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Results tagged “photography business guide” from PPA Today

By Sarah Ackerman

It's been nearly a year since Wes Roberts of Wes Roberts Photography in Smiths Station, Alabama started his journey with his PPA mentors and his Studio Makeover. We checked in via Skype for one last chat before we see him live at Imaging USA in Atlanta, Sunday, January 10, 2016 at 5 PM. So what's changed in his business in the past 10 months? What has he learned? Check out the video check-in below. 

About PPA's Studio Makeover:
At the beginning of 2015, PPA began working with two lucky studios giving them the chance at a total "business makeover". The goal is to boost their profits and analyze all elements of their business from their business model, branding and pricing to marketing, sales strategy, workflow efficiency and overall profitability. Both studios are measured based on the tools, information and resources set by PPA's Benchmark. Want to know more about the full project? Read more here. 

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Sarah Ackerman manages all things social media for PPA and Imaging USA. When she's not living on the internet, she loves improv comedy, going on wilderness adventures, gallivanting around the globe, knitting, wood working and yoga. 

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By Aleighia Rouse 

PPA's Studio Makeovers (see an overview below) are in full effect and the lucky participating studios are seeing great results thus far. We chatted with Krista Newbill via Skype to check on where her business is and what she has gained and learned from putting this month's new alternatives into action. 

This video is a great blueprint for you photo geniuses out there that want to work on improving your sales, product placement and overall organization of your office. You can see the perspective of her company below.

About PPA's Studio Makeovers:

At the beginning of 2015, PPA began working with Krista Newbill from Murfreesboro, TN and Wes Roberts of Smith Station, AL, in all areas of their business giving them the chance at a total "makeover". Every part of their business was analyzed from business models, branding, and pricing to marketing, sales strategy, workflow efficiency and overall profitability, ultimately to help boost their profit. They were each measured based on the tools, information and resources set by PPA's Benchmark! Check out a full project overview here

We encourage all to follow Wes and Krista's progress, challenges, and changes here on the blog. Their learning curve and watching the strategies and business tactics they discuss can be very helpful; hopefully, it will also inspire you to take your business to the next level. Watch the webinar updates and track the progress of these two studio makeovers!

Aleighia Rouse is known by her happy personality and bubbly voice. With over 6 years of the film and photography experience, Aleighia can relate to most of the issues that come along with being a photographer. A graduating senior at Spelman College and one of PPA's Marketing and Communications interns, Aleighia aspires to hold a position just like the amazing people she works around. 

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By Sarah Ackerman

If you've heard us say it once, you've heard us say it a thousand times: the Benchmark Survey is a great tool to help your business. Still leery of the results? Take a few minutes and watch fellow pros like you discuss what parts of the Benchmark helped them increase their profit margins up to 40%! 

Motivated to make the change? Explore all of the Benchmark resources available to you as a PPA photographer. Check out Square One to set annual goals for sales per sessions to make your marks. And remember to read the detailed analysis of the Benchmark Business Guide to explore the path you need to take to boost your take home income and grow your business to where you want it to be. All these resources are here to help you Be More Profitable. 

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Sarah Ackerman is known around PPA as #Sarah in part because she handles all things social media and in order to differentiate herself from the other Sarahs in the office. Sarah loves improv comedy (think "Whose Line") and routinely performs around Atlanta. When she's not tweeting/facebooking/instagramming all of the action at PPA, she can be found gallivanting around the world or wandering around the woods with her pup, but more than likely she's on stage making people giggle.


By: Lauren Walters

If you're looking to make a bigger profit, PPA's Benchmark Resources are here to help revise your budget. A small change can make a huge difference in your business. In fact, a 1% decrease in your cost of sales and overhead expenses can save you as much as $50,000 by the end of the year.

For a retail studio, overhead expenses should estimate to about 40% and cost of sales at about 25%. Keep in mind that your profit depends upon the amount of sales for that fiscal year. For example, you need about $143,000 in sales to earn a $50,000 profit. Make sure to use PPA's Square One tool to see the change 1% makes to your bottom line.

The video below stresses the importance of creating a strategic budget and sticking to it! Watch and learn more about how to keep your sales and expenses in line with your new 1% budget.

For more information, visit PPA.com/Benchmark. Be More Profitable.

In the previous post 2 Studios Are Getting a Full Business Makeover This Year! you met PPA Studio Makeover recipients, Wes Roberts and Krista Newbill and read the overview of the makeover process.

