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The Big Secret to My Successful Photography Business

Christine Tremoulet's big secret to her successful photography business - be sure to read it!So let me tell you a little story which leads to me discovering the big secret to my successful photography business. I live in Houston, Texas, which is the 4th largest city in the United States. Back in 2008, When my photography business was still focused on weddings (with some boudoir), I asked another wedding photographer if he wanted to share my studio space.

He looked at me like I had grown a second head or something. “But … but …” he stammered, “we are competition?!?”

I just looked at him, a little shocked. Once I finally found the words, I asked him, “Have you looked at my clients and looked at your clients? They are not the same people at all! If someone comes in, sees your photograph on the wall, and says that they have to book you over me because of that photograph? They were never my client to begin with!”

  • His clients: early 20s, fresh out of college, planning elaborate weddings paid for mostly by their parents.
  • My clients: late 20s to late 30s, have had a career before getting married, sometimes it is a second marriage, they paying for most of or the whole wedding themselves.

We had complimentary styles, design aesthetics, and brands, which was why I offered to share my space with him, but we were two VERY different people. His clients are just like him. My clients are just like me.

There are only 52 weeks in a year. Most wedding photographer only want to book 20-30 weddings* a year. There are only 12 months in a year. Most portrait photographers only want to book 10-20 portrait sessions a month*, or 120-240 a year. (Math is hard, yo! I had to bust out a calculator for that. #sadtruth)

You don’t need everyone in your market to love you! You only need to connect with the right number of people for your goals.

When I launched my photography business, I was successful (profitable + booked) from the start. I booked up my first year, and I made over 6 figures.

Want to know the big secret to my photography business success?

I had a long-time established personal blog before I booked a single photography client. I had a presence on Social Media that involved only sharing about myself, not selling a single thing. People knew me – or at least the me that I shared online – and connected personally with me.

I can’t tell you how many times people have walked in to my studio and told me that I sound in person exactly like they imagined I would from reading my blog. (Oh, and they read my blog – all the time! Not just my business blog, but my personal one.)

Use your blog. Use social media. Tell people who you ARE, not just about your latest work. Tell them about the things that make your friends love you. You represent your personal brand at all times. Brand: YOU. Find your VOICE.

Do all your blog posts sound the same? “This is my favorite client ever … I love them so much … this day was just the best…” over and over again? How boring do you think this must be for people looking for a photographer? (Hint: Snoozefest!)

Do you share your story?

Your potential clients are clicking along, visiting one photographer’s blog after another. (After all, the blog is the part of your website that gets the most traffic.) “I just loved this session!” is on repeat and their eyes are glazing over because that is all they are reading on every blog. *yawn* Then they come to your site. You have also written about your latest session, but you’ve talked about why YOU loved this session. Truly why you loved it, sharing a personal story of your very own. “The way mom looked at her son with love in her eyes, you could tell that she knew these moments were fleeting — and as the mother of two yourself you completely understand. It seems like only yesterday they were babies, and now they are off to kindergarten and third grade, and those moments are over in my house.” Pass the tissues! *sniff, sniff*.

Know what that potential client is thinking? “Oh, look! THIS photographer? I can relate to her. I mean, I know exactly how that feels, and I just have to know more about her. SHE GETS ME”

WINNING!!!

This works for EVERYONE. Talking about YOU in your voice? Your authentic story? It is a disruptor. Most people in your market are not doing it, but even if they all start tomorrow? Your story is still unique. You need to share it with the world!

For example, I talk a lot online about my geeky addiction to gadgets. Which reminds me, I need to share reviews of my Livescribe 3 and my new iPad Stylus, to go along with the review I wrote about my Misfit Shine. Telling you these things about myself? You get it, I’m a geek. Which is probably why I’ve worked with so many engineers over the years, they love the geek stuff too! Which makes for a much stronger connection with my ideal client. We bond over these things.

Do you know who YOUR ideal client is? Can you tell me all about them, what they love, what car they drive, where they eat, who they are — and how you can connect to them over those things? What stories do you have to share about your life that people can relate to and embrace?

