Welcome to part three of my review of WPPI. Check out the first two posts, Catherine Hall and Sarah Petty!

Monday was the first day of the tradeshow. This was my second year at the tradeshow, but my first participating in a booth. The tradeshow is an experience all it’s own! I’ll talk about the tradeshow more and what I’ve learned in the next post.

My last platform class that I was able to go to was Anthony Vasquez’s Taking the New out of Newbie. This class was geared towards new business owners. Anthony talked about his business from the beginning, things every photographer should learn early on to avoid big problems later, or just avoid stagnating. It was a good talk. Many of the things he mentioned are more about the backend of the business. Starting your own photography business, or any business, can be exciting, but there’s plenty of things that need to happen to make it successful that are definitely not as fun as other parts, and those parts often get pushed aside. After all, what’s more fun, shooting sessions or writing a business plan? Probably not a hard question to answer!

Here’s the main points that I took from it.

Build a foundation. You’re trying to build a business, and anytime you try and build something, you need a foundation.

  • Have a contract attorney look over your contracts and other legal documents. This may seem like an unnecessary and large expense early on, but it can only take ONE difficult client to make it all worth it.
  • Get a business accountant while you’re at it. You want to keep all your financials on the up and up, so you know how you’re doing, and to avoid an unpleasant experience with the IRS.
  • Get liability and equipment insurance. How much did you pay for that camera and lens? And how much are you going to cry if you drop it and have to pay full price to replace it later? Yeah, insurance is a small price to pay to avoid that. You insure your house and car, your health, and probably your life. Take the step to insure your business and it’s assets.
  • Incorporate yourself, if it makes sense financially. Incorporating your business helps shield you personally from a number of bad things that can happen to your business. You’ll want to talk to a lawyer about this one too, determine if it’s the right move.

Develop your style.

  • Anthony suggests reading the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield to help develop your process.
  • Push past your creative boundaries. You never where you can go if you hold yourself back.
  • Work to make your work different from other photographers. Having a distinct style means you can get out of a commodity pricing model and get into a boutique pricing model. And can charge what you’re worth.
  • Get inspired by other photographers and other genres. Study other types of photography and bring that into your portrait or wedding photography. Save the images that you like in a folder, and look through it periodically when you’re feeling stagnant. Make a point to add your own flair to images that you like, and try at least one of them in each session.

Create an experience, a boutique experience.

  • Appeal to the senses. Make your studio smell nice, offer cookies or beverages to your guests when they come for an appointment. Fill your walls with big canvas portraits, and your coffee table with or bookshelf with albums. The more senses you stimulate while your guests are there, the stronger the memory will be.
  • Have a great online presence also. Have a professionally designed website, or at least a professional looking template, like ProPhoto Blogs (who I use) or IntoTheDarkroom. You can customize them yourself, or you can hire a number of different designers to customize them for you (I recommend Braizen, highly). Brides do most of their wedding planning online, so your online presence will probably be the first impression they get of you.
  • Offer albums. One of the ways you can differentiate yourself is with albums. So many photographers are shoot and burn, so just offering them will set you apart. Offering albums that impress them will make you stand out more.
  • Make sure your work is consistent. Your clients are paying you for work that isn’t even begun yet; they’re taking a financial leap of faith that they’ll be happy. By showing consistency in your work, you will eliminate some of their uncertainty of paying for something they haven’t seen yet. They’ll be confident that they’ll like what they’ll get. If you process some weddings in color, some in black and white, some in sepia, some in the latest vintage actions, your clients will have no idea what direction they’ll go with their images. How willing would you be to fork over a few thousand dollars and not feel confident in what you’re going to get?
  • Along those lines, make sure you work is always finished. Don’t put images out there if they aren’t at least color corrected and edited, and retouched if it’s going into an album or a large print.
  • Use music in your slideshows. This touches on the appealing to the senses comment above. If you can, show your work on a projector or large tv in your studio.
  • Offer less choices. Too many choices can overwhelm your clients. Overwhelmed clients take longer to buy, or buy nothing at all. Albums in all different sizes and cover options, canvas prints, metal prints, wood prints, framed prints. All that takes more time to sell and order, and more time for your clients to pick what they want. Curate your product mix to impress your clients, and not take forever for you to process.

Develop a plan.

  • Have goals. Write them down. Where do you want to be and what do you want to do in a month? In a year? In 5 years?
  • Make sure those goals are attainable. Don’t decide you want to make $250,000 in your first year unless you’ve got some serious business and networking skills under your belt. Look critically at your skills and abilities, and be honest with what you can do. Aiming for the stars is great, but don’t aim higher than what you have the fuel for, or you’re going to rapidly fall back to earth.
  • Have a vision of what you ultimately want to accomplish. Do you want to build the business up to a multi-photographer studio, with several associate photographers at a slightly lower rate and yourself being the principle photographer who charges a hefty premium? Do you want to have a small, niche studio who caters to a very specific clientele and only shoots a limited number of sessions and weddings? Do you want your studio to eventually provide you a retirement income? Deciding what you want in the future will shape what you do now.

Use social media.

  • Post highlights from every wedding on facebook. Ask your clients to tag themselves, or tag them yourself if they give you permission.
  • Encourage your facebook fans to visit your blog by posting more images on the blog.
  • Post things in chronological order. That way, you won’t have your bride from 4 months ago upset that her wedding isn’t up, but a bride from a few weeks ago is everywhere. People want to feel special and important. They’ll be more likely to talk you up if they do. If they feel that someone with a prettier wedding is getting special treatment, they’ll likely be upset, and tell everyone who asks that they are.

And finally, invest wisely. Do you really need the newest camera body? How much will it advance your business goals? Think strategically about what you spend money on, and make sure whatever money you spend helps you make more money. Don’t spend money unless it’s really needed and worthwhile.

Overall, a lot of good solid advice. He doesn’t blow smoke up your rear end and sugar coat things. He was honest about mistakes he’s made, and emphasized solid business ideas that often get pushed to the back burner when a new business gets started. I know there are a few things that I need to do differently, that I should have done differently. It was a good reality check, something that many people need, whether they’re new or veterans.

Man, I get long winded! Something I need to work on, being more concise!

Anyway, next up will be the tradeshow, some advice on things to do and not do, and a bit about the parties!