Three Aspects to a Successful Business

Three Aspects to a Successful Business

  1. Desirable
  2. Service oriented
  3. Emotionally connected


How can you be attractive to customers is what we are asking ourselves. These are some tips here to help you not just attract new customers, but create a constant customer base.

Location—You have no further to look than your own community to know that there are certain locations that just seem to be terrible for business. You see business after business locate there only to have them go under.

UPS helped many businesses succeed by becoming the fulfillment center for those companies. Locating to take advantage of order fulfillment center or to a prime location where your customers will see you can make a huge difference. It is also why it makes sense to be sure you are marketing to businesses near to you.

If your industry is in another state or city, you might just want to relocate to improve your customer base.

You need to be close as possible to your customers for them to consider you.

This is not just about a bricks and mortar location—having your online presence easily accessible is another way. Also, while the client may be around the world, their subject could be next door to you. Letting people know where you live may get you the job.

Presentation—What kind of impression do you leave? How often have you gone to a restaurant and go to wash your hands only to leave due to a dirty the restroom?

Uniforms are used in so many businesses because this is the only way they can assure a consistent appearance for their customers.

Be sure everything that the customer will see from you is consistent in quality and look.

Pricing—You must know what you must charge to make a profit. You must also understand the marketplace. If you were rated like the hotel industry, would you be a one star, two stars or maybe a five star rated business?

Expertise—How knowledgeable are you about your product and services? As a photographer I have to know when someone calls me if what they want photographed is possible as well as knowing everything needed to create the image.

This expertise is more than being able to answer questions. If you are an expert in the field you will most likely be asking questions to help guide the client. Are you asking questions that help the client understand you can help them?

Marketing—You must advertise in all the right places. If you know who your targeted audience is you will be able to reach them more cost effectively than trying to let everyone know about you.


Great service is proactive and not reactionary. Exemplary service is like having someone complete your sentence for you. You anticipate a need before the customer realizes it.

Five star hotels have bellmen to distinguish them from three star properties. Before you are even getting out of your car they are opening the car door for you. They are offering to get your bags before you have even thought of needing them.

Five star restaurants are helping place the napkin in your lap; keeping your glass filled and doing table touch in. They are offering freshly ground pepper or cheese for your meal. You never have to search for the waiter; they are already there when you need them.

Great service is considered second mile service for a reason. In the marketplace with your price point there is a certain basic level of service expectation. This means if you are just meeting the standard then you are just average. It is when you are already meeting the standards and then go beyond them with surprise service do you get the WOW effect.

Emotionally connected

This is by far the most difficult thing to do in business, but what those top in an industry are doing.

You are focusing all of your attention on creating a relationship with the customer and not just getting a transaction.

The hardest part about creating emotional connections is you have to really want a genuine relationship with the client. No matter the actions you take, if your heart isn’t into it the customer knows they are just being played.

Most of my friends enjoy eating out. In Roswell where I live we have a good number of great restaurants. The restaurants we love to go to over and over have a few things in common. They all serve fresh food that tastes great. The restaurant is clean. But most of all I feel like a guest in one of my best friends homes.

When I go to those restaurants each one of them knows our family. They ask about our kids and how things are going. Sometimes the places are so busy they are rushing about, but they still take just enough time to say hello. At least one time in the history of eating there, they have taken the time to talk and get to know me. A few even sat down with us and we chatted about each other’s lives.

The key here is they were interested in my life and over time I too became interested in them. It was the authenticity of their actions that has me going back.

When you “hit the wall” in your business

In endurance sports “hitting the wall” is when you have depleted nutrients and sudden fatigue and loss of energy sets in. In milder instances brief rest and ingestion of food and drinks containing carbohydrates can remedy it.

When the phone stops ringing and your inbox is empty for business requests you have “hit the wall” in your business.

Endurance athletes have a plan in place to avoid “hitting the wall” on race day. Usually most of these athletes have experience “hitting the wall” before they had a plan in place. Maybe this is your situation as well. You didn’t have a business plan in place and now you need one.

What should your plan include?

The endurance athlete, like a marathon runner, knows where their finish line is for them. If their finish line is 26 miles when they start out they are not running 26 miles. They break down their plan into bite sizes.

