How it began.
What started as 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 Jules Bianchi.
Several years ago, I was invited to speak for a photographer’s group in No. California. One of the attendees was Jules Bianchi and I had heard her name through the network of photographers, but had never met her. She was gathering a few friends together for dinner after the workshop and invited me and my staff to join them. I love getting to know people at my workshops better - and I love sushi, so it was a no-brainer.
We arrived at the restaurant and the group had a table already, and it was buzzing with energy! The only confusing part was that there were two Jules sitting at the table! I quickly learned that Jules was one of twins and Joy Bianchi Brown was also her business partner. Both sisters were full of life, energy, and smiles and we all had a great evening. Interestingly, Jules lives in So. California and Joy lives in No. California but they worked together virtually and also physically when Jules travels to photograph.
See the bio of Jules Bianchi Photography at the end of this article.
One Best Thing.
Kevin: 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?
Jules: The first thing that comes to mind is bringing my sister into the company as a partner. You need to have someone who is on your side and has your best interests in mind. A family member can be best person for the job - or at least it was for me when I brought Joy in to the business. Not everyone has a twin sister, obviously...
Joy: At least not as brilliant as me! (editors note: I’m still trying to discover who is the real brains behind the operation)
Jules: Exactly! (LOL) But many have the opportunity to work with a spouse or sibling. If you can make that work, it can be great! We constantly bounce ideas off of each other and she keeps me on track. I trust her, and that is important.
One of the things I regretted about the early days of my career is that I didn’t get involved in the photo community or network much, I did everything alone. I never went to conventions - like WPPI - I never realized that value in that. Now I do. It really helps to have people to share with and get ideas from.
Joy: You don’t necessarily have to have a family member, though, the key is to get the right people who will be there for a while and who doesn’t have motives to start their own business right away.
Jules: Exactly, many people out there don’t want the full responsibility of running their own business and just enjoy being part of a team. It’s much more fun this way too.
The Worst Thing.
Kevin: What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done in or for your business?
Jules: That actually ties in to the first question because the worst thing I’ve done was to try and micromanage everything - I didn’t bring other people in to my business. For example a bookkeeper, assistants, or other people who could give me advice. There’s no way I could keep up with everything and it was driving me crazy.
Now I can concentrate on what I’m good at, and let others help me with what I’m not good at.
It’s kinda like this: If you’re an amazing cook, you are the chef. You aren’t going to open a restaurant and do everything yourself - being the manager, waiter, dishwasher etc. Many people in the Photography business start up and they are amazing phtoographers, but they also try to do everything else in the business themselves - it’s not a good way to go about it.
Joy: I think another key is not to be afraid to hire people smarter than you. (ed: is that a hint?) You can put together a great team and it works well for everybody. I see many examples of that in the industry with other successful businesses. Look at your business...you have all these great people working with you.
Kevin: Yes, and they are all smarter than me too :-)
On Hiring Second Shooters.
Kevin: Do you hire 2nd shooters for your weddings? And if so, how do you make those relationships successful.
Jules: Yes, I do. I have contracts in place, but you can’t worry about it too much. I don’t specify in my contract that they can’t shoot weddings for themselves. It’s best to find people who love to shoot, but don’t necessarily want to own their own business. My current 2nd shooter is great, and yet doesn’t want to deal with all the marketing, etc. of having her own business.
I trust that clients hire me because of ME and I don’t worry about losing business. I get many, or most, of my client referrals because they like working with me. You have to have enough confidence in who you are and in your own abilities. I don’t allow 2nd shooters to use the images they shot with me for anything. I give them cards and get them back at the end of the day. That makes it cleaner and there’s less room for misunderstandings.
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?
Jules: We actually are diversifying into more family portraits and and doing projection sales (using a digital projector to show images large) with Pro Select and focusing on portrait sales. Joy actually encouraged me to try this. It has been a big success! We literally paid for the equipment and software we had to purchase within the first 2 or 3 sales sessions. We were really surprised, and happy, with the large orders we are receiving.
I was resistant to this at first, because I don’t like doing “sales”, but Joy helped get it going and she’s great at it. It goes along with the service aspect - we are continuing to help our clients get images up on their walls.
Kevin: Do you sell in dollars or English pounds £?
