Episode #19 of the Sprouting Photographer Podcast features an interview with Jeff Jochum.

Jeff Jochum is a celebrated speaker, author and business coach focused at showing businesses how to reach the top of their own pyramid using the power of Specialism. He has over 20 years of success as an innovative entrepreneur, founding and selling 3 companies of his own, as well as serving as marketing and strategy leads at Pictage, DeviantART.com & SmugMug. 

Jeff is now a strategic business coach for creative and personal service businesses, and Founder of Team X biz, a professional community of highly creative entrepreneurs. He has created and taught many strategic business workshops, including Photog Summits, Biz Clarity and the increasingly infamous Team X Fight Club series. 

Following his highly-successful e-book Unreasonable Thoughts, Jeff has just completed Work Happily Ever-After – Professional Photographer Edition, which is NOW SHIPPING.

As an adviser and investor, Jeff has been involved in a number of amazing successes, including Me Ra Koh Media, ShowIt/PASS, ShootDotEdit, FotoMerchant.net, and Kudize.net, as well as helping scores of other artists’ businesses grow and succeed, including Mike Colon, Bob & Dawn Davis, Jason Groupp, Mike Larson, Jason+Gina (Grubb), Jennifer Chaney, Christine Tremoulet, Jen Rozenbaum and scores of happy and successful businesses.

Discussion Topics

  • Why you want to work happily ever after.
  • The benefits of a positive feedback loop.
  • How you can use keywords to identify yourself to draw people in (who connect) or have them pull away (who don’t connect), strategically.
  • Why being authentic is crucial.
  • How you can charge more by increasing your value.
  • Why your price must got up as your specialize in order to build trust.
  • Differences between generalists, specialists and specialISM.
  • Being who you are should take no effort.
  • The similarities between dating and your business.
  • Anybody can copy what you do, but  no one can compete with who you are.
  • The discovery process of identifying your keywords and unique selling proposition.
  • Why you want to be different and not better.
  • Examples of successful photographers in the newborn photography market.
  • Who your real competitors are.
  • Why it’s about the “performance” and not just the “production” in photography.
  • For most photographic specialties, you are the event – you need to make it about the event.
  • Why you need to surround yourselves with people who celebrate the same things that you do.

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 Podcast Transcript

Jeff Jochum: Hey. Thanks for having me. I appreciate being here.

Bryan Caporicci: Jeff, you recently wrote a book, “Work Happily Ever After”, and I’ve had the chance to go through it and read it. What an amazing publication. Do you want to share a little bit more about the book and maybe some of your history, Jeff, for those of our listeners who aren’t familiar with you?

Jeff: Of course. The book was written mostly by me, through the process of coaching. The concept of working happily for me goes back more than a couple of decades. What I learned a long, long time ago is that you’ve got to build from the inside out, particularly in creative services businesses, where you can’t just follow the old MBA advice of finding a market that is unmet and going after it because, in essence, you’ve got to fill it with you. If it is a bad fit – most of my students are women, so they’ll get this – it’s like a bad pair of shoes that just barely don’t fit. They just barely don’t fit for the first day, but by the end of the week, they barely don’t fit a lot.

That’s kind of like having the same message in your business if you’re a creative service person. If you’re a personal service person, working with people who you just don’t connect on Monday, isn’t such a big problem. But by Friday, it makes you not want to get up out of bed. So what I kind of determined a long time ago is, if you build a message in a business that’s based around what it is that fulfills you, helps you self-actualize, then you never get tired of doing it. You never want to retire. You never tire of ultimately getting out of bed and doing that. That’s what “Work Happily Ever After” was meant to kind to refine.

I turned it into “11 Laws of Specialism” to help it be a little bit easier to read. Hopefully, it was easy for you to read. But really, at the end of the day, it’s the key benefit. Which is if you follow the rules, and you follow the basis of what specialism is, I think you can work for – between now and the time you decide you don’t want to do this anymore – mostly with people who love you and you’ll love back.

Bryan: I love it. I’m going ask a question that I think I have an understanding of because I have read the book, but for the benefit of the listeners who maybe hasn’t read the book, if we were to summarize the book, the theme behind the book, would you say that it would be more about working with the people who get you and you’re happy to work with? Or, would you say it’s more in the line of creating a brand that is going to help you market, get more business, and sell for a higher price? Or, would you say it’s the combination of the two?

Jeff: Those two things are actually the same thing. They’re just different points in time. The reality is, if you create a brand that’s authentic to you, it’s going draw people to you who share that. There’s this kind of concept of a positive back loop.

As an example, my three words from my business and myself are, my core word is “romantic” and “idealist”, which is makes me the optimist. The second word for me is “paternal” or “fatherly”, which means that I know that I work best in circumstances where I have something familiar or feel like I’m part of the family.

