You have the ability to create your own recipe for success as a photographer

All great artists, athletes and performers strive to be better than they were yesterday. Photography should be no different. When looking to improve any aspect of our business, sometimes it helps to put things into perspective by looking at other common experiences we can identify with and compare our photography business with those examples. Then, we need only take a good hard look at ourselves and go from there...

The other day when we had friends over for the afternoon, one of our guests brought a bottle of very fine scotch for all of us to share. When she produced the bottle, eyebrows went up in surprise and anticipation. It’s about $99 a bottle and we were all poured a measured glass to try it. The scotch is called “The Macallan” and has a very fine reputation among scotch admirers. Before any of us had tried it, those of us that enjoyed scotch had an expectation that we would not be disappointed by it’s flavour, aroma, colour or finish. Those of us who do enjoy a glass of scotch found it to be fantastic. Those of us who weren’t scotch drinkers thought it tasted like gasoline.

What does that story have to do with photography?  Well, think of it this way – different people have different likes and dislikes, right? No matter how much I try to convince you that you will like something because I do, you will have to experience it for yourself before you decide and make a judgement. You may like it or you may not.

When it comes to prospects for our photography business it’s not much different.

Some people love and value great photography more than others. Some people cannot tell the difference between good photography, poor photography and great photography. The ideal customer that we want to attract is someone who greatly values photography. It’s also possible that those who value photography may actually be able to see the difference between a good photo and a great photograph. That is a good start. But that is not all.

There is more to success than finding the right client.

Since I’ve already used a beverage as an example, I might as well go on to food next. (Go ahead and have a snack while you read this). Most of us at one time or another have gone into Burger King for a fast meal. My question to you is this, what kind of expectations do you have for customer service when you go into a Burger King? Have you ever had your order done wrong? Have you ever had to wait longer than usual? Have you ever had less than outstanding service? Do you still go back occasionally? I’m guessing that you do. But if we had a less than fantastic experience then why would we return? I believe it’s because we typically have a lower expectation of a product or service when we are paying less for something.  After all it’s just fast food right, and it’s likely you’d spend under $10 on a meal for one.

Let’s turn that on it’s head and look at the polar opposite example.

Let’s say that you have made reservations at a fine dining restaurant for a special occasion. You and your partner are actually seated by a maitre d’. I mean they really hold out your chair for you and help you get seated. They take the napkin from the goblet and lay it in your lap with just the right amount of attention and then take your drink orders. So far you feel that the much higher price that they charge for a meal will certainly be justified. But wait, what if from then on everything falls apart. Imagine how you’ll feel when your $40 steak arrives cold, after a very long wait with no waiter in sight. Imagine if when you cut into your steak it’s also tough as leather when you ordered it rare. You complain to the waiter who blames the chef and seems annoyed that you complained at all. How forgiving would you be of that kind of service experience or poor food quality when you are expecting an exceptional meal and service for such a premium price?

Sometimes it helps to put things into perspective by looking at other common experiences we can identify with, and then compare our photography business with those examples.

Taking the food analogy further, pretty much anyone can cook and most homes have a stove, oven, microwave, pots, pans, knives etc. But does that make all of us a culinary artist? Could we claim to be a chef? Some people are likely a cut above at cooking because they enjoy it as a hobby, but does that mean they could effectively run their own restaurant? Perhaps they have put in time practicing recipes and can often produce exceptional meals for family or friends in a home environment but if we dropped them in the kitchen of a busy restaurant could they still produce under the pressure day after day? It’s doubtful.

Not much different for photographers in my opinion. Lots of people with cameras can take a great photo now and then, but what about consistent results and creativity on demand?

What then is the right formula or recipe for success?

I believe it should start with our product. Our photography. That is the primary goal if we want to be able to build a sustainable business. I believe that we must dedicate ourselves to become masters of our craft. We must be able to create images that are a cut above, and are easily identifiable by those who value photography as exceptional quality.  I should mention that in our quest for the better photograph we should never really be satisfied. All great artists are like that. Same for athletes and performers. They all strive to be better than they were yesterday. Constantly practicing, refining skills, seeking new technique, trying new things and stretching themselves.

Once we have found our stride in the quality of our product then we can take the same approach to our service. Look for ways to always improve the communication, education, and delivery of our products and services. Lets put our clients’ interests ahead of our own. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Be diligent in presenting a polished brand to the public and then living up to that brand. If we create a product or level of service that leaves a prospect or client with higher expectations, than we are in a position to charge more of a premium price for those goods and services. If we can deliver on those expectations than we have created a reputation for excellent value.

Value, price and expectations work together in a cycle that can lead to success and longevity in the photography industry just as it does in so many other businesses.

If you are not doing as well as you would like, perhaps it would be beneficial to pause and reflect on three things:

How would people rate the quality of your photography?
How would your last customer rate the quality of your customer experience?
Would most of your clients consider you to be an outstanding value for the money you charge?

Ask a few photographer friends to be brutally honest about what they think of your work, ask a few non-photographers as well. (A word of advice here, put on you big boy/girl armour because they might not tell you what you want to hear.)

Try sending out a questionnaire to the last 15 clients you serviced. Ask them to rate on a scale from 1-5 how well you did in about four or five areas. Take the results to heart and make changes to improve the responses when you send the same thing out in a couple months.

Finally, ask yourself and others if you are perceived to be a great value. Deep down I think we all know if we really feel we are or not. Have we fallen down in a few areas of our business lately? How can we fix those problem areas.
Just like Gordon Ramsey can take a failing restaurant and turn it into a well run establishment, we need only take a good hard look at ourselves to determine where we can bring better value, improve the quality of our imagery, or step up the quality of our customer experience.

One more food story.

My wife Heather loves liver and not long ago when we were dining at a lovely little pub (great service, by the way) she insisted that I should try the liver she had ordered. “ Give this a try” she said, “you’ll enjoy this, it doesn’t really taste like liver”. “ No thanks”, I replied, “you know I don’t like liver”. You should know that my wife is a bit on the persistent side, so inevitably she pressed further. “Honest, Rob I know you hate liver but this is prepared so well I’m sure you’ll love it. This is by far the best liver I’ve ever had.” Not wanting to be unadventurous, I grabbed the forkful she was waving at me and jammed it in my mouth. I nearly gagged. It looked like liver, it smelled like liver and to me it certainly did taste like liver. Yuck!

Clearly I do not value liver and will never order it no matter how well it’s presented, no matter how good the service staff, venue, decor or price. Fortunately for the establishment we were at, they now have my wife as a customer for life, who orders their liver every time we return. She also tells everyone about this establishment and their outstanding liver. She has become a liver evangelist for this pub.

All of us in our studios want to retain clients like that! Give a great product with great service and charge accordingly and you will be sure to be seen as a fantastic value.

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