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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?

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The thing in the way of amazing

Creative Commons License photo credit: Br0m

You know the thing I’m talking about. The thing that just wouldn’t go away. It’s so big, you can’t see it.

It’s like that creep at the dance who just wont take no for an answer. Or that thing hanging over your head that you *know* you have to do – but you just can’t seem to get to it.

Maybe because you don’t want to do it, or maybe because those “pesky customers” keep calling or having you run across town doing stuff for them.

So the money is coming in, but there’s that thing you gotta do.

What’s worse

In this case, it’s work that you make for yourself by doing all that stuff you’re doing for clients. So, it’s kind of a good thing, but it’s also stacking up.

More every day.

Video and still photography are good examples. You go out and capture an event or a portrait or some such and then there’s the studio’s editing station sitting there.

Just. Mocking. You.

The Pile

Thousands of frames have to be edited, corrected, cropped and perhaps a few of the images or a few moments of video are turned into amazing artwork.

Hours and gigs of video have to have the sound cleaned up, bad takes removed, frames removed for whatever reason, titles and effects added, and so on.

These tasks are labors of love at times, but at others, they are long hours of brutal grunt work.

How much did you say you make an hour for this work? Is that editing time factored in? (different discussion for a different day)

Editing might be fun when there are a few hundred shots of something you love shooting, like landscapes, sports, portraits or what not.

It might not be as much fun when there are 5000 sit and grin shots of kids or families or what not. Video – same deal.

Just say no (mostly)

What if you didn’t have to do it?

Don’t think about the WHO quite yet, but on what you get when you don’t have that work weighing down on you.

It’s the time and what you do with it.

How long after these marathon editing sessions does the “wow, this is gonna take x hours of editing time” thought process start creeping into your shooting?

When shooting something with fast action in it, does this “force” you to dial back from 6.5 frames per second to 3?

Does it enter your mind as you shoot 3000 frames (or 15 hours) of wedding coverage, or some marathon sporting event? Do you eventually get the equation in your head that every x shots = 15 minutes of editing?

Does that put a box around your creativity, even subconsciously?

Eventually, I’m guessing that it will.

You, Robot.

At some point, one risk is that this editing work will become mechanical.

If you think about it a bit, how could it not after months, years?

So…if you aren’t doing all that editing….What would you get done instead?

What about the work that you are totally in love with?

Isn’t that really where you want to spend your creative synapse firings? (assuming we all have but so many)

Isn’t that the work you *really* want to spend hours of loving, creative, out of this world editing time?

Just a question. You don’t have to answer.

Me, Nutcase

Let someone else edit my video/photos??? Am I NUTS? Perhaps, but that’s beside the point.

Think about it anyway. Not so much because you are the only one who can do it (really?), but because you really are the only one who can do that other stuff you do.

If you aren’t a photographer or videographer, you likely still have something like this on your plate.

Yet you still do it and it’s adding miles/hours between you and amazing.

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Boat anchors are bad business. Sharing is good business.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Robb North

Over the last month or so, I’ve been playing phone tag with someone at the local bank’s office.

I use this national bank primarily because they offer some electronic banking services that local banks don’t bother to offer (such as a real-time, seamless interface with QuickBooks), despite my repeated “encouragement” to do so.

Some have noted that the cost to provide this QuickBooks interface is substantial – yet I get interesting wrinkled brow looks when I remind them that I pay $15 a month to use this nifty QB service because it saves us hours per month. Until the fee got to the point where the time was more valuable, I’d pay it. But I digress…

Anyhow, we’ve been talking with someone there about a refi and a combination of my schedule / travel and her schedule /travel have made it difficult to get into the same room at the same time. Not their fault, just one of those things about a busy summer.

This last time I called, the person I’m working with was out of town for several days. I asked the person on the phone if they could put me on their appointment calendar for the week after they return.

My calendar! Mine, mine, mine!

Astoundingly, the answer was no.