Now that the makeovers are underway, you can follow along with their progress! First up is Wes as he and the PPA mentor team dove into the financials of his business.

Wes's Story

The Financials

Wes was super excited to get started. He's been working with PPA's Business Consultant and CPA, Bridget Jackson, to get a handle on where he is currently and the best way to move forward.

First, we always did a complete financial analysis of the studio. It's important to know what's working and what's not. We did this by comparing Wes' studio's numbers to PPA's Benchmark Survey. By comparing his cost of sales, overhead and net profit we started to get a good picture of the pitfalls that are causing monetary loss. We also uncovered potential opportunities for savings.

Wes' numbers looked better than the average benchmark studios in 2013 and 2014. However, his 20% cost of sales percentage doubled between 2013 and 2014. While, in general, 20% is a great number to achieve (below the recommended 25%), we had to figure out what has changed to cause such a drastic uptick and put everything in place to ensure that trend would not continue in 2015.

Second, PPA mentors helped Wes develop a photography business plan for 2015 that included three goals:

  1. the number of sessions he wants to photograph (broken down by month)
  2. the sales average of each session
  3. his net profit

By Chris Homer

If you're just starting a photography business, or have recently moved from part-time to full-time photographer, you probably feel a little bit overwhelmed by all the different things you must implement to have a successful business. Don't panic! PPA's Business Basics Workshop WILL help get you over the hump and set your studio up for success 

This workshop answers all those questions you might have - everything from legal and financial aspects of running a studio to picking a business model and developing a pricing strategy that works for you! Better yet, this Business Basics workshop utilizes PPA's Benchmark Survey results by directly comparing your studio's numbers with high-performing studios to help you identify real tangible areas of opportunities or needed changes. It's a 2 day business jolt that will empower you to make smarter business decisions.

You have to be with PPA to attend and there is a fee, but the knowledge and confidence to run your business successfully is such that almost all past attendees recognize it was a turning point for their studios and well worth the $199 cost. 

Emily Mulkey from Dallas, TX (who already attended this program) told us, "Doing the Business Basics Workshop was, by far, the best decision I made last year. The information and advice I received is still, to date, essential for taking my photography business from the hobby level to full time professional. The instructors are wonderful--they have incredible passion for the industry and have truly walked the walk. I only wish I had attended this workshop 2 or 3 years ago, as it would have saved me many tiresome nights of frustration!"

If you're looking for a photography business guide to avoid the frustration Emily mentioned, consider attending the next Business Basics Workshop at PPA headquarters in Atlanta, April 25-26. Those who register by March 25 will even get the early bird rate of $199! That and...you'll be able to bring someone else from your studio for free! 

The April class will be taught by Ann Monteith, M.Photog.Hon.M.Photog.Cr., CPP, ABI,API,A-ASP, who's among the best in teaching photographers how to run a business. 

Past attendee Virginia L.S. Freire of Brooklyn, NY said, "The Business Basics Workshop was worth every penny and every minute of it. I was amazed - and thrilled - that Ann Monteith covered so much and answered all of my questions in such a short amount of time. The program was inspirational and energizing and armed me with the critical tools, perspective, and business savviness I needed to set my studio apart and start on the road to profitability immediately. Thank you PPA and Ann!"

So, if you want to Be More as a photography business owner, get over your fears and sign-up for this April 25-26 Business Basics Workshop today! The workshop is only for PPA members, so you'll need to join before you can register. See you in Atlanta! 

About the author:
Chris Homer is PPA's SEO & Web Specialist, which basically makes Google Analytics his best friend. A graduate of the University of Georgia, Chris cheers passionately (and obnoxiously) for the Bulldogs in all things from football to checkers. When he's not hard at work on PPA's websites, you'll find Chris at auto racing events around the southeast, where he's known as a master architect of tent villages. 

Congratulations to PPA's Benchmark Grand Prize winner Emily Engelhardt, CPP! Emily won an all expense paid trip to Imaging USA this year in Nashville - including roundtrip airfare, accommodations and all access passes to the show for her and a guest. Emily has participated in the Benchmark Survey twice over the past few years, so she's not a newbie when it comes to the benefits this photography business guide can offer. Emily has officially been in business for the past 7 years. And after attending PPA's 3-day Business Breakthroughs workshop in Texas, she became inspired to seek financial advice to take her photography business to the next level. 

"I knew if I wanted to make this a career I needed to be smart about how I ran my studio, and knowing how to appropriately price myself and not getting into debt were both big wins for me," said Emily.