Jules: That reminds me too – another one of the best things we did was to provide wedding highlights - a selection of 200 or so of the best images, my favorites from the wedding. I tweak them in Photoshop, making them look exactly how I envision them. This does a couple things: it allows me to get the “tweaking bug” out of my system - where I feel like I want to go in and enhance every image. And, it shows the bride and groom what I envisioned for the story of the day.
Joy: We use the fantabulous Action Dashboard, of course!
Kevin: Thanks for that shameless plug.
Jules: I outsource my album design. Typically this is how I work it: I shoot the wedding and pick my favorites. Then I pre-design the wedding album for them with these and show them the layout as I envisioned it. They often upgrade because we might make a larger album than they originally ordered. They might want a few minor changes, but most of the time they like it just the way it is. Now the album is done.
We also make suggested sales sheets and products suggestions. I tell them what we think would look good as a group or on a layout together. People can get overwhelmed trying to make these decisions themselves. They appreciate it when we do this for them. With my top packages, I also include a gift of the highlights in a mini book (7x7 or 5x5) as an incentive to book a better package. When we post the event online, we separate them into categories, and one of those is the highlights.
Joy: We also show the highlights at the wedding in a quick slide show.
Jules: Right, and I always put them on my blog.
Kevin: I want to talk more about the blog, but tell me a little more about showing images at the wedding - how do you do that?
Jules: We show images at the reception on a laptop. My assistant will do a quick edit, but I also shoot pretty tight. I set my camera to capture RAW and use picture styles in the camera to create a stylized image and we load them in to iView. Because of the picture styles, it is already B&W or color punched. Then we can do a quick edit and show the images and they already look pretty good.
About Online Tools.
Kevin: So tell me more about your blog - and the other online tools that you use.
Jules: Well, actually my blog has become my number one marketing tool - kinda unexpectedly. Word of mouth is such a powerful marketing method and my blog has brought in tons of work over the past 3 years.
What I do is I title my posts by the venue that I shot at. Then I include mentions of all the vendors that I worked with, and links to their sites. This way, my blog shows up whenever people are searching for that venue or vendor because I have mentioned them in my blog. It also helps their business, which is important too. Blogs are more dynamic than most web sites, so they get picked up in the search engines more often.
Kevin: What techniques do you use to keep yourself creative and fresh on a regular basis?
Jules: Well, one of my favorite things is to have a personal project. I have a dog that I love, Olive, and she actually has her own blog - an Olive a Day. I love to go out each day and take photos of her and I decided to create a story book of “Olive Goes to Hollywood”! It’s important to have a personal project to keep you shooting regularly. It’s been really fun to think about the props and scenes and plan for it like a regular shoot. It’s also MY project, which allows me to combine all things I love to do - play with my dog and photograph!
(Kevin’s note: Jules just self-published her “Olive Goes to Hollywood” book. Check it out here)
It’s also important to look at other photographer’s blogs and sites - not to copy them, but just to get inspired and ideas that you might do differently.
Joy: that also ties into another question about business...
OK, I’ll ask.
Kevin: What would you do if you could spend 15 minutes a day, every day, to improve your business or yourself?
Joy: Well, one thing would be to spend the time looking at other blogs and photography sites.
Jules: Right, join DWF or other forums and go through the threads and see where you can help or chime in here and there. It helps others and gives you insight as well. Comment on the photos they shot. I get inspiration from other photographers all the time - maybe an idea for a new pose or lighting or something.
Joy: Also, Kevin, you had talked about building relationships and another thing I’ve been trying to get Juliet to do is to go to lunch at least once a week with a vendor or another photographer or client - just to build that relationship. Maybe you don’t even talk shop, but just get to know each other better. Like that’s why we invited you to dinner that first time - not to get anything out of it, but just to get to know you better.
Jules: Not me, I wanted some Action! (LOL)
(note: Jules is speaking of my Photoshop Actions, of course)
Kevin: I just wanted sushi! But we’re getting a little off topic here...
Jules: Well, my blog is really my best tool, although I do use Facebook and Twitter, but I can’t really figure Facebook out yet and Twitter is fun, but some people abuse it.
When some other photographer asks me to look at their work, the first place I go is their blog - it’s the most current work. I look for a picture of them and personal info too. It let’s me get to know them better and this is important to our clients as well. They want to get to know us more personally since hiring a photographer is such a personal choice.
Kevin: So, you must feel that having a picture of yourself, as a photographer, on your website is important?
