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Steven G Webb
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Last year, this year

Postby Steven G Webb » Sun Jan 25, 2015 7:58 pm

Has anyone else put pencil to paper and hammered out their numbers from last year? How did it go? Did you have more projects than the previous year, did sales go up down or remain flat? Did you increase revenue and if so did it come about by volume, price increase or expense containment? How about the upcoming year have you made projections and are you making any changes you expect to increase your bottom line? I'm not nosing into figures just wondering what the climate is and what others expectations are for this year, almost one month gone already.
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Re: Last year, this year

Postby Bobby Deal » Sun Jan 25, 2015 10:25 pm

Great questions Steve, for me the past three years in Las Vegas have been though to say the least. We really were hit hard by the economic troubles the country experienced and while the Casino industry which is really the economic measure everyone holds up to the world to represent Las Vegas has pretty much recovered the local small business owner here has seen a much slower and gradual recovery. For our business the last quarter of 2014 saw a nice 12% increase in gross sales over the same quarter last year.

This increase is encouraging as it is not price based but is wholly built on increased sales activity with new clients. While the price ceiling in my market continues to suffer a general malaise due to heavy red water and saturation at the lower and mid levels of the price range there is encouraging market activity for those who produce work that can justify competing for the higher end clients who are more motivated by quality of both product and customer experience than by price.

The outlook for my business in 2015 is one of realistic optimism tempered by the knowledge that I will be picking up and moving the operation to a new market where I honestly will have to start from scratch as I have no real existing client base in that market. I will be relying on the Las Vegas Market heavily for the last three quarters of 2015 as I plan to make multiple scheduled working trips back to Vegas from Colorado to serve my existing client base here as well as continue to present my workshops here to a group that has grown considerably and makes the concept of commuting to service the market look promising. The third quarter of 2015 will be a telling point for us and will hopefully prove the plan effective. In the end though only time will tell. We will have the boots on the ground pounding out the marketing work and at this point that is the best we can hope for.

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Re: Last year, this year

Postby Steven G Webb » Sun Jan 25, 2015 11:44 pm

Best wishes Bobby. I so had wished the wife and I could get out to Las Vegas but it's gone to back burner status. I'm happy for you that you closed 2014 on a positive. Surely your experience and skill will offset any challenges breaking ground in the new territory. A friend of mine who unfortunately left this world far to early was a multi-millionaire he told me that the hardest million dollars to make is the first one. He said pride, youth and a lack of wisdom nearly ruined him. He made a million dollars in a single year when he was in his mid 20's. He said it took him seven years to hit a million dollars in a single year and only a couple of years to lose it all. He recovered and it only took him three years to make two-million dollars in a single year. Why? Because it took most of the first seven years to learn how. Once he knew how it was easier and faster to make the million, and in millions two is simply one more than one. So, you know what and how to do. I'm sure you'll do exceedingly well in Colorado.

I've not crunched the numbers for this year but with one exception every project has grossed higher sales than the same period previous year(s). We schedule 17 regular annual events each year then pick up an unscheduled odd job here and there. Only one of those events was off though I'm not sure yet we may have broken even. My wife and I were married in Sept and that put a number of things in motion. Somewhat unrelated was the necessity to relocate. We're still in a log jam on the move trying to decide whether to rehabilitate the house she inherited or to raze it and start over. We're keeping the travel schedule this year but will not have a base of operation West of the MIssissippi where we'll spend about 5 months on a back-and-forth basis. Not the least of desires is to open and establish a brick and mortar studio here in SC. I want to get back to formal traditional portraiture and to delve into food and small product tabletop commercial work. Funny, we make too much money doing one thing to just stop but no enough money to launch a new venture. In M*A*S*H I believe they called it a Catch-22.
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Re: Last year, this year

Postby cyclohexane » Wed Jan 28, 2015 2:55 am

I had less projects last year than previous years, but also much less aggravation. It's nice when you're not fighting with those you thought your close friends.