PPA's Benchmark also helped Emily see when to cut back on her expenses, hire a new employee, and look into purchasing the current studio she was renting. Emily explained that being able to see where she stood in relation to other studios in the country gave her a much needed confidence boost. 

When Emily utilized the Benchmark, it opened her eyes to possible investment opportunities. "My quarterly meetings with Bridget [Jackson, CPA] and my mentor, Julia [Woods], also helped me see that I could invest a lot more into my advertising budget, so this year I was able to invest in a large display in a mall in my target area and still gross a 42% net profit. Being able to see that I was right in line with some of the top grossing studios in the country, even if my sales totals weren't as high, my percentages were just as good, if not better,  gave me such a confidence boost, and reassurance that I really was doing well, not just hoping I was."

Before, Emily felt she was winging it with her business. After going through this process, not only is she reassured about the wellness of her business, but now she can analyze her financial budget and plan her next steps, using tangible data that make sense for her and her business.

"Even if you're not a 'numbers' person, it's so helpful to have some kind of standard to look to, not just hearsay," Emily stated.

If you participated in the Benchmark Survey, you can follow in Emily's example later this spring when your side-by-side comparison comes out! Let us know how PPA's Benchmark Survey helped you Be More! Oh, and be on the lookout for this year's new data... coming out soon! 

Can you believe it's already December? We're winding down the clock as the year comes to a close here at PPA, and that means it's your last chance to take advantage of the Benchmark Survey! Help your business be more by maximizing your profit potential in just a few simple steps with this photography business guide. And don't forget that it's also your last chance to win the grand prize of an all-expenses-paid trip for two to Imaging USA 2015 in Nashville! That means airfare for two, a hotel for four nights, and two all-access passes to the big show. Not a bad way to start the New Year, is it? Just be sure to submit your information for the Benchmark Survey by December 15th to be eligible! 

We're happy to announce that for the month of November we have two Benchmark prize winners--Kimball Nelson and Sheila Rutledge!

Kimball is an experienced landscape photographer and has had the privilege of photographing the Rocky Mountains for much of her life. She also never stops learning as a photographer, routinely attending the Rocky Mountain School of Photography. This yearning to better herself as a photographer led her to PPA and ultimately the Benchmark.
By Bridget Jackson, CPA, PPA Business manager

Have you ever read something and thought to yourself, I could have written that! Today is that day for me. In fact, the entire article could have been my quotes.

The article was 7 Ways to Help Ensure Your Business Succeeds by Donald Todrin. He points out business fundamentals have not changed, but new strategies are required in light of the changing economic conditions. The information is poignant when applied to photography business owners, so I decided to do just that! Here are his seven ways to succeed in business tweaked for what I believe to be strategies for the photography industry.  

1) Have a written plan that should include the following:
 a. A financial plan detailing how many sessions you plan to conduct at a certain sales average, an estimate of how much it will take to produce your products (cost of sales), and an estimate of what your fixed expenses will be.
 b. A source of initial financing until the business is self-sufficient. On average, per the SBA, it takes some businesses 3-5 years until they are sustainably self-sufficient. Knowing this, if you plan to use your personal resources, go at it fully understanding that it will take time to replenish.
 c. A sales plan to achieve your sales average goal. The plan should include a strategy and a price list set up to achieve the goal.
 d. A marketing plan to attract the amount of sessions you need to satisfy your financial plan. The plan should identify your ideal paying client and the appropriate strategy to attract such defined target clientele. Also develop your marketing calendar, detailing the tools to be used, when to use them, and how you will measure your results. (PPA's Square One tool is a great place to start developing your plan.)
 e. Detailed workflow from the initial phone call to the delivery of the products. Outlining each step of your process doesn't only help identify the time required for each session, but it will also help you define outsourcing/employee opportunities.

2) Don't marry your plan. Even the best laid-out plans can eventually go awry. Think of it this way; it's not necessarily the plan that is important, but what we learn from the planning process and how it shapes and guides our future actions.

3) Keep your ego in check and listen to others. The photography industry is unique in some ways in that there are plenty of mentors out there to help guide you. Find one whose business is a reflection of what YOU would like your business to be. Look past the "flashy stuff" towards finding a mentor who is dedicated to their craft and their photography business.

