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General DiscussionsLessons for a Portrait Business

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Ernst-Ulrich Schafer
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Re: Lessons for a Portrait Business

Post by Ernst-Ulrich Schafer » Tue Jan 02, 2018 7:01 pm

I've been a member of our states professional photographers of Washington for quite sometime now and feel that any professional photographer (no matter the subject) should be or
become a member. And not only your state organization, there are many conventions in the industry that are worth the time and your investment to learn more. We also have our national
organization, Professional Photographers of America. Their convention starts soon in Nashville this year. I attend last years in San Antonio.

Here is a newsletter that out Professional Photographers of WA puts out for their members and hopefully to gain new members. Looking forward to our spring convention at the
end of March. The speaker lineup looks great.

http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/1397903?__r=341981
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Post by St3v3M » Tue Jan 02, 2018 7:27 pm

Ernst-Ulrich Schafer wrote:
Tue Jan 02, 2018 7:01 pm
I've been a member of our states professional photographers of Washington for quite sometime now and feel that any professional photographer (no matter the subject) should be or
become a member. And not only your state organization, there are many conventions in the industry that are worth the time and your investment to learn more. We also have our national
organization, Professional Photographers of America. Their convention starts soon in Nashville this year. I attend last years in San Antonio.

Here is a newsletter that out Professional Photographers of WA puts out for their members and hopefully to gain new members. Looking forward to our spring convention at the
end of March. The speaker lineup looks great.

http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/1397903?__r=341981
This is an important facet of our lives and one we should explore more. Thank you for the push! S-
"Take photographs, leave footprints, steal hearts"

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Charles Haacker
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Post by Charles Haacker » Wed Jan 03, 2018 4:41 am

This is too long and mostly dumb. Don't read.
As many of you may by now know, my wife and I together operated a "general practice" storefront studio for 16 years in Bay Area California (and we did not kill each other). We bought it from the retiring owner whose business model had been to do 100% of everything himself. Daphne and I knew exactly squat about business and only a little more about photography. Sure, I held an associate's degree in commercial (not fine art) photography thanks to the GI Bill and my sacrificing bride. I had graduated with Highest Honors and whoop-de-doo. In fairness our instructors had warned us (two of us, actually, out of some 35 starters who had all dropped away over the years) that we were emphatically not photographers yet, but we had been given the tools to learn to be photographers. Well swell.

The tools we had emphatically not been given were business tools, and there was not one single solitary art course, but again in fairness our generals were fighting the last war: we were trained to go out and get jobs as lab monkeys and work our way up, the way they had, working for outfits like, say, General Motors Electro Motive Division, the fellas who built locomotives, or like my dad working for Acme Newspictures right out of High school; good solid 9-5 paying jobs with benefits. What they didn't know was that those jobs simply no longer existed, just as they do not exist today. Even most surviving newspapers pretty much farm everything out to freelancers now. The darkrooms were all long ago stripped out and sold for scrap (film? What's that?). So coming out of school I went to work selling cameras and freelancing. The freelancing was good training. I made many of my mistakes and learned from them. But the big problem was always what to charge. I was inexperienced. I was willing to take on any project but as a scared newbie, terrified of the lawsuit that would erupt if I screwed up a job, I held my prices down to reflect the up-front fact that I was a newbie and I would do my best, but ya gotta cut me some slack. Anyway, with no business training I had no idea what the hell to charge anyway. I followed the "tried and true," called up real photographers and asked them what they charged, then undercut them. It was rotten then, it's rotten now, but it's a learning curve, and honestly, some of the clients I picked up that way would never, ever have paid what real photographers charged. I think one of them was a serial killer. Maybe. Hope not. But he scared me. But he kept hiring me. The only way I got rid of him was to price myself out of his range.

After a few years of selling cameras (and part of my problem as a business person is that I hate selling, period) and freelancing at bargain basement prices the owner of my camera store put me on to a fella he knew was retiring and selling out. I would acquire his location (rented), all his equipment (all hopelessly obsolete even then but I was too dumb to realize it), all his negative files with the reprint rights (that absolutely no one wanted)... yeah, okay, so Dan and Dotty Doofus bit and bought the damned thing. The road diverged and we took the one less traveled... (SMH!!)

Well, y'all know I can never shut up so suffice to say it was a titanic struggle from day one. I remember one job the previous owner shot every year, an on-spec thing for a local semi-private high school for their spring dance. I went up there and shot it, proofed it out, all at my own expen$e, and [*shrug*]... A few kids came in and oohed and aahed and laughed and joked and said thanks very nice and left. One girl with her mother asked, exactly as if I were not in the room, "Why are his prices so high, Mother?" And Mater haughtily replied (you know I can still hear you, right?), "THAT'S how SOME people make their MONEY, Dear!"

Can ya hear how hard I pounded that out on the keyboard just now? That was 1978. Still not over it. Never will be. (I think I broke a nail...)

