For me it seems, the years come with themes. 2017 has been a year of change. It’s been a year of learning my value as a creator. It has been a year for making big decisions.
This year I was recruited away from my full time job and will be doing similar work (photography and video production) for a new agency.
As part of this change, I terminated a partnership with a business partner who didn’t really understand our worth, or how to best do business in the market.
I’ve started a new high end portrait studio and I’m finally creating portraits that I’m proud of and charging premium rates.
It’s been a busy, difficult year, with many lessons learned. I hope to share some of those lessons here.
1. I’ve spent the last four years working for a network marketing company. I was a producer working in the corporate office. It was my responsibility to produce videos promoting our company, products, and events. I also acted as a photographer, providing product, event, and portrait imagery for our various publications and outlets.
On the surface this was a dream job. I believe staff photography/video positions like this are rare. I had the opportunity to learn a ton of things and experience dozens of countries. I’ll forever look back on those four years fondly and remember all the unique and interesting people, places, and things I experienced.
I wasn’t looking for a change, but a good friend of mine who had started a agency of his own, eventually convinced me to join him and lead his production department. Right now, that’s really only a department of two, but I believe the experience I gained from my previous job has prepared me to build a talented team that can provide world class value to our clients.
What convinced me to leave my full time job for what is essentially a startup? In a word, value. My friend understands that investing in quality is essential to a successful business. He has priced our services on the high end of our market, but backs it up with high end execution and high end equipment. We’re shooting on RED. As far as we can tell we are the only provider in our area shooting on a $25,000+ camera package.
And you know what? It’s working. We’re able to play in the high end of the market, produce work we can be proud of, and not worry about competition that is constantly trying to undercut the market to land clients. We simply don’t play that game.
This is a hard but important lesson. Much of the time, the biggest obstacle to charging what you are worth is YOU. You have to have confidence to stand by a price for your service that will allow you to provide a high quality product to your customer and still make a profit. Easier said than done. The lesson: Does your employer or client value you? Do they take full advantage of your full potential? Do they value what you will become? If not, work towards finding work where these things are true.
2. Mostly through his persistent nature, a coworker at the network marketing company convinced me to partner with him and provide video production services on the side of our full time jobs. I told him I’d do it as long as I could just provide the production services and he would handle the business and sales end.
We had some success earning some side money but as time went on it became clear that we had different ideas about how to best conduct the business. His lack of focus and understanding of the industry made things difficult. I’m sure I have many weaknesses that made things less than ideal as well.
When I decided to end our partnership, it was for many reasons. One of those reasons was his refusal to demand a rate for our services that made it worth me doing the work. Again, easier said than done. It takes skill and knowledge to negotiate with clients and create an agreement that is mutually beneficial. We’d either charge too little to “get in the door” or try to stick with our pricing but fail to communicate our the value of our service. The lesson: Focus on what value you can provide and get good at selling it. Focus on what works and repeat that strategy instead of constantly getting distracted and looking for the next great thing. Don’t hesitate to change up a partnership if it’s not working, or if a better fit comes along.
3. It’s been a goal of mine to be able to take better portraits. I’d also love to be paid to take better portraits. In my town, (and I’m sure your town as well) family photographers are a dime a dozen. Most are stay at home mothers who purchased a nice camera and are trying to make some income in their spare time. There is nothing wrong with that, but it tends to give you mental block when you think about trying to charge premium rates for a real, professional headshot or portrait.
In finally broke through that mental block and decided to go for it. I spend hours practicing with my studio strobes and shot dozens of friends for free to develop my style. I built a new website and I only showcase my best work all in a consistent style. I want people to know exactly the type of portrait they will receive when they book me and so I don’t post anything on the website that is not consistent.
I took it a step further and joined up with my friend to offer an even more unique and high end experience. For a premium price we offer portraits taken on large format film. It’s a very traditional portrait studio offering, with a modern and premium twist.
And do you know what? It’s working. Parents love the bright and somewhat candid portraits I can create of their children.
Men are hesitant at first, until they see how classy I can make them look.
Everyone wants a really well done portrait of themselves, and if it’s good enough, they are willing to pay a premium for it. Not everyone can afford my rates, but they know who they want to take their portrait when they can. Because I charge a premium, I can shoot far less portraits and make more money. The Lesson: Create a consistent portfolio. Take time to develop your style and then stick with it. Be consistent. It’s okay to be the most expensive in your market as long as you also provide the most value.
What lessons have you learned this year? Share them in the comments – I’d love to learn from you.