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Benchmark_October_Prize_250x.jpgAt PPA, we know that photographers are always looking for business guides to help them stay profitable. One tool provided by PPA that we often hear is useful for members is the Benchmark Survey! We've previously heard from June's winner Heather Sams, CPP and July's winner A. Michael Fletcher about why they find PPA's business guide, the Benchmark Survey, to be so helpful. But don't take our word for it; instead, take a look at what David. H. Smith of Phoenix, AZ has to say about it (he's the August winner!).

David has nearly three decades of experience in photography. At his studio, he specializes in high school seniors, engaged couples, families and fashion models. While he prides himself on creating unique imagery and experiences for his clients, the Benchmark Survey has also been essential to his success. 

"Learning, participating and using the Benchmark Survey has been extremely valuable in making sure I am able to keep doing what I love to do. Comparing the performance of our studio to the recommendations from the Benchmark has helped us put certain goals in place. It has also helped us position our business, so that it is financially profitable and remains as such for years to come; it was like having my own photography business guide," David said of his experience.
PPA's Benchmark Survey is the industry's only complete financial overview depicting what profitable studios look like (unlike other industry averages). As such, it has been helping photography businesses form a better idea of where they stand and how they can improve their bottom line. Participating studio-owners get a free side-by-side comparison of the Benchmark to their own financial data. Not only is this an in-depth source of information to help them grow their business, it is a $750 value (or more!), as PPA develops a customized comparison that is the first step in determining what to change for greater success! As a bonus, participants are automatically entered each month in some giveaway drawings for great prizes. For submitting his information in August, David won a $500 B&H gift card!

Ready to better your business and get a chance at winning October's prize? There is a $500 Showcase Photo & Video gift card to be won! Go to PPA.com/Benchmark to participate!
But wait, there's more: all participants are also entered into a drawing for an all-expense paid trip for two photographers to Imaging USA 2015 in Nashville. That includes airfare for two, hotel for 4 nights and two all-access pass Imaging USA registrations. Submit your info today! 
PPA is dedicated to helping professional photographers be more. From techniques for photographers to better business practices, PPA and PPA's staff are here to help you take your photography business to that next level. 

Having great images is important, but as any photographer would agree, if you aren't managing your business properly, your path to success will most likely become an arduous one. That's why PPA created the Benchmark Survey. 

Periodically, we survey hundreds of photography studios to compile a comprehensive photography business guide that can help you increase your profitability and help you avoid some all-too-common (but also some not-so-evident) business pitfalls. These are the Benchmark Resources. At first that jargon-sounding name might sound a tad corporate, but those who use the Benchmark will tell you: this tool will make a difference in your business! And PPA members can access these Benchmark Resources at no extra cost. This comes with your membership!

To get started and see how the Benchmark can help make a significant difference for your business, let's look at it from square one. PPA recently added a new tool to the Benchmark Resources to help professional photographers plan for a profitable business by beginning with the end in mind. What do we mean by beginning with end? Just what it sounds like: the tool will start by asking you what you want your annual net income to be. Then from there, it will help you work backwards to help you realize how your cost of sales and overhead percentages affect your profitability (all as determined by the Benchmark Survey). You'll see a very clear picture of how many sessions, at what sales average, you'll need to reach the income goal you've set. 
Written by guest blogger, Kameron Bayne of Fotoseeds.

Photographers are often asking themselves (and other photographers) "what should I charge?"  It's a foundational question that raises worry and doubt over the survival of our profession.  There's an ocean of information out there with endless waves of differing opinions.  With so much information, it's easy to just go with the current tide until we're lost far at sea. I think part of the confusion comes because asking "what should I charge?" is really two questions in one. Let's take a closer look.  The underlying issues are 1). how do you price your work to be sustainable and 2). what are your potential clients willing to pay for it? One question is about your business' cost/profit ratios and the other is about the value you offer to others. If you try answer the second without answering first, you'll most likely base it on these common pricing myths.

