Tag Archives: sales

My Competition is My Past

Knock Yourself Out

As part of my daily duties as a professional photographer and self-employed businessperson, I evaluate multiple aspects of running my business: finances, investments creative mojo, technical understanding/practical application, sales, marketing, interpersonal skills, pricing, vendor relationships, likeability factors and more.

It never ends. I’m not complaining. Just explaining what I do to keep my oarsmen in the correct rhythm so I head in the direction of my business and career plans. No easy task. I’m distracted and bore easily. How do I do it then? For 30 years I’ve worked on these duties a little bit at a time, just a few at a time, slowly. I learn and absorb the process, knowledge and practical applications on my time frame: slow and steady wins the race. For example: as a professional photographer I feel it’s my responsibility to look critically at my work on a regular basis and ask myself what can I do better than I’m doing now? More thoughtful approach to my lighting angles? More awareness of my contrast ratios? More competent lens/aperture/shutter speed selection criteria? I want to keep pushing my quality until there isn’t a single location lighting situation I can’t handle. Lit or not I want to conquer all  technical and creative situations. This is my goal. It’s beyond my grasp. I may never arrive at the level my sights are set on. But my constant evaluation process will move me in that direction. And I will always improve. You see, I’m competing with myself, not anyone else. This flys in the face of the conventional wisdom that states you compete against like-minded small businesses.

If photographers are different and offer different levels of quality, creativity and customer service, then how can I be in competition with anyone but me? I am aware of who’s in my market. Sure. I’m aware of what others charge and what issues others have regarding running their careers and lives profitably. This isn’t to say I don’t learn from the success and mistakes of others. I do. Frequently.

But I compete with my past. With my performance from yesterday. From last week. Last Month. Last Year. My competition is my past. This logic keeps me focused on the goals I’ve identified, sane and relatively stress-free.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Keywords & SEO, Playing Well Together Part II

In the previous post with the same name I promised to let you know if I got the job….

It took a bit of negotiating (completely normal), but we came to an agreement on scope and budget. As a gesture of good will, I threw in a video interview. I’m sure this will go a long way in building the relationship with this client. Step two was to collect the deposit check, order the custom-built time-lapse housing and meet with the contractor who will set the pole into the ground and run power. As of this writing, I have the check ($$$$), ordered the housing, camera and lens but I’m waiting for the contractor to return my email…..

I’ve had a reality check with this new client: their priority scale is calibrated differently than mine. My business is dedicated to providing superior customer service. To that end I’ve sent emails, made phone calls and have generally tried try to get them to work with me in reaching their goal of beginning this project on their suggested start date. In order for me to help them reach their goal however, I require a deposit check. Without the deposit check I cannot order the time-lapse housing. This special housing requires ten days lead time (for fabrication, de-bugging, delivery, set-up and final testing). The check was delayed by two weeks, the housing was delayed by the same two weeks and that has pushed the start date back to who knows when.

I’m not as concerned anymore because I have the check and expect to pick up the housing early next week. The ball as they say is in their court.

Don’t Burn Your Bridges, You May Need Them Later….

Lake Tahoe Pier-2006

 

Of the many aspects about teaching that I’m fond of, the process of reaching out to companies and asking for review copies of their products is up near the top. To date this has worked so well that I’ve become expert at asking and receiving. Of course I offer something in return: my expertise in reviewing said products and my loyal audience who have grown to trust my judgment when I bring the information to them. Everybody wins. It’s actually a great system.

I’m happy to report that I don’t burn bridges as a matter of course, (you won’t get very far being self-employed) What happened yesterday bears repeating: I reached out to a company to ask for review copies of their entire product line. (how bold of me, but if you don’t ask you don’t get) I heard about this particular software from a woman who attended the Los Angeles Photshop User Group monthly meeting during which I presented my compositing work, thought processes and business approach. Anyway the marketing person from this company calls me in response to my inquiry.

She wanted to know a bit more about my show’s philosophy and why I want their product for my show’s product showcase segment. We chatted a bit and found out that we are on the same page when it comes to education and training. She liked my ideas for presenting their products and offered to send me download links and serial numbers straight away. (she did)

We ended the phone call with her asking me if I remembered her… Can you say GULP? She and I met when we worked at Brooks Institute. She left in ’06 and I’ve not taught there since ’09. (low enrollment = no classes for adjuncts) Oh well. Get your own radio show.

