We are surrounded with simple solutions to help us succeed but we dont always see them

I want to share a story about the vice president of marketing of a Fortune 500 company who had an innovative idea for a new product. The rest of the board had their reservations, but he believed so firmly in his idea that he convinced the other members to grant him permission to proceed with the project. A few months later, when the project had completely and utterly failed to the tune of about $3,000,000, the VP began clearing out his office. When the president of the company walked in, he asked the VP, "Where are you going?" The VP responded, "I'm clearing out all my personal things and going home. I just made a huge mistake that cost your company $3,000,000. I assumed I was fired!" "Are you crazy?" the president said, "I just invested $3,000,000 in your education!"

Every idea you come up with isn't going to be a home run, and many will probably end up being strikeouts. But there is nothing worse in this world than never even swinging the bat! Risk is part of success, and those who are willing to stick their necks out each and every day— like you do—are the true heroes of our industry. You cannot experience the joy of discovering new lands if you never risk losing sight of the shore. After all, when you do things the same old way, you should expect the same old results.

You can, however, reduce costly mistakes by learning from other people's errors and by borrowing valuable lessons from other industries; there is nothing wrong with that. You should make it a point to study the leaders in our industry, and in others fields, and learn what it is that gives them their competitive edge. (You'll take a step-by-step approach to this process with the Five-Second Image Challenge a little bit later.)

The Five Biggest Mistakes Photographers Make

When it comes down to our marketing efforts, most of our mistakes lie within five distinct areas.

1. Failure to Have a Well-Thought-Out Marketing Plan. Anyone can captain the ship when the seas are calm; however, a good marketing plan does its best work when the seas are anything but calm. Eighty percent of all businesses do not have any form of marketing plan at all, and 80 percent of all businesses aren't around in five years. Do you think this is just a coincidence? We have two jobs: to photograph and to market; everything else is secondary.

2. Failure to Have a Clearly Defined Hook or Message. Without it, you are just a "me too," an also-ran, another run-of-the-mill business. You will not become successful simply because you are the best. Da Vinci was dead for over two hundred years before he became famous. I don't want to wait that long!

You need to know what it is that makes you special and unique in your marketplace. What is it that customers can't get from anyone but you? What is the compelling reason that customers should come to your studio instead of any of the others in your area? Again, the numbers speak for themselves: 80 percent of all photographers couldn't tell you what their hook is if asked. Are you one of the 80 percent, or are you among the 20 percent?

Professional-looking marketing pieces, like these from Christa Hoffarth, are well designed and have a cohesive feel that helps build brand recognition.

3. Failure to Have Professional-Looking Marketing Pieces. It's all about first impressions. Everything you do must match your image. If you want to be known for Cadillac quality, then everything you do should be consistent with that goal.

4. Failure to Project Your Sales and Goals into the Future. Let me ask you a question. If a bride calls you today to find out more about what you have to offer, when is she more than likely getting married? Maybe six, twelve, or eighteen months from now? Then why do we give her today's prices? Shouldn't we be charging prices that are based on and reflect where we want our studio to be at that later date?

All of our future goals for our business (and our lives) must be reflected in our price lists. If your goal for next year is to shoot half the number of weddings at double the price, then next year's prices should be in effect today! Or, on the other hand, if your goal is to shoot twice as many weddings at half the price, you should take all of that into consideration when designing your current wedding collections. Wedding photography is one of the only industries where we are hired and retained for a job we will perform at some point in the distant future. And we should be charging those future prices today. Doesn't that make sense?

5. Failure to Price Your Packages to Allow for Costs, Overhead, and That Four-Letter Word: Profit.

The average photographer makes less than $25,000 per year. Do you have a thorough understanding of your cost breakdown on your products? Do you know how much profit is generated from each sale? How many weddings do you need to book (or seniors or families) in order to achieve your financial and personal goals? What do you want to make this year, next year, and the year after that?

The biggest problem in our industry isn't that we are priced too cheaply, it's that we are afraid to charge what we are worth. Understanding what it costs to produce each of your products can give you the basic tools to make sure you are making a profit each and every day. There are some wonderful resources available that will walk you through the process of figuring out what your costs are— and what your profit is. I encourage you to investigate this topic as part of your brainstorming and planning sessions. Ask yourself, Do you want to be average? Or do you want to be successful? It's up to you! (The subject of pricing will also be covered in detail later in this book.)

Target Your Efforts

In order to truly focus, you have to do less. You can practice hand-grenade marketing—just throw a bunch of stuff out there and hope it hits the target—or you can use laser beam marketing and hit only what you want. If you would like to eliminate a certain segment of the business you currently do (let's say, for example, the low-end children's market), then devise a game plan today that allows you to smoothly exit that market and replace it with sales from your more lucrative demographic.

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