The third word is “confrontational”. Don’t mistake that for being argumentative. It’s more exhaustive. I never want anything left unsaid. So when I tell people, “Hey, if you want to work with me, what I’m really going to see is the idealist, romantic view of the business. I’m going to try and figure out how to treat you like one of my kids, so that I want your success to be greater than my own. And, I’m going to use the words why, what, when, and how, and I’m going to drill in until you have really clear message.

That allows people who connect with me to lean in, and people who don’t connect with me pretty quickly, to lean out. So that, no matter what happens, I’m drawing people to me who want to self-actualize and celebrate the same words that I use. When I do that, I’m able to actually increase my value proposition to them from a business standpoint. And it’s kind of like Gregory Byerline down in Nashville. He’s a wedding photographer, but he’s really focused at bridals, which is really big in the Southern US. His words are sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and decadent. Now, those are great words for southern brides. Not so much for northern Idaho brides, right?

Bryan: Right.

Jeff: And what happens though is that they hear these three words and they go, “Wow, that doesn’t sound like me at all.” He never hears from them. But if they do hear those words when they reach out to him, and he fits that bill – and of course it’s authentic, so he doesn’t have to fake anything, he just is – they all celebrate those special things and those commonnesses about them. And when you celebrate the similarities with your clients, your clients feel compelled, in essence, to pay for the premium value of that connection.

That’s where the second part of that comes in, where you draw clients to you who value you more. If they value you more, they must pay you more because the only way that a client can tell you they love is to pay you. It also feeds the trust prowess, right? One of the examples you may have read in the book is that everybody trusts a $25 an hour handyman and everybody trusts a $100 an hour plumber, but nobody trusts a $25 an hour plumber.

Ultimately as you, your message, and your brand identity become more specialized, your price has to go up or people simply won’t trust it. From my perspective, the specialization will give you a premium. But what really gives you the premium, is what I refer to as “specialism”, which is to create the brand based on your authentic self.

Bryan: I love it because you are actually using yourself as a business coach, author, and speaker, as an example in what we are talking about. I love that. So you’ve put these three words upon yourself, romantic, controversial, and sort of parental or fatherly. Is this an exercise that you recommend photographers go through to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for who they are as a person?

Jeff: Yes. And I’m going to correct you. I’m not controversial, though I may be. I’m confrontational.

Bryan: Confrontational. Right.

Jeff: But not argumentative. I always make an effort to clarify that with anybody I work with. It’s not about being contrary. What it’s about is having the power to always ask deeper questions, and one of my basic tenets is that I get more done by questioning answers than I ever have gotten done by answering questions. I’ll continue to ask until I have clarity, just as I promote other people to do.

To answer the question, “Is this good to all businesses?”, the answer is always “yes”. You can actually see this in most marketing. Once you become more aware of it, it becomes obvious to you that, many businesses out there try to define themselves in these three words.

It’s not coincidence. There’s a psychology and sociology behind it. The truth is that somehow three words are the easiest for us to grasp a three-dimensional model. They call it triangulation. But for every photographer, small business, wedding planner, or whoever out there who’s listening and is building a business based on what they bring, their unique value to the party, the upside to these three words is that it allows them to polarize. It allows them to polarize quickly on their websites and in their messaging. To where as I said, when I say paternal, romantic, and confrontational, it is going to create people drawn in or push away. So I spend less time working through the same discussions with people who already have decided that my personality or my value propositions don’t meet theirs. And that’s good.

This isn’t about picking words that are only positive. And you asked is this something for everybody? Yes it is. I can also tell you that it is also not something that I’ve discovered many people can do on their own. I did this on my own 25 years ago and and it took me ten years. It’s not a process I recommend. It came out of enormous amount of insecurity. I was a very successful business person, and really unhappy with the person I’d become to do that. I was living my entire life in exhaustion, because I was constantly thinking about what other people want to see from me.

Every time I met somebody new, my first question was: “What kind of chameleon act do I have to do now? Listen to what they say and get them to like me or get them to respect me. I need to be what they want me to be.” What I learned, in face what brought all of this on, was that being me should be effortless, right? Being who I am should take zero effort. And so, if I’m spending effort having relationships, I’m doing it wrong, right?

I’m spending too much time being not me, which takes a lot of effort, and not enough time being me. Therefore, it undermines my really unique value. That’s what I try to coach people back to, is that you’re not only good enough. You are more than enough. You can test yourself in knowing whether you are doing this right or not by simply determining whether you’re spending energy.

The three words limit the amount of time you have to spend in your business not working with people who accidentally got through the marketing membrane or the marketing message. Again, it’s meant to polarize. But it has to be unique, and it has to be authentic. And more importantly, it has to pass the mustard, that it can’t be better than bad.

