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Guest post by John Van Steenburg

In my last post we discussed “Knowledge + Action = Profit” and now lets look at four key areas of every business and see if we can know what we need to know (or need to rethink our assumptions) to identify a good idea, create an action plan and move on it until we recognize the success or failure of each position taken. The questions below are generalities which are good starting points. Dig deeper into each specific question, and chart out not only your standing, but also your competition. Putting it on paper in an organized structure makes the differentiations between you and your competition clear. This makes it simpler and faster for you to present your value to your client, and that makes it simpler and faster to sell to your client, which makes it simpler for your client to buy.

1. Work Output

Is there a lack of discernible difference in the photography we produce? Does our work product LOOK as good? Better? Worse? Are we average? Are we clearly superior and how?

What is the truth?

If others are outperforming us, within our targeted customer base and price/value range, what do we need to change to MAKE a discernible difference in our work or make our images competitive with the highest price practitioners in our market? (If you are selling snapshots, you can only get snapshot prices).

2. Products

Is there an identifiable and discernible difference in presentation, and perceived value in what we deliver? (How you prepare the products for viewing and the quality of design, fit and finish you build into the presentation.)

3. Services

Is there a discernible value difference (what, when and how you do it when it comes to showing up and working)?

4. Client Values 

Is there a lack on our own part of taking a stand and making a value argument about each of these added values to the clients. Are our value arguments effective in our client discussions or do we need to ask potential clients more questions about what they think is valuable? Are we producing a product that aligns with the customers we are trying to win? 

Consider the choices in the marketplace (your competition) in each of these areas and the trade-offs of each choice for clients. Consider the why of each preferred method you employ and the final aggregate value of all of those choices and deliverables to clients against the desires and expectations they have in their mind.

Assess and Change 

Evolution takes time, so break the process into manageable bites. Do detailed research and examine the competitive situation. Undertake one major and one or two minor initiatives (or policy changes) each year to improve each area and communicate the added value of your skills, products, policies and services. Following are some specific examples of the things you need to assess.

Assessing Work Output 

Examine these areas of your work:

  • Capture quality
  • Output quality
  • Emotional quality of content
  • Fit and finish of the deliverables, packaging, and anything that goes to the client in the process, especially the finished work

Consider your work against 4 classes of target customer:

  • Super elite (top 1-3%)
  • Elite (top 15%)
  • Midrange (middle 45%)
  • Price only (bottom 35% approximately)

Does the work line up with the customers you want competitively? If not, what do you need to change and do to produce it? When will you start changing?

Assessing Products

What items do you offer that are desirable, totally unique and add value far beyond their cost? Which items are now, or can become, treasures—things that will survive time and generations?

One Example

How to turn a 2.25” print into $1000.00 and have half of your clients snap them up! A certain studio used to make contact prints of their medium format negatives for review and selection. One day, they came upon a small Swarovski crystal frame that perfectly fit the 2.25”contact prints. So, they selected one great image from each wedding and offered it framed in Swarovski and priced it at $999 as an ‘add on’ item in client presentation. They were a little amazed when about half of their clients added this item to their order adding an additional $800 per event in profits. Tiny, intimate and special: that is what sold the item, not just the image itself. It became treasure. Offer unique, timeless treasure. It’s not about size or even price. It is about value. Treasure is ALWAYS cool. But, cool or trendy things are not always treasure.

Assessing Service 

How flexible are you in your ability to meet the desires of your potential clients? From scheduling, to staffing, to production schedule, to travel, etc.?  Are you willing to be more flexible? If you have to charge more money for it, should that be appropriate? Can you be flexible without extra cost if there is no difference in the cost to you?

But, remember your time is valuable. So charging more is very often necessary and appropriate. The questions are: how much more for what? And, how valuable is that to the client? Ask if they would pay extra if you had to charge extra to for it. “We can do that, but since we have to add an additional person for 2 hours on the event, that will cost an additional (not extra) $200.00. Is that acceptable?”

Assessing Client Values 

We need to think about how to deal with what our clients value compared with our values. The statement and requests your clients make tell you their values.

“Can I get copies of my ALL my files?”

You can get copies of all of the files that are fit to print. Any that are technically unfit, unflattering, or overly embarrassing are eliminated in the editing process. After all, our name is on them too and we refuse to put our name on work that reflects poorly on either ourselves or our clients.“Can I get the RAW files?” Raw files are just that: unfinished. There are multiple levels of finishing and editing a file: the proof level, where the entire un-cropped, un-color corrected, un-optimized file is shown simply to determine if the image is interesting and can be optimized to production standards. You can see all of them as ‘proofs’. The edited file, where we crop and make several corrections, like overall color cast correction, etc.. And the finished file, optimized file with skin retouching and any enhancements needed. Unless you are fully capable and trained to do all levels of these production processes, the RAW files are useless to you. What we can do is give you a full set of files at each level you are willing to pay for:

  • Low res proofs: no charge
  • Mid res jpeg proofs: $5.00* each
  • Full res jpeg edits: $10.00* each selected image (150 and up) or $ 9.00* each selected image (200 and up)
  • Full res, full edited, retouched, sized and optimized files: $30* each
  • *Prices are listed as examples. not suggestions; you need to discover what your work, products, services and clients will bear. 

“Oh, I may not want an album, I’ll just print them myself and make my own.”

You can certainly do that. But, we find that about 90%+ of the brides that want to do their own end up without one, ever. It’s not they don’t want to be without it. They just find they don’t have the time, the industry resources or the lab resources and even 2-3 years later, with family obligations and life’s interruptions, they are without one. We also find that with modern professional lab technologies, our prints will hold their color in an album for about 100 years, allowing generations to come to develop a meaningful history of the family. Typically, non professional labs lack color controls and other important technologies and their prints last 5-15 years, even in albums. So, we believe in our albums a lot. Because we place so much effort and time on file quality, we can produce an extremely high quality album for far less than most photographers and offer a full range of binding and covers and printing technologies. In fact, we offer follow up album production services to every one of our brides that thought they didn’t need one. The price now is:  $XXXX. And, there is a only 25% surcharge if you wait a year, and a 50% surcharge after two years.

Where will you be in 30 years? 

I hope that photography will be as good to you over the next 30+ years as it has been to me. I believe it can be. I know that there is a lot more to talk about and I tried to limit this to a few areas of direct customer interaction. The same type of examination and execution could be done with marketing, product pricing, employee development, and other areas of the business. I hope those of you that are frustrated or want more will consider that these exercises are a critical part of the continued growth and evolution of your business.


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