Monday, May 25, 2009

Holy Cow...What an Interesting Month Thus Far!

Hi, all!

Just wanted to give you a brief rundown of the last couple of weeks or so. Small business ownership is not all it's cracked up to be, so you really have to want it to make it work. Trust me. It ain't for the faint of heart!

Let's talk about the Spring Fling for a moment, shall we? It was fun. Don't get me wrong for a moment. I had a good time, as did the kids. Ok, till it rained, but that wasn't anyone's fault. Just know that after all the prep time spent in the world, it's entirely possible that you will not make a sale. Period. It's also entirely possible you may not hand out a brochure or business card. (This would have been the case if I hadn't had the two kids begging to peddle the literature, LOL...Gotta love those kids!) Even though I had a huge inventory of art prints, people were not feeling the whole "art print" vibe, and had a tendancy to walk on by. Of course, hindsight being 20/20, I can see from the picture of our booth that we needed some help. Can you say ZZZzzzZZZzzzZZZ? I knew you could. Of course, I also had to consider the economy. The lady across the way with the cute handbags and snazzy displays didn't do much better than we did, from our observations. (Note to self: Snazz up your display a little bit next time, and maybe even offer a service. You know, a lot of parents might have wanted a 4x6 print of their little darlin' with their face time, just OFFER it...)

Forward to the following evening. My friend Cindi Pate dropped me an email and asked me if I wanted to be a regular contributor to Down Home Magazine, which is a local publication for our county. Of COURSE I want to be involved. So that was happy news. I'll be shooting in Wayne County at various locations in the coming months, so if you happen to see me, stop by and say hello!

Fast forward a little more to last Friday. I was so excited that I finally got to meet my friend Sandra Carrington-Smith. She does a local blog on the news web site here (although took a bit of a break to work on her second novel). She has both fictional and non-fictional works due to publish in 2010 and needed jacket shots. After emailing over several months, speaking on the phone numerous times, and being weathered out, we finally met last Friday. Let me tell you...Sandra is a doll! Not only is she a fantastic author, she is also a life coach, mom and wife. I REALLY enjoyed meeting her face to face. She had told me she wasn't photogenic, but that wasn't exactly the case. That girl commanded the lens. :) Talk about a breeze to shoot. All models should be like her. I am going to post a couple pictures that we took that afternoon at Oak View Park in Raleigh. I am also linking to her book sites. Her non-fiction work is Housekeeping for the Soul. Her fiction is the first of a series: The Book Of Obeah . Check them out when you get a minute.

So that brings us to the present. It's the winding-down of Memorial Day, 2009. I'm about to call it a day, take a bubble bath and then roll into the bed. I just want to remind everyone to think about the soldiers and airmen that gave their lives in the past so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we do today. Also...I'm giving a shout-out to all of our current active duty members to thank them for all the sacrifices made so that we remain free, and to their families....

Till next time, y'all!


Monday, May 11, 2009

Tips For First Time Festival Vendors - or Learn From My Mistakes...

Today is Monday, May 11, 2009. Back the clock up a couple of days and that's where we'll start.

As some of you know, I'm vending at the Lucama Spring Fling Festival on May 16.

This is my first festival as a vendor. Ever.

I've been aware of this since, oh, I don't know...about early February, I think. Since then I've been selecting and obtaining art prints to show/sell at the festival. I have acquired show-packs to mat these images, as well as donated a couple of framed prints to the festival (one for the silent auction, and one for the winner of the car show).

After I put all the prints in the mats, and then mounted them on the backer boards and poly-bagged them, I realized - this past Saturday - that I hadn't put my company sticker on them. Um, whoops? That's not cool. Fortunately, the poly-bags are resealable, so no harm no foul. I printed up a couple of sheets of labels and un-sealed the poly-bags and put my info on the back of the backer boards, and resealed the bags. This should have been done earlier. (Make a mental note of this, people...the devil's in the details...)

Friday night, May 8th, I think to myself, "Oh! I really need to put a couple new pictures on my brochure, and get those printed up." I have known about this for weeks and weeks, and KNEW I would need to update my pictures, but, holy cow! I hadn't printed and/or used those brochures since a year ago, and guess what? Prices have changed. Portrait packages have changed. Long story short? This should have been done earlier. (Yes, you're on target if you are detecting a theme, here.) Questions you should be asking yourself if you have literature and hand outs at your festival:
  • Do your price lists need to be updated?
  • Have you added or removed services and/or products?