I sold a ton of my old gear I wasn't using or wasn't going to use any more, but naturally I bought a ton of new gear instead. Honestly, the old stuff was (mostly) more reliable and efficient, but it isn't nearly as fun as the stuff I've got now. My main goal is to not buy any new equipment for a while, though there's always another lens or light modifier calling my name... :devil:

I had corrective laser eye surgery performed near the end of last year, so I'm starting slow this year. My eyesight, uncorrected, was horrendous before, and my dominant/shooting eye will need a second surgery to be fully up to speed. Luckily, I used to shoot with both eyes early in my career due to a combination of starting new contact lenses and dry eyes leading to consistent eye fatigue at the time.

Probably going to be sticking with assisting and maybe weddings for the time being until I can get a new portfolio together and figure out where I want to move/evolve to. Hell, I still need to finish looking through the pictures I shot with Bobby and the Ugly Hedgehog guys last June.

A part of me is tempted to buy something with 4-wheel-drive and pack up and move to Colorado with Bobby. :D
-Michael
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Re: Last year, this year

Postby Steven G Webb » Wed Jan 28, 2015 3:26 am

Hi Michael,
Thanks for chiming in. I thought of you specifically when I started this thread. I hope your eyes are healing up nicely and that soon you'll be enjoying good vision without the need of corrective lenses. I've progressed to the stage in life where reading glasses have become a necessity. I renewed my driver's license not too long ago. Standing in line I listened to and observed a couple of people fail the vision test. One lady was told to read line 6 and with her head in the hood she said, "There's a line 6?" Had me worried, considering the previous headaches I'd had getting the renewal done. I'm not looking forward to either reliance on corrective lenses or having laser surgery.

I and probably every other photographer here can relate to the gear lust. We already have a lens or two calling out to us but we also have this house requiring immediate and extensive attention. It is difficult to justify equipment purchases right now.

It's hard to put emotional well being in the bank but it is very valuable. I hope you are able to pull a Taylor Swift and just shake it off where those past relationships are concerned. Best wishes to you on redefining your direction and finding what you want to do that is fulfilling and profitable. Looks like this relocating thing is catching.
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Re: Last year, this year

Postby Ed Shapiro » Wed Jan 28, 2015 4:44 am

One of the worst things a businessperson can do is to loose track of the numbers- the books and the trends. Something I can easily fall victim to if it were not for my lovely wife (of 46 years) who runs the office like a drill instructor and my good old accountant who never smiles and is quite the taskmaster. Without the numbers it is impossible to eliminate waste and bad decisions, plan promotions and strategies and create new and improved policies. So we draw a trial balance kind of interim report ever 4 months and try to troubleshoot bad stuff before it gets out of control.

This year, seems we have held our own but there was infinitesimal growth- just a few percent over last year. This was no surprise to me. I guess it would be fun but useless to drill a hole in the ground and stick my head in it like an ostrich and go into denial and getting all nostalgic or reactionary about the good old days. There is not a trace of doubt in my mind that the entire industry has radically changed and sadly enough; not for the better. I never blame outside influences for my own business failures or downturns- I prefer to blame myself for not reacting to some of theses difficulties in a timelier manner or for not forecasting more accurately. I am not masochistic but my approach gets me back on my game faster and provides the impetus to get with the troubleshoot program.

So…In the second quarter of this last business year I have increased my wedding prices so as to eliminate getting in the marketplace with the gunners and runners/shooters and burners and appeal to a more discriminating crowed. Results: I am shootin only one or two weddings per month and my profit margin is better than when I did four or five per month at lower prices.

I have found that the retail portrait market in my area is all but dead except for the really low priced high volume “studios” and soccer moms kinda thing so I have concentrated on corporate and institutional portraiture and again the profits have been better with a lower volume of work.

I have finally eliminated the commercial accounts that used selfies for their annual reports and cell phone photos for their food advertising. Theses folks mess around with junk and then come to me with last minute emergencies when the stuff they have submitted to their printers or advertising media is useless. I then have to do all nighters and keep other clients waiting with the danger of loosing them or messing up a deadline- too much stress. This has proven to be a better tactic. When I an mot messing around with all theses “emergencies” I have more time to seek out better clients, attend trade shows, do networking and do a bit of pavement pounding for new clients. This is working.

In short, my survival plan is simply to concentrate on better markets, raise certain of my fees and prices to better accommodate my costs of operation and run as far and fast as I can to get away from the price cutters and inapt operators. I have also set some new but modest goals- I am projecting a 10% growth rate for the next year- only time will tell and I am hoping for the best.

