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By Bridget Jackson, CPA, PPA Business manager

As you look to 2015, it's important to assess where you've been and where you want to go. It's impossible to achieve your goals if you don't have a plan to get there.

Here are 6 things you can do in 2015 to meet your financial goals:
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. 
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By Sarah Ackerman 

As a member of PPA, you know how important it is to educate your clients on seeing the difference between the value of a professional photographer and Uncle Bob with a camera. To help, we've created a few nifty tabs (and its corresponding content, of course) that you'll be able to install on your company's Facebook page. It's meant to help you convey why hiring a professional photographer (specifically: you!) makes all the difference in the world! 

There are a few options for these "See the Difference" Facebook tabs. There are tabs for wedding photographers, portrait photographers, senior photographers and even a general photography tab (not specialty-specific) if you fit all (or none) of those categories. 

We created this content and will update it periodically, but we can't install it for you. So how do you go about installing this bad boy Facebook tab? There are quite a few ways!

It costs a little bit of money, ($30/month for most everyone, but if you have more than a few thousand fans, prices increase) yet it is the easiest way to go about installation. What's the phrase? "You can have two of the three out of: good, cheap and fast". This is good and fast, it isn't expensive, but isn't super cheap. To make it as easy as possible without actually doing it for you, Shortstack walks you through the installation process screen shot by screen shot (them doing it for you isn't an option: consider it a learning opportunity). 

It is a cheaper version at $15 for up to 1,000 fans (or only a buck for up to 100 fans). It won't walk you through the installation process in as detailed of a way as Shortstack, but it'll be still pretty easy to get it up and running if you indeed do it step by step. If you can handle $15/month, this is a great way to get this information out on your page and in your fans' feeds. 

Sounds redundant, right? Use Facebook to put something on Facebook? We list it third because it's a wee bit complicated, but... FREE! First you'll have to sign up for an App Developers Account (pretty simple - just click here and you'll be all set). The next part is where it gets tricky - the best way is to watch some great YouTube videos. Make sure the videos are recent as Facebook has being giving the apps some facelifts as of late. Here's one that might work for you!

It might take a few minutes, but once you've installed the tab, share it on your timeline to show clients why it's important for them to see the difference hiring a professional photographer makes. If you run into any issues, contact the Facebook App hosting service directly, they are the experts in this case.

You can download the tab graphics and html code here! 
If you want to make edits to the tab graphic itself, always remember the image needs to be 111 x 74 pixels and you'll have to pack a punch in that little space.)

Here you go! These are just three ways to install the tab - if you simply Google "Facebook App Installation" you'll discover a world of options, these are just the ones we are pretty familiar with. If you find another option you enjoy, please let us know! Email Sarah at sackerman (at) ppa (dot) com.

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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 Sarah's in the office. Sarah loves improv comedy (think "Whose Line") and routinely performs with Witless Protection around the Atlanta area and at Dad's Garage Theatre Company. When she's not tweeting/instagramming/facebooking 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.




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

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 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."

By Mariah Ashley

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

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 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.


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

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 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. 



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This page is a archive of recent entries in the Photography Business category.

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