Tag Archives: vendors

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

Build Photographs, Don’t Take Pictures

DisneyToon Studios 2010

My mantra is, “I build photographs, I don’t take pictures.” It’s the way I sell my commercial photographic services today. And it’s working.

As a professional photographer I prepare for a shoot by considering the many demanding chores required before the first test image is exposed. For instance, I received a call (a referral, the best kind) from a new person working at  Disney. She represented DisneyToon Studios and they wanted a group portrait taken in front of the theatre on the studio lot. (It’s a gift when clients refer new business and it’s one great metric to gauge how your business is perceived in your marketplace!)

I must stop at this point a give a little back story. A year ago I did this group portrait for Disney. As part of my continuing marketing efforts, I reached out to the point person for this portrait in late October to inquire if there were any holiday-themed events coming up where they might need my services. I was referred to a new point person. I did my duty and introduced myself. A month later I’m working the CTN expo in Burbank and I run into the previous point person. We have a great chat and catch up a bit. So I’m fresh on her mind when the DisneyToon person asks her where to go for their group portrait. I’m convinced this is how the referral came to me and no one else. The lesson here is: you’re always in sales mode when you’re an (SECP) and every contact with a client (and for that matter, vendors) is an opportunity to burnish your reputation or damage it.

Getting back to this post…part of my sales strategy is to let my clients know the difference between me and my competition. I never phone it in, when I can I always do a site survey. I did this for this shoot. I brought a measuring tape, a ladder, a note pad, business cards and my camera for some test shots. After gathering the pertinent info, (taking measurements, shooting some test files, and planning for the lighting) we chatted a bit to get to know each other. After getting back to my office, I looked at my tests, made some calculations on how best to build this portrait. I got a rate from my assistant and my lab quoted the print costs. At this stage I developed my budget and sent it to my client.

We scheduled the shoot and it went well. Here are a few production shots:

Getting Everyone to Buy Into My Ideas

A View From My POV

The Sun Was Directly Shining Into My Lens

Starting To Break Down My Gear

Related Images:

You Are Entitled To As Much As You Make Yourself Worth Part 2

My first impressions of downtown Chicago

To continue from part one of this series, I will now discuss a bit about how I work with my vendors. But first I’d like to back up a bit and talk about the chain.

When it comes to the lab products portion of my business, I am a vendor to my clients and a client to my vendors. I am the middle link in this chain. My clients try to get the best (lowest) price from me, I try to get the best (highest) price from them. My vendors try to get the best (highest) price for their goods and I try to get the best (lowest) price from them. This is how I define the chain.

An order comes in from a client. If it’s something I prefer to do myself then I charge my usual prices for custom made lab products. However if the job is so large or I am too busy to handle the job myself, then I out-lab the job. For some the conventional wisdom is to “make your money shooting, not in handling lab work”. I am suggesting another way of looking at the situation: if it goes through my books, if I am at all responsible for something, then I make money on it or I don’t want to have that responsibility. With this mindset, I can generate several profit centers on each job I accept. The markup on prints, the markup on supplies (tape, glue, seamless, props, etc.) are generally accepted business practices, (and they work great) but I take it one step further.

I work with my vendors to give me a better price than they might otherwise offer. How do I do this? I ask. It’s that simple. I have a 50-50 chance of getting a yes just by asking. I have 0% chance if I don’t ask. So I ask. If nothing else I get to practice my speaking and interpersonal skills. If that doesn’t work I offer to pay by check (this saves the merchant credit card fees). If that doesn’t budge them, I offer to pay in cash. Still no deal? At this point if I trust them, I offer to pay cash at the time of ordering. When I offer this, I really trust my vendor  because I’m taking a bigger than normal risk. Hey, no guts, no glory. I usually have a client advance in my pocket when I offer this, so I’m playing with house money. This is one way I mitigate the risk.

There have been numerous times when I have “earned” up to 70% off the vendors usual price. You heard right folks, 70%! For me, no job is too small and no profit is too large. I’m in business to thrive, not survive, and there are times when I don’t hit my profit goals for a job, so it all works out over time. I’ve been lucky in this business and at other times it’s just plain hard work and never quitting on a deal.

In the end my clients are happy (they got what they needed), my vendors are happy (they got what they needed) and I’m happy they’re happy. As the middle link in the chain, it is my single-minded focus that all parties involved in a transaction are satisfied they did business with the right person. And that’s the way it’s worked for me for the past 30 years.

Michael

You Are Entitled To As Much As You Make Yourself Worth

From my Bone Daddy series

“You are entitled to as much as you make yourself worth.” Douglas Kirkland spoke these words at an APA event I attended in the early 80’s. Right then and there I realized how powerful that statement was and I’ve been applying this credo to my business negotiations ever since. It’s a great mindset.

I keep this statement in mind when I set fees for services rendered, prices for prints (and other lab products) and when I negotiate with vendors:

Number 1: Fees and Prices. It’s important to know the intended use (or uses) for your work. This important step can easily overlooked when negotiating, what with the excitement of being asked if you’re available for a project and all that that entails. There is no good excuse for not asking this question. Practice if you must but develop the habit of asking, “I’m flattered at being considered for your next project, please tell me what would you like to use my work for.” Their answer will have a profound impact on the fee. I charge based on the licensing usage, the length of time the license runs and my expertise.

My expertise is this: I deliver results. I deliver high-quality images every job. I don’t settle for good enough. This approach drives up my value in the marketplace. I am an expert, I honor my commitments and I deliver quality results every time, regardless of project circumstances. I’m a detail oriented person. I work with vendors who perform their services or make their products to the same high standard. These are areas I’ve refined to a degree that makes me (more often than not) the most expensive provider on a project and yet I often get the job. In the back of my mind I know what it costs me to live every month. I query my network of friends in the business to ask them how they would price a job similar to the one I’m quoting. I go to trade shows, read books and articles to appreciate how others price their work. I take all this into account and come up with a number that sounds right for me and how I view myself as a working pro. A bit intuitive sometimes but I am a creative type.

Lastly I put my price through the grind test. If I can do the job without grinding my teeth and muttering under my breath, than I have structured the correct price for me to do the job with a smile on my face and a light in my heart. If I believe I’ll be a grinding my teeth, than I need to rethink my fee for the job at hand. I suppose one can characterize this an aggressive business tactic but you’re in the business to thrive, not survive.

“You are entitled to as much as you make yourself worth.” Thanks for the inspiration Mr. Kirkland.

Part 2 coming soon……