4) Keep track of everything, and manage your numbers. In order to be successful, it is imperative as a studio that you know how many sessions you need to hold in order to reach your goals. The results of this analysis can tell you if your sales and marketing plans are working. It's that plain simple. And if they are not working, it may be time to reassess. PPA has made it easy for you to evaluate your numbers. Just go check the online tools, Square One in particular, that will help you establish the basis of managerial accounting.

5) Delegate and avoid micromanaging. This is where your detailed workflow (see 1e) comes into play. It is important for you to remember that you don't have to do everything. In the beginning, it might make sense, but as your business grows, carve out specific outsourcing opportunities using your detailed workflow. The photography business tends to be seasonal so keep that in mind as well when you are creating your plan. If you find yourself needing help year round, then it is time to take the steps needed to hire on an additional employee.

6) Use the internet! Social media is one marketing tool that is inexpensive but vitally important to building your business. It takes time and effort but if you schedule it ahead of time and take advantage of off-season opportunities to pre-post, it will become easier.  More importantly, it is pertinent that you do it consistently in order to be effective. Look outside of our industry to see how profitable companies take advantage of free marketing tools.

7) Reinvent your business. Seriously. If you don't like what your numbers are telling you, make a change. Of course, map out your change, but always remember that it is ok to take calculated risks. It's not about what you gross, but what you keep in our pockets. Assess your business from a different perspective. Ask yourself what your competitive advantage is. What niche could you carve out of your competitive market, and how could you provide better customer service to elevate your value? Discounting brings down your market's perception of your value so instead of playing the pricing war, exceed your clients' expectations by delivering more!

You have made a conscious choice to be a photographer, one that requires time and money. Always give yourself the best chance to succeed in this ever-changing profession. Knowledge is power--and as an entrepreneur, you are on an endless path to discover what you don't know. This is what PPA is here for: to help you be more profitable by continuing to learn about the photography business!

jacksonbridget_blog.jpgAbout the author:
Bridget Jackson is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and PPA Business manager. Over the years, Bridget has helped hundreds of photography studios become more profitable. 
Here's your latest guest column from none other than Bridget Jackson, resident guru for all things numbers and profitability. Bridget is the manager of PPA Business (formerly known as SMS) and also a CPA. She's helped hundreds of photography studios owners be more profitable and will address some common questions each month. Heed her advice folks--this lady knows her stuff!

Do the Work...
By Bridget Jackson

Educating yourself is only half the battle. You have to actually roll up your sleeves and do the work. 

I'm not talking about taking pictures (although you have to do that too). I'm talking about coming up with the elements of a marketing plan, a sales strategy, a documented workflow and a financial management plan. 

That's right. It's not enough for you to just understand what they are. You need to have them well documented so you not only have a strategy to guide you, but so you can update those strategies based on your strengths and weaknesses. Successful studios assess what worked, what didn't work and what needs to be changed so they can continue to stay on a path to reach their goals. 
Written by guest blogger, Booray Perry, CPP

We just got a new coffee maker.

It's one of those Keurig coffee makers that are really just the best thing ever invented. I really admire the whole idea behind the new coffee makers, especially when you consider that coffee makers have been pretty much unchanged for 50 years and then someone comes along and totally turns that industry on its head. Like the way ketchup bottles were unchanged for 50 years until some genius figured out they should stand on their head so the ketchup is always ready.

Anyway, we just got a new one and it's our third one. We have to buy a new one every year or so because we have "hard water" and it eventually breaks the machine.

Now, the manual tells you that you can prevent the machine from breaking by using distilled water. We did that at first until I started "doing the math." When you subtract the cost of a year's worth of distilled water from the cost of a new machine, you end up with a savings of less than $20. Since I'm the one who usually has to buy the distilled water and carry it to the car (and carry it into the house and put the empty into the recycle bin...) I decided that $20 a year was a fair price to pay to not have to deal with the distilled water anymore. A bargain, really.

It seems excessive when you are buying a new, expensive coffee maker every year or so but it's not if you remember that you aren't buying (and carrying) jugs of distilled water every week (or skipping coffee because you forgot the water, which really increases the value of using tap water.)

This is the way my mind works. As opposed to my wife, who would have reached the same conclusion but without the math. For her, not having to carry the water is all the incentive she needs, regardless of the cost. She never asks, "How much is the valet parking?"

So, you're probably thinking, "This is all very interesting but why is it on the PPA blog, which is really about photography?"

Good question!

I pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant, our carpool rendezvous point, to collect Trish for


 our third wedding of the weekend. Twelve hours earlier I had dropped her off to retrieve her car, twelve hours before that, the same. The days, the weddings, the people blended into one never-ending wedding reception with the despicable Old Time Rock n Roll looping horribly in my addled mind.

