pay for vacations with your family. Either way, it doesn’t matter, there is still a common goal and it’s worth taking the time to figure this out.So, grab some paper, a pencil because you’re probably going to want to erase some stuff and sit down together without any distractions. Make sure you’re both emotionally ready to dig deep and start writing. You’re going to want to make a list of every single thing that gets handled in your business. Client communication, bills being paid, scheduling, who does what at every type of session you may shoot if you’re a photographer, etc. Once you have all of those things listed you’ll need to go through each task and talk about it. Some of them might be really easy while some of them might be a bit more difficult. Just remember to be open, honest and that there is a common goal.
Next week we’re going to go through our list of tasks and explain why we have assigned specific things to each of us.
Thanks for taking the time to read and like always, we’re more than happy to answer questions you might have. Just send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Whoa! It looks like this thing is becoming a whole series! Check out the previous posts here.
This week we are talking about taking risks and it couldn’t be coming at a better time since we just signed a lease for a studio a few weeks ago. I’ll just let you all know up front that this is also a very therapeutic post for me because a decision as big as signing a lease and committing thousands of dollars to something that we have never had as an expense is something that was incredibly difficult for me. I just hope you know that while I hope this helps you as much as possible I also hope it helps me just as much.
First, I do want to say that I’m extremely excited about having a dedicated place of employment now. I mean this completely seriously! The place we moved into is incredible!
One of the biggest challenges for me with our decision to go full time with our photography business was learning to be comfortable with the risks we had to take in in order to make this dream of ours a reality. The earlier posts on Personal Fear and Financial Fear dealt with my fear in going full time but didn’t break our decision down into the step by step positives and negatives of what it would look like when we were making that decision.
I think it’s very, very important to take your heart out of these matters and to make educated, well thought out decisions. I completely understand that it isn’t possible to completely separate yourself emotionally from making life altering decisions but it has really helped me to look at how my big decisions would look from someone else’s, non-attached point of view.
This is what our process of weighing big decisions looks like.
These are the positives of sticking with my job at Pepsi and allowing photography to remain as a side job.
Having a steady income. How many of us make our decisions based on a steady income? There really isn’t anything wrong with this. A steady income is what provides a roof over our heads and food on the table. It’s something that I was really tied to and for good reason. As the sole provider in my household the steady income I was making was what provided all of the basic necessities of life for my young family.
It felt comfortable. Knowing that I was being taken care of and that the company I worked for cared about me and the work I was doing was really important for me. Over time with just about any job it’s easy to become comfortable with where you are with your employment.
I had a good reputation and was being offered opportunities to advance. After working for Pepsi for 8 years I had built a reputation of being a hard worker who was dedicated to doing my job as best as I could. I had also been offered several advancement opportunities during the last few years of working there. Knowing that my bosses trusted me and wanted to see move into higher responsibility roles within the company was a huge positive for me. It meant that I had the ability to give my family a more comfortable life.
Next are the negatives of continuing to do what I was doing by working for Pepsi full time while our business remained as a side job.
It felt comfortable. I realize you just read that being comfortable was a positive but there’s no reason that things can’t be a positive on one hand and a negative on the other. This is the perfect example. Sometimes when you get out of your comfort zone you are able to realize you are capable of doing things you didn’t think were possible.
I knew our photography business had a lot of potential but there was no way I was going to see how far it could go without putting myself in the uncomfortable position of needing to provide based solely on our business. On the outside and through social media I’m sure that things look perfect but to be honest, we have spent hours and hours praying that we would have the courage to continue and the wisdom to learn from our mistakes. We have lost a lot of sleep and had some pretty rough times as a couple. It definitely hasn’t been comfortable but it’s been in this discomfort that we have been able to work through our problems and build our business.
The lack of time with my family while I worked three jobs. I guess this one doesn’t really need a lot of explaining. There were days where I would work from 4 in the morning until 2 in the afternoon, go home to change clothes and immediately leave for a session and then leave for my military duty when we finished taking photos. I barely saw my family. Out of all of the negatives in doing what I was doing, this one was at the top of the list.
There was little room for our business to grow. Just like maxing out my working time and losing time with the family, the same thing was happening with our business. It was in a position where we didn’t have any more time available to allow the business to continue to grow. We had maxed out it’s potential and our business was still trying to grow despite our huge time limitations.