Bryan: I love the message that you’re sending out. This is the thing that I really want to emphasize here for our listeners, is the idea of being authentic to who you are. Because I feel like in the digital world that we’re in, where everybody can hide behind computers and we can muster up these ideas and these great marketing slogans – I’m sure you see it too, Jeff, where who you see online sometimes or who you are chatting with online is not always the person that you end up meeting, once you actually meet with them. The downside to that in the business context is that if you’re not genuinely who you are with your clients, with your prospective clients and in your marketing, that’s eventually going come out. Because you can only fake it for so long, right?

Jeff: Right, and most of the time, when I see this problem, it comes out as what I call “chameleon pride”. I interview everybody before I start working with them, not to determine whether they are worthy of me – because that’s actually the exact opposite, I wan to make sure that I can help them. But what it really comes down to is that I want to make sure that my values and their values are aligned. And often, what I ask people is, “Why have you achieved certain levels of success? Why do you think you are really good at what you do?”

Often I hear this, “Well, I’m really good at reading people. You know, the prospective client comes in, I listen, and I know exactly what they want and I can become that.” I point out that that it is really a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. People are smart and don’t have the ability of faking it. Depending on how long we do it for, what our purposes are, and how much faking we do, it’s an enormous amount of effort.

And so what I tell them is two things: One, if you are successful at faking it, and you really like that person, you’ve got a problem now. You now have a real relationship with them where they like you for who really are. You’ve got to tell them you’ve been BS-ing them the whole time, right?

Bryan: It’s almost like the classic romantic comedy where the guy gets challenged to do something for the nerdy girl at school and he pretends to be her friend. Eventually, they fall in love, and he has to say I haven’t been who I have been saying that I am, right?

Jeff: Right. And that’s a big problem for all of us who have the ability of faking it, if you will, or doing the chameleon. I liken it to even a closer example, that most of us have been in relationships. And when we first meet the person who we think is kind of special, whether they end up being it or not, we have this personality that we put on, which is our best personality, right? When I met my wife 20+ years ago, I knew she was the one in my mind, and I’m like, I don’t want her not to like me, but I also don’t want her to like someone who isn’t me, right? So, I’ve got my best behavior. I’m always wearing the best version of myself.

I’m not hurt when she says, “You know what I really like? I really like Australians.” And I say, “Right. Really? Oh, How convenient.” Ultimately, even if I can fake a classic Australian accent, three weeks later, I’m going to have to tell her that I’m not really Australian and we’re back to square one. Actually, we’re minus one. So I can put on my best behavior as long as it’s not fake. It’s still something we all tend to do. Now imagine 20 years later, you’re still on your best behavior.

I guarantee you won’t go 20 years. You’ll either strangle her in her sleep or strangle yourself in your sleep. It’s like you’ll never get out of bed. The worst thing I want to do in the world is to put on those shoes again that don’t fit. So, ultimately in all real relationships, we have to remove that best behavior mentality. And what I’m suggesting is that the more they know you up front, the more you set expectations for your prospective clients – and I suggest using a combination of three easy words that they can grasp, a bio that talks not only about your strengths but also your weaknesses, a few images that represents you are competent. When all those things are there and they meet you, you know that you’re successful when they say, “God, you’re exactly like I expected”, and you yourself are being exactly who you are – that’s the perfect relationship.

Here’s what I can tell you, most people – if not all – who goes through Team X or something else, when they learn this about themselves, they have the most wonderful time fulfilling their own expectations in this type of industry. Because let’s be honest, this is a passion-based industry. This is an industry of lifestyle. Nobody got into this business because brain surgery didn’t pay well enough, right? We’re here because we love it. You take pictures which drives your emotion. I work with businesses which drives my emotion. But you and I are no different. And ultimately, we want to work with people who, when they succeed, it fulfills our “happy bucket” – as my nine-year old says. We can do that without feeling any competition with them.

That’s really the secret behind specialism is that everybody is out there, even though they’re doing the same thing, one of the tenets of specialism is ‘anybody can copy what you do, but nobody can copy who you are’. So now you’re in an entire industry full of peers who want you to succeed, instead of competitors who want to take dollars out of your pocket. That works really, really well.

Bryan: I love it. Let’s take this idea, and let’s say that you’re the photographer that’s driving in a car or you’re listening to this interview right now. Let’s that you’re on board, right? You love the idea of specializing. You agree that you need to hone down who you are, and really try to communicate that to your clients and out to the market place. You said earlier that it starts from the inside out. What’s that discovery process look like from bringing out those three key words that uniquely identify you as a person, as an individual, as an artist? What does that look like?

Jeff: A couple of qualifiers first. The first thing you’ve got to realize is that specializing and specialism, while they maybe look the same from the outside, are very different from the inside. Let me do a very quick pass on the difference. Generalization is when you, in essence, have a specific skill that you’re willing to do for anybody who is willing to pay you to exercise it.

