By: Mariah Ashley
Long dark days. Cold sleepless nights. Sad empty bank accounts. All of your clients have flown south.
Winter is coming.
Well, let it come! This year I am not afraid. Not afraid of White Walkers (gratuitous Game of Thrones reference). I am not afraid of my bank account. Last year at this time I was desperately faking the flu to get out of our trip to Atlanta for Imaging 2013. After struggling all year to stay afloat, all I wanted to do was stay home and cling to the few pennies we had left. My unrealistically optimistic business partner Trish dragged me to the airport and shoved me on the plane to Atlanta, unexpectedly setting us on the bumpy road to success for 2013.
Going to Imaging breathed new life into my defeated self. We left bursting with great ideas to pull ourselves up by the old bootstraps. Since then, we've implemented all we learned in Atlanta and it's made a monumental difference to our business. For starters, this year I will skip merrily onto the plane to Phoenix ready to learn, instead of clawing at the escape hatch desperate to hide. The state of Snap in January 2014? We've booked all the weddings we need, our bank account is pleasantly plump, and my brain is humming along peacefully instead of spiraling into dark places. This is winter people. This is unheard of.
If you are feeling anything like the old panicky broke me, please tell me you are going to Imaging 2014 this week in Phoenix! It's just what the doctor ordered for anyone suffering with a fake flu and dwindling enthusiasm. You may even want to do a little pre-gaming before your trip. To get you in the mood, here are the top 10 things we did this year to turn ourselves around. Imaging was the catalyst for it all.
Out With like a Cowboy and Brand Everything. Your logo,
website, blog, collateral all has to be complementary and cohesive! After
Imaging we stopped being schizophrenic with our branding, going so far as to
create a Rules For Branding manual. Anyone who doesn't follow the manual gets
the hot poker treatment (you don't want to know). P.S. Bonus! If you are already well branded you can skip this step and
just make out with a cowboy... or cowgirl while the rest of us are catching up.
2. Join a Cult, of Personality. Selling yourself (not in the biblical sense) is more important than selling your photographs. Show people who you are and they will love you and they will hire you. (Or they won't and you'll get over it because it's them not you). We created a funny video with bloopers, and started a "Behind the Snaps" theme on our blog to give potential clients a glimpse into the charmingly wacky world of the snap girls.
3. Give Til it Hurts (Because it Won't). We stumbled into the PPA Charities party last year and decided we wanted contribute to Operation Smile. We became the top donating studio in the country by donating the money for one surgery every time we book a wedding. This year that means we paid for 43 surgeries. We don't miss a penny of the money we donated and I love imagining 43 smiling little faces in front of me. Bonus! Brides are excited to book with us knowing that they are helping to save a child's smile!
4. Shut Your Pie Hole. It's time to stop talking and really listen to your clients. When you do that, you can start giving the people what they want and not what you think they should have. We used to just tell people what they should buy instead of listening to their needs. We call this "getting off High-Falutin" Highway. As soon as we took the exit to reality town, the bookings began pouring in and our average sales went up.
5. Expose Yourself (But Not in a Trench Coat Kind of Way). I know, it's human nature to want to hide your problems and flaws and pretend everything is alright. But trust me on this, as soon as you start exposing your soft underbelly, your bleak situation will improve. Pull your head out of the sand and start with a PPA SMS consultation. A whole world of non-judgmental support will open up to you.
6. Write Your Wrongs. Writing about the sinking Snap ship and sharing it with the world on the PPA blog (hello...is anybody out there even reading this?) was a scary biweekly occurrence for an entire year. It took me way outside my introverted comfort zone, but it also helped me organize my thoughts and kept me honest with myself. Chronicling our adventures started out as an experiment but became an instrument for positive change. Buy a journal and record your own trials and tribulations. If nothing else, it will help you see how far you've come as you prepare for Imaging 2015!
7. Forget About Losing 20 Pounds. Set yourself up for success. Don't let your business goals go the way of your New Year's Resolutions. Seriously, you are not going to drop 20 pounds by that cruise you are taking in March. Set clear, realistic goals for yourself and your business. For us, that meant paying ourselves every week and eliminating all of our debt. We did both. Still working on that muffin top though. Mmm, did somebody say muffin?
8. Give Your Lazy Butt the Boot. If you do not like to work long hard hours then hang it up now. There is no easy breezy magic recipe for a life of leisure as a wedding photographer. You must hustle, you must work hard, sacrifice your weekends and give it your all each and every day. I used to whine about shooting 30 weddings and then I learned a photographer I really admire shot 50 this year. By herself. I am not worthy. I will never whine again.
9. It's So BAD it's Actually Good. Turn every negative experience you have into a learning experience. We made A LOT of mistakes this year along with the good decisions. Honestly, we learned more from the bad then we did from the good. Do not ignore unhappy clients, jobs you failed to get, or vendors who didn't recommend you. I've started asking every bride who doesn't book us why she went in another direction. Most everyone has shared why and I've learned invaluable insights.
10. You've Got Guts, Trust Them. A low point for me this year was
purchasing another photographer's price list for $195. I am mortified that I
did that. I was at a weak point, unsure of myself, desperate for anything that
could help me price myself correctly. You know what I discovered? The price
list I paid $195 was virtually identical to the one I had sweated over for weeks
creating. You could buy a lot of muffins for $195. Trust your gut; you have the
muffins answers inside you, only you can know what is right for your
I want to thank you faithful blog followers for reading along with me this year. I hope that in sharing my follies and foibles I've helped you to feel less alone and maybe even elicited a chuckle or two during your busy work days. If you see me at Imaging, please say hello! I would love to hear from you. Good luck and Godspeed.
Sure, winter is coming, but we've kicked it's frosty butt and so can you. Now where's my hot cocoa?