I was exhausted. Even when we found time to spend as a family if we had an afternoon free I was so worn out that I didn’t want to do much. As a dad to a 4 and 6 year old this just wasn’t an option. My work schedule had put me in a position that I wasn’t only sacrificing time with my kids by being away but also when I was home with them.
Based on all of these positives and negatives and the huge push from our family we decided the risk was worth it. If we continued down the path we were on something was eventually going to break and while there’s always a chance for things to become really difficult in running our business and relying on it full time it seemed like the risk was worth it. Not only that but the timing was really great.
The next big risk we have taken is the decision to move into an office space that’s separated from our home. A year ago I didn’t even think this was going to be something we would consider but after seeing what running a full time, support our family from home business and the struggles with it that we faced it was time to take the idea of a studio seriously.
So, on to the positives and negatives with the positives being first.
Distraction free workplace. This is the biggest positive to having a place away from our house to work. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t get distracted from their work when they are at home. There are always dishes to do, laundry to do, kids wanting to play, sweeping, vacuuming… the list could go on and on. Our home is one huge distraction for us and it got worse when we decided to give the bedroom we were using as an office to our son Noah since our daughter is getting to the age where she needs her own room. Distraction free is a huge deal to us and an office space was the best option to give us undistracted working time.
More drive to complete projects due to us paying for the space. Here’s another big one. Financial pressure can give you a lot of motivation to complete big projects and we have a lot of big projects to complete. The fact that we have to now book an extra session every month to pay for our space while also taking home the same amount of money is a huge motivator.
Separates us from the market norm. In our first 6 years of business we have spent a lot of time in coffee shops! A LOT OF TIME! The problem with that is that we all spend a lot of time in coffee shops with potential clients and occasionally we run into each other as one of us leaves and one of us arrives to meet with the same potential client.
Time will tell on how this theory works out but we have the feeling that inviting people into a place that is branded for our business and has a unique look that is very specific to us will pay off in a big way. Like I said though, time will tell.
Availability of an indoor shooting space in the PNW. We didn’t get a big office but it definitely has the potential to be used as a shooting space in emergency, rainy day situations. If we don’t have any other options we will be able to do smaller sessions with couples or small families which is going to be amazing!
We can separate our home life from our business life. Our struggles with separating our home and business life have been incredibly hard to deal with. It seems like I would sit down at the computer to check our email, check our Facebook, edit a few images, whatever… When all of our business related stuff was at the house it was always calling at me. There is never an end to the work that can be done and having a way to step away and live in a way where we can work undistracted and enjoy our home life undistracted is a really, really good thing!
And the negatives…
It’s a big added expense. This is a huge one for me! The added expense of paying for an office, paying for the internet at the office and paying for the lights to be on at the office is terrifying. If having this space doesn’t motivate us to take advantage of the positives it’s just making us more poor.
We now have to drive to work. See ya later working in my sweats. Now we get to look the part and dress like responsible business people. I always hear from people how much they love working from home because it’s so comfortable.
We work next to restaurants and coffee shops which makes it easier to spend money. Our new office is one door away from one of the best pizza places in town. We walk by every day with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in our hand and have to to smell that amazing pizza. The temptation is a killer but saving money is a much bigger deal to us than eating that amazing pizza. I am definitely concerned that the ease of going somewhere to eat and the quality of restaurants available within walking distance could damage our ability to save.
With this business decision there are a lot of positives but they are only applicable if we take advantage of them. It will be easy to continue doing what we’re doing but the fact that things were so hard working at home should give us the motivation to work even harder now that we can limit distractions and give ourselves the financial motivation to follow through. I hope our process in making these big business decisions will be helpful. Like I said before, it helps me a lot to take my heart out of the matter and make fact based decisions as much as possible.
Thank you so much for reading! We hope you have a great day!
If you want to check out the other posts in this series you can get to them with these links…
Hey all! Thanks for tuning back in! We’re going to be touching on some the aspects of how we approach marketing this week with even more planned for next week. Marketing is one of those subjects that seems like a never ending process that needs to be attacked from multiple angles. It only seems proper that we break it down and try to cover all of our marketing bases.