  • What Other Area Photographers Charge. Don't fall into the trap of basing your prices on what the other guy is charging. Why? Because you have no idea what his actual costs are, which means you don't know if he's making money or losing it.  It's also quite possible he doesn't know either, especially if his prices are based on some other photographer too.
  • The Level of Your Work. If you base your prices on the level of your work, it gets sticky real quick.  Who decides when you're good enough? Your clients? Other photographers? Most likely it's based on how you perceive your work-or worst, how you perceive what other people must think about your work. That's a self-inflicted headache.  If you're always growing as an image marker, the truth is, you probably never feel as though you've "arrived" because there's always room to grow.
  • What You Would Pay. Another mistake is to forget you are not always your client, and start asking yourself what would you pay for your own work?  This can be an especially subtle and damaging trap because it preys on the natural bent of dissatisfaction in one's own work. I call an epidemic of self-abuse within the creative and artistic community. The roots of which are intertwined within our hidden thought patterns and how we feel about ourselves as human beings (see the upcoming post: Identifying the Patterns of Artistic Self-Abuse).

Pricing for Sustainability

  • The first step includes an in depth and brutally honest look at what it costs you to produce a final product for your client.  The primary factor of a healthy business is that it makes more money than it spends.
  • Under PPA benchmark research, the average photographer's salary is 20% of his or her gross income.  In very simplistic terms, this means if you charge the client $100 an hour, you only make $20.
  • That other $80 enables your business to sustainably function by covering the raising costs of products, albums, computer upgrades, equipment, maintenance, education, healthcare, etc. If you don't have these costs built in, guess where they come from? That's right, they come out of your 20% slice.
  • Once you honestly and thoroughly crunch the numbers, you'll know without a doubt where you need to set your prices.  You'll have a bare minimum you'll need to charge for your business to survive without stealing from other areas of your life.
  • It can be an overwhelming process to go down this road, and so I understand why most people never start.  But it's like someone saying they may be worried about being seriously sick so they don't want to go into the doctor.  The truth might confirm your worries, but it can also offer you an opportunity for a real and exciting solution.  You can get the help you need.
  • Here are some tools to help you get started: the PPA Benchmark Survey, Expense and Pricing Templates from PPA, and Stacey Reeves' Pricing Guide.
  • We are available on an individual basis if you need help applying this information to your specific circumstances. Contact us here for more information.
With that said, what your potential clients are willing to pay is a completely separate issue that deserves a post all to itself.  More to come later...
Guest blogger, Mariah Ashley, presents the second of her three-part series, "THE TRIFECTA OF TROUBLE - How Three Big Mistakes Created the 'Perfect Storm' and Almost Sank the Snap! Weddings Ship." Make sure you read part one, The Tale of the Tin Pig, A Cautionary Anecdote first!

Part Two: Guts: Hate 'em, Spill 'em, Trust 'em.

My son is a freshman in high school this year, which is weird because it feels like just yesterday I was the one in high school. Maybe that's because last night I was in high school... my son's high school... for parent's orientation. Whomp.

A throng of anxious parents, including yours truly, all got our children's schedules. Then we proceeded to wander the halls like thoroughly disoriented, frightened tourists looking for Period A class. I finally found Biology I, Room 451, though not in the allotted four minutes because I took a wrong turn at the cafeteria and ended up in the janitor's broom closet. 

Finding my seat as the bell rang, I noticed myself breathing a little irregularly (and not just because I was sprinting away from an angry janitor). It seems like I was having some kind of I'm-back-in-high school-and-it's-not- a-terrible-reoccurring-dream-it's-actually-happening anxious episode.

As you may have guessed, I did not peak in high school. I was not homecoming queen. I was not the most popular girl. I was not friends with the most popular girl. I did however have the unfortunate privilege of sitting next to the most popular girl in home room for four years. We'll call her Shauna Dee.

