From the Interviews with Extraordinary Business People.
How it began.
What started as an idea for a presentation at the IUSA convention in 2009, grew into something much larger. I planned to interview 10 successful photographers, whose businesses I was somewhat familiar with, and see what they could offer as their top success tips. My list grew, and I actually interviewed 12 photographers and 2 other prominent business people: author Guy Kawasaki, and zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh. I became so excited and inspired by what I heard, that I knew I would have much more to share than what would fit in a 90 minute presentation. So, I will post the full interviews for each person here over the coming weeks and, who knows, maybe I’ll continue my interviews and make a book someday?
About Joe Photo.
I first met Joe at WPPI years ago. I was doing my first major presentation at WPPI, and it was sponsored by Nikon. After I was done, Joe came and said “hi” and we talked briefly. He told me honestly that he had been vying for a Nikon sponsorship and when he heard it was given to me, he had to come see who this “newbie” was. He enjoyed the program, and conceded that I earned it. Soon after, I was producing my 2nd ever Digital Bootcamp® and I needed a guest speaker. I remembered Joe, and his infectious enthusiasm and beautiful imagery. He also wanted digital training, so we struck a deal. I’ve had a fond admiration for Joe ever since.
Joe’s work has been featured in myriad bridal magazines, his bio follows at the end of the article. The interview is somewhat condensed, to save space, but it covers the key messages.
One big thing.
Kevin: Joe, what is the one main thing that you’ve learned, or done, over the years that has contributed to your success? Can you narrow it down to just one thing or concept?
Joe: Always do your best. If you constantly strive to do your best in any given situation, you’ll never have any reason to feel guilty, bad, or like you’re cheating anyone. Always do your personal best - which is different from the competitive best. This affects the way you appear, how you design albums, treat people. Etc.
Worst thing ever done?
Kevin: What is the worst thing that you’ve ever done for your business? Sure, we learn from each mistake, so they often turn in to good things in the long run, but what would you recommend that other photographers avoid?
Joe: I did not save money. I spent too much when times were good. I like nice things and to play, so I was living the good life and not thinking about my future. You should pay yourself first, and put some away. Prepare for a rainy day. Now I have a retirement plan and am more careful with my spending. I still like nice things though :-)
Kevin: Do you outsource any of your production work? Why or why not?
Joe: No, I’m too anal :-) My volume is low enough right that I can manage it. I’m a control freak and I really have a distinct way that I want things to look. I still like doing my own work. I enjoy doing it, and I think that is the key. If I didn’t enjoy it, or it was bogging me down, then I think I would consider it.
However, I am starting to understand that so much is subjective, so I even though I like mine (the way I work the images or design an album) better, it is not necessarily the right way.
I learned a lot about this from judging print and album competitions at WPPI. I would see images that I thought were just “OK” and other judges would love it, and vice-versa. I realized that my way is not always the best way and our clients may not necessarily like my design over someone else's - it could go either way. So, knowing this could help me let go a bit if I decided to outsource.
Diversify or focus?
Kevin: In these tough economic times, have you diversified your business in order to keep growing, or did you instead re-focus it on a specific market?
Joe: Things have been pretty good this past year. My economic downturn was actually 1-1/2 years ago. What happened was I had brought on a full-time office manager, thinking this would allow me to just do what I enjoyed most - like shooting. After 5-6 months, I realized it was costing too much and my profits had not gone up enough to justify her salary - so it was really hurting my business. I also realized that I’m not a good manager. I Started then to think about diversifying, but realized that I would not enjoy managing other people as I’m very particular about how I want things done and it would be difficult to let go.
Business vs. Art.
Kevin: How much time do you think a photographer should devote to working on or developing business skills vs. working on their creative skills?
Joe: I really think you need to do what makes you happy. If you really hate the business side, then focus on the art and get someone else to help with business. I tend to run towards things that I fear - like business! I never took any business classes in school or anywhere, so that has never been my strong point. However, I am catching up now with audio books for business. I like to use audio books for education as I can listen to them in the car or while I’m editing a job. I think people should focus on the areas that they enjoy most, but try to be balanced too.
Kevin: What online tools do you use in your business and which ones do you consider to be the most important, starting with the most important?
Joe: My website is #1. You have to have a killer website to show off your work. All my new potential clients go to the website first. Next would be the blog. I write in my blog everyday - however it’s hard to quantify which jobs come from the blog alone. To me, it’s just icing on the cake. It does give people a personal look in to who Joe Photo is really - and that’s important after they’ve seen the work, on my website, and like it. I don’t use Facebook or Twitter - mainly because I’m a slow typer! I don’t enjoy them much, so I don’t spend much time there. You gotta do what you love.
Local vs. travel.