“Oh, you can take pictures, I’m going to pay you to take pictures. Whether they’re pictures of my dog, my mountains, my wedding, whatever it is, you are a competent, skilled technician, and I want you to act as an extension of your camera.” That’s generalism. Specialist is basically when you pick a niche. I’m a wedding photographer, I may be a mountain wedding photographer, but I’ve defined a need in the market that is narrow that needs to be met.

There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s actually a very good next step if you can define a need in the market that happens to fill who you are. But one of the examples I use is, right now, there’s an enormous amount of interest in same sex marriages. Or let’s use something even more fun. There’s an interest in a few states in dog marriages, right? I’m going to marry these two dogs together. Just because you’re a wedding photographer doesn’t mean that you are a dog wedding photographer. So if there’s an enormous need in your market for dog weddings, except that you happen to be allergic or have some philosophical problem with dogs joining in a union, then you’re not going to be fulfilled shooting dog weddings even though there’s a demand that you know how to fill.

And therein lies the problem with specializing – that it doesn’t take you into consideration. It just assumes that you’re going to do what it needs you to do. Specialism is exactly the opposite. It is determining what is authentic about you, how you are unique in this world, how you are unique in the value of what you do, and then identifying how to declare that and draw people to you that share that. That goes now to your primary question, which is what does the discovery process look like? In fact, the entire process for me breaks down into four steps: discovery, definition, declaration, and delivery.

Discovery and definition are inwardly facing. That’s where we go through the process of interviewing clients and talking to costumers, you and I, and whoever else is involved – whether there are mentors and coaches from the Team X group are involved – in determining those things about you that make you happy. Not just feel good, there’s a big difference as time goes on when you learn that. Things that make you happy, things that you share with others. Most of the time that’s just about choosing.

One of the exercises I give people is define what three words you’d put on your tombstone. But only three, and it can’t be a three-word sentence, “Here lies dummy”. It’s got to be three specific words that encompass who you are. If I said give me 20 words on your tombstone, most people would go, “No problem”. But I can tell you when I say, “Give me three words on your tombstone”, people freeze up.

Isn’t it interesting that we can’t define the value of us in that many words? That’s the discovery process. It’s a lot of inward thinking. It’s a lot of discussions with the people who love you. It’s a lot of pulling threads that I like to say in conversation to find out how people see you, and how you want to be seen. Definition is making decisions on what those three words are. They can’t be simple marketing schmooze. I’ll be honest with you, things like three-word sentences or statements like, “Hey, I’m fun, fresh and fabulous!” mean nothing to people.

Because fun, fresh and fabulous, you’ve got to look where the opposite is. As a photographer who’s fun, fresh and fabulous, I’m going to beat the crap out of anybody in competition with me who basically says, “Yeah, I’m boring, stale and not so great.” And of course, nobody’s going to say that about themselves. Everybody wants to be fun, fresh, and fabulous.

But if I say I’m sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and decadent, or if I use some of more definitive words, I’m not actually defining myself as better. I’m defining myself as different. That’s what definition means – making those choices about how you want to be defined as being different.

Declaration is taking those and moving them to market, building a website, using not only those words but images that represent them, a bio that also represents the power of you as well as the weakness – because people trust the weakness.

And then, finally, delivery, which is actually the creation of all that – the structure, the blogs, selling, learning how to get people to buy you, and so forth. That’s the cradle-to-the-grave of how coaching goes. But the discovery really is a combination of trying to hear things that people have been saying about you for a long time – those that love you – and those things you’ve been wanting to say, or wanting to have them say about you for a long time. And not just the ego stuff, right?

Everybody likes to be called a genius. For me, it came down to somebody I was coaching many years ago who had lost her father said, “You know, I’m so glad to have you because I lost my dad”. I realized, “Oh my God, I lost my dad 27 years ago”. And I went through a divorce where I wasn’t able to be with my kids. For a long time, my ex-wife would stop me from spending time with them.

I realized that a lot of my self-value came around to thinking of myself as a father, because it also allowed me to love and help people without feeling competition with them. We all want our kids to be more successful. We don’t compete with our kids. For me, it was a moment of clarity even in my own discovery. Ultimately, that’s what I want. Not only to teach people how to find those three words ,but how to repeatedly find those three words.

Our biggest goal in Team X is not to answer your questions. It’s to teach you how to do everything we already do, and to teach you how to do it for yourself so that there’s no co- dependency. In essence, we call them students because we’re actually not working with clients. We’re working with future teachers.

Bryan: Talk to me about what this looks like, because there is a lot of buzz, Jeff, in the industry about the idea of, I’m going to use the word specializing. Because I’m referring to more, everyone says, “If you’re going be a newborn photographer, you just have to be a newborn photographer”> I think that what you’re just saying here is so much deeper than that and so much more specific.