But the main thing is that that was a devastating blow for a guy who is far too sensitive and retiring to ever be in business, yet thar I wuz... I told the previous owner and he just laughed. ("Yeah, they always did that to me too har har har...") But now we were stuck, make or break. We did our best, hung in for 16 years. We produced quality work I'm still proud of. I have no talent but I do have hard-earned skill. We developed a large and loyal following. I did weddings for 3 and 4 sisters in the same family, and their friends and their cousins. I did them all myself with Daphne bravely assisting. When you booked Mister Haacker you got Mister Haacker (and no I never got too sick to work but oh boy what if...) I did generations of portraits, just like the previous owner, many in high-quality black and white retouched lovingly by hand by me, printed by me (and someone pointed out years later that that was part of my problem: every minute spent retouching a negative or printing it in the darkroom was a minute not spent either behind the camera or out in the sales room SELLING!!! Oh. Duh.

If I could go back 40 years I would grab me by my shoulders and shake! I would tell me, "Do not do it! You are not cut out for business! Fair-t'middlin photographer, competent enough, able to deliver on demand, but if you can't find someone who is hardheaded business (Daphne rest her was not that either), fuhgeddaboudit! So after 16 frankly miserable years the G-D'd thing sank beneath us, taking everything with it (retirement? BWAHHahahh! :lol: :rofl: ), leaving us in debt, and me so psychologically crushed I hung up my guns and refused to pick up a camera for years. We left California for Wisconsin and I ended up in retail for real. To this day I will not enter a Home Depot.

So rant over. The main thing I want to get across is that it's not about photography; it's about selling photography. I had a friendly sometime competitor who told me once that if he were looking to hire a photographer and were faced with two people, one an absolutely brilliant artist with no sales drive, and the other a reasonably competent mechanic with real sales ability, he would hire the salesman every time. He said, and I quote, "Any fool can learn photography, but selling takes real talent."

I tell you that for what it's worth, pretty much nuthin' (is he still bitter 'bout that?)...

(Really folks, sorry. I almost deleted this but I worked so long on it... I am bitter and missing Daphne so... ya unnerstand?)
Friends call me Chuck. :photo: This link takes you to my Flickr albums. Please click on any album to scroll through it.
(I prefer to present pictures in albums because I can put them in specific order.)

All the great photographers use cameras! No, really. :|

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Duck
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Post by Duck » Wed Jan 03, 2018 3:55 pm

Charles Haacker wrote:
Wed Jan 03, 2018 4:41 am
[...] I tell you that for what it's worth, pretty much nuthin' (is he still bitter 'bout that?)...

(Really folks, sorry. I almost deleted this but I worked so long on it... I am bitter and missing Daphne so... ya unnerstand?)


I feel your pain and can relate. I stuck at sales also and would rather concentrate on art over everything else. I am glad you didn't scrap this essay as it is a testament of perseverance with a lot of good advice mixed in.

Now, to find me a mechanic with sales ability...
"If you didn't learn something new today, you wasted a day."
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Charles Haacker
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Post by Charles Haacker » Wed Jan 03, 2018 4:31 pm

Duck wrote:
Wed Jan 03, 2018 3:55 pm
Charles Haacker wrote:
Wed Jan 03, 2018 4:41 am
[...] I tell you that for what it's worth, pretty much nuthin' (is he still bitter 'bout that?)...

(Really folks, sorry. I almost deleted this but I worked so long on it... I am bitter and missing Daphne so... ya unnerstand?)


I feel your pain and can relate. I stuck at sales also and would rather concentrate on art over everything else. I am glad you didn't scrap this essay as it is a testament of perseverance with a lot of good advice mixed in.

Now, to find me a mechanic with sales ability...

Thanks, Duck. I feared it was maybe TMI, and as usual far too long, plus lately I've been circling the drain more than usual since it's been exactly a year since I lost Daphne, and I am truly lost without her. It'll get better (they tell me), but meanwhile I get into these holes and seem to need to dig out with wordy, um, wordy-ness thingies. Besides, I meant what I wrote. My experience is not everyone's (no one's experience is ever exactly like anyone else's) but I'm pretty satisfied that I do not have the self-employed moxie ya need to succeed. I have a hunch that a high percentage of folks that take up photography as a hobby at least sometimes blue-sky about turning pro. All the college graduation speakers tell ya, "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life!" Yeah, right. Sure I'm a cynic (life'll do that to ya) but if you analyze that, it's bushwah. What are the statistical probabilities that tens of thousands of graduates every single year, year after year, are going to be able to go out and "do what you love?!" But photography for some reason is unusually attractive to a lot of people, especially anyone with a creative bent, so you're bound to at least wonder about making a career of it. What I think I Iearned is that indeed, I really, really love photography, and despite a long hiatus I have returned to it with joy and gladness, but I've done the pro thang and it ain't what it's cracked up to be. When people ask me about it I usually say something to the effect (1) TAKE BUSINESS COURSES and (2) learn to love to sell. As my friend said, insulting as it sounds, "Any fool can learn photography." If you are serious about making a living at it, it ain't about creativity; it's about selling creativity!
Friends call me Chuck. :photo: This link takes you to my Flickr albums. Please click on any album to scroll through it.
(I prefer to present pictures in albums because I can put them in specific order.)

All the great photographers use cameras! No, really. :|

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Post by Duck » Wed Jan 03, 2018 6:47 pm

Charles Haacker wrote:
Wed Jan 03, 2018 4:31 pm
[...] it ain't about creativity; it's about selling creativity!
...and that's why the very best creatives hire managers. They handle the business side.
"If you didn't learn something new today, you wasted a day."
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