  • Has any of your contact information changed?

  • Have you added any selling points since you last handed out your literature? (In my case, we built a stand-alone studio that has ZERO traffic because we are by appointment only, which is a definite upgrade from shooting portraits in the dining room, as we did a year ago.)

  • Do you have updated or new graphics to add to your fliers, pamphlets, price lists, etc.?
  • Do you need printer ink in the right colors so that you can accomplish what you need to do?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you really need to think about making the changes and printing all of your literature a little earlier than a week before you need them, especially if you have a full time day job, like I do.

I had a printer driver issue yesterday, just when I needed to print out 50+ double sided, high-quality brochures on fancy, glossy brochure paper. It took me all of two hours to resolve the issue, but that was two hours that I lost. Now here I sit, in the studio, waiting for Johnny to get back with more ink, getting ready to print the remaining 32 brochures this evening, after having worked an 8 hour day at my full-time job.

I believe, if you look up the meaning of the word, "fragged" in the dictionary, you may very well see the following picture:

Yes, that's me, in more relaxed times. You might also find that image if you were to look up, "procrastinate," as well.

Lesson learned? Get it done as early as feasibly possible, even if you think it's only going to take a second. Guess what? Not only did I build a studio, the economy took a serious dive, and I eliminated some portrait packages, added some new ones, and pricing changed all the way around. Translation? All of my Info-Pak literature needed to be updated, as did my brochures.

Always expect the unexpected. My printer has never given me a lick of trouble. Until I needed 50 color, high quality brochures on a Sunday evening before I had to go back to the day job in the morning. Not a fun feeling.

Until next time, y'all! :)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What Your Customers Can Do For You...

Because I own a small business that has only been around a short while, I have found that I must find ways to generate business. Expensive marketing tactics won’t do it for me. I learned very early on that one must keep the business expenses quite separate from the household expenses, therefore, I cannot dip into the grocery budget to pay for that pretty postcard and the direct-mail campaign that comes with it.

I am lucky, in some respects, in that I have a “regular day job” that pays the bills until such time as my photography studio can do that for me. In the meantime, I network as much as I can as time allows, rely a lot on word-of-mouth referrals, and get exposure wherever I can.

I also know that customer service is so important, and possibly even more so in this economy when everyone is watching their expenditures. Doing something that will cost me a potential client, or driving away an existing one is something that I keep in my mind at all times.

While we, as business owners, constantly ask ourselves, “What can we do for our customers,” how often do we ask ourselves what our customers can do for us? I learned a very valuable lesson in what our customers can do for us over the weekend while doing a portrait session.

I was very fortunate that my customer was a woman I’d worked with some years back who needed portraits of her two beautiful girls. I had just re-worked my entire pricing schedule to be less intimidating, and a little more budget friendly, and this was the first session that I had done using the updated pricing. After the shoot, we reviewed the RAW images. This is something I would not normally do, because, like a lot of photographers, I’m kind of funny about letting people see the raw images because of the potential for over or under exposure, and I would normally let a customer see the color corrected proofs, after they’d gone home. At any rate, she had asked me if there was any way she could see the images before she left. So, not wanting to send her away unhappy, yet worried she would be critical of the untouched images, I went ahead and pulled them up. We went through all of them, applying a rating system to them so that she could narrow them down to her favorite 30 or so images. She didn’t notice the white balance, and really didn’t pay much attention to the exposure. She was looking at expressions and interaction between the girls.

After we went through all of the images and she’d made her selection, I asked her to be honest with me because I was really interested in her opinion of the session. She stated that the review of the raw images was a wonderful bonus, and made the selection of her images much easier. I had been worried about the technical side (and the possibility of wasting her valuable time) for nothing.

Long story shorter, I have learned that there is nothing wrong with asking your customers for feedback, and even going a step further and asking them what would have made their experience better.

I know that I am probably telling you all something that you already know, but in this dog-eat-dog economy, putting your financial wants aside and focusing on your customers wants and needs may put you ahead in the long run. I understand that I will be taking the baby’s 9 month photos in a couple of months, and she is going to be passing out my business cards at her office while showing off her prints.

That little extra time spent gained me valuable insight into what makes my clients tick, and you can best believe I will be incorporating all of her suggestions into my sessions from now on.
‘Till next time….