"I look like crap, I have huge dark circles under my eyes," complained Trish, slumping back into the seat.

"Aww, I bet it's not that bad," I said, lifting my sunglasses to get a good look at her.

We gasped in unison at the sight of each other's faces.

"You've got them too!" she cried.

"We look like a couple of zombie photographers." I said, defeated.

It's that time of year, October, and we feel like zombies too. Big, dumb, lumbering, drooling, driven to put one step in front of the other without thought or reason zombies. We are zombies hell bent on our one desire: to finish the weddings!

It didn't take a neurotoxin, virus, brain parasite, or tainted meat to turn two relatively attractive photographers into zombies. No, all it took was some overly ambitious booking, leading to forty three weddings to execute. My bad. But hey, what's done is done, right?

So we'll go ahead and slather a little more makeup on our faces to cover the dark circles and hope we can blend in with the rest of society; much like Bill Murray in my favorite zombie movie of all time, Zombieland. (Spoiler Alert) Bill has an excellent cameo role where he makes himself up to look like a zombie in order to blend in with the zombies and survive the zombie infested world. Okay, well that's actually the opposite of what we are doing but you get the idea.

Since it's almost Halloween and we are already on the topic of that great piece of Hollywood cinema, Zombieland, I have adapted some of the rules for surviving in Zombieland as they apply to wedding photographers surviving the end of wedding season. The hero of the movie, Columbus, has 32 rules for surviving Zombieland. Before meeting his friend Tallahassee who has also survived the infestation, these rules kept Columbus alive and well. Therefore, they must be true and henceforth I shall share nine of them (and two of my own) with you to help you survive the apocalypse that is "The End of the World Wedding Season."

The Benchmark Survey is an amazing tool to help you PPA photographers be morebenchmark_october_prize.jpg profitable. To sweeten the pot, we've been giving away some sweet prizes to some lucky winners to go along with the joy of easily figuring out the numbers you need to reach to live the life you want. 

And we have two winners this month! We've previously heard from June's winner Heather Sams, CPP, July's winner A. Michael Fletcher and August winner David H. Smith about why they find the Benchmark Survey to be so helpful. This month, we have two winners in Robin Swanson, M.Photo.Cr., CPP and Mia Stevens! 

Robin is an award-winning photographer who specializes in weddings. "This is the first time I participated in the Benchmark Survey," she said. "My business has changed significantly in the past year and I felt that it is important to share this information to help others in the industry." 

For submitting his information in the survey, Robin was able to win a brand new Spyder4PRO!

Mia Stevens is another award-winning wedding and portrait photographer. "I participated in the Benchmark Survey because it shows hard percentages that if implemented correctly can make you more money," she said. "Who doesn't want more money?" 

Mia walked away with a $300 gift certificate to TetherTools--not a bad way to start the fall!

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. 

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! 

By Mariah Ashley

When my daughter was two and having a bad day because she was asked to eat her


 vegetables, told it was time to go to bed or scolded for coloring on the kitchen wall, she didn't get sad and cry. Instead she got mad. She'd clench her fists and grit her little Chiclet teeth. Looking up at from me from behind her bowl cut she'd snarl, "You're the one what did it! You're the one what made me sad!" It was hilarious and disturbing all at the same time. She's twelve now. We're still working on it. But that's another story.

The story I want to tell today is a cautionary tale of how NOT to be The One What Did It, The One What Made Your Clients Sad, because it's always a good day when you aren't ruining your clients wedding. I've had cause to ponder this question lately as I've helplessly watched a few fellow wedding vendors wreaking havoc on my clients.

Take the case of the overly dramatic/distracted justice of the peace. I've been working with Fred the JP for years and without fail, I hear him before I see him. Fred shouts my name when he sees me regardless of the distance between us, the setting we are in, or the inappropriateness of shouting at a wedding. Fred also stands right behind me and breathes what's left of his lunch at the back of my neck. He likes to make small talk during the ceremony processional, which is of course a causal moment where we both have free time and no job to do. I awkwardly bob my head to avoid being rude to Fred while trying to nail my shot of the bride and her father coming down the aisle toward their bobble-headed photographer.