Find your voice. Talk about yourself. I promise you, it is OK.

Friends buy from friends. All things being equal, people buy from people that they like.

Are you taking the time to be friends with your clients? Are you being vulnerable with them so that they can relate to you and trust you enough to be vulnerable with you in return?

How many clients do you really need?

Look, I get it. When your calendar is looking pretty empty and you’re stressed out over it, it is terrifying. You feel like you desperately want everyone to like you.

Stop and think about it though. Do you really only need 10 clients a month? 120 people a year? Unless you are in a town of only 200 people, 120 people is a pretty small number. I’m in a city of millions – every person out there doesn’t have to love me. They don’t even all have to know about me. If the right people know about me? They will tell their friends. They will come. I can honestly say that they have every year for me.

You can compete on price, or the style and way that you photograph, but you will always have to be reinventing yourself. People will always be copying you. You will always have competition, and competing on price is just a race to the bottom.

Or you can Brand: YOU — and always stand out from the crowd. Your former competition now becomes your peers. No one, no matter how hard they try, can ever be you. They don’t have your stories to share with the world. They don’t see life the way that you see it. They can’t. You are unique. You Are Enough.

I’m going to be writing a lot more about this. (Hopefully not all long, rambling posts!) It is topic I am SUPER passionate about. I believe that through the power of blogging and social media you can share your stories with the world and work with clients that you love, all while building a photography business that is wildly successful.

You can have an awesome life & an amazing business — and I look forward to helping you get there!

PS – if you haven’t already, make sure to sign up for the email list in the sidebar. I’ve got a whole big series – ok, several series – planned out on giving your blog lots of love, growing your social media presence, and bringing it all together to rock out your business. I want to make sure the posts get to you!


* Ok, for some of you those numbers (30 weddings a year or 240 sessions a year) may seem really low. Maybe you want to have a huge volume studio with 20 photographers, 8000 sessions a year, or whatever crazy numbers you’ve got in mind. I start to feel an anxiety attack coming on just thinking about running a business like that. Soooooooo not my thing – but kudos to you! Branding You probably won’t make that much sense. That is cool. I’d still love it if you stick around in case you want to learn more about blogging, social media, and all that good stuff.

Using Custom Products & Packaging to WOW Your Clients!

Custom Gift Box and USB drive for photographer's giftsWant to go a step above & beyond for your clients? Consider creating personalized custom products just for them!

My friend and Atlanta wedding photographer Julie Anne shared these photos today on Facebook of this keepsake photobox full of beautiful prints & a custom USB, and after I finished swooning over them I asked her if she would let me share them with all of you, and she graciously said yes!

As a true Southern girl at heart, Julie Anne is all about going above and beyond for everyone, as I got to experience first-hand when I visited her in Atlanta earlier this year. She is the master at finding the perfect gifts for people, so it is no surprise at all to me that she created such a perfect gift for her clients, Veronica & Joe.

Olde Pink House Wedding Photography by Julie Anne Photographer

Julie Anne started with this photograph that she captured from their wedding day, and overlaid the photograph with the design of their wedding invitation in Photoshop. She printed this on a custom Wood Box from WHCC. Next, she created a custom-designed Wooden USB Drive also from WHCC with the monogram that the couple used on a number of their other wedding day decor items. She then filled the box with prints from the wedding day to present to her clients.

Savannah Wedding Photography by Julie Anne Custom USB drive by Julie Anne Photographer in Atlanta, Georgia

Such a gorgeous way to incorporate design elements from your client’s special day in to a presentation that is truly breathtaking! Thank you again Julie Anne for allowing me to share!

How to Tell Your Client You Won’t Do Extensive Photoshop Work for Free

No Photoshop Work for Free

Your client comes to you with a Photoshop request — or maybe a long list of them. They go far beyond what you normally do in your retouching process when you send their products off to print. How do you tell them that you will have to charge an additional fee without sounding like a jerk?