When we first started our business we were slow. When I say slow I mean we were really, really slow. Like three months between inquiries slow. We didn’t even need to check our email things were so slow. It was because of this lack of business that we figured it would be worthwhile to spend several hundred dollars to put an ad in a local magazine. That’s what people who wanted to look professional did, right? We spent $670 and it netted us exactly one inquiry and zero bookings. A huge part of that failure falls on our shoulders because we did a terrible job with designing our ad but it also taught us a huge lesson.
Even though we were slow we were getting return clients and more importantly, they were slowly but surely referring their family and friends to us. What if we took our marketing budget and applied it to the products we were delivering to our clients? Instead of delivering a Sharpie’d CD or DVD in a jewel case like it was some kind of crappy mix tape, what if we delivered something much higher quality? The process of going from those sweet mix tape style disks to what we do now was a long one but ultimately we found an approach that suited us extremely well and more importantly, it results in quality referrals.
Another lesson for us wasn’t necessarily something we learned through making mistakes or embarrassing ourselves but actually came from our clients and their previous experience with other photographers. While there are some amazing photographers out there that deliver an absolutely amazing customer experience there are also a lot of photographers out there that do the exact opposite. We heard story after story about bad experiences people had with photographers and it always had to do with the experience. We heard about awkward sessions, photos being delivered months late and in some cases about photographers that never even delivered the photos they took. The thing that was really crazy about these stories is that we weren’t asking them about the experiences they have had with other photographers. If people are willing to share these things with us during their sessions you can imagine what they are telling the people they are close with.
We are all about referrals. Our business is about 80% referral with the remaining 20% being from random Google searches and people finding us on Facebook. Without referrals we wouldn’t even be in business so it seems like a good place to start with marketing.
First and foremost, our approach to marketing is to impress the clients we have already booked. Our current and former clients are the people that are going to rave about us and recommend us to everyone they know so why not allocate the largest part of our marketing budget to them? They might not reach more people than that random magazine ad but the people they do reach will have something that magazine ad could never have. Personal experience. That personal experience being shared with other potential clients can easily change our status from being one of many photographers being considered to the only photographers being considered. It’s a huge deal to us!
The following things we do all have a huge impact on our client experience which directly affects our referrals.
Tangible products. When we decided to move away from our awesome CD in a jewel case look we decided to approach it in a way where what we would want was the focal point of our delivery rather than what was popular in the industry. This all happened when PASS came onto the scene with sites like Pixieset and Shoot Proof right on PASS’s heals. While electronic delivery seemed like a great option we realized that it seemed very impersonal. If we were to receive photos we would love to be able to flip through them in the same way that we flipped through the photos our parents got back when we were kids. There was something so cool about seeing photos for the first time in print. Plus, you really can’t beat the experience of actually holding your photos rather than only being able to see them on the screen.
Killing it with your customer service. This can easily be applied to any business. If you don’t do a great job with your customer service you’re fighting a losing battle if you want referrals from your current and former customers. It’s the small things that count. Respond to people in a timely fashion, do the things you say you’re going to do and don’t surprise them with extra charges on their sessions. As crazy as these sound they are all problems that people run into. The saying that any publicity is good publicity is completely inaccurate here. No matter how great the photos you take are you’ll kill your business if you can’t provide good customer service.
Beyond good customer service, why not throw in a few things they aren’t expecting. Take the time to help them with their wedding timeline and create a family formal list that will minimize any uncomfortable family issues that could cause them stress. This not only helps them with planning but it will also build their trust that you are confident in what you do.
A few years ago we read “The Guide” by Justin and Mary. It is a great resource that we definitely recommend. It was also the first place we had heard about giving couples a date night box. A couple of months before the wedding we send out this package with our favorite candy, popcorn with our favorite popcorn recipe and our favorite “romantic” movie. We also include a note asking them to take one night to not think about anything wedding related and to enjoy the movie and each other’s company. We regularly hear back from our couples about how thankful they are for sending the box and that it was such a great reminder that even though the planning and details are great their wedding is still about the two of them starting their life together. It’s the perfect thing to show that we really care about them not only as our client but as people that have come into our life. There’s no better customer service than showing that you genuinely care for and appreciate your clients.