A few weeks ago I worked with Fred again. It was status quo; shouting across the lawn, small talk and bobble-heading. But wait, this day had a twist! Moments before the ceremony, Fred beckoned me to photograph the signing of the marriage license. The mother of the groom was about to sign as the first witness. Fred as chatty as ever, hurriedly explained to her to "sign here" and "print here" and then waived his finger over the area for her signature. He turned to me and continued his blah-blah-ing, leaving her to her own devices. You can see where this is going. Yes, she signed in the wrong spot.

"Oh no! Oh my! I've signed in the wrong spot!" she gasped, squinting at the document.

"What?!" he shouted, jerking his attention from me back to her.

"What do we do now?" she asked.

"Nothing, now! It's not like I have another copy!"

That's when the groom walked over.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"Well your mother has just ruined this legal document by signing on the wrong line. It's invalid and you can't be legally married without it."

The groom's face drained of all color. The groom's mother started ringing her hands and apologizing.

"I love you mom but I can't look at you or talk to you right now." said the dismayed groom.

The wedding planner was the next on the scene of the disaster.

"What's going on?" she asked. "I heard raised voices."

"I'll tell you what's going on, this is all garbage," announced Fred brandishing the ruined document and waiving his hand over the lawn indicating that the $100K wedding was now trash.

"Don't say that!" said the horrified wedding planner coming to the defense of the stricken groom. "You cannot tell my clients that their beautiful wedding is garbage!"

"Can you believe these people Mariah?!" asked Fred a few moments later behind the backs of the wedding planner and the nauseous groom. I just bobbled my head and walked away but what I wanted to do was clench my fists and grit my Chiclets and snarl. "Fred! You're the one what did it! You're the one what made them sad!"

By Mariah Ashley

Everything was going wrong. The groom was throwing up and the bride was taking it verytenthousand_fireworks.jpg personally. "He's going to go through with it isn't he?" she nervously asked the wedding planner.

"Um, yes? I mean yes, of course he is," said the wedding planner in a weak attempt to assuage her concerns.

I wasn't so sure. At the altar the pair stood in scared silence staring straight ahead at an indiscriminate spot on the wall while the ceremony swirled around them. I figured one of three things could happen; someone would throw up, someone would pass out or someone would turn and run the wrong way up the aisle to freedom.

I was wrong. Half way through the service the uncomfortable uncertainty fizzled and was replaced by a beaming new Mr. and Mrs. walking hand-in-hand up the aisle toward my lens.

The rest of the day unfolded in stops and starts without ever finding a flow. Eight hours is a long time to go with no flow. The weather was gloomy and the forecast threatened severe thunderstorms which put the planned fireworks display on hold. The parents of the bride were in a panic and the wedding planner was in a tizzy.

The bride struggled to hold her composure while her mother drove her completely bonkers. The groom struggled to regain some color in his face and keep down his dinner. Trish and I struggled to create romantic formals in the gloom, struggled with reception lighting in the oddly shaped reception room, and struggled not to miss any of the action as the band kept announcing toasts and dances without coordinating with their fellow vendors, namely us.

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! 

By Mariah Ashley

"If only you could pick your family as easily as you pick your nose. You could fix every issue with a flick of your tissue." - Mariah Ashley

Nancy came in to give us all the details of her wedding a few months before the event. Generally brides are pretty pumped at these meetings and tell us to-the-minute details down to the music the jazz trio is playing for the processional. Irrelevant yes, but we smile and "Oooh " and "Aaah" as any good wedding vendors should.

Not Nancy. Nancy had nothing exciting to report. No extraneous details to share. Nancy was strangely quiet, even hostile. Nancy was negative. "I'm just not your typical bride. I'm not excited about all this wedding stuff. I'm pretty sure the wedding is going to be kind of a mess. I'll just be glad when this is all over!" blurted Nancy.

O...K...? Awkward! We sat there a little stunned and wondered, why on earth would you go through the trouble of planning and paying for a wedding when you have an attitude like that?

Spoiler Alert! Nancy ends up as one of our top three clients of the year. The reluctant bride with a


 small budget wedding spends $11K and counting on her wedding photographs. Seriously, we need to add some more products because we have run out of things for her to buy.

So what happened between Nancy hating on her own wedding and spending gobs of money on photographs after?

Have you seen the movie Little Miss Sunshine? There's a great scene where Dwayne (the teenage son) gets some upsetting news while on a family road trip. He totally loses it in the back of a VW bus and his step dad has to pull over to the side of the road so Dwayne can have a nutty. Dwayne's mom says, "For better or for worse, we're your family." Too which Dwayne eloquently relies, "No you're not my family okay? I don't want to be your family. I hate you f*#%ing people. I hate you! Divorce? Bankrupt? Suicide? You're f*#%ing losers! You are losers!