Good luck to all of us.

Ed :thumbup:

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Re: Last year, this year

Postby cyclohexane » Wed Jan 28, 2015 4:46 am

Steve, on the bright side, a man of your age (no offense intended) is probably not a good candidate for laser eye surgery. You would instead be up for early cataract-related lens replacement (assuming you don't already need such a procedure). They're still opening your eye up, but they literally build the required correction into your replacement lenses; the healing process is easier, and your vision reverts to normal much quicker. My dad wen through this procedure and it was much less involved than mine in the recovery process.

Also, you don't have to smell yourself burning as they shoot you with the laser. It sounds pretty much like a machine gun; I've been fake shot at during field exercises with the Army, and that was bad enough. I can't appreciate veterans like our very own Ed enough (as an aside, I grew up playing with G.I. Joes and similar action figures-dolls for men- which literally had Ed's 101st Airborne Screaming Eagles patch on their sleeves, but that's another story for another three).

I justified my last purchase as "Well, technically I don't have a back-up body for this system..."

Came in handy too, as my first body went down right before I got around to buying the second one. Of course, now that I own two, they won't fail like that again. ;)

My bank account is now very unhappy, but before that I didn't have a like back-up for my main color system. I couldn't imagine going from a medium format camera to a micro-4/3rds back-up camera, even though the micro-4/3rds camera output is somewhat similar to the old Kodak digital medium format backs that I like.

I do have some film cameras that have no sentimental value (they came with a lens that I bought for my digital camera) that I can sell off once I run out of film, but I can't imagine that bringing me much real money back. Hey, it'll cover the cost of processing the remaining film, plus the priceless memories that accompanied those images (I'm assuming I won't be shooting film on the job, and only for fun).

I'm trying to cull down to only spend on expendables, and repairs, but we all know how that goes. :devil:

Trying to do my best Taylor Swift impression but it's not easy. I've been trying to put together a new crew of locals (two of my college friends live closer than I realized) who are on the same wavelength as I am, but it's not easy, and I can't scrounge up enough work to pay them properly in the first place. The sad reality of it is that I'm the only fulltime photographer and assistant left amongst them; everyone else has turned to having other jobs, so it's difficult to have everyone available at the same time.
-Michael
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Re: Last year, this year

Postby cyclohexane » Wed Jan 28, 2015 4:58 am

Looks like Ed joined us while I was writing my previous post. :|

Ed Shapiro wrote:So…In the second quarter of this last business year I have increased my wedding prices so as to eliminate getting in the marketplace with the gunners and runners/shooters and burners and appeal to a more discriminating crowed. Results: I am shootin only one or two weddings per month and my profit margin is better than when I did four or five per month at lower prices.


I'm trying to find the more discriminating crowd, but it's not been easy. I raised my prices to about half of what I'm worth, and can't find any takers yet. :D

I can sell why I'm the better choice until I'm blue in the face, but around here the crowd wears sneakers and T-shirts and eats at the Costco food court; it's hard to convince folks to spend on photography when they don't even spring for a shirt that has a collar on it. :D

One of my good friends is literally a billionaire, and he's strictly of the belief that volume and good enough has won over; there's no need for fine art. It's the same thing almost every local photographer I've had the opportunity to work with around here has said, and also why I only work with two locals at this point. He doesn't see any reason to pay someone like me when he can outsource his images to China (literally) and each image costs him less than a penny in USD. There's no way I can compete with that, and the cost of living in China is actually higher than my cost of living (I would know, my mother lived and worked in Beijing from 2009 to 2013, and is currently working in Shanghai.).
-Michael
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Re: Last year, this year

Postby Steven G Webb » Fri Jan 30, 2015 5:42 am

Michael,
You touched on the "volume and good enough" string. I watched a story on tonights news about the leading company in that philosophy replacing their CEO. Ah, the Golden Arches is retiring their Chief Executive Officer and the public reason is that the restaurant has performed poorly. Revenue has been flat to negative over the past two years. One of their analyst explains that McDonalds has tried so hard to be everything to everyone that they've become nothing to anyone. That's interesting and observable. I wonder what their strategy will be and what they become. I'm sure there is a lesson in it for us all.
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Re: Last year, this year

Postby cyclohexane » Fri Jan 30, 2015 5:24 pm

For most of my career, I've been an artist first and foremost. I'll blow up the entire budget if I think I can create one lasting image.

