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Attitude & Effort Help Ruth Rackley Toward Success - PPA Today

Attitude & Effort Help Ruth Rackley Toward Success

image ©Hey Baby Smile"Without goals, you have no idea of where you're going," says Ruth Rackley of Rackley Photography in Clinton, S.C. "You're wandering in the dark without a point of reference."

Like almost all professional photographers, Rackley felt her way through a few years of misty, unclarified goals before her path cleared up. Now, she is marching with a purpose, thanks to PPA, Studio Management Services (SMS) and some very hard work.

Maturing as a Photographer
Rackley loved photography from the first time she saw her mother's pictures after a mission trip. Though she thought about studying photography, money was tight and she went a more "practical" route. Still, that passion and raw talent was there. She began photographing weddings on the side, five her first year...and 10 the year after. Clearly, something clicked.

Still, it takes so much more than a camera to make a professional photographer, and Rackley knew that. She never expected to find a demand for her services. But once she did, she buckled down to serving those clients with everything she had.

In one aspect, technology did help her mature as a photographer. After trying out different cameras, Rackley quickly realized that digital was the way to go. "Digital completely changed the way I shot," she notes. "It allowed me more freedom to experiment, as I didn't have to slow down and load film."

And as she grows in experience, she's adapting "old film ways" to her digital technology. "I'm becoming more of a 'quiet' photographer," Rackley explains. "In the past, I'd give thousands of images to clients. But I found it dilutes the spiritual moments--they get lost in the fluff. I'm very selective about what I shoot and what I show clients now."
Along with new technology, Rackley researched the business and legal aspects of photography before she ever joined PPA. In fact, that's how she found PPA. As she was reading up on contracts, she just kept finding information made up of opinions. "Then I discovered PPA's website...and it's facts and solid evidence," she says.

The Turning Point

To Rackley, PPA is a constant resource. Whether it's the OurPPA Forum for networking and sharing ideas, or the Financial Benchmark Survey Analysis ("the best tool I've ever run across"), she's usually able to find the answers to her questions. For example, she learned about the cost of goods sold (COGS) from adjusted her prices bit by bit.

But it was digging into that Benchmark--the only business and financial guideposts specifically built around the unique needs of photographers--that she calls her turning point.

"As I mature as a photographer, I'm weeding out the talk and cutting through to the meat," Rackley notes. And the Benchmark supplied a smorgasbord of information. It helped her begin to see where she was in the business and brought her to an important realization: "I was trying to run my business as a photographer, not as a businessperson. I have to be a business owner first."

This thought drove her to the SMS 3-Day Business Workshop in April 2010. She knew she had to take the class because it was so easy to push aside the need to concentrate on business. "I would always find a client or job more important than me," Rackley explains. "But I soon realized that if I didn't put 'me' and my business first, then there wouldn't be clients anymore. I knew I had the potential to succeed, but I wasn't giving myself the time to do it."

Workshops Take Work
Rackley is the first to admit that when she started preparing for the SMS workshop, she was a little overwhelmed. One of the first tasks is to pull together financial information and send it in to your PPA staff they can analyze your business and give you customized advice. After all, no two photographers (or businesses) are alike.

"I remember thinking that I didn't have the time for all those numbers," Rackley says. "[SMS was] supposed to give me the answers." But then she made herself sit down and pull all the information together, which made her workshop experience so effective.

"Just the phone call with my PPA accountant was worth the workshop fee," she explains gleefully. "She was able to give me a sales and sessions projection sheet that finally gave me real goals. I honestly did a cartwheel when I got off the phone."

Because of her earlier preparation, Rackley continued to have a great experience during the actual workshop. She remembers "brain-slapping moments," as she calls them--advice that was "so simple it hurt," a twist of logic she hadn't considered before. As she points out, just being at a good price point doesn't mean that you can't use restructuring advice. Rackley says she went home with armfuls of useful information to implement and goals to work toward.

Taking the Workshop Home
Rackely didn't want to be average; she wanted to grow. And that's why she didn't stop working when class was over. Attendees are asked to write down three main goals to implement when they get back home, and she's been "steadily working at knocking them down one by one."

Now, Rackley knew she needed to increase her prices and do something with her sales before taking the SMS workshop (she rarely held planning or sales sessions), but she was hesitant--what if it backfired? This is where Rackley's can-do attitude comes in.

Before the workshop, she'd sent a client online proofs for ordering. When she returned, the client asked to meet and talk about the proofs because she was confused. It was Rackley's chance to change her old ways and use what she had just learned, so she set up a time to visit the client's home and used ProSelect to pre-design wall portraits to fit in the home, such as a series for the stairs. (She didn't used to do this.)

As she was giving the client suggestions on images and locations, she inserted a few more tips she learned at the SMS workshop: asking the clients about images for their offices and frames. The client loved her suggestions and jumped at the chance. (And when the husband came to see the images before agreeing to the order, he actually ordered an extra portrait for his own office!)

Rackley ended up with an order over $4,000--an exhilarating jump over her previous $500 max portrait order.

That's a testament to her adaptation. She was willing to change, and she was also able to take what she'd learned and tweak it to fit her business. For example, keeping things local is very important to her, so when she added the framing option, she approached a local framer. He was thrilled and offered her pricing as good as she could find online. Not only can she now enhance the sale with frames, she also has the potential for even more referrals!

Business Success
Rackely believes she's proof that anyone who wants to build a successful career as a photographer can achieve their dream...if they pinpoint goals and put forth the effort to work towards them.  

"I strongly suggest going to these SMS workshops because you can benefit a thousand-fold. But if you're not willing to put forth the effort beforehand, then don't bother. You've got to be ready mentally and psychologically," advises Rackley.  "Heart and passion alone won't pay the bills, and there's nothing cool about being a starving artist."

That's why she urges future attendees to prepare and come with an open mind, willing to listen, learn and adapt the concepts and techniques to your own business.  "It's Ruth's own positive attitude and willingness to change that makes her able to do what others say can't be done," adds Melissa Kriest, Rackley's financial consultant for the SMS workshop.

With that kind of attitude, you might have the same experience as Rackley!

Image ©Hey Baby Smile

Read about how Ruth Rackley got a state grant that enabled her to attend the SMS 3-Day Business Workshop: page 26 in Professional Photographer magazine's June issue.

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This page contains a single entry by Professional Photographers of America (PPA) published on June 7, 2010 6:33 PM.

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