Kevin: Are most of your wedding jobs local, or do you travel quite a bit to shoot? Which do you prefer?
Joe: Most of my jobs are local. We have some of the top hotels right here within 40 minutes of my house. They are all amazing, beautiful, venues. I’d say 80% of my jobs are local. We really have a great wedding market here, so I don’t need to travel to keep busy or find beautiful venues. Plus, there’s the time savings factor. I love being able to get home quickly after a wedding. I enjoy the out of town jobs, but the added stress makes it a double edge sword. There is so much to deal with worrying about flights, airport security, delays, etc. And, it takes so much more time to do these jobs.
It’s good for your portfolio, and for getting out of box, but I don’t want to do them too often. I do enjoy it when I’m going to a really cool place, that I want to be in, and the couple is open and willing to do cool stuff for the photos. (note: Joe had one of those “dream” jobs a few years ago where a couple took him around the world with them, and he photographed them in designer wedding garb at each locale)
What motivates you.
Kevin: What is it that drives you to get up, or jump up, out of bed each day and do what you do? Is there an underlying motivation?
Joe: Each day is a new adventure to me. I have a really optimistic personality, so I’m excited about what each new day holds. I see it as new opportunities for building my empire! If you work hard, you can accomplish anything. I’ve always believed that. There is no overnight success - you just have to work hard every day. Sometimes the fame may go to my head a little, but my wife grounds me - she says, “how big do you want to be? You’re a big fish in a little pond.” (Joe laughs) It puts things in perspective for me.
Techniques for staying fresh.
Kevin: Do you have any regular techniques for working on or nurturing your creativity?
Joe: Yah, I love music and movies! I get a lot of inspiration from well shot movies. I actually play movies while editing a wedding with my goal being to finish editing during the course of one movie.
Kevin: You must be good at multi-tasking, I think that would be a distraction for me.
Joe: Well, I keep it in the background. It’s usually a movie I’ve seen before and so I don’t have to focus on it that hard. I usually shoot 6000-7000 images at a wedding and have to edit down to 800. That’s a lot of editing.
I also exercise to keep myself fresh and creative. It creates adrenaline, and that makes me more creative. I try to take a fast walk everyday, usually with my wife, and ideas just start to flow like crazy. I take audio notes on a voice recorder. There is something about exercise that really triggers creative thinking. It also helps with motivation.
I used to skateboard when I was a kid. Now I longboard once in while for fun. I totally look like a geek in my elbow and knee pads and helmet. It was funny, once I was at this skate park and all the “cool” kids at the park didn’t wear helmets or anything. Well, it’s actually illegal to ride without a helmet and this cop came over and gave tickets to pretty much everyone, except me - because I had my helmet.
Giving the high-res files.
Kevin: Do you give or sell your high-resolution original files to your wedding clients? Is this something that more and more clients are expecting?
Joe: Yah, no problem. I feel like I’m paid enough up front. However, I only give the originals, and not the cleaned, retouched, final files. If they tried to print them, they’d see a big difference in the quality. I don’t feel like I’m pressured to do it by my clients (give the hi-res), but I have been doing it for 5-6 years. I actually still use paper proofs to layout albums with my clients on a table. We spend about 1-2 hours together and I organize them the way I think it should be designed. I try not to let them influence the design too much and most of them leave the design to me. I then tell them it will take 4-6 months to deliver the album. I rely more on up-selling additional album sides. My goal is to provide a nice, big album, and not to rely on print sales as much.
What if you couldn’t be a photographer?
Kevin: What if you could no longer be a photographer - pretend the IRS has banned you from that profession. What would you do? Is there a dream job you’ve always had in mind?
Joe: I think it would be fun to be photo editor at a magazine. I’d still get to work around great photography that way. But my “dream” would be something like “Uncle Photos old school pre-school”. I love kids and kids seem to really relate to me. The school would be all about climbing, skateboarding, life skills and having fun. I’m a kid magnet. Kids gravitate to me. I want to be playing with kids. I could see myself down on the ground with them playing all day long. Education systems today are totally left brained based. Many of us learn better via right brain.
Once I was with my wife in an elevator and this mom got in with her little baby in her arms. The kid turned and looked at me and held it’s arms out - like it wanted me to hold him! Stuff like that happens all the time to me.
Digital SLR with video.
Kevin: What do you think about these new SLR cameras that also shoot HD video? Do you see photographers incorporating that into their offerings?
Joe: I think it will happen, and happen badly. Photographers are going to get frustrated and PO’d. It takes so much time to edit video - people don’t realize that. You’ll have to upgrade all your hardware systems and learn all kinds of new tools. A few people will do it well, but most photographers won’t be able to do it profitably. It just takes too much time. A friend once told me, “Focus on doing one thing great, rather than multiple things mediocre”. I think it will be hard to make money doing video. Also, you’ll miss key still photo moments, you can focus on those AND capture nice video all at the same time.