Yes, the folks at this large national bank, the same ones who are advanced enough to have their accounts seamlessly talk to my QuickBooks, do not allow or cannot manage to let their employees see their appointment book or schedule an appointment for someone else.


I have a feeling it might be related to worries that someone might raid someone else’s appointment calendar for plum prospects, but there are ways of showing only open dates. Even so, that shouldn’t be necessary.

If you can’t trust a *bank* employee to access a co-worker’s appointment calendar, tell me why you trust them to work at the bank in the first place – cuz I don’t see it. But that trust thing is a topic for another day.

Unseen Value

Now we get to the point where you see where this affects you and your business: Are there resources (like an appointment calendar) that your staff should be able to share so they can help each other serve your clientele?

Back in the photography software days, it was a huge deal for new users of our product to finally get off that paper calendar at the front desk. It allowed anyone to see which photographers / camera rooms / salespeople / presentation spaces were booked and make an appointment no matter where an employee was when they answered the phone.

Sounds completely obvious, but many businesses simply couldn’t do it because they were still tied to that boat anchor – the paper appointment book.

Big, heavy and “somewhere in the warehouse”

Another market I worked with manufactured expensive custom items that were big and heavy. They stored them in the warehouse once they were finished.

The information about the build status and storage location of these custom-ordered items was kept on a set of clipboards on a line of nails in the manufacturing area.

Sometimes the info on those clipboards was out of date or missing because someone forgot to write the build status or location down. An order might get lost / forgotten until a customer called for it – and then you might find out that it hadn’t been built yet.

Now imagine that you are a receptionist in the front office and you’re all alone over lunch hour or during a big sales meeting. When that big customer calls to ask about their 27 piece, $57000 order, you have to put them on hold (or tell them you’ll call back), run back to the clipboards, flip through the orders manually, find the order and run back to the phone.

If the clipboard is missing because someone has it at a manufacturing station, or it is on the manager’s desk (or car seat), you know nothing.

If the data on the clipboard wasn’t filled out, you get to run back to the warehouse and look on dozens of shelves from floor to ceiling for an item that has a little paper tag on it showing the customer name.

That’s a boat anchor.

The alternative? A system that integrates customer information, orders, build status and delivery information together. When the phone rings, you can look up all of a customer’s orders, find the status of any of them and tell them right then. The items are barcoded as part of the manufacturing process so most status and location info is automatically updated. Depending on your situation, “most” could be “all”.

What’s your boat anchor? What can you share to get rid of it, enabling your staff to be more helpful and more productive?

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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.

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Ryan Air cant even afford to flush?

last signal
Creative Commons License photo credit: _sarchi

So you’re probably sick of me talking about the fact that basing the success of your business solely on the ability to beat everyone else’s price is a mistake.

Some would hold out Wal-Mart as an example that I’m dead wrong. Rhetorical question for those people: How many businesses *other than WalMart* run that way and are successful with that business model?

You may not realize that I’m talking about small businesses, not large, multi-national global corporations large enough that if they were a country, it has been said that it would be the 4th largest country/economy on the planet.

Yet today isn’t about beating up on those guys, so let’s move on.

Instead, here’s a little twist: Let’s talk about how depending on price ends up hurting your service, which ends up revolving back and hurting your price because you can’t seem to find enough margin to flush the toilet.

Airline, Castrate Thyself

Most airlines keep looking at it backwards. Rather than adding value, they are castrating themselves in an attempt to trim another time from their cost per passenger-mile (CPM).

Why? Because they’ve created a “permanent” price war by virtue of the way they position their service. They’ve left themselves with no choice other than to constantly be on the lookout for places to cut costs.

  • Like cutting services, making it less and less pleasant to travel – actually getting to the point where it has become *unpleasant* to fly, not just occasionally annoying.
  • Like alienating their most dedicated customers by gutting frequent flier programs.
  • Like getting rid of their most experienced, most skilled personnel in favor of employees who don’t have to be paid as well.
  • Like cutting back on things are fundamental as maintenance on airliners.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for cost cutting and being careful with your expenses, but there are right and wrong ways to do so.