Product consistency. This is another huge thing that can’t be underestimated in the world of referrals. You absolutely need to be able to provide work that is consistent with the work that causes people to book you for their weddings or sessions. If they book you because they like the dark and moody look in your portfolio or in the photos you took for their friends and you shoot light and airy for their session there’s little chance they will be happy with their photos. More importantly, this lack of consistency will kill your ability to get referrals.
Our approach to building consistency is one of practice, practice and more practice. Patience and I like the light and airy look so that’s how we shoot everything. We shot weddings that way, family sessions that way and our personal work that way. We try to get that look with off camera flash, with natural light and indoors with available light. We shoot absolutely everything with that look because it’s a look that we love. There will be times when the light isn’t right or you have to shoot indoors but that shouldn’t be as much of an obstacle as it might sound. Practice shooting in as many situations as you can. Find a way to take photos you love in every lighting condition so that you’re ready for any challenge you might face. This takes an enormous amount of practice but it’s something that will pay off in the long run because your clients will know what to expect and you will have the ability to deliver it.
The rest of what I’m going to talk about isn’t necessarily marketing in a traditional sense. These are all small things that don’t cost you anything at all but go a long way towards building a great client experience.
Always smile. This sounds like a little bit ridiculous but we are constantly told by people when we are leaving weddings about how impressed they were with how we handled the stress of family photos or how we handled the stress of the wedding getting behind schedule. It always comes down to this one simple thing too. No matter how stressed you are, make sure you’re smiling, acting confident and assuring people that things will work out great. Like I said, this gets mentioned to us all of the time and it has shown us that people are watching what we do a lot closer than we might expect.
Take the time to talk with the guests at the wedding. Most weddings have a little bit of downtime and we use that time to take photos of other couples and families that are attending. Not only is this a great opportunity to get your work in front of a few more people by making sure they are in your photos but it’s a great way to talk to people. Our industry is almost completely built on personal connection so take the time to actually connect with people.
Treat people as more than just a transaction. This falls into the personal connection category too. As a small business owner in an industry that is flooded we feel like it’s extremely important to build a relationship with our clients that is much more than just taking someone’s money and completing the work they paid you to do. If you want to build a strong referral base and want to work with the same clients again you really need to care about them as people. Take the time to learn more about them and remember some of the important details in their lives. We go out of our way to remember where people went to college, where they work, the names of their kids and to figure out what they really value. I have to stress that this is something that shouldn’t just be thrown into a spreadsheet so it can appear like you care, you really have to care and it needs to show. This approach is the reason why we are now doing maternity and newborn photos for the wedding clients from 2012 and 2013. When you approach your clients like this it can turn into a much longer friendship and it’s entirely possible that you’ll be there to continue to document the most important moments in your clients lives.
All of these things together build our customer experience which I feel is much more powerful than a traditional approach to marketing. Next week I am going to talk a little bit about how we approach social media, working with other vendors and one of our marketing secrets that has had huge success.
Hey everybody! My name is Joe and I am a fearful person. This is a great way to start, right?
Not fearful in a don’t want to step out of the house kind of way but fearful in a way that I don’t want to let people down. This fear has been a driving force at every one of my past jobs and has always helped me to succeed. It has also helped us to constantly refine the methods of our business in an effort to provide the absolute best service possible but it definitely has a few byproducts that can be very, very crippling when trying to run a business and plan for the future.
In no particular order, here they are. My biggest four fears…
I have the fear of losing my passion for photography.
I have the fear of losing touch.
I have the fear of our work not mattering.
I have the fear of not being able to provide for our family.
These four fears are all things that I constantly have to work on because they regularly creep into my head when I have doubts.
Losing my passion for photography… seems ridiculous right? I almost always have a camera in my hands and even when don’t I still I see everything around me in a ways that I could frame with a viewfinder.
Most of us got into photography because we enjoyed taking photos but the business side of things can get really exhausting. We end up spending hours and hours stuck behind our computers editing, emailing and working on our websites. It starts to feel like the more business you get the less you are actually taking photos. That can be a huge passion killer and one that constantly comes back and worries me.