(PS – We are going to assume that if your photo is blue like the one above, you’re going to work on getting better colors in camera before you even take the photo, and that you’ll fix that for free before you show your client the proofs. M’kay?)

Setting the Your Prices & Your Scope

First of all, back when you set your prices for your products, you should have taken in to consideration the time involved in creating your products as part of the price. (Haven’t done this? Get your hands on Jamie of The Modern Tog’s Pricing Guide Workbook or Joy Vertz’s videos & course on pricing!)

In that process, you have to define your scope of what retouching you will do. For example, my printing includes minor skin smoothing – blemishes, cellulite – and retouching of indentation caused by wardrobe. Sometimes I have a client do a pose that looks amazing, but it causes a minor wardrobe glitch so I’ll retouch those. For wedding photography, I would remove those annoying white strings that are on dresses to help hang them on hangers, and “arm cleavage” from strapless dresses.

I will not do complete body reshaping. Women are beautiful as they are to me, and I won’t make them something that they are not. However, maybe that is your thing? So you make sure your pricing includes time for an hour of editing per photograph. Whatever you want to do? Make sure you have defined what your normal is for your work.

Setting Client Expectations

I’ll admit that I cringe whenever I hear someone say, “Well, you can fix that in Photoshop!” It isn’t always a quick and easy fix, and I’ll be the first to confess that extensive retouching is not my thing. Not at all.

It still happens though, and I respect the fact that my clients want these photos to be amazing to them because they will be looking at them a lot longer than I will. However, I’ll have to pay my photo editor more for the work because it is outside of our agreed scope as well.

I don’t want to tell them no, but I am going to have to tell them that there will be an additional charge.

Set expectations in advance. I have conversations with my clients before their session about the level of editing that I do. It is represented by the photographs on my website. I cover it again at the end of their session, going over what’s next (we only cull & color correct before their In Person Sales Session). At the In Person Sales meeting, if there is a blemish or something else my client is concerned about, I reassure them that we will take care of it.

Ideally, the additional Photoshop requests will come up in person, but I’ve found that most of the time they don’t come up until they proof their album. While it is a rare situation for me, I have received emails before with 17 different requests of things to do, including complete body reshaping. You know, it happens. Most of my clients aren’t photographers. They don’t know what is easy, and what isn’t. I get the reason for their requests.

How to Handle the Additional Work & Fees

First and foremost, I consider their request. I’ll talk with my photo editor and get an idea from her how long it will take. If it is something she says she can do in 10 minutes? They just spent thousands of dollars with me, I’m not going to ask them to pay for an extra 10 minutes of work.

Sometimes, what they want will take hours. Or it has to be done on 30 images. Whatever the case may be, sometimes? I have to ask them to pay more. Here is the core of what I send to them in response – feel free to save a copy of this in case you ever need it in the future!

My retouching of photos includes (list out here – mine is skin smoothing, and minor liquifying if wardrobe causes skin indents). I am happy to do this additional work as per your request. Retouching like this is more extensive, and there is an additional charge of $75/hour for the editing. This will also delay the delivery of your product by (amount of time).

I estimate it will take (however many hours); this is just an estimate and it may take longer. Please let me know if you would like me to proceed with list of edits that you sent and that you agree to the additional cost.

I sandwich that with pleasantries about how it is great to hear from them. I over estimate on the time, just in case. After all, if I tell them 3 hours and it takes 2? Awesome! If I tell them 2 hours and it takes 5? They probably won’t be so happy about that.

Once you send the email off, wait to hear back from them. They might decide that the edits aren’t worth it to them, or they may change the list.

(If you hate composing emails in tough situations with clients, Jamie of The Moderntog can help you out with that as well with her her Go To Guide for Client Emails.)