For me, every morning subjected to the luminescent wonder of Shauna Dee was a depressing downward spiral of impossible comparison followed by dark self-loathing. Okay, maybe it wasn't really that bad, it was only 720 days of cheerless despondency but who's counting?
In those days, a.k.a. the stone ages, a.k.a. 1986, when I was in high school and no one really cared about a child's self esteem, the PTO would offer carnations for sale on Valentine's Day. Student's (the expectation here being the boys) could purchase red carnations to be delivered to the girl of their dreams in homeroom. Yes, you know what's coming next. 

Every year some poor volunteer would have to lug a wheel barrel full of red carnations into my homeroom and empty them adoringly on Shauna Dee's desk. Every year like a dope I would hope that one of those scraggly red blossoms would have my name on it. Every year it didn't. Double Whomp. One year Shauna Dee took pity on me and gave me one of her flowers (because she's an angel) and it promptly snapped leaving me with a long stem in one hand and a stubby bloom in the other. Whompity whomp whomp.

red carnation.jpg
Don't be too sad for me, wipe those tears! This tale has a happy ending. Senior year Shauna Dee, beloved by faculty and students alike, was caught cheating on a History exam! Gasp! Her fall from grace was a sound heard round the world (although it just sounded like tinkling bells because she's an angel, remember?). Now, now, don't get all, "That's not nice to revel in Shauna Dee's misfortune on me." That's not the happy ending, I haven't gotten to it yet. 

One day soon after the fall of Shauna Dee I was walking along in the hallway minding my own business and guess who said hello to me? That's right! Shauna Dee! Not only did she say hello but she also asked me a question. It was the strangest and saddest question that anyone has ever asked me. A question that completely changed my perception of myself, Shauna Dee, and the value I had placed on the social ladder of high school.

She asked, "Mariah, do your parents hug you?" just as matter-of-factly as you can imagine!


I said, "Yeah, they do. All the time. It's kind of annoying." Very cool.

Shauna Dee just looked at me and nodded a little nod and turned down another hallway. 

What a monster you are thinking! Mariah rejoices in this poor girl's lack of intimacy with her parents. Calm down, that's not the happy part either. The happy ending is the lesson that Shauna Dee taught me which is this, If you think the grass is always greener on the other side, maybe you just need to water your own lawn.

You may be asking yourself what does watering one's lawn and the tale of an angel fallen from grace have to do with a mistake that almost sank the Snap! Weddings ship, Part Deux? Well I'll tell you.

GUTS, more specifically hating other people's (Haters Gotta Hate) and not trusting my own.
There have been times this year when much like sitting next to Shauna Dee in homeroom all those years ago, I have felt envious of other's photographer's (fill in the blank here with any of these words; success, skill, talent, popularity, shoes)... you get the green eyed picture.

Sometimes it is hard to watch others seemingly rocket to the top while you are left plodding along. What I found was that the more time I spent looking over the fence at what my neighbors were doing, the less time I spent creating my own brand, cultivating my own style, and watering my own lawn. I'm never going to have Shauna Dee's awesomely bad 80's wardrobe. I'm just not that girl, but I am a girl who has guts.

From fear and desperation I recently pulled a Shauna Dee, i.e. copied off another photographer's paper. I'm not proud of it, but fear can do crazy things to a photographer. The cheating incident involved a seminar with a photographer who offered their price list for sale. I had been reworking and struggling with my pricing recently. I felt in my gut that it was cheating to purchase the pricing and I debated it for oh... about one second before I shelled out the $200. 

Excitedly (the kind of excited where you are getting away with something you shouldn't) I opened the PDF document to discover the secret pricing magic recipe of the Shauna Dee of wedding photography. What I found was shocking. The pricey pricelist was exactly the same as my newly reworked price list. Not kidding. The philosophy, the structure, the actual prices...the same! Almost to the penny. Except I just flushed $200 down the drain because I didn't trust my gut. Whomp.