What is your goal? Do you want recurring income that sets you free to use your time as you please? Do you want to build retirement? Many start their business to have freedom. However, many of these same people feel they are enslaved by it rather than being free.

Define Your Customer

Are they male or female? Do they have a budget for one time, occasional or recurring services? Do they spend a lot or little time on the Internet? Where on the Internet do they spend their time? Where do they go to find your product or services?

What am I selling?

Most make the initial mistake of thinking they are selling a service or product. I challenge you to think of what benefit you are offering to the customer. When you can connect on the emotional level you will increase your business.  Just look at all the automobile ads that connect on fear. They help the customer know they can feel safe in their product. What are they selling most of the time? Safety. Sometimes they show almost running over a child or sometimes they show how the performance of their engine will help you pull away from oncoming trucks or pass crazy drivers.

Connect the dots

Now that you know your customer and what you are selling you need to connect these dots to one another.

The most common mistake made today is an emphasis on quality and not quantity of connections. 

Suspension brides, boats and even rock climbers rely on many strands and not just one to support them. By using more strands of a weaker tinsel strength fiber you can create a stronger support than with one strand of a stronger tinsel strength fiber.

Marketing the rules of Seven and Three

Most all research has shown that you need seven different connections to turn a prospect into a customer. Many businesses fail to have a marketing plan that has at least seven different connections to their targeted audience.

While you may have planned seven different ways to reach your targeted audience you want to try each of the methods three times.

The first time you do something you spend a great deal of effort to make it happen. The learning curve alone is very steep. Your audience is just being introduced to whatever you are doing.

The second time you implement your idea you are able to make some necessary changes. You don’t have that steep learning curve and you are now building on some experience. The audience is now somewhat aware of what you are doing and therefore you have more buy in from them.

Third time you know you have worked out most all the kinks and your implementation is at it’s peak. At this point your audience may be a raving fan of what you are doing.

By the third time you are able to make a very good evaluation on the Return-On-Investment. If you did this on the first time you have too many things working against you from your mistakes implementing it and customer understanding what you are trying to do.

Marketing ideas

Make yourself newsworthy. You can enter contests and when you win you can send a press release out promoting yourself. You can get involved in a community event as a sponsor. By being there and involved you have a good chance of the local paper writing about your involvement.

Create a seminar. Create a program that will help your target audience. One small public relations agency that I work with in Roswell, GA created a free seminar titled, “Social Media Marketing Made Simple” to drum up business in the local market.

Create a brochure.
If you meet your targeted audience one-on-one or they come to a seminar you put on having something they can leave with is another strand.
Website. While this is static you can point people to this and sometimes they may stumble upon it if you use the right keywords for listing your website.

Blog. By writing a blog you are establishing yourself as an expert in the field.

Social Media. Get involved in groups on the web where you can listen for topics that you can help with. You can find these groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter for example.

With social media it is important you are not pushing yourself on everyone, but pulling him or her to you.

This is true with all of your marketing.

Dale Carnegie said it best; “You can close more business in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.”

Seven Reasons Not to Become a Freelance Professional Photographer

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 400, ƒ/6.3, 1/100–4 Alienbee B1600s hung in the ceiling on 1/4 power and barebulb

7) Not a self-starter—In your first year or so you will be getting up with no photo shoots on your schedule. You must be able to fill your day with something that will be productive. If you are someone that takes initiative and rarely needs someone to tell you what you should be doing at work, then you might make it as a professional photographer.

6) Procrastinator—You may know what you need to do each day, but you can easily get distracted and not stay on task. If you have seen the movie “UP” then you will recognize the comment—Squirrel.  I know a good number of former photographers who just didn’t get around to doing what they should have been working on and now they are no longer working professional photographers.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/2.8, 1/100–Marc Broussard

5) Hate rejection—If you get easily discouraged then you do not want to go into business for yourself—in any field. Just because your family and friends think you are a great photographer is not the same as everyone lining up to pay you to take photos. If you have people lining up and begging you to shoot things for money—then this is way different and makes you the only person I know to be in that situation. Successful photographers are only selling to 5 – 10% of those people they have contacted. 90 – 95% of the time they are rejected.