I Suck at Photoshop and Can’t Do the Edits They Requested

Aww… I fell your pain! Photoshop? Not my thing. You have a few options here:

  • Learn more about how to retouch. Take a class, get out there & practice. Many learning options are available, including an awesome one from my friend Nino Batista! All the details are at the end of this post.
  • Outsource it. For me? This was the best option. I don’t want to learn more about how to do it because it cuts in to my personal time, which is pretty valuable to me.
  • Tell your client you don’t offer retouching like that. It is ok to say no – but be nice about it!

What Do You Do?

Have you had this request come up before? How did you handle it? Did it work well for you, or do you wish you had done it differently?

PS – In perfect timing, my friend Nino Batista has kicked off Private Retouch Training! I’ve heard nothing but amazing things from friends that have attended his Masterclass workshop around the country, and it is an amazing deal! He is now scheduling for Summer/Fall 2014. Private, live, one on one retouching training in Photoshop via Google+ or Skype, approximately 2 hours of one on one time dedicated to advancing your retouching skills. This is one of his most popular services, and scheduling is limited due to his work, events & travel schedule. So get with him ASAP to book ASAP! A few July, several August & September dates are currently available. Contact him directly to book at 832-458-8954 or via email at ninobatista@gmail.com — even if your style of photography is completely different, Nino is a retouching master!

Nino Batista Private Retouching Training

Photo Credit – Top of Post, Retouching Example: benoitchampagnephoto via Creative Commons license.

Inspire 2014 and the Ripple Effect

Looking back, I have realized that walking away from being so deep in my boudoir business was absolutely the right thing to do last year. I knew I needed to stretch more. Most importantly, I knew it was time to acknowledge my BIG DREAM that involved helping people dig in, get vulnerable about who they truly are, and then take that and make it the core of their business.

Once your business is about you? No one can compete with that.

2013 was focused on finding a way to help women to feel amazing as hell about themselves; after all I am the Avenger of Sexiness. I just want to do so much more than I could ever do with a camera in my hand. Through photography I could reach 80-100 women a year. I want to reach 10,000 a year – and that is just the start.

So I drove, and I drove, and I drove. I thought a lot. Working through big changes like this in my business, a shift in how I accomplish my mission (but not a change in the mission itself) is very hard for me.

In the middle of my trip, I went to Stephanie´╗┐’s house in Calgary. The dream we had been talking about for well over 9 months became a reality on her dining room table. It was time to create a Business Coaching program.

We created Vivid & Brave. We built the foundation of our Life+ Group Coaching program, with a pile of post-it notes, three sheets of posterboard, and a lot of big dreams. We poured our hearts in to it. We launched it immediately.

Then, when we were all done and thanks to the encouragement of Sarah Austin Lehberger´╗┐, we applied to speak at Inspire Photo Retreat, 2014. I was still in Calgary when we got the news that we had been selected. We were ecstatic beyond words, and so honored. I’m pretty sure there were tears involved.

Our dream was coming true. It was time to start speaking.

Bonnie shares her Manifesto, created at our workshopTo prepare for our 3 hour workshop at Inspire, Stephanie & I got together in January at my house in Houston, Texas. (A lovely break for her from a very harsh Calgary winter this year!) We built our slides, hashed things out at 2am, had an argument or two that involved us going to our separate corners, and in the end – built a workshop. We then recruited Houston photographers to join us for a trial run so we could work the kinks out. So glad that they came out for us, as it really helped us make it an even stronger presentation!

Finally, February arrived. Stephanie & I headed off to the Inspire Photo Retreat.

For the record, I’ve been to countless workshops over the years, conferences ranging from small to large, both in the blogging world and the photography world — and NOTHING was like this experience. NOTHING. HANDS DOWN. It was simply the MOST amazing experience EVER.

Stephanie had some travel delays getting there; the road to your dreams isn’t always easy. That meant that I arrived Sunday night without her. For a fleeting moment, I felt like an outsider, as the majority of attendees are from the Massachusetts & Connecticut area and it seemed like they all knew one another already. That feeling quickly faded away, as I was immediately welcomed by everyone I met. Sunday night was spent in the Gazebo Graveyard laughing & talking until the wee hours of the morning, and I was hooked.

Teaching with Stephanie at Inspire 2014

Stephanie & I gave our workshop on Monday, and it still fills me up with butterflies thinking about how amazing it was to see everyone really digging in, giving it their all. Opening up and sharing with us. Posting online. Sharing their declarations. Creating their manifestos. Dreaming of personal projects to come.

Thomas Flint at the Vivid & Brave Inspire 2014 Workshop

We had no idea just how much it was going to impact people though until dinner that night. Over and over, we had people come up to us and tell us that they had heard about our workshop, and they wished that they had been there.

Somewhere around 1am, we asked one of the Inspire staff members if we could do it again. There was a gap of time and an empty room, and we posted a sign and invited people to join us. And they did.

Graham Scobey at a workshop I taught at Inspire, 2014

I’m still a bit speechless just thinking about it.

Want to know the most interesting observation? I never once asked someone what type of photographer they were. For so long, I’ve identified myself as “photographer” – and at Inspire? It never came up for me. Instead we talked about our passions, our hopes, our fears, our plans and our dreams. Sure, there was business thrown in there as well. Yet I never asked anyone what type of photography they did. It just didn’t matter. In the past 7 years, I’ve never seen that happen.

So many of my friends, both new & old, summed up the Inspire experience so well – you should go check out the posts that Patricia Miller, Sarah Lehberger, Jen Lightful and Sharon of Bittersweet Books have shared.

It has only been two weeks since we left, and yet I can’t wait to return in 2015 when it moves to Portland, Maine! (I hope there is still late night karaoke & dancing on the schedule next year!)

Singing and Dancing at Inspire 2014

I left Inspire a very different person than I was when I arrived.

To my Inspire friends, I owe that to ALL OF YOU. Every last one. You made my dream a reality. You touched me, you listened to me, but most of all? You revealed yourselves to me. You shared your heart & your soul. You were Vivid & Brave with us. I adore you all SO MUCH and the only thing that sucks is that I’m 1500 miles away …

Inspire Photo Retreat 2014

Thank you, with more gratitude than I can even put in to words. Inspire 2014 changed my life. This will go down as one of those big pivotal moments, and I know when I look back a year from now, it will be even more obvious that that was the moment when everything turned.

So What’s NEXT??? WPPI 2014!!!

Now Stephanie and I are focused on doing everything we can to get the Vivid & Brave message out there. We are heading to Las Vegas next week, and we realized — why not do it again? So we are! We are offering up the same workshop on Tuesday, March 4th or Wednesday, March 5th at the MGM. Want to join us for the Rediscover You Workshop? We would LOVE to have you there! Join Stephanie & myself, and go home with new insights into yourself, your voice and your passions.

Dancing at Inspire, 2014

You Need to Run Away from Your Business

You need to run away from your business

Did you realize you need to run away from your business? That it could be one of the best things you ever did for it?

My blog post today for Inspire Photo Retreats is all about the things I learned when I did this myself last year.

Last year, I left home for what ended up being a 4 month, 19,000+ mile road trip. It wasn’t planned to be that long when I left, but as work found me along the way, I kept going. We left home originally so I could attend the World Domination Summit in Portland, visit family there, and then head to Seattle to see Mike’s brother and his family. After that, Mike was going to fly home, I’d drive back to Denver, park my car to fly to speak at BlogHer in Chicago, fly back to Denver to coach at the Team-X Fight Club, and then drive home.

When Fight Club ended was when it all began. I needed … something. I needed to get away. To unplug. To quiet the noise.

It is incredibly hard to admit that I completely neglected my business for those two weeks. As I reflect back on it, I realize it was one of the smartest moves I’ve made recently.

Go read the post there to learn more about the lessons I learned.

The biggest thing that came out of getting back to work? I went on to Calgary and met up with Stephanie and we created our Life + Business Coaching Program, Vivid & Brave.

It may be hard to admit, but I have no regrets.

When was the last time you took a vacation from your business? Have you ever completely cut yourself off and allowed yourself to recharge?

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