The bad news Dwayne receives is his tipping point. He just can't take another second of his family's dysfunctional BS. Nancy and Dwayne are one in the same.

After Nancy's nutty she opened up a little about her own family situation. Divorce, remarriage, tense relationships, absentee parent, etc. Poor kid, no wonder. Her negativity was her defense mechanism. Nancy was setting her expectations REALLY low so as not to be disappointed by her family... again.

Like Nancy, most of our clients think they are the only ones with a crazy family, but the reality is dysfunctional is the new normal. Are you with me? Trust me, I know a thing or two about this. I am completely reduced to my teenage self whenever I am around my family for too long.

Here's a secret about me that only Trish and my husband (and now you) know... my fifteen-year-old self ran away from home three times. The third time was the charm though; I got to spend the night in jail. I had a metal bunk and a non-private privvy. The temperature in the slammer was about 50 degrees and my jailers had confiscated my shoes. I lay there shivering and learning my lesson which was the intention of the coppers after all. I didn't run away again because I realized for better or for worse my family was my family and I really do prefer my bathroom to have walls. But back to Nancy...

I'm happy to report that on the wedding day everyone was on their best behavior. Yes, tension and resentment crashed the party but so did regret and tenderness and we chose to focus on the latter. We got a beautiful photograph of Nancy's mom tenderly helping her get ready, fastening family pearls around her neck. We also got a beautiful shot of Nancy and her father dancing, tears of regret streaming down his cheeks.

I heard an interview on the radio that got me thinking about how Nancy had gone from reluctant bride to becoming one of our top clients. Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton authors of Happy Money explained that people are happy to spend their money and happy even long after the purchase when their money is spent on an experience such as a vacation. The part that I found interesting was that photographs play a huge part in enhancing the remembered experience of the vacation and reinforcing the positive feelings about the decision to spend the money. Because you can re-live your memories over and over again through your vacation photos, the memories of the trip often become even sweeter than the actual moments that were experienced. The camera only focuses on the smiles and sunsets and not the hassles and petty squabbles that go along with any trip, so that is what is remembered.

At the end of Little Miss Sunshine, perhaps the most dysfunctional family road trip of all time, the characters end up dancing together in a scene that will make you so uncomfortable you squirm, and laughing so hard you'll cry. That's pretty much what happened at the end of Nancy's wedding too. Everyone was on the dance floor in one big, crazy-flawed, fun-loving family pile dancing their butts off.

A Roman philosopher said of nostalgia, "Things that were hard to bear are sweet to remember." Because we hyper-focused on finding the tender and loving moments behind the bitterness at Nancy's wedding we were able to exceed her expectations and show her something that she may not have been able to see herself but probably felt that day. Although her family is dysfunctional for better or worse they are hers and they undoubtedly love her. What Nancy needed was a vehicle for her nostalgia. She needed a way to look back on the day that had caused her so much grief to plan with fondness and no regret for the money they had spent. Because the photographs reflect a beautiful bride, a couple in love, and a supportive family (with stellar dance moves) Nancy upgraded her album, bought three parent albums and framing for walls.

We've all had wedding clients with family tensions so thick that we want to run and hide. It's easy and natural to want to throw your hands in the air and say, "There's nothing to be done for these people their f*#%ing losers!" Before you do that though, remember that you might just be throwing your future best client out the window. Dig a little deeper, remember your own whacked out family, and see if there isn't a little crack of tenderness to expose in the wall of dysfunction. 

By Mariah Ashley

Author's Note: Required Reading! The Go-Giver, by Bob Burg and John David Mann. A little story about a powerful business idea.

Thumbnail image for louboutins.jpgI was alone in the upstairs bedroom. Amanda (the bride) was late getting back from the salon so I spent my time photographing her dress and invitation. Her mother kept popping in with other things she thought I might find interesting, among them a pair of fabulous Louboutin sequined heels.

"Oh, fancy! Shoes are like porn for women," I joked cradling the shoe near my face.

"So true," said Amanda's mom, with a chuckle. "Everything about this wedding is a little over the top. (nods toward shoes).

"But Amanda is such a good girl, so smart and hardworking. She's such a humble and sweet girl. I just want this to be an amazing day for her."