I want to really get that across, and I’d love for you to talk to that point to our audience. Because I don’t think that that’s necessarily what you’re saying. You’re saying that you want to work with the people that are the right fit.

Jeff: That’s tru,e and that is still what I’m saying. There is a law of sacrifice that says, “To get something, you got to give something up”. I believe that law of sacrifice really is, to get something, you have to defocus – not to necessarily give it up. And there’s a lot of students that I’ve had over the years who loved more than one thing.

The first one that comes to mind is a photographer in Orange County, Christine Bentley. Christine wanted to do weddings, but she also had a really good business and really loved shooting and taking pictures of families. So what we came up with was this concept, where on her website, everything was about the wedding. But on her contact page, it said “I really love love love love family portraiture. But my wedding business keeps me so busy that I have to limit that to brides and families that I work with and friends… but don’t be afraid to ask. “And in doing that, she was able to focus all of her energies at the things I give her the most fulfilment, which are weddings, without necessarily sacrificing all of the potential business from families.

What I tell every student is that what you cannot do, is you cannot talk about, blog, and discuss all these different things that you do with equal weighting. If you do, it’s going to confuse the market. And, what we do know, is the market places great value on specialists. Again, if you’ve got three photographers, and one says, “I’m a professional commercial photographer. Been in Life magazine, and gotten this award, and I also shoot families and do weddings”. And the next person says, “Well, I do weddings and I also do boudoir. I do seniors but never seniors’ boudoi,r of course. And I also shoot weddings”. And the third one says, “I only shoot weddings”.

Now, everybody listening to this, myself included, knows who’s the better wedding photographer. And I used the word “better” as logically and emotionally better, not functionally and proveably better. But when somebody says, “I only shoot weddings”, they’re better at it in the minds of most consumers than somebody who says, “I shoot weddings and other stuff”. Now the difference is – and this is where the real value of specialism comes in – what happens when you’re sitting at a table with five photographers now in this world that all say, “I only shoot weddings”. Now, how do you decide?

In that case it comes down to something that differentiates them based on who they are. That’s where specialism comes in. So the concept of specializing is still in place. You cannot go out there with mixed message and expect to be treated as specialist.

And as I mentioned, specialists have to charge more. It’s a premium product. As you move up in the pyramid, you’ve got to focus more and more and more on what it is you’re specializing in – what your narrowness is. That doesn’t mean you have to functionally stop. That just means you have to focus like most businesses. Specialism isolates that even one step further by saying that your primary message is no longer what you do, it’s about who you are and how that informs what you do.

There’s Megan Thomas, who is one of my mentors and coaches in Team X. This is going to make you smile or not, but she’s a wedding photographer who really likes to focus on brides who have lost family members who can’t be at the wedding. Now does she only shoot brides with lost family members? Of course not. But that is her primary message, and that’s her primary statement to the world. And you know what, she gets all of them. You can ask why. Why Megan? Why do you do that? Well, because she’s lost her family members who weren’t at her wedding, and she believes in the spiritual nature of them – that they’re actually there in spirit. And as a photographer, she tries to help the bride visualize that. And now, that is really narrow.

Are some people going to hire her because she shoots weddings only? Yes, but most people she wants to work with are the ones who say, “I’m blown away that you have this kind of specialty, and I lost my dad ten years ago and I believe he’s still out there watching too. I’d love to share that with you. Can we get together beforehand and talk? When you show up at the wedding, I know that you’re going to be sensitive to his spirit there”.

Those of us who believe it, kind of go, “That’s exactly right.” Those of us who don’t believe it, are going to go, “What a bunch of crock!”, and they’re not goin got be interested. Either way, it’s a win. And that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.

Now, if she’d just come up with that out of nowhere, and said, “Hey! You know what there’s really a big need for is wedding ghost photographers”. Well, then it would not be authentic, and she’d burn out in 6 months, working with people she didn’t have anything in common with. But, she believes this in her guts, she believes this in her heart, and she’s going to do this forever, – because of that.

Bryan: I want to dive deeper into this idea here, Jeff. I have a lot of conversations with photographers locally,on the internet and online, and at conventions and these kind of things. I’m just going to give you an example conversation, where a market that has recently really blown up is the newborn photography market, right?

There’s newborn photographers that do beautiful work and they specialize in just doing newborns. But it seems to me that the conversation that I continue to have time and time again with photographers that want to just focus on newborns – who seemingly have picked specialty – they’re having a hard time sustaining a full time business doing just that one thing.