Moral of the story? Stop comparing yourself to others and don't look at your neighbor's paper for the answers. Do these two things and you too can have G.U.T.S. (Gigantic Unbelievable Total Success). I no longer waste my time stalking other photographer's blogs, I spend that time crafting my own. I'm not paying anyone for their cheat sheets either. I studied the material myself and I'm confident I know what's best for my business. 

A side note: I didn't have to go as far back in the time machine to learn a little about guts. I could have learned something about guts this very morning when my naive freshman son went off to school wearing a cowboy hat. We live in Massachusetts. Not Montana. Now that's some guts.

Epilogue/ A Future Screenplay

A high school hallway circa 2013. The camera pans past a closet and a trash can to a lone janitor, broom in hand sweeping up the scattered shards of self esteem left behind by some naive teenage boy. The janitor adds the debris to the contents of the trash can, one newly purchased yet recently discarded cowboy hat. 

Fade to black.

Over the course of the last few months, we've covered the bare basics of social media. In a field that's constantly evolving, your education shouldn't stop here! What are some easy places to get your social media quick fixes as you continue on this journey? Well, we have a few recommendations to keep you on your path to enlightenment.

Mashable: Get your geek on with daily social stories. Some are fluff (like the "The 10 Most Epic Celebrity Twitter Fights"), but there's a lot of quality information at your fingertips to gain inspiration and knowledge from. Like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter to get your daily dose in small portions (and like their "Watercooler" for silly posts, many times involving cute cat videos). 

SmartBlog: Smart Blog is another wonderful source for a social media blog. It'll talk about great topics like "Why you should plan like your life depends on it" or "Grading retailers's social back-to-school promotions." Just because they aren't in photography, that doesn't mean you won't learn something awesome!

PhotoShelter: Photoshelter is the bombdiggity for free guides on photography specific social media. We love their free guides! Check in with them often to see their latest and greatest white paper on the topics (always good to like them on Facebook too!)

HubSpot: These guys are social media pros! They have fixes for everything, from boring cover photos to improving your social work flow or making sure your emails get opened by your clients. They also sell software to help manage social media--so there may be the occasional plug--but overall they are a really stellar source for great content.

SmartBrief: Get geeky with all of the big picture stuff on SmartBrief. These guys won't tell you how to improve your tweet-game, but they will tell you all the news about mobile marketing for the Asia-Pacific region (and other really cool topics). If you're a social media nerd--this is an excellent spot to spend some time each day. 

theLoop: Join theLoop's Marketing community to see what your fellow photographers are up to. Discuss ideas, talk about successes and learn from each other's mistakes! Remember--this is an exclusive benefit for only PPA members, so you'll have some wonderful photographers to learn from!

LinkedIn: Join some LinkedIn groups that are focused on social media/marketing! Subscribe to their daily digest and review it (yes, every day) to see if any topics pop out as something that would be interesting for your business! Just because it's not about photography doesn't mean there aren't key parallels to pull from.

So subscribe away! Join their email lists, like them on Facebook and/or follow them on Twitter! Keep up your social media education--it's evolving daily and many of these changes can alter how your posts are distributed. 

Have other social media sources you love? Leave them in the comments! 

This is post 7 of 7 in the Be More...Social series. Read the other posts in the series using the links below:

This is the first entry in a three-part series, THE TRIFECTA OF TROUBLE - How Three Big Mistakes Created the "Perfect Storm" and Almost Sank the Snap! Weddings Ship, by guest blogger, Mariah Ashley.

bouncy pig.jpgThere's a few things you should know about my husband. He drove the same car for 17 years, we called it "The Rattler" because of the tortured noises it made on the highway. Every week or so, it would have a new rattle. One day it sputtered a symphony of rattles and then promptly died. 

My husband doesn't go to the eye doctor and get proper prescription glasses, instead when things start to get fuzzy(er) he buys a new four pack of reading glasses from BJ's for $19.99. He just can't see spending the money on prescription glasses. I say he just can't see, period. 

My husband has a favorite pair of "hang around the house" shorts. He got them at a folk-music festival. They are corduroy with an embroidered star on the back pocket. He wore them every night for six years until they finally disintegrated and then he bought an identical replacement pair. The second pair is still going strong after four years. 
My husband would argue that he is not cheap. We have settled on the word frugal to describe his spending style.

So imagine my surprise when returning home one evening I was greeted by a cartoonish tin pig inhabiting our flower garden.

"Where'd the tin pig come from?" I asked half expecting him to say, "the neighbor's dumpster."

"I bought it," said my husband happily. 

"You what?!" (my shock and disbelief masked by a nervous smile)

"I bought it at the antique store. I love it."

"You love a tin pig?" 

"Yes. I love a tin pig. And his name is Bouncy Pig. He bounces when you push on his hat."

"What did Bouncy Pig cost?"

"Thirty eight dollars."

I don't remember the rest of the conversation because at the divulgement that my cheap frugal husband had spent $38 on a tin pig I fainted and hit my head on the kitchen table. When I came to, I decided to do the dishes. Standing at our kitchen sink looking out the window affords me a nice view of the flower garden and Bouncy Pig. Watching Bouncy Pig springing happily in his new home, I decided I didn't like him much. He's too cheery and he's tacky. He looks junky in the flower garden. Yucky pig.

Strangely, I was alone in my hatred of Bouncy Pig. My teenage son likes to bounce him, my pre-teen daughter likes to bounce him, nieces and nephews love to bounce him, random neighborhood children adore bouncing him, and of course there's my husband who never fails to give him a loving little bounce as he passes by. People see something in Bouncy Pig that I did not see. Bouncy Pig gives them joy and that naturally got me thinking about wedding albums. Naturally.
It's week three of our "Be More...Social" series! In week one, we covered why on earth you need to be on social media (and what's the proper lingo) and last week we discussed the top six platforms to consider utilizing in your social media strategy. Social media strategy you ask? Welcome to week three!

Social media strategy is the thorough process that goes into your posts, tweets, and shares. Think of social media as something that needs to continually be optimized--how can you improve your efforts when you have no way to track or measure them? That's where strategy comes in!

There are some pretty simple steps to create your strategy, and numerous websites to help you track your successes and opportunities for improvement (let's avoid the word "failure").

1. Determine Your Goals

What do you hope to get out of social media? What goals do you want to accomplish? 
If you're not sure where to start--here are some common goals and objectives small businesses usually turn to social media for:
  • Branding: General company/brand recognition is huge, especially for photographers. You don't want to be "that guy over on Main Street...you know...what's his name?"--You want to be you! You want (and need) to build a brand identity to get word-of-mouth recognition going. 
  • Attract new clients: Utilizing social media to drive traffic to your pages or website/blog will help attract new clients and customers. Also, by listening closely (we covered that week one) - you can see who is in the market for your work and seek them out. By handling social media in a professional manner, it will allow your personality and your work to shine. 
  • Build a following: By creating dynamic content, you'll be giving your customers a reason to talk (positively) about your brand! They will share your content and voila! Their friends become your fans and followers and you become a likeable, recommendable, in-demand photographer. 
Pro-tip: Make your goals as measurable and reasonable as possible. It would be ill-advised to say your goal should be to double your Twitter followers in a week (unless you only have a handful)--but increase by 5% over a month's time might not be a bad place to start! Or you can equate your goals with more inbound inquiries--more phone calls, emails or requests from your website can be tied back to building your brand and attracting new followers! Give them a reason to follow you. Peak their interest with behind the scenes shots or stories, promotions or special offers, color or dressing tips, etc. 

As time goes on, track your progress with spreadsheets or fun (free) infographics from places like www.visual.ly! They allow you to see how your Facebook content has reached the masses, or how you're stacking up to your competition on Twitter. 