One can only imagine  the outcome had there been no bridge connecting us…….the conversation would have had a decidedly different tone. (if she had responded at all)

Be well.

Michael

16 Gigs Later….

Getting Blasted

16 gigs was what I shot on a recent assignment. The client was extremely happy with my work, attitude and professionalism. This occurs when I show up for an assignment, build my photographs and deliver results. The difference this time, the client didn’t budget for photography even though they said, “we need photos for post-production reference and online promotion.” Let’s see, they need professional photography but didn’t budget for it. Huh? Yet they budgeted $100,000 for the trailer. Hey can I get some of that? Seriously. You have to send some my way.

Let me explain….I was contacted by a director/producer friend who was directing/producing the live-action portion of a trailer for a yet-to-be-released video game. The company releasing this game didn’t budget for photography. Professional or otherwise. My good director/producer friend explained to them why it was necessary and important to pay a professional for the required and necessary photography.

We negotiated a price that was obviously way more than they expected/wanted and I worked for a fee that was just about correct for the usages required.

So in the end it worked out but of course I was going to politely decline if the client insisted they had no money. Thank goodness for good friends and a good reputation.

As always, thanks for reading.

Cheers!

Post Production Software

Straight Out of RAW!

As this blog is usually dedicated to artists who choose to work for themselves and the thinking that goes into becoming a self-employed creative professional (SECP), I’ve digressed a bit to bring you the success I’ve been having lately using Nik Software.

The first image is what came out of my 5D in the RAW format.

What I Did in ACR

The second image is after processing that 5D RAW image in Photoshop’s ACR.

Using Color Efex Pro 3.0

The final image is what I came up with using Nik’s Color Efex Pro 3.0’s Glamour and Graduated filters in sequence and in combination with Smart Objects. I also added a bit of Nik’s Viveza 2, too. This allows me to achieve the maximum effect coupled with maximum control. And it’s editable!

As a professional I appreciate the thought put into this product. The thing that amazes me most is how smart NIK’s products are, they work today like we used to work with film, color correction, graduated and neutral density filters. Thanks guys!

Don’t forget to catch my show, Fridays at 9am, PST at: buildabetterphotograph.com

Create Your Own Moment

In 2003, after 24 years in business for myself as a commercial photographer and photo lab services provider, I was ready to move beyond photography and into the next phase of my professional life: creation of an online presence through blogging, public speaking, writing, teaching and consulting. It was also a goal of mine to become a celebrity in the process. Eight years later, after concentrated effort and focus, trial and error, missteps and success I find myself in the catbird seat ready to push out to the world all that is me via my very own internet-based radio show on photography. (:()) How’s that!

I’m now at the spot I envisioned eight years ago, but I’m not surprised: hard work, relentless effort, laser focus and karma all mixed together will do that for any self-employed creative professional (SECP). I control my destiny, it’s up to me, sink or swim to make this a long-term success.

How did I get here?

Follow me:

1)     I fully committed to this from the jump. It was necessary to reaffirm this many times but I began at 100% full throttle. For me this was the only way to begin, no time for toe-dipping here, jump in and swim with purpose and a plan. When the inevitable forks in the road popped up I knew which ones to take advantage of. My fork collection is huge.

2)     I was fortunate to have been offered a teaching job at world famous Brooks Institute. From 2003-2009 I taught twice a week at the Ventura, CA campus. Met 100’s of students and many of them will be coming onto my show as interviewees. Cool. How did I get this gig? By paying it forward. Several years earlier I had occasion to view a photography show by Brooks Institute students at a gallery in Santa Barbara. The teacher of these students was looking for someone to help with a field trip to LA area photo studios. I didn’t know this teacher but I volunteered anyway as LA is my hometown, I like to be in the service of others (Makes me feel complete) and I had a studio. . The field trip successful. Everyone enjoyed themselves. When I called the school in ’03 to inquire about a teaching position, this teacher had become the Provost. He remembered that field trip and how I had volunteered to help him and his students. I was hired shortly after that phone call. KARMA.

3)     I’ve worked my connection with the school into opportunities to speak, run workshops, give interviews and to appear as Mr. Pixel on Phototalkradio.

4)     I began a blog on 6/22/08 and have acquired over 5,000 unique visitors and over 7,000 hits. Small in the world of the web but big for me and growing daily.

5)     My book was released on 11/17/09. It stayed in the top 100 (of its’ category) at Amazon for seven months.

6)     Credibility has led many companies to partner up with me more easily than if I had no book, no blog and no connection to a world class school.

7)     Not to be one to rest on my laurels, I went to a marketing boot camp in September of 2010 run by Craig Duswalt. There I met internet guru Tom Antion and was inspired by both of them to rethink my marketing efforts. While following Craig’s online presence I discovered his radio show on toginet.

8)     After speaking with Craig about his radio show (and having an empty credit card, always always a dangerous thing) I pulled the trigger on 50 hours of prime radio time programming.

I go live 2/4/11 at 9am: Build A Better Photograph with Michael E. Stern

Hard work, laser focus, relentless effort, karma and here I am!

What are you doing?

Michael

Bad Habit Bridge Words

Winter View Looking East, Lake Tahoe, 2010.

So, I’m like ya know listening to a ya know like radio program and do you, ya know ever, um, like listen to you know someone talk and they like um take a long time to get their point across? When people of all walks of life use  these bridge words, I go nuts! And I also get turned off to the message they’re trying to get across. Bad habit bridge words are the bane of good conversation, interviews and just regular person to person communication. People don’t write like this but they um you know talk like this.

For the next week, really listen to how people talk. To others and to you. On radio, tv and in person. Which ones sound intelligent and which ones don’t? When speaking to your clients and potential clients, how do they sound? Which ones speak in thoughtful language (which makes you feel comfortable and reaffirms you’re dealing with the right person) and which ones make you think otherwise? For example, eleven years ago I was part of an audience listening to a speaker who didn’t use a single obvious or annoying bridge word the entire time she spoke. I was mesmerized at how she commanded me to listen. She was a real pro and her message was properly sent and (at least for me), properly received. Since that eventful day, I practice good speech habits.

How do you talk? Record your own voice and find out. Try it and you’ll be surprised at how well you sound…. or horrified at how difficult it is to follow your speech. Come across as an intelligent, thoughtful person and your pricing structure and sales pitches are protected from being perceived as less intelligent or educated than they could be. Most clients have college degrees and hang out with other educated people and/or have had to mingle with company bigwigs (who are highly educated). This breeds a certain level of expectations when it comes to conversation. A poor conversation (using basically, um, ya know, like bridge words) is an obstacle to success.

Why do this to yourself? With effort and time, this problem is fixable. Monitor your conversations via a digital voice recorder, listen to others speak (radio interview are a great source), take notes and be prepared to change what is usually a long-standing bad habit.

Here is a small list of annoying bridge words: um, ya know, you know, like, basically and ah. Please add to this list.

Cheers!

Social Media Doesn’t Trump Personal Relationships



Nature's Beauty & The Chance To Connect

I want to inform you about a surprising phenomenon that has increasingly repeated itself this year: new business opportunities are being generated not because of my web presence but because of my personal relationships. I’m online with a business website, this blog, LinkedIn, Facebook, Slideshare and Youtube and all of these together aren’t doing as much as my ability to personally connect with people and pitch my services. My website has a Google page rank of 4, which is almost unheard of for a single-person business, much less one run by a self-employed creative professional. (SECP) Google has a page rank of 7. Facebook is a 10. Being a 4 when most businesses my size are either 0 or 1 is a tremendous achievement. Rate your online presence.

Try as I might I cannot relate my online status directly to sales. What has translated into sales is phone calls, meetings, email, promos, posting to all of my social media outposts and connecting with people whenever I’m out and about, both professionally and socially.

Here are two examples: In November I was hired as the official photographer for a 3-day animation expo. During this assignment a client from Disney, (whom I had met briefly last year on a shoot) came up to me. We talked a bit about this and that, work, family and friends. During this friendly conversation I pitched her a little bit on what I’ve been working on but generally it was in a social context. A few weeks later I get a call from another person at Disney whom I’ve never met but who was referred to me by the Disney client mentioned earlier. The conversation turned into the project currently on my homepage. No social media required, just strong social skills.