I would love to hear your thoughts on that because, again, what I’m hearing and I love what you’re saying, is the idea of making the differentiation point you and the type of person that you are. What makes you unique. Now, can that be spread across several different areas of photography? I would just love to hear your thoughts on that, because I’ve seen firsthand the idea of a newborn photographer who’s really struggling with just doing that. Do you think it’s in their approach, or they’re just not hitting it quite the right way?

Jeff: Well, there are a lot of variables. Let’s assume that the variable of market location, demographics, and all of those are universal. If you’re going to really specialize like, “I only want to shoot weddings or families where the father is six foot three and dark-skinned, and the mother is three foot five and light-skinned, because I’m a master at light and contrast” – you may be able to get away with that in New York – Manhattan. Who knows? But I guarantee you won’t get away with that in Billings, Montana. There enters into it some common sense. Understand what your demographic and what your market says.

But all those things considered, let’s go back to newborns. You can say the same thing about seniors and another emerging market, which is boudoir. But let’s stick with newborns. Instead of looking at how people are failing with newborn photography, basically, “Oh, I can’t get enough business and I think it’s because I’m focusing too much”. I prefer to go the other direction. I prefer to find, see and prove whether it’s possible or not, by looking at people who are succeeding, if there are any. I can guarantee you there are a lot. Two that I’ll bring up to make the point.

One of them is a newborn photographer who is really about the nurturing nature of it. She loves the newborn for this kind of warm ball of love, and the relationship of the family. It takes a very sentimental, almost nostalgic view. And her calendar’s full. She gets all the work she needs, because she focuses only on those, if you will, bohemian moms who buy into this “if babies could have hairy armpits, mine would” kind of thing, right?

And then I know another one here in Denver, who does extremely well. And she does infants as props. She doesn’t see infants as creatures with personality. She sees them as extensions of mom’s and dad’s dreams. As little, pliable props. And so she shoots stuff like babies and boots.

She does a lot of stuff like Anne Geddes used to do – babies and flowers. Now here’s what I can tell you. There are two groups of people listening to me right now who care. One of them is going, “Anne Geddes? Babies and boots? Oh my God! I’d never, ever, ever, ever let anybody do that to my baby!” And there are others who are like, “Yeah, I love that artistic stylized kind of approach to babies. Yeah. They don’t really have any personality. I love the fact that my baby has a picture. My 6-week old baby is in my husband’s fireman’s boot. Because he’s a fireman”.

In either one of those cases, there is no right or wrong. But what I can guarantee you is when you make these declarations, you get everybody who agrees with you as long as you get the word out. And in most cases, when people say, “I’m a newborn photographer”, the only thing that they’re differentiating themselves with is, I take pictures of newborn”. That is what you do, and anybody can say that.

But what I will tell you is, you put these two people I just talked about in the same table with a mom with a newborn, and one of them says, “I can’t wait to put this baby in a flower costume”, and the other one says, “I can’t wait to put this baby in a field of unmown grass with you”. The mom is likely to lean a 100% in one direction or the other. And if between them is one who says “Yeah, I can do all of that”, they’re never going to get the work.

Bryan: Talk to me, Jeff, about bringing this conversation a little bit deeper. And also, back to the idea of reaching as many people as possible, from a business perspective. Let’s say again that you’re this newborn photographer and you agree with the idea of specialism, and you wan to go through the process. You want see what that looks like. From a business perspective, certainly, it makes sense for a newborn photographer to also be able to do the one-year portraits a year down the road. To also continue the relationship with that family several years down the road, because otherwise you’re constantly getting new clients, and you’re not nurturing your existing ones. Do you agree with that, Jeff? Or what are your thoughts on that?

Jeff: I think it depends on what you want to do, but no, I don’t think that’s necessary. I think that’s old thinking. I think this concept that, “I only have to sell the family once, and I’m going to keep shooting their kids as they get older”, completely takes me – as the photographer – out. It turns me into an extension of my camera. And this is something I say all the time, you’ve got to be careful not just to be the person who’s holding the camera as your value proposition.

This is a little trick I always do whenever I do workshops. In fact, I did at WPPI this last year. About half the audience had heard it so they didn’t laugh. The other half kind of shook their heads. But, I can name your top three competitors. No matter what city you live in. No matter what country you live in. I can tell you, by name, who your top three competitors are. The people who are spending the most amount of energy invalidating what you do.

Those top three competitors are Sony, Nikon, and Canon, who are spending millions of dollars every year basically telling your clients that the cameras do what they want, not the photographers.

And all of them sell consumer cameras, and all of them are focusing on the new cameras, new technology. The sub-$1000, cool, non-shutter technology. They’re all saying the same thing. Photographers aren’t as important as the equipment.

It’s a balancing act for them. They also go, “Oh, we’ve got the Canon Explorers of Light”, but the reality is, look at their budgets. The budgets for professional is a small percentage of what they spend on their consumer budgets every year. Which means that ultimately, even the people you’re supporting are basically telling your clients that what you do isn’t as valuable as who you are.