$2000 to spend.
Kevin: What if you only had $2000 to spend on advertising, marketing, PR, etc. this year. Where would you spend it?
Joe: “Dude, a killer suit.” I think it’s so important to make a strong impression personally, instead of spending money on something impersonal like “the Knot” (an online advertising portal for wedding photographers). You really need to stand out. A few years ago I hooked up with a guy who designs really nice custom suits - like in the $3000-$10,000 range. I did fashion shoots for him and I got some custom suits in trade. It Makes a HUGE difference when I go to weddings, meetings, etc. Everybody comments on how good I look! It projects a high end, custom look - which helps me fit in with the clients I’m approaching and looking to do business with. It also just makes you feel good and more confident, and that is a big part of it. I resisted for a long time, and wanted to believe I could just dress weird - like Andy Warhol or something, and get noticed - but I’ve changed my attitude about that. Invest in nice clothes and personally visit people you want to do business with, that’s my advice. This is assuming you have a killer website already.
What photos do clients purchase?
Kevin: Do you find that your clients actually end up purchasing the kinds of images you enjoy shooting the most? Or do they buy from other than your favorites?
Joe: The bride and groom usually purchase the journalism stuff, which I love to shoot. The family usually buys from the posed pics. The print orders are generally the posed pix, but the albums contain more of the story photos. That’s what I enjoy most. When they come for their album design session, I pick out all my favorites as a suggestion (100-200 images) for the album and put them in a separate box. Then I let the B&G add to that if they want. This way, they are already prepped with what my favorites are, so I influence them on the choices that will go in to the album.
15 minutes a day.
Kevin: If you could only dedicate 15 minutes a day to something for improving yourself or your business, and you could do it every day, what would it be?
Joe: Jog and Daydream. You’ll lose weight and feel good. Brainstorming happens. It’ll give you more energy. I think that the challenges faced during exercise affect your attitude towards business - and life. Enduring hills jogging gives you strength to conquer problems in business.
Kevin: Joe, I agree! When I go on power walks, I get this flood of ideas and I feel like I could do anything. I can’t wait to get back to the office and start working on them.
Joe: Exactly! I’m glad you said that because I thought it was just me! There’s this sensation of empowerment during power walks and it’s very motivating. You gotta write down or record those ideas though, or you’ll probably forget about them and never implement them.
In 5 years.
Kevin: Where do you want to be in 5 years?
Joe: On top of the world! In my little microcosm, at least (he laughs) - whatever that is. I can’t ever see myself being crushed by the weight of the world. I’m not really worried about the economy. I know things will work itself out. It always does. I love this book called, The Success Principles by Jack Canfield. It was very influential to me. In it, he says that we are in control of three things: the thoughts that we think, the things that we daydream about, and our response to external events. I think it boils down to just these two: The thoughts we think, and our response to external events. We all can choose how we react to any situation - one person might stub their toe and go on and on about how PO’d they are, where another just takes it in stride.
I can’t control the war in Iraq, or poverty in Africa, but I can contribute and do what I can there or locally.
In 10 years, however, I do see myself retired from shooting weddings. I don’t want to have to work this hard. I’d like to have a nice retirement investment to live off of, and be able to travel and see the world with no real agenda. I want to meet people, hear their stories, and photograph them without it having to be for business.
We were doing a wedding in Mexico a little while ago and on the bus to the reception I noticed all these people sitting on porches - hanging out, relaxing, rocking in chairs. And two things occurred to me: first, wow, how unusual, nobody just hangs out like that in our community, how nice. The other thought was: no wonder they are so poverty stricken! But so what! They are enjoying life.
Maybe I’ll do a photo book of my travels. I want to photograph for the joy of it...maybe teaching? Adopting kids? I have no idea, but I don’t want to be shooting as much to make a living. I want to have the freedom to travel.
Joe Photo bio:
Joe’s wedding images have been featured in numerous publications such as: Grace Ormonde’s Wedding Style, Elegant Bride, Wedding Dresses, Southern California Modern Bride, Sposa, San Diego Bride & Groom, Studio Photography & Design, Los Angeles Magazine, Rangefinder, and The Knot Wedding Pages, as well as in the new books The Best of Wedding Photography and The Best of Wedding Photojournalism. His weddings have been seen on NBC’s Life Moments and the Lifetime channel’s Weddings of a Lifetime and My Best Friend’s Wedding. Visit Joe’s blog at: www.cupofjoephoto.com
Tune in next week when I post my interview with Jules Bianchi