Jules: Absolutely. If I were a client wanting to book a photographer, that would be the first thing I would look for to see if I relate to that person or not. Wedding photographers have to be there the entire day - it’s a relationship and they need to know who they will be working with.
What is it then?
Kevin: So, along those lines, how much of the success of a photographer is dependent on their skill vs. their personality?
Jules: Well, I would like to believe that skill is maybe 80% or more of the success, but in reality I think personality is just as important as the skill. I don’t know what that would be percentage wise...
Kevin: I think that would be 50/50.
Joy: I agree. Because you could be the best photographer in the world, but if you have the personality of a dish rag, nobody will want you at their wedding!
Jules: Yah, I know people that are technically very proficient, but they don’t have as much work because they don’t have the personalities.
Joy: Jules uses her personality to get people to loosen up or to try things. She’s always energetic and suggesting fun ideas. That’s a big part of her success. People have to be able to relax with you to get those fun, interactive pictures.
Jules: I have a friend who showed me her wedding pictures that were taken before we met and she just loved them, and I thought to myself “these are terrible!” But it became obvious to me that she really liked the photographer and so she liked her pictures. People also don’t always know what is available out there. They are not as picky as we are as photographers some times about the images. I learned that the actual photography is not as important as we think it is - it more important that they like the photographer.
Kevin: So, what should someone do, as a photographer, if they DO have the personality of a dish rag. What can they do to improve their business?
Jules: That’s a tough one. But you have to play to who you are. Make sure your work reflects your quiet side and you don’t try to show images that aren’t are real style. You can still be great at service and there is someone for everyone out there. Joy, what do you think?
Joy: Well, not everyone wants a bubbly, bouncy, girl photographer and so if you communicate who you are to your clients - and not try to be something you’re not - then you’ll hook up with the right clients.
What about video SLRs?
Kevin: Have you been using one of the new cameras that shoot video? What do you think about incorporating that into our services?
Jules: I have been trying it, and I’m not convinced yet. It’s not the quality of a dedicated camera and it’s too hard to concentrate on both things at the same time. The post production for video is HUGE compared to photography and I just don’t see it being profitable. I know some people will be good at it, but I’m not convinced yet. You cant make prints and albums with video - the only way to enjoy the medium is on TV. There’s nothing tactile. Also, finding the decisive moments is an art. I think people appreciate that in photography.
What Would you Be?
Kevin: If you could no longer be a photographer, what would you do?
Jules: Well, I’ve always wanted to be a film director! I actually went to film school and that was my first career. I always thought that photography would be my “fall back job” if I couldn’t be a film director. So, I’m doing my fall back job :-) I’ve loved photography since I was a kid though, so I’m happy.
It’s much tougher to become a film director - working your way up from an assistant to a director is almost impossible. You have to almost just “appear” on the scene as a director and then people take you seriously. You have to somehow finance a project that you can show. I guess that works the same with photography too.
Any Last Bits of Advice?
Joy: Well, one thing that Dane Sanders told me was that you should focus on your strengths instead of your weaknesses. Many people try too hard to fix their weaknesses - when they should probably be outsourcing or letting someone else handle that aspect of their business.
Concentrate on what you do best - like shooting or marketing.
Jules: I wish I had learned that early on too - find someone else to help you with things you don’t necessarily have to do yourself.
Kevin: Great advice, thanks. Ciao for now!
Jules Bianchi Photography Bio:
For jules, photography isn't just a career, it is a way of life. At a very young age she became aware of how fleeting life can be, and photography became her way of capturing life moments and, essentially, freezing time. She studied film at UCSB, which gave her photography a cinematic, storytelling style.
After working in the film industry for seven years, she realized she needed to be doing more personal, gratifying work and decided to start her own wedding photography business. Since then, her award-winning work as been published in magazines and featured in professional samples from Leather Craftsmen, Willowbooks, Livebooks, Kolo, and Pictage. She is actively involved in the photography community, speaking at the Pictage Partner Conference and the Digital Wedding Forum Convention as well as teaching her own seminars.
She has been the guest speaker for various photography classes and other educational forums such as the Professional Photographers of the Greater Bay Area, the Professional Photographers of Channel Islands, the University of Riverside, and the highly regarded Kubota Digital Photography Bootcamp®. Jules leads a regular photography group once a month for local photographers to network and learn and privately mentors photographers from all over the country.