The problem with that is that someday, you’ve trimmed to the point where the only thing you can trim is the baseline service: which they can’t do. It’s not like you can charge someone to fly from New York City to Los Angeles and then drop them off in Vegas:)

Not so extra extras

So what happens next? You charge for trivial things that people take for granted.

Like buying a ticket on your airline.

Or going to the bathroom at 35,000 feet.

While the bathroom comment was said to “maybe” be tongue-in-cheek, Ryanair later confirmed that they have been in discussion with Boeing about making it a reality.

Wonder if they’ll charge extra for additional flushes? Wonder if people will flush 2 or 3 times as a protest against the fee? People will find ways of silently paying Ryanair back for their transgressions – I don’t think I have to elaborate<g>

Maybe they think those extra fees won’t be considered as part of their price, allowing them to be the low price leader.

I don’t know what they’re thinking, much less if they are.


My analytical side says they know how many times the toilet gets flushed per flight, on average – if not per route. Given that they know the cost, they can easily add .25 per passenger per ticket (or .07, whatever it might be) to cover those expenses.

Meanwhile I have to wonder why that isn’t already built into their overhead.

Imagine a future airline ticket receipt that looks like this:


As for charging you a fee to sell you an electronic ticket, I’m hard pressed to find a defense for that, much less an alternative.

What I can say is that even today, with travel spending curtailed by so many businesses, it would be a great time to be competing with businesses who make misguided decisions like these.

I don’t know their management. I have little doubt that they are smart people or they wouldn’t have gotten to where they are.

But this? Somewhere along the line, they’ve been derailed and seemingly forgotten what business they’re really in.

Meanwhile, there’s Branson

If a different entrepreneur ran these airlines, what would they do differently? What would they do to compete? One alternative is Richard Branson’s way, but there are others.

Your turn. If a different entrepreneur ran your business, what would they do differently?

And why exactly can’t you do those same things – even it’s only a few of them? Start with one.

The photo? You’ve probably figured out by now that the photos in my posts have some meaning. Sometimes they’re a message to a specific person who reads the blog. Sometimes it’s a puzzle for everyone who reads Business is Personal. Sometimes, they’re just another form of sarcasm<g>

Today is different.

I want to recognize a strong photo that I found on Flickr. It’s the last photo that someone took of their dad before he passed away. Such a strong image, I thought I should share it.

Thanks to HR wizzo Tom for passing along the airline stories.

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First Nicholson, now Vogel: You can’t handle the truth?

Today’s guest post comes from St. Louis photographer Jeane Vogel, who shares her observations about the reactions of “ambitious” visitors to an art fair, and the “la-la-la-la, I can’t hear you” reactions she got from far too many of them when sharing some of the most valuable info she could share with a young artist. 

Whether you’re an artist or not, this generally applies to you, so get your spoonful right here.

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Thinking outside the box store


Several of my friends are in the artist community, both here in Montana and elsewhere.

Many of them are photographers like you’d suspect, but some paint.

I don’t really look at myself as an artist even though I’ve been a photographer in one form or another since I was a kid.

Recently, one of them told me that she was able to rent mall space for her photography studio due to an innovative program in the St. Louis area.

The economy has put a lot of pressure on malls across the nation. Vacancies are way up, and the situation is no different at this mall.

One mall thought differently

The mall’s management could have sat back and whined about their situation. They could have let the mall traffic dwindle and left those spaces vacant. That might have impacted them legally, depending on their contracts with anchor stores.

But they didn’t. Instead, they came up with an innovative program that helps their cash flow, helps the local art community (and the small business owners – the artists) as well as keeping traffic up in the mall.

You can review a TV station news video about the project here.

Think outside the box store.

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When are you going to adapt?

During the Olympics, I watched a number of photography blogs by photographers on location at the Games so I could watch for the best images you might not see on tv – and certainly not at high resolutions.

My 2 favorites were Mostly True by Kenneth Jarecke and Best Seat in the House by Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar.