2. Know Your Clients (Both Present & Prospective)

Last week we discussed who is on what platform - and hopefully that directed what sites you're planning on leveraging. Now, drill deeper to see who your audience might be!
  • Understand your target market's point of view and activities: Think of your target demographics--age, gender, income, location, as well as interests and priorities. When you post on Facebook, you can segment by many of these demographics and really hone in on who your post reaches. 
  • Consider influencers, buyers and end users: This is key--especially with senior portraits! You have the senior (end user), buyers (parents) and influencers (senior's friends/social circles) to contend with! 
  • Consider your audience's social media behavior: Do they lurk? Do they share? Do they create? Each type of social media user can be engaged in a different way. Know your market to see how you can best leverage your reach.

3. Choose Your "Hot Buttons"

These are your studio's main content topics. Keep it to three - five different themes depending on your studio's product offering. They will differ from studio to studio, but remember to keep them relevant to the work you do so they are optimized for your market. 
  • Create an editorial calendar: We'll go into this more next week, but know you should have a place to create content in bulk so it's less work on the fly. 
  • Brainstorm ideas: Using these themes, bring in your most creative thinkers and collaborate how you can best utilize these themes in fun, interactive ways!
  • Offer a variety of content formats: Text posts are not nearly as popular as images. You're a photographer -use your work! Also consider utilizing your Instagram images on Facebook/Twitter or creating a YouTube video to share "behind-the-scenes" action. 
By sticking to your themes, it will help your pages develop a rich content source that will help you more dramatically achieve your target goals.

4. Set Your Limits

If you're not careful, social media can be a black hole of time. Ever start looking through your newsfeed to see what you're clients are up to and end up 15 pages deep on Buzzfeed? Don't worry, you're not alone. Set time limits and stick to them! Maybe set aside 30 minutes, twice a day to start. Or utilize services such as Meltwater an RSS feed--they scan the web for your company's name (or other key words) and bring the results to you!  It eliminates the time-suck that can happen when you hop over to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, but it also costs a pretty penny. 

5. Plan Your (Human) Resources

Next (big) question: who will handle your social media? If you're in business by yourself, with no additional help, this is a really easy answer! If you have a bit bigger of an operation, it's important to set clear expectations of who has access to the admin rights, how those rights are to be used and what happens if they blow it (they won't blow it, but just in case). It's usually not the best idea to have the intern running your image, so pick someone who knows you, knows your business and can handle some nonsense (FYI: people can be jerks on the internet). 

It's usually helpful to set some social media guidelines and rules for etiquette. We have our set of rules for PPA and if folks violate them there is a clear expectation of what happens. Same goes for your page! If someone is making inappropriate comments, don't be afraid to boot them off. Creating a process on how you handle these situations is key!

Note: If someone has something negative to say about your business that has some truth behind it, leave it and respond to it. Kill them with kindness, but try not to delete those comments. That will take away the transparency of your business and you will come across as much less authentic. 

6. Measure. Improve. Repeat.

We talked about creating measurable goals in step one. Make sure as you're implementing your strategy, you have all of the tools to make these measurements. Set aside time the first of the month to see how your number of fans/followers have grown, or make sure you ask how people heard of your company when you get a new client calling. 

There are also great free analytics on Facebook (click your "Insights" box in your admin panel) to see what posts reached the most individuals, gained the most likes/shares and worked the best. Explore what made those posts great and keep it up! You can also see what needs some help and tweak it for the future. 

Last, but not least, you can set up a special landing page on your website to see how many clicks convert from all of your social platforms. Talk to your web developer to set this up for an easy way to see what platforms are working and what needs some love!

So there are the six easy steps to create your strategy from the Social Media Examiner! They may be simple, but they can take some time to implement. Dedicate an hour a day to working through this list and see where the week takes you. Next week we'll cover the planning of your posts (think content types, timing, etc.)! 

How have you implemented what's been covered thus far? What questions do you have? What troubles (if any) have you run into? Leave them in the comments!

- Sarah

This is post 3 of 7 in the Be More...Social series. Read the other posts in the series using the links below:


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