The one thing about photography that hasn’t changed in years

Author
Robert Nowell, Professional photographer, photography professor and VP at Sprout Studio About Robert

We keep hearing how much our photography industry has changed, is changing and will continue to change. That is certainly true when it comes to how we capture an image. For example, I have recently been aware of the “buzz” around mirrorless camera technology, and many feel that it is the future of photography.

Trends in photography change, that is to say the style can change due to customer demand. In wedding photography for example we have seen formal and traditional style swing to photojournalism, and more recently to lifestyle and vintage styles. Portrait photography has seen a shift from studio lighting to more natural light portraits and portraits that reflect family lifestyles. Evidence of this is the closing of many chain store portrait studios.

One area of our industry that hasn’t changed much is the business of doing business.

I’d like to suggest that one area of our industry that hasn’t changed much is the business of doing business. Of course we now have a variety of apps that track mileage, studio management softwares, online client galleries and the like but what hasn’t changed is good old fashioned customer experience.

There are several factors that go into how we price our work,  such as quality of product or service, customer perception of that product or service and our confidence in what we offer. I’d like to offer three solid foundational points for creating and sustaining a solid photography business.

  1. Quality product and service.
  2. Be professional & reliable in the mind of your customers
  3. Be consistent

Let's look at each of these individually.

Pricing your work

Three solid foundational points for creating and sustaining a solid photography business.

First let’s look at “quality”. Too often today I hear how your brand is the most important thing to work on in your business. I’d disagree and say that your product is more important. Coke wouldn’t sell one can or bottle if it didn’t taste great! No one would drive an Audi if the look, feel and reliability of the car were not there. Our photography must be excellent and consistently so if we are to get customers excited about buying and displaying our work in their homes. Our service and customer experience should be an important extension of the product quality. Our packaging and delivery of our photography should be reflect how we feel about our work. When done properly it communicates to the customer our dedication to our work and the importance we place on servicing our client.

Quality

Practise your craft!  The time to experiment is when the pressure is off. Try new ideas on clients, but only when you have done all the things you know will work, the tried and true poses and things to make them relax. Practise techniques during slow times, grab a friend and maybe even other photographers and get shooting. Enter image competitions! Having your photography judged by your peers is one of the best ways to improve I know. Getting critical feedback on your images might temporarily sting a little at first but it’s the most valuable way to take your photography to the next level, and there is always a next level.

Professional and Reliable

Being professional and reliable in the minds of our customers is simple and hard at the same time. It means keeping our promises. It means being organized and presenting to the public a polished and well maintained appearance both in our studios and in every other public point of contact. Our communication skills need to be courteous and professional  and we must be timely in our replies to phone calls and emails. On more than one occasion I’ve had a bride I’ve responded to point out that I am the only photographer she has heard back from. We hear often how our industry has become saturated with too many photographers per market area. Many of those, dare I say most of those, are people who love to take pictures but have little or no business experience or training. That is a huge disadvantage because about 80% of our time is consumed by business and about 20% is actually spent behind the camera. When I’m not shooting, I’m answering inquires, I’m working on marketing , e-newsletters, my blog, editing, retouching, album assembly, … well you get the picture. So those who can excel or even enjoy the business side of studio life will have an advantage because they will put the customer’s needs ahead of their own. It’s not much good to the customer if you only enjoy taking the photographs but struggle to cull, edit, retouch, and deliver the final images in a timely manner.

Being professional and reliable is not rocket science. Just keep your promises and do not bite off more than you can chew.

Being professional and reliable is not rocket science. Just keep your promises and do not bite off more than you can chew. What I mean by that is do not keep accepting new work when you already have a pile of work that needs to be finished. Learn how to prioritize your time.

Allow a certain amount of time each day to return calls and emails. I like to do that three times a day. Once when I first start the day before shoots or appointments, again after lunch, and one last time at the end of the day around 4:45pm. That way I do not have too many interruptions during my working time. Keeping promises means keeping track of what you promise such as when finished work will be ready or when you’ll be back in touch. Using your computer calendar such as Ical or Google calendars are handy because you can make additions and reminders on the fly even from your mobile device. Keeping on top of a busy studio is a management position and as the owner it usually falls to you to manage everything so it is so important to be neat and organized. Having a clean desk is one way to unclutter your mind as well as the workplace. It looks more professional especially if clients can see it, but more importantly it helps you focus on individual tasks rather than be overwhelmed by everything in front of you at once.

Consistency

The definition of consistent is a person, behaviour, or process that is unchanging in achievement or effect over a period of time. If we can keep the quality of our photography, our service and customer experience consistent, then we will have little to worry about. Today’s technology makes the art of photography in many ways easier than it has ever been, but the fundamentals of photography have not changed at all. Good composition, perfect exposure, proper colour, capturing that decisive moment are in the hands of the photographer still and not the camera we hold. A camera cannot be creative or decide properly where to frame an image.

To be consistently creating great photographs requires that we constantly sharpen the saw. We must push ourselves to practise our craft and strive to improve our imagery and camera skills so that our confidence and abilities are consistent.  Along with our camera skills our business skills must also be repeatable  and follow a pattern. Here are some solid ways to ramp up your performance in the three areas above.

Finally to be consistent a business needs to implement systems. Every successful business you can think of is successful because they have and follow a system. When you pick up your dry-cleaning they can find your clothes quickly and easily because they use a system. Your groceries are efficiently checked through using a sophisticated pricing and scanning system.

Your photography business will thrive and succeed only if you can keep a solid workflow and keep things on track using a system. Why not try something as simple as a large dry erase board or paint a chalk board in your office area. Mark down all the steps from shooting to delivering your product across the top and mark down the client names down the left side. This creates an easy to follow tracking system for all your current work. When a job  is completed  you erase them and add the next new one. Do you check all print orders as they go out to make sure you didn’t miss anything? That saves time and frustration at the other end when you check them coming back to make sure the lab didn’t miss anything either. It’s essential that whatever system or method you choose is one you are comfortable with so that you will use it faithfully. Making rules that you don’t follow is the road to failure. Having your prices for example on a well designed price menu for clients to refer to is one way to keep consistency during an ordering session. That way every client gets the same price each time and there is no chance of two clients meeting to discover they were quoted a different price for the same product.

While our photography technologies continue to change, we can assume moving forward, that the way to retain clients, or turn prospects into clients, is to continuously strive to meet the demands and expectation of our customers. We can do that by consistently providing a high quality product (the result of constant practise and continuing education), being professional and reliable ( prioritizing our time so we can keep our promises) and being consistent in our business practises through creating and maintaining systems that we agree to follow.

#Customer Experience #Studio Management

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