So you’ve got to focus all of your energy on the who you are. If you kind of go back and say, “Hey, I’m going to follow this family”, that may work, but you’d better have a message that connects you with the family, not with your ability to take pictures of kids at different ages.

There is somebody I know of, not a client or somebody I’ve worked with, but somebody I’ve met once – Jeffrey, and I can’t think of his name. But he works out in the east coast. He works with very high-end business families who are out in the Hamptons Islands, Fire Island, and so forth. What he does is understanding how fathers who are working in Fortune 500 companies as high- end executives are constantly feeling guilty about how they don’t prepare for the important family events in their own family’s lives.

So he’s a combination of a wedding photographer and social secretary. He remembers when every anniversary is. He remembers when every birthday is. He contacts them for every holiday that he knows in their religious or social settings is important to them. And he doesn’t do it and say, “Hey, I’d like to come out and take pictures”.

He sends a note to dad and goes, “Don’t forget.” And if you want, “Hey, if you’re throwing a party, let me come out and then I’ll document it for you”. But ultimately, his value isn’t the fact that he takes pictures. His value is that he understands what’s important to that family, and that they want him to come in and share that. His methodology of doing that is, he takes pictures.

Look at Jason Groupp, who’s now running WPPI. He created this concept of I Heart New York. Which is, “Hey, if you want to come to New York and spend three days, spend one day with me, and I’ll show you all the wonderful parts of New York you may not see because I grew up here. Oh, by the way, I’ll take pictures of you while you’re there”. Jason has been doing this for 25 years. When he started coaching with me, he was what I call a KOTOG – a Keeper of the Old Guard. Like, “So you’re telling me everything I know is wrong.” I was like “Yeah, think about that. It might be right.”

And so when he did get into the fact that being able to take pictures isn’t as valuable as being able to show them the wonderful part of New York, suddenly he realized, he was half tour guide and half photographer. That struck him as something of great value. More importantly, it strikes clients as a great value. And even though Jason is running WPPI, his I Heart New York company, which is now being shot by Tim Co – I can’t remember the other person’s name – is going great guns. They were just highlighted in half a dozen magazines and their schedule is full. Why? Is it because they’re tour guides. No. It’s because they love New York. They’ll show you why they love New York. And, by the way, they’ll take pictures of it while they’re doing it.

Isn’t that what we want in every one of our photographers that are about families? Don’t you want one that loves my family and will just take pictures? Don’t you want one that loves my baby and will just take pictures? Loves my event, like a wedding? Loves whatever else I’m doing? Loves helping me discover my beauty in boudoir? You don’t want somebody who just basically comes in and says, “I know how to do this, and I’ll just keep doing it as long as you need somebody to capture it.”

Bryan: Yeah. This is Jeff, playing exactly – and we didn’t plan this – to the last point that I really wanted to bring forward to our listeners. In the second part of your book, you talk about the law of performance. And you say, professional photography is a performance art, not a production art. Do you want to just spend a couple of minutes quickly talking about that?

Jeff: I would love to, because that is probably the most misunderstood part of everything I teach. In fact, at WPPI, I did a quick demonstration. I did magic. I happen to do magic as a hobby, and I showed me doing the linking rings which wasn’t very good. And then, I put on a video of somebody else who does it really, really good. And I said, “He and I are both doing exactly the same thing, except that when you watch him do it, it’s amazing. When you watch me do it, it’s competent. Every magician learns the same process. It’s not about the trick, it’s about the entertainment. That’s why people are there”.

This is the confusion. A couple of haters came away from that going, “Oh, he’s telling everybody you should be fake.” No. What I’m basically saying is it’s not about the illusion of magic. What it is, is about the performance of photography. What I can tell you is, no camera has ever created a wonderful moment with the client. No camera has ever created a wonderful moment.

It’s all about you. And just because you put that camera up to your face that creates the wall every once in a while, it doesn’t mean that they’re not engaged with you. It doesn’t mean that who you are isn’t making their time with you better. This is what’s really fascinating. There’s a big difference, by the way, between wedding photography and everything else. In wedding photography, you are a nice-to-have. If the wedding photographer doesn’t show up, the wedding goes on as planned. Yes, there are no images of it, but it all still happens exactly as it would have before. But in every other photography, you are the event, right?

Bryan: Right.

Jeff: You are the person. You are the reason that they’re having this. And so if you show up and act like all you’re doing is documenting the event, well there is no event then. You have to connect with them. And again, it’s not about fake performance. It’s about understanding that what they’re really doing is interacting with you as a human. They’re interacting with you as a personality. And in fact, they want to love you just like you want to be loved, and when you can create that kind of interaction with them, you will take amazing pictures.