Amanda's mom left me alone with the shoes and my thoughts. A few days earlier I listened to a podcast by former Imaging USA speaker Jeffery Shaw. He interviewed author Bob Burg on his national best-seller, The Go-Giver, which describes "giving as the most fulfilling and effective path to success."

Burg and co-author John David Mann map out the Five Laws of Stratospheric Success all focused on giving instead of getting. Intriguing! Trish ordered me the book and I devoured the parable in one sitting, highlighting passages like a mad woman. Since then I haven't been able to think about much else besides adding value to my clients lives, with the exception of thinking about how much I was dreading photographing Amanda's wedding.

When Amanda first contacted me, she had just experienced what she described as a "bad engagement session experience" with another photographer she had originally booked to photograph her wedding. She wanted to talk to me about that experience, get my opinion on whether or not her expectations had been unrealistic, and discuss the possibility of having us photograph her wedding instead.

For photographers with businesses new and old, the Benchmark Survey has been proven to
 help their businesses. Don't believe us? You heard from June's winner, Heather Sams, CPP, who started her own studio seven years ago. Now, meet A. Michael Fletcher, CPP, of Figge Photography in Newport Beach, California. His family's studio dates back to 1946.

"We're a family of photographers," Fletcher said. "Two master photographers founded our studio, and though we lapsed as members for a spell, we rejoined PPA in 2008 and are so thankful that we did!"

PPA's Benchmark Survey is the industry's only complete financial snapshot and has been helping businesses get a better idea of where they stand and how they can improve their bottom line. Survey participants get a free side-by-side comparison of the results to their financial data. Plus, participants are automatically entered in the monthly giveaway for great prizes. This month, Fletcher won a $500 American Express gift card.

"The Benchmark Survey allows us to measure our success, ferret out our shortcomings and focus on creating solutions, not just for us but everyone who is a PPA member," Fletcher said. "We're proud to be included in this year's survey, and we can't wait for the results!"

Want to better your business and have a chance at winning August's prize - a $500 gift card to B&H? Go to PPA.com/Benchmark and participate!

by Mariah Ashley

My son Jacques is not a joiner, not a jock and let's just say not terribly motivated.


Upon my insistence, he has committed himself to participating in a high school sport. Since he abhors football, is bored to death by baseball and can't dribble to save his life, he is running on the cross country team.

The "unofficial" team training started in July under the very loose control of three senior brothers, triplet captains whose parents were Olympic runners. The coach has devised a running program that divides the team into three categories: those who will go on to be Olympians like their forefathers, those with gazelle blood in their veins and my snoozy soon to be sophomore son. After the team warms up together Jacques is left plodding along alone in his size fourteen sneakers while the other boys with normal sized feet rocket past him.

Each morning at 7 a.m. we have same routine.

"Jacques get up it's time for running."

"I don't want to go today," he pleads from under a mountain of blankets. "Can't I just run on my own?"

"No!" I insist, shaking the lump of blankets that contains my son. "You are part of a team; that means you run with the team. You joined this team, so you need to BE MORE dedicated!"

"But I don't run with the team. I run on my own. How about I run with you? Mother-son time?"

"Nice try. The captains need to see that you are showing up. It's about being together as a team. You need to BE MORE social."

"I don't care about that." He groans, rolling over and scooting like a 6' 1" caterpillar toward the far end of his bed.

"JUST GET UP! YOU ARE GOING!" I shout, slapping the lump. "Really, you need to BE MORE motivated."

The teenage lump finally rises and I drive it to the high school and park inconspicuously so as not to embarrass it. I notice a few cross country kids sitting on picnic tables at the far end of the parking lot. The lump doesn't move from his seat.

"Jacques, aren't you going to get out?"

"I'll wait a few more minutes till the rest of team shows up," he says reclining his seat all the way back, making himself invisible.

"Why? What's wrong with those kids? Why don't you go sit with them?"

"I don't like them," he mumbles. "They're seniors. They're jerks."

"It's weird to want to sit in the car with your mom. You should BE MORE friendly. Go ahead, get out of the car and go sit with your team," I insist pushing him out the door.

He makes his way reluctantly over to the older kids and sits down awkwardly at the far end of the table. Without a word directed in any direction he stuffs his headphones in his ears and stares at his phone. The rest of the team chats casually. This is painful to watch. The other boys are older, fitter, confident. Shirts are stripped off, flirtations exchanged with the girls running team and then they are off like a pack in one direction with Jacques running off alone in the other. My heart breaks a little for him and I fret about him for the next hour while I wait to pick him up.


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