Hungry?

Photo by Leroy Schulz

My friend Leroy Schulz is a photographer, graphic artist, programmer, green car fanatic and mountain scrambler in Edmonton.

One of the projects he uses to keep the creative juices flowing is his POTD (Photo of the Day).

He takes at least one photo every day, no matter where he is or what’s going on.

A few months ago, he visited a friend of ours and while clowning around with his dogs, took the shot above.

To really get the impact of the photo, click on the version above. It’ll open in a lightbox.

Study their eyes

Are you working hard enough to get your customers to get that look when discussing how you’ll solve their problems?

Are your products THAT compelling?

And do you have their undivided attention?

Check the picture again. Look at those stares.

Some of your customers are probably more enthusiastic than others, like the dog in the background (note the tongue). Do your best customers feel that way about your products/services and customer service?

It’s possible, if you work hard enough.

How would it feel?

How would it feel if your customers were as interested and focused on you as these 3 guys are?

More importantly, how would your customers feel if you were that focused on them?

Don’t Shoot the Photographer

Last week I was talking with some friends about shooting weddings. Everyone in the conversation has a strong interest in photography, often concentrating on different subjects and all are at different stages in their photography life.

One of the guys mentioned that there was a nationwide event called “A Million Little Pictures” where small one-use cameras will be used all over the U.S. to document the summer of 2009. In September, the photos will be brought together to form a single exhibit in Atlanta and one other city.

During this conversation, I mentioned to the guy whose wedding photography business is taking off that he shouldn’t be surprised to find these on every table at a wedding. It’s been done for a good while, at least a decade, even now that digital has take over.

Someone else said a future wedding they will be attending is going to have digital point and shoot cameras on the tables with a central docking station to print small prints on photo paper embossed with the bride and groom’s name.

And then it came: Someone mentioned that another wedding photographer they know feels that is a direct attack on the professional photographer’s profits.

He doesn’t get it.

That was my comment about the other wedding photographer thinking point and shoots were cutting into their profits.

After some brief discussion, someone asked why I said that.

First, a couple of obvious reasons.

The wedding is about the bride and groom and their families, not the photographer.

The photography that comes from tabletop amateur one-use digital or film cameras is going to be at least a level of magnitude weaker than the quality of the shots the professional will produce. Different enough in quality that even an amateur will be able to see the difference.

This amateur photography will cover plenty of things that the photographer could miss. Not important stuff to the wedding party and the families, but fun for the guests.

At a wedding attended by 100 (much less 500) people, the photographer or photographers can only be so many places and most of that will be focused on their primary duty: making sure they get “those shots”.

You know, the shots that you have to have if you expect the mother of the bride to speak to you after the wedding day, much less place a big print order.

The mother and the families aren’t going to order 20″ x 30″ wall sized prints of their casual point and shoot shots. They might order an album of 4″ x 6″ copies of them, but so what? You’ve got formal portrait and album orders.

Focus on the high margin stuff.

Smarter than the average bear

Arguing with the bride’s family about these fun amateur photos is a great way to lose a client. Instead, be the only one who doesn’t make a fuss about these cameras, get the job and do it right. If you do, these casual, shot from the hip images can be the icing on the cake.

The thinking photographer can use these one-time cameras as another source of print and product sales by offering to simplify the post-wedding task of dealing with hundreds of photos – and print them using your print/order systems.

The primary photographer doesn’t need to spend hours editing these shots. Worst case if you feel the need to do that, it can be outsourced to an intern. Print orders of this nature can be offered via your online portrait store, automating the print process and making it easy for out of town guests to get the prints they want.

Photographers can take advantage of these amateur shots by offering to include them in unique products to purchase as part of their print order. Most of these print orders will be for small prints, so the quality from one shot cameras will be sufficient.

Photographers looking for an edge can provide the digital one-shot cameras to the wedding guests as part of a higher end wedding coverage package. Little things like a one-shot digital camera on every table can get you that coverage upsell. It doesn’t have to be logical to upgrade, it just has to be a big enough carrot.

A unique edge that a confident photographer will use with their branding on the cameras while their competitors complain about those same cameras “taking their profit”.

One last benefit…

Offer a DVD of the images to every guest. Make the price whatever makes sense to you (or include it in your coverage package), but low enough that 100% of them take it. They just paid you to put them on your newsletter mailing list.

A Warm Jacket in a Storm

Long-time readers know about my photography habit, and may remember that I spend a fair amount of time shooting high school sports.

When I’m on the sideline at a high school football or soccer game in the fall, it’s not unusual to be rained or snowed on. Likewise, when I’m laying on the pool deck at the edge of the water during summer swim league, there’s plenty of opportunity to be splashed.

When you’re carrying around a couple grand worth of camera gear, water is not your friend. I use something called a Storm Jacket to protect mine. I use a yellow one like the one shown here, but that isn’t me in the photo.

Recently, the Storm Jacket folks found out that some black Storm Jackets were not waterproof.

They could have ignored it, and likely would have gotten away with only replacing the ones that people complained about. Instead, they did the right thing and sent out an email to their customers – and only to the customers who purchased black Storm Jackets (can you segment your emails like that?). I know this because a friend of mine has a black Storm Jacket.

The email read as follows:

Dear Vortex Media Customer,

The highest priority at Vortex Media is to provide you, our valued customer, with excellent training DVDs and quality accessories for the video, television, and photographic industries.

I am writing to inform you, that we have discovered that some of the black Storm Jacket Camera Covers manufactured earlier this year are defective and do not have the level of waterproofing that we require for our products. Please note that ONLY BLACK Storm Jackets are affected.  Red, Yellow, and Camouflage Storm Jackets are not affected.

Although the total number of affected black Storm Jackets is small, we cannot determine whether the Storm Jacket(s) that were shipped to you were part this defective lot so, as a precaution, we want to test (and replace if necessary) any black Storm Jacket(s) that you purchased this year. We apologize for this manufacturing defect and assure you that steps have been taken to prevent it from happening again.

In order to make sure that no defective Storm Jackets are being used, we need you to do one of two things:

Option 1)
Test your black Storm Jacket(s) yourself.  This is easy to do by placing the Storm Jacket on a table with the logo facing down.  Place an empty bowl inside the cover.  Press the Storm Jacket down so it conforms to the inner shape of the bowl.  Pour a cup of water on the cover and let it sit.   After about 20 minutes, check the inside of the bowl.   Has water seeped through? If so, it needs to be mailed to us so that we can replace it with a new one. However, if no water has seeped through, your Storm Jacket is good and you don’t have to do anything at all.

Option 2)
If you do not want to test your black Storm Jacket(s) yourself, please return it to Vortex Media. We will then test it and return it if it passes. If it does not pass, it will be replaced with a new one. Our goal is to have your Storm Jacket tested (and exchanged if necessary) within 1-2 business days.

If you decide to return your Storm Jacket for testing and/or replacement, please complete the attached STORM JACKET RETURN FORM and include it with your shipment to:

Vortex Media
RMA: SJ Recall
5600 Post Road #114-335
East Greenwich, RI 02818

We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience that this recall has caused you.  However our efforts are intended to make certain that your Storm Jacket provides the high-level of protection that you require and to ensure your continued satisfaction with Vortex Media products.

If you have any questions, please contact the Customer Service department at service@vortexmedia.com

Sincerely,
Mark Williams, Customer Service
Vortex Media

I was asked what I thought of their effort in handling this situation. While I didn’t comment on the “Dear Vortex Media customer” (knowing full well that they know their customers’ names and should be using them), I said: “If I was them, Id handle this a little differently” and left it at that.

Naturally I was asked to elaborate, so I said that I would have just sent a new Storm Jacket to the customers who ordered the potentially faulty black Storm Jackets and ask the customer to send the questionable one back, and that I would include a prepaid envelope in the package.

I also said I’d then retest each of them, toss the bad ones and resell the good ones as “experienced”, or give them to a photography school, University newspaper, etc. And I’d make a little bit of a fuss about what I’d done, as hard as that might be to believe.

This episode was forgotten for a few days, until the guy with the black Storm Jacket remarked that when he returned his black Storm Jacket, he had enclosed a little note remarking that he wished he had bought the large model rather than the medium one.

Upon receiving the returned Storm Jacket, Sally at Vortex Media followed up with this email:

Dear xxxxx,

We received the medium Storm Jacket that you returned and noticed your note wishing that you had purchased the larger size Storm Jacket.   We can exchange your medium for a large if you would like at no additional charge.

Please let me know if you would like us to ship you a large instead of a medium and I will take care of it right away.

Thank you,
Sally
www.VortexMedia.com

You might think that the price difference of $2 between the medium and large sizes makes this no big deal. The $2 isn’t important.

Assuring that the customer has what they want and need is. Handling this with ease is the key. Doing what you don’t have to do is what your clientele will remember, and even better, share with their friends.

They might even blog about it. PR that you can’t purchase at any price.

Some new Glacier Park photos

They rotate randomly, so you might not see them for a few days. All 3 are winter or fall shots in Glacier Park.

Yeah, I know. It has nothing to do with business. OTOH, it has everything to do with me, so bear with me now and then:)

Psst. I’m talking about the photos that appear on the right.

Best Seat in the House shows why you should be blogging

It may not be clear from the things I talk about here, but I enjoy photography. I shoot some scenic stuff, like the photo at the top of this page and I shoot a lot of sports and community stuff.

columbiafallsfootball.jpg

When it comes to sports, I’ll shoot baseball, soccer, tennis, basketball, swimming, football, etc – and I don’t really mind how young or old the participants are. I’ve been on the field to shoot major college football and basketball, and I’ve been on the field to shoot the Columbia Falls 6th grade football team.

As a result of the photography thing, one of my favorite blogs is Best Seat in the House by Seattle Times sports (mostly) photographer Rod Mar.

This post about golf, Caddyshack and the Dalai Lama’s visit to Seattle was typical of Mar’s fun and informative (to photographers) posts. I suspect that if you asked Rod, he’d say that he isn’t a writer – and that’s my point.

In order to blog, you don’t have to be an expert writer with 12 books under your belt (that’d be uncomfortable, much less unsightly).

Instead, you just have to have a conversation with your readers.

When you educate, annoy, incite and entertain your readers, you develop a personal relationship with them (more accurately, they develop one with you).

Isn’t that what you want your customers to have with your business and your staff?