This approach is not particularly sound for business, but I'd be happy if one of my images makes a lasting impression on someone and their family or something like that. Well, I once got a call about the senior print we made for a tight end on my college football team and how much they loved the image, so I guess I've done that already. Time to aim a little higher. 8):

Of course, I have the advantage of youth and a lack of dependents; these have an annoying habit of disappearing very quickly. :D

Every time I deviate from this approach, while the financial roller coaster sometimes disappears, things usually quickly turn sour, despite however those I'm working with might insist otherwise.

My generation is very big on "Why is this happening to me?!" and "Why did YOU do this to me?!", pushing the responsibility onto others and not being accountable for their actions. We're also the "self-esteem" generation that grew up hearing that "everyone is a winner" and "everyone is special in their own way", which has led to a celebration of mediocrity.

I grew up in a nice neighborhood; smallish town. Everyone graduates from high school on time, even my "massive" class of 300+ students (we usually have about 100-150 students per year), and everyone goes to college. If you live here, your family can afford to send you to college, and even those with special education needs get the grades and education required to go to college if they choose to do so.

Each year, there is an awards ceremony to recognize all the honors earned by the individual students... National awards, state awards, and smaller ones, some at a county level and even the school district and school cooked a few up. Somehow, every single member of the graduating class won an award and was made to attend; I swear they cooked up some random categories to make sure everyone had at least one award.

I think I had to sit through the entire thing because I automatically qualified for some award. I think it was some kind of "Presidential" award for achieving a certain GPA, except that every graduating student receives one because you need that GPA to graduate in the first place and go to college, and only one student in the four years I was in high school didn't go to college immediately after high school. I know the guy, and it was because he had a somewhat tough childhood elsewhere, and graduated from our high school after only attending for his senior year. I think if he had all the advantages the rest of us had, he could have easily gotten the grades to go to college immediately.

But, I just digressed with all that background info. 8~

Back to the celebration of mediocrity, I've literally been told that the client doesn't care if our images are any good, they just need to run them on the website for a few days, so if they don't care, why should we?

That's when I go and find different clients and coworkers, but I've literally come in a full circle back to where I started without finding any real long term success or the holy grail. Supposedly, there's some mythical clientele out there who appreciates fine art and quality images, but at this point I sometimes think I'll find where unicorns play amongst the cotton candy clouds and rainbows first. 8):

Every year, I tell myself that this is the year I be a grown up and get my spending in line and grow the business, but I either can't get out of my own way or fail to adapt to a life change. Ultimately, it's always my fault, but at least it's been pretty fun overall (though less so the last time everything blew up), and I haven't begun to have the interesting experiences that guys like Steven and Bobby have gone through.

I've always manage to justify spending every photo dime that comes in with something along the lines of "I need something better" or, more often, "I don't have a back-up this or that in case this fails on the job".

Well, over the past two years, I've sold most of my massive Nikon system (I only mostly used the cameras and two of the lenses anyways, and at the time I owned three bodies for those two lenses 8~ ), un-retired my grandfather's old stuff (hey, the lenses work on digital cameras without adapters), and literally have two of almost everything, plus four medium format film cameras (amazingly, no Mamiyas though I own some Mamiya lenses) and a gazillion film backs for those that take interchangeable backs. No more excuses on the equipment front.

Of course, in the past, even when I felt like I was set on that aspect, real life has a funny way of finding ways to separate you and your money, whether it's tipping that pretty girl in Vegas, your insurance premium, or the fact that you ruined your last good tailored jacket or socks or something on yesterday's shoot.

For that last one, I then become my dad and order a gazillion spare everything. I won't have to buy socks until 2035, probably (I kid, but only a little). I have one or two last boxes coming, and then I should at least be set on that front unless I decide I want some paisley flower print rain jacket or something... :devil:

Enough about me, I want to hear more about everyone else. Haha :D
-Michael
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