There isn’t usually much business discussion on most of the photo blogs I watch so I don’t often mention them here. However, Jarecki made a comment in his Usain Bolt post (great shots in that post) that is worth passing along.

In that post, he notes how little awesome photography is made available to the public and calls for publishers to adapt to changes in media and find a way to publish this material (and of course, monetize it so he can get paid as well).

An excerpt:

This just happens to be from the Olympics, but right now there are photographers producing amazing work all over the world, who are also unable to get it published. Except maybe on a blog here or there.

No matter what business you are in, the last part of his post is worth reading and worth thinking about in the context of your business, as well as your prospects and clients.

That discussion continues several days later with his current post about how the independent photographer is moving from making their $ from magazines and newspapers to niche blogs.

From a discussion he had with Alan Chin regarding publishing on blogs vs the New York Times and Newsweek:

â??We reached about 25,000 viewers a day, but those 25,000 WANTED to be reached.â? (quoting Chin)

Thatâ??s the key, reaching viewers that want to be reached. Four million people might see a story I do for TIME today. Forty million might see a piece in PEOPLE, but what percentage of those readers are really interested in my photographs?

Think about that in the context of your marketing. These guys talk about it being humbling reaching 25000 instead of millions, but they still appreciate that the ones they do reach are THE ONES WHO CARE.

Many times I’ve made reference to carpet bombing your town with brochures (or whatever) via sending only the best quality prospects a mail piece (or a call, or whatever).

That’s exactly what he’s talking about.

And finally, while watching the news of Gustav last weekend, CNN Headline News shows a piece on the band, New Kids on the Block (bleah). These days, they are a group of dads in their 30s and they’ve introduced a new CD of new music aimed at their also-aging fans from their heyday.

What blew me away about this news piece was a comment from the band’s leader. He just bought his first iPod. Remember, this is a guy who has been in the music business for over 20 years and has kids.

And he still admitted to the reporter interviewing him that he just didn’t get that “they don’t sell CDs anymore”.

It’s a sad reflection on the state of the music industry, who (with the exception of Apple’s iTunes) continues to struggle with the concept of new media. This points back to the discussion Jarecke was having. 25000 people getting exactly what they want, instead of millions getting lots of stuff they don’t want.

Looking at your business, are you doing the same? Are you really focusing on the folks who are very seriously into what you do or sell? Or are you still trying to sell everything to everyone?

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Are your prospects giddy?

My apologies for not providing you with your expected Monday morning post, but I was a little distracted yesterday.

You see, at 4:49pm Mountain time, I became a grandfather for the first time.

And this morning, before she got another chance to divert my attention – and yes, she’s already quite good at that – I thought it might be worthwhile to make note of two markets that you might be ignoring.

Or maybe not ignoring, but not doing enough to pursue them.

Does your business have an affinity toward new parents or new grandparents?

If so, what are you doing to put yourself in front of them at the most critical times – before and just after the new arrival?

Photographers these days seem to have a handle on this for the most part. It’s hard to find a nursery/OB area in a hospital that doesn’t have free, large-format baby photos from a local photographer – with their contact info.

Some even offer the new parents a free first portrait by including a coupon in the gift basket provided by the hospital.

Some might even use the local public records, or at least the birth announcements in the paper, to know that it’s time to send something to get the attention of the new parents.

But what about financial planners (babies affect finances), tax planners (babies affect taxes), real estate agents (babies take up space – and so does their stroller, crib, and the litany of other gear), or cigar stores (why not a map for the grandfather to your store?)

Or maybe the front desk has a supply of coupons for a complimentary pair of cigars – regardless of the type, tobacco or bubble gum) with a coupon to get them into the store for a whole box – even if they are bubble gum. And of course, that coupon has a map and a phone number on it so the grandfather – often from out of town – will know exactly how to find you quickly so he doesn’t miss any more time with that new grandchild than he has to.

And what about car salespeople, pediatricians, dentists, churches, camera stores and day care centers?

If done carefully, and at the right time, each of these markets (and others) have an opportunity to intelligently market their services to the new parents – without overwhelming them with slimy pitches.

