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Like everyone else that owns a small business the economy’s shaky stature made me wince and I was concerned about the ability for my little company to stay afloat in a sea of financial chaos and uncertainty. Everyone else was sharing the same fears and apprehensions and there were numerous studies showing that couples we postponing their weddings or at the least scaling back on what they were spending… that was good enough bait for most professionals to start discounting if not abandoning their pricing structure for something that would be more affordable and appealing for their clientele, especially in our industry where we are already fighting against the shoot and burn photographers that in undercharging are teaching potential brides that is all their family heirloom is worth, and the quality of that first heirloom is diminished because of it.
For me personally there was an added element of panic this year because Michael was called to deploy and because of such took leave from his duty here to spend time with his family. We had enough money in savings to cover our expenses for a month or two until he left for afghanistan, and at the moment time together with the kids was the most important thing to us. So when the military changed their minds {that NEVER happens} and postponed his date, I went from having to only financially support my studio and craft, and enjoying the benefit of having extra spending cash to being the sole source of income for my studio and my family. Panic was a bit of an understatement.
So when we got a call from a friend about wedding photography there was more pressure than usual to book it, because we needed the money. Now. So we offered a discount for the day, and then when they hesitated on the price we continued to negotiate for several days, not only fueled by financial pressures but because they were friends, and at one point we realized that we had nearly discounted to half our usual rates…but was $3000 now worth the possibility of $5500 later? At that exact moment it seemed like it was with our mortgage payments looming in the near future for both the studio and our home.
When I start feeling overwhelmed or conflicted I read over notes I have taken from other mentors and the wisdom they have shared, in seminars, in books, in lectures and tutorials. I came across one by Skip Cohen, where he said “Just because they say it’s going to be a bad year for the economy doesnt mean it has to be.”
I let the wedding go, as much as I wanted to photograph it because I loved the couple, and because we needed the income right then.
We booked 2 other weddings that month that gave us a little breathing room, then we got another call from a sister of a friend of ours that came in, their wedding was the same date as the one I had passed up, so I was grateful that we would at least rebook the date, and feel that I made the right decision in letting it go. Not only did they book. They booked an $8000 package. When a few weeks before I had been considering doing a $5500 package worth of work, and outputting all the overhead for it with $2000 less of income. Really had I accepted I would have lost a substantial amount of income, and a wedding that I am super excited about shooting because the couple is absolutely adorable, and fun, and has some really wonderful things planned for their wedding that I am going to love sharing stories about with 2012 brides.
Fear is crippling your success. For some of us it’s lowering prices because we are afraid of the competition undercutting us on price, or we’re afraid of the economy making us another small business casualty in the wake of the financial insecurity. Some of us it’s fear that if we leave the security of day jobs we’ll fail, fail at our passion, fail at providing for our families, fail at being successful in pursuing our wildest dreams and being everything we dared to when we were 5. Fear that if we accomplish everything we are hoping to that the sacrifices will be too great, or we will find ourselves still feeling unfulfilled…

When you are ready to let go of your fears, what you can accomplish is limitless, in my humble opinion coupling that with compassion would be an amazing energy with boundless possibilities to change your destiny and impact the world.

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I have often been told: It’s not what you have, it’s what you give.  In the last almost 3 years a lot of people have given a lot to help me get to where I am.  Particularly My husband and my kids.  I have worked 12-18 hour days, given a kiss in passing walking in or out the door so that instead of babysitting fees I could reinvest into new things for the studio.  People have been asking me a lot lately how I did what I did in such a short time.  For some of my new followers and friends here’s the breakdown:  I was a stay at home mom to a career soldier, I still have never had an education in photography or formal training, I have picked photographers I admire at the time for specific talents or specialties and learned what I admired in them and how to adapt that to a little JLark flare.  In 2 years I built a photography business, shooting on a home made backdrop in my basement.  We bought a new house with a separate building and garage that made my first studio space, and Michael built it from the studs up.  The next year I moved to a beautiful 1750sqft 85 year old house with all natural wood moulding and floors, beautiful architecture and lots of gorgeous natural light.  It has been an incredible journey in my own small world, and a unique and fun experience as people begin to recognize me and those I admire surprise me by referencing an image I created, or by quoting or retweeting something I wrote.

Quite simply, how I got this far is I worked really really hard.  And.  I have an incredible support system.  It exists on the foundation of support my family and friends give, and is most greatly nurtured by the professional contacts I have made, that provide inspiration, education and completely selfless support.  People like Scott Bourne and Skip Cohen who are two of the most generous and intelligent teachers I know in the business of photography.  A lot of the practices that allowed me to advance so quickly came from them.

So I’d like to pay it forward a bit, and share what little expertise I have.  I have much to learn with photography and lighting, and much I have learned that may be useful for new talent dipping their toes into the photography pool for the first time.  I do think my expertise lies in creating something out of very little.  Having small resources and little funding is my favorite challenge in creating something colossal.

The biggest question I’ve gotten is how I manage to cultivate all my business from facebook and not pay for any kind of advertisement.  It actually isnt quite that simple.  Your work has to speak.  If your images don’t intrigue people you wont get them in to look, if they dont look, they dont buy.  Most people understand that their website is essentially a store front in the digital world, and following that mindset, you should think of your facebook page as a second chain or a home office.