The problem is that most photographers who don’t want to believe in that, is because they just don’t want to spend the energy. It’s so much easier to show up as a technician. As somebody who says, “Hey look, I’ve been taking pictures for a long time. I know how to get all the pictures. And when you look at their pictures, it will look like you were having a good time”. Have you ever heard that? “Trust me, when I come to your wedding, don’t worry about it. I’m just going to take pictures. And you guys are going to look like you’re having a blast”.

Bryan: Right. I see it all the time. And I hear it, where a client says something like, “I just want you to take pictures of us having a good time”. But if on the wedding they’re not having a good time, then of course, that’s –

Jeff: Well, who knows, you may be competent enough to fake it. But you know what they’re really telling you? I want to have a good time. And if you can say, “I can help with that. I do a lot of this, and I can help make sure that your event is awesome. And by the way, I’m going take pictures of it while I do, so that your event and your pictures are as authentic as I am”.

This is what’s most funny about the KOTOGs, the older fashioned mentality of let me just show up and be a technician, or I can do this because I’m competent. “All of this being happy stuff is just fluff”. But what’s really fascinating about that is when they show up, they may be good enough to fake it. But ultimately, even the client knows that they’re faking it. What we’ve really seen is when you connect with the client, with somebody you’re shooting with, they want you back. They want you to be the event. They want you to participate.

Now it’s not, I’m going to create a client for life. It’s creating somebody who’s in my life and I’m in theirs, who values me, partly, for what I can do, and how I can document it. But at the end of the day, if that’s fake, then that goes back to specialist. You can become a specialist without being authentic. I think that’s hard. That’s like being on your best behavior all the time. I think that’s hard to sustain. My goal, and you saw this in the book, is not just work happy. It’s work happily ever after. And the only way you can do that is to surround yourself with people who celebrate the same things that you do. You would never want to retire when you do that.

Bryan: Jeff, the knowledge that you’re giving here is amazing. It’s so valuable, and the thing that I can testify to first hand, is if you want to make a change in your business or in your personal life – anything – the best way to do it is through coaching, discussions, and discovery.

Theories, ideas, checklists, and workbooks are great, but most of the time we need the experience. And on top of the experience, the accountability of having somebody that can help us through the process. Obviously, this is something that you focus a lot on, and this is what your students and your co-coaches focus on. So for those photographers and entrepreneurs that are listening to us right now and want to get more information about what you do with Team X and with your book, your coaching, where would you want to send them, Jeff?

Jeff: The first place that they want to go is the TeamXBiz.com site. They can check my personal site. In fact, I’ve renamed it, but I won’t bore everybody with that. And it’s funny, based on your talking about with accountability, the quiet name for my website is DammitJeff.com, because it seems to be what everybody utters at least once in every coaching session. Talk about embracing a brand.

If you don’t want to go online – I don’t want everybody who’s interested in coaching to come to the site. I want everybody who’s interested in being able to talk about themselves authentically, and build a business around themselves to come and participate. They can do that even without coaching at this point. I don’t believe they can finish it, but I believe they can start thinking about

getting started. They can join our free Facebook group. It’s called “Team X Café”. It’s just that. They can do a quick search. Everybody’s welcome. Everybody’s loved. And it’s really just for people who want to experiment, experience, talk about, discuss, and consider creating them as the center of their business rather than just what they do.

Bryan: I love it. Jeff, thank you so much for coming on the show, and sharing your knowledge with us.

Jeff: It’s been a pleasure. I can’t tell you how much I love talking about this stuff. I’m like a magician. You get me an audience, I’ll do magic. Put me in front of a mic, I’ll talk about specialism.

Bryan: I’m still waiting to see that video, Jeff. Because I’d love to see that magic trick. Jeff: Maybe next year at WPPI, I’ll do one again.
Bryan: There you go. Thanks again, Jeff.
Jeff: You’re welcome. Thank you.


  • Deep breath…Thanks so much Jeff. Your advice about being you/me rings home. There may be a dozen photographers within a square mile but we aren’t all the same person. Perhaps this inundation of photographers will actually do the professional photography industry a favour by getting the public to have to delve deeper into selecting photographer. I don’t imagine the public/potential clients has ever been ‘educated’ as at the current time. …not a bad Aussie Jeff. Thanks so much Bryan. Wish you every success with Sprouting Photographer. Best Regards Louise (an Aussie)

  • Christo says:

    Hi Bryan, Love all your interviews so far. I am catching up on all of them through iTunes, This one was especially informative for me, as each of Jeff’s statements/sentences can be dissected, as he is just a wealth of information, i am going to have to go back and slowly take notes on all the content in this one, and as a starting photographer this was such a different take on the ordinary way of thinking. Warm Greetings, Christo – Sunny South Africa.

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