Secondly a call came in from a client whom I have been friends with during and after his stint working for the mouse. He is now an independent producer and filmmaker and I’ve been doing unit work for him for on a few of his shows. These low budget shorts were fun to be a part of. I was helping him out as a friend and I wanted to practice using a new lighting idea. His newest gig has a decent budget for a photographer and who do you think he called?

It pays to connect in as many ways as possible but, don’t rely on social media alone. Especially for a creative business, we need to reach out in person as much as possible.

Good luck and Happy 2011!

Michael

5 Steps To Nurturing A Vision

Sunrise at 6:45am

Many times I’ve been asked by non-professional practitioners of photography how I create my distinctive imagery. This post is dedicated to providing some answers…

To be clear there are two types of creativity I wish to discuss here, the planned creation, (commercial assignment) and the “I must do it today”, creation (personal). Self-imposed deadlines are crucial for they train me to work within client-driven deadlines with a minimum of stress.

1)  On days I feel compelled to create for my book, I make a worthy attempt as soon as possible for I won’t be right inside until I do. When I was younger I fought against this urge. I don’t anymore because it became unhealthy (emotionally and intellectually) for me to ignore this creative drive. Money and sales will come in due time, I don’t fancy putting the cart before the horse anymore.

Late Evening Multiple Exposure

2)  Once I accept that today is the day to create, I plow ahead and begin my creative process. For example: I recently spent time in Lake Tahoe, CA. The views of the lake from the house we were staying at were remarkable. After several successful photos during the day and evening, I knew I had to get up early and shoot a sunrise photo and stay up very late to shoot an evening series to round out the collection.

Everybody Needs A Pier Picture

3)  Actually do the work. With joy in my heart and an eye towards the finished image. I don’t filter at this stage, I just make my exposures in as many flavors of shutter speed and aperture combinations as I deem appropriate.

4)  ASAP I look at the images and begin the assembly process. Since I’ve already gotten my image hit while shooting (page one of my book), all I’m doing is shuffling the files into the vision I desire.

5)  On commercial assignment work the difference in working through the creative process is that I’m working towards a vision the client has imparted to me. I check their ideas against the production issues and deadlines and if all goes well, I deliver an image as solid as any in my portfolio. All the previous steps are the same whether for myself or clients.

Happy New Year from Lake Tahoe, CA.

Michael

The Morning Sun Melts Away The Snow

Early Morning Warmth

A Gray Day For Sure

You Gotta Get The Shot…No Matter What

Nat Doing His Thing In Squaw Valley

I cannot ever return from an assignment and not have the shot I need (and my clients want and are paying for). Shooting for my book is no different. I have to get the shot. Period. So it was my goal for the day to photograph my son snowboarding in Squaw Valley, CA. I wanted to practice my action photography techniques and run my new 5D Mark II through some additional tests.

All was good until I slipped on a patch of black ice (as I was heading towards the snowboarding area), and hit the back of my head on the ground. The ski patrol came and took me to the emergency room to be examined. I had a mild concussion and I was embarrassed because I knew the footing was slippery, I was being careful and still slipped like I had stepped on a banana peel in a Three Stooges two-reeler.

The worst part was my gear: the meter was knocked out of calibration to the tune of five stops! I was not a happy camper. After careful examination of the 5D body and double-checking the IS and AF features of my 24-105 F/4 L series lens, I knew I could work in manual exposure mode if the shutter and aperture camera controls still worked. As a pro I know how work in full manual mode, but I’m a big fan of the Av and Tv modes too. They work great and under the right circumstances frequently build better photographs by using these other two exposure modes.

As I walked back towards the area where my son was at, I tested the camera a few times to make sure I could count on it to perform the way I needed it to. (I didn’t have my backup body with me, my bad)

As you can tell by the photo, I got my shot. Plenty of them so other than the gear issue, the day was a smashing success. This is the same attitude I bring to my assignment work, nothing short of a complete catastrophe will keep me from my goal, which is to build better photographs for my clientele. There is usually something that can go and will often go wrong right when you least expect it and yet you have to perform admirably and professionally. This attitude separates the amateurs from the pros and this attitude also helps to protect your pricing structure…absolute professionalism under less than ideal conditions.

Go get ’em and good shooting!

Michael