The absolute best way I have found to combat this fear is by shooting personal work. I photograph my kids, I start personal photography projects and if I need inspiration I’ll take a walk and photograph anything that catches my eye. This is time I have to schedule because I won’t do it otherwise. It’s easy for all of us to find something more important than what we want to do for ourselves. In all honestly though, this is huge! You need to be doing photography for yourself. It’s these walks and small projects that have helped me to build my voice so far and continue to make me excited about learning and trying new things. It is your personal work that will mold and shape the way you shoot for your clients.
Another big part of this for me was finding a way to do personal projects without adding a large amount of my time at my desk. We work a lot and I don’t ever want to take away from our time as a family. Learning to shoot film was a great way to challenge myself and complete this unpaid work with as little of a time investment as possible. It definitely doesn’t hurt that the overall look of film is amazing!
Losing touch… I have absolutely no proof that this is ever going to be a problem but it’s something that scares me to death when planning for our future as photographers.
Imagine being a young engaged couple planning your wedding and you are at the point where you are meeting with two photographers. The first photographer comes in and she’s in her mid 20’s, has shot 30-40 weddings and makes an amazing personal connection with you at the meeting. The second photographer comes in and while he has an amazing portfolio and has shot hundreds of weddings he is an older man who is slightly out of touch with trends and isn’t able to connect with you in the same way as the younger photographer. Who would you book?
My fear is that the younger photographer will book this wedding nine times out of ten not because they are more talented but because the age difference creates the feeling that the older photographer can’t relate to the younger couple.
The thing that’s so crazy about this is that I have no real proof and haven’t personally witnessed this ever happening. It’s simply a worry that I have that makes me scared about what the future holds and when I’m scared about these things I become much more likely to continue down a path that I know and one that I’m already comfortable with. This definitely isn’t a path to success.
Every time I start to get that scared feeling about what the future holds I have a few things I need to remind myself of.
First, it’s great to have plans for the future and it’s important to have goals but when you’re doing something that is new to you there needs to be a level of flexibility. If you aren’t flexible with your goals there’s a good chance you’ll end up being disappointed in yourself.
Second, approach things one day at a time. Even though I think we need to be flexible with our goals and what your path needs to be it’s important that we complete each and every task and do our very best at what is in our control each and every day. Focusing on the small tasks and day to day goals has done a lot to help me work past some of my biggest fears.
Third, the more personal work we do, the more our photography becomes unique. Try new techniques and take chances with your shooting that are outside of your comfort zone If you can develop a style and product that is uniquely your own you’ll stand out in any crowd no matter what your age is. Check out the work of someone like John Dolan. He’s an older photographer who does absolutely amazing work that stands out in our crowded profession. His work is incredibly inspiring and is great proof that my fear of losing touch is completely unfounded.
This next fear is downright ridiculous and I don’t know if everyone gets down about this or not! It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like my work doesn’t matter. The photography and wedding industry constantly pushes imagery out there that makes it easy to feel like your work doesn’t matter unless it’s on the latest and greatest blog or published in a wedding magazine. Our whole society is starting to be like that. It’s non stop photography no matter where you go. The list of sources is massive and most of those sources are in our daily lives.
It’s so important to remember that our photography matters to our clients more than we might ever know. We capture moments during weddings and family sessions that are specific to that place and time and may never be exactly like that again. These are historical moments for our clients and they carry significant weight. As a photographer it truly is an honor to be a part of these moments and it’s my duty to never forget this. What the rest of the industry is doing really doesn’t matter as much as your own clients do. I can’t stress this enough! Your clients matter more than what the rest of the industry is doing. If you do everything in your power to give them the best photos possible, your work will matter to the people that matter.
The last on my list of the big four fears should probably be the first on my list since it’s the main reason it took us as long as it did to go full time. It is the fear of not being to provide for my family financially. This one is a pretty big one and definitely has moments where it hits me with a vengeance. In fact, it’s a big enough fear to me that we’re dedicating an entire post to it coming up next week.
Whether you view Jesus as a wise teacher or believe he is your Lord and savior there is a lot to be learned about fear in the Bible. The following Bible verses have been a huge help to me and Patience when facing hard decisions, doubt and fear.
Psalm 24:4 – I sought the Lord and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.
Matthew 6:34 – Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
I’m looking forward to next weeks post on financial fear and feel really blessed that you took the time to read our post this week. Please feel free to email us any questions you might have, we would love to hear from you.