So lets start with your images.  {for the record all this is what works for me…pick and choose what works for you and fits into your personal and artistic style.}  First my pet peeves:  Only your best images.  one or two from each session.  I can’t stand when someone posts every shutter click from a session, less is more.  If you have one good shot it’s better to show just that one, showing it in the middle of mediocrity just dilutes the awe factor for the great image.  Second; and this is a huge one.  DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT!  Do not post the same photos in color, black and white, and sepia tone, or with different retouching and filters applied.  First off the majority of fb users understand, and most of them know how to change an image from color to black and white.  Secondly unless you are a retoucher and marketing yourself as such there is no need for you to show multiple versions of the same image, pick the best and show that one.  Thirdly the unretouched and retouched images showcase how much work your client needed, and I’m telling you as a girl who is incredibly self critical of herself in photos, one way to cause the exact opposite of your intended reaction in your clients is to showcase their flaws, instead of feeling good and beautiful you’ll make them self conscious and unhappy with themselves.  Mostly though it’s the look here’s an image, and heres the same image in black and white, and here it is again in sepia…it’s redundant, don’t do it!

On the to-do-list for your images, do try to connect with your clients,  as soon as I get a phone call from a potential client I go fb stalk them and send a friend request.  After their event or session pick your favorite image and post it, drop them a note on their page telling them how much you enjoyed photographing them and tag them in the image.  {If you’re like me and shoot more intimate images that may dictate what’s fb friendly, and you should always ask if you can post them first.}  Once you post it, anyone that comments on the image that’s a friend of theirs, touch base with them, send a friend request, thank them for commenting on the images you took and invite them in for their own session.  Do keep your albums current with new work, {I’m actually better about keeping my work up to date on fb more than on my personal website}  Do make sure that if you are showing some work that pushes the envelope of the fb restrictions even a little that you set the albums to private, viewable only by friends.  Out of respect for my clients, and because I’m a mom, I keep my profile private and limited mostly just to my online friends so young eyes, and people that dont appreciate the artistry dont come across it.

Splitting your albums into categories is a good idea too.  Unless you’re working with celebrities or people of note, I dont recommend setting albums as the clients:  Abby, Beth, Sara, etc.  You want your clients to find exactly what they’re looking for, and it’s much easier to do if a mommy to be finds an album labelled “maternity”  or someone interested in a boudoir session finds an album labelled that way.

Aside from your portfolio your best practice to bring in clients is {drumroll………………………… are you ready?}

Be nice.

When new fans send you a friend request after you accept take 2 seconds drop by their page and thank them for the request.  When someone comments on your page or image take the time to respond and acknowledge.  Here’s a big one, if another photographer, even one from your area asks you a question… answer it.  It’s a novel concept, but they can be your colleagues instead of your competition.  Think about it this way, if no one had shared any of their secrets with you you wouldnt know anything about this either, and chances are if they’re asking, they’re not as good as you which means your clientele is different anyway.

Facebook fan pages.  I have one.  actually I have 3.  one for me as an artist at http://www.facebook.com/JessicaLark one for my studio at http://www.facebook.com/CoutureManor that my studio manager updates more often than I do, and one for my charity at http://www.facebook.com/ChangeBeginsWithUs.  I hopped on the train of trying to get all my friends to become fans… to be honest I think upon further reflection that a lot of that is just self serving your own ego.  For most of us there is no reason why we need a fan page.  Here are the benefits though.  You can email all your fans at once without having to select them individually.  Other companies and professionals that have fan pages can list yours under their affiliated pages to help network and cross promote.  This can be especially beneficial for wedding photographers, you can hook up with caterers, florists, etc.  For example a good friend of mine Nicholas Clare is a talented baker.  The two of us trade clients all the time, and it works out for us both.  Of course financially because we’re both booking work, but I get delicious cake at the receptions and he gets great photos of his images.  We even save the clients time by doing both consultations at the same time, and he helps me seduce them with delicious Chocolate chip cookies that my kids beg him for everytime he comes to visit.

The other major difference between fan pages and personal pages is that facebook tops out at 5,000 friends so for people like Jasmine Star and the like having a fan page enables her to keep connected with her fans beyond that.  Others like Jerry Ghionis simply make a second personal account.  The downside to the fanpages is you cant tag them in photos.  A lot of my clients tag me in the images I create for them on my personal page and their friends find me that way.  You may be losing referrals if you are operating solely off a fan page.  I also like the nifty little app that links my facebook to twitter.  that way everytime I do update my fanpage it also updates my twitter.  I pride myself on being friends with my clients and most of my fans, so I usually invite them to send me a friend request as well.  I met the sweetest girl this week at the going pro seminar who told me she was a fan but we werent friends on my personal account.  If that’s you as well, remedy it immediately, I want to know who you are! 🙂

So those are some of my thoughts on facebook, please feel free to add tips and tricks that work for you. A lot of this can be adopted and adapted for any business really.  I’d love to help you in your endeavors, running your own business is hard work but so worth the effort and really contrary to popular belief, people with strong work ethic and passion will thrive more often than those with training and education.  Please dont hesitate to contact me with any questions or topics you’d like me to talk about, If I dont know I can probably quote someone who does 🙂  If you’d like to ask me a question anonymously you can do so at Formspring

Thanks for taking the time to read ❤

One of the wedding cakes by my good friend at N Clare

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