And then, there are the grandparents:)

Estate attorneys, financial planners, baby goods retailers, and many others may find themselves the recipients of unanticipated business from new grandparents.

What are you doing to attract those new grandparents rather than let that business happen due to blind luck?

Even coffee shops could provide a small sample of coffee for the hospital gift basket. Why coffee?

Because new parents don’t get much sleep, silly.

Put some thought into your message, keep it personal, but don’t be slimy.

It’s always nice to have new prospects who are thrilled to give you money because you’re in the right place at the right time.

And because they’re giddy:)

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Can you really reserve the right to refuse service?

With the recent same-sex marriage ruling in California, more and more businesses are going to be faced with making serious, perhaps business/life-altering decisions about their operations – assuming they haven’t already.

One excellent example is the case of New Mexico wedding photographers who refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony in 2006.

Earlier this year, the state of New Mexico’s Human Rights Commission ruled that they had violated the rights of the gay couple who called to inquire about their photography services, and fined them $6600.

It’s easy to think in hindsight that if they were uncomfortable – for any reason – shooting the ceremony, they could have simply said “We are booked that day, sorry.

The problem is, do you also lie when the Catholic couple calls, or the bi-racial couple calls, or the Muslim couple, or the white couple, or the Jewish couple, or the Republican couple? Before long, you’re left to photographing parakeets, as long as they promise to behave:)

Seriously, I don’t mean to equate any of these groups with each other, much less with the parakeet, but the exaggeration (perhaps) makes the point clearer.

Does the context matter?

We recently talked about firing clients, in the context of them being abusive to my staff. Is that any different? What if that client had sued, saying he had the right to say whatever he wanted and still acquire our software?

Last week, Blackstar Rising blogger and professional wedding photographer Sean Cayton discussed the issues surrounding same-sex wedding photography. His comments were in the context of “if I do business with group A, will I lose the business of group B” and noted that he was watching the situation as he figures out what to do.

We’ve seen this here in Montana a little bit, as a Great Falls pharmacy decided to stop carrying birth control pills a while back, citing moral objections.

Note that they also made it clear that their profit and sales volume of those items were small and that was also part of the decision. True or not, are you obligated to carry EVERY drug, even if it doesn’t sell well? Some might question your real reasons for stopping those sales.

And that gets us to the real question…

Is it possible NOT to offend?

What is a business owner to do?

These days, in some business sectors, it’s almost impossible not to offend SOMEONE simply by opening for business in the morning. Others because they go camping with Boy Scouts, or go to the Catholic church, or volunteer at the UN Association, or carry a Sierra Club membership card, and so on.

In a lot of ways, this goes back to having your business well thought out. Knowing who your customer is, and who they aren’t. Knowing yourself, because you have to expect in today’s business and political climate, you are going to take crap for things you take part in, much less for things you feel strongly about.

And remember that it isn’t just you. Your staff plays a significant role here. It’s not hard to imagine that a religious goods store owner would try pretty hard not to hire an atheist, but they would have to be very careful how they figure that out without breaking employment law.

Yeah, with all those links, I’m sending you all over the place to ponder the impact of this, and perhaps, give you a few things to think about before one of these situations catches you unprepared. Strategically, and personally, it makes sense to have as much of this figured out as you can – but sometimes, that’s not how life is.

If you refuse service, even if it is your right, how will the market react?

Are you prepared financially and personally to deal with the outcome? Is your business structured so that you can turn away business that you don’t want. If you don’t want it (whatever IT is), is there another way to deal with those prospect?

For starters, referring them to a competitor that delivers great quality is the minimum you owe them.

Remember, your marketing and your reputation – both built intentionally – is likely what caused them to contact you. Hanging up on them because they were attracted by your success is absolutely the wrong thing to do.

When you hang out a shingle, you invite the public to deal with you. None of us is perfect, least of all, me.

How you react to the folks who “bother you” – regardless of the reason – is just as important as how you react to your ideal client.

Both deserve courtesy.