4) Poor Negotiator—For the most part photography is not so cookie cutter. This is very true for the commercial photographer. Each job is different from the rest and requires you to price differently. Due to this there tends to be a lot of negotiating with clients. Sometimes this may sound harsh when someone is trying to get you to lower your price.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM S, 2X, ISO 10000, ƒ/4, 1/2000

3) Do not like taking direction—many “artists” tend to think they know better what they need to create. Unless you are going to be a “fine art photographer” then you will need to execute other people’s ideas. You will need to learn how to bend to keep a client and get paid.

2) Do not like sitting at a computer for long periods—You will need to spend time editing your work for sure, but you will spend a lot of time connecting with people through emails, website, blogs, creating printed materials and searching the web for clients to name just a few of the things you will need to be doing on a computer.

Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 200, ƒ/1.4, 1/80

1) No business skills—You need to understand pricing of your services that will help you make a profit for the long haul is not easy to do. You also have to be a risk taker in running your own business. Almost nothing is a sure bet and you will have to put money behind ideas that may or may not work. You also need to know how to market yourself to the world.

Now you don’t have to be good at all these things, but they all must be done to remain a professional photographer. You can outsource some of these, but the outsourcing will cost more than if you did them yourself. At a certain point in your growth of your brand you will find it necessary to outsource some of this to grow your business.

You might think of more things to add to this list–but freelancing full-time is not for the faint of heart.

Stop Selling Nails

When my wife Dorie graduated from seminary our family took an out of the ordinary vacation to Jamaica. We did the all-inclusive package. All we had to do was enjoy the trip. No worrying about when or where to eat or what to do. We just had fun. I cherish these memories.
You’ve probably splurged on something. Maybe you took a special vacation or found a wonderful restaurant. Most of us have done something fun that is outside our normal budget. These extraordinary times can form memories our families will talk about for the rest of our lives.
Workshops and Seminars
Each year I attend a few workshops and seminars to keep me up to date and increase my value to my clients. Years ago some friends suggested that I should splurge and invite the speaker I was impressed with out for a meal to some nice restaurant. At first I was worried that these important people would think I was nuts.

The first time I took a speaker out to eat I expressed this worry. She laughed and said, “No man, I was a peon myself once and not that long ago.” I learned more asking questions and listening during this one-on-one time at a meal with a key person than the rest of the entire conference. By the way, that first speaker I became friends and have kept in touch.
I’ve met others, who were struggling and barely had any money for their own food, but they still took a speaker to lunch. Much later on they told me that the investment in that lunch changed their lives and their business. 
Building Supplies
Hardware stores and real estate agents sell entirely different things. Hardware stores sell nails and wood and the prices vary little from hardware store to hardware store. Real estate agents sell what a builder did with what he bought in a hardware store and the prices range all over the place depending what was done with the basic materials.

As we talk with a prospective client does the discussions quickly turning to price and the bottom line? 
The Total Package
Let’s think back to those extraordinary vacations or the meals you treated those special speakers to. Price was not the determining factor. The value of what you got for your money prompted you to take that vacation or buy that person a meal.
If the quality of your work is superior and you have consistently treated your customers with honor, dignity and respect then you have established a brand that will draw clients to you.

If you are aware of how your work defines you in the marketplace and you communicate this effectively to potential customers you will do well. You can compare what you do to your competition or you can just point out all the things that you do for your clients and never mention the competition.
If prospective clients are talking price and bottom line then stop selling nails and wood and start talking about the quality of your work and what you will do for them.

It’s Not All About Me, But It All Depends On Me

One of the best things I have learned over the past year about how to grow my business is that it’s not all about ME, but it all depends on ME.

Kenneth H. Blanchard who wrote the famous book The One Minute Manager also wrote Raving Fans. I rediscovered him through my client Chick-fil-A. They embrace his concepts and work hard at creating Raving Fans.

Definition of a Raving Fan: One who uses your services more often; pays full price; and tell others about you.
All businesses want and need Raving Fans. So, how do you get them?

First: Your product or service must be superior. Doing business “Good Enough” will make some clients rave about you, but they will not be FANS. Striving for nothing but the best will create genuine fans.

As a photographer I look for a unique angles; something they are not likely to see themselves. “Good Enough” is giving my client a professional version of something they could have seen and done without my help. My photos must WOW them. That’s my obligation to them as a professional.

Creative use of lighting can move my photography from just “Good Enough” to excellent. I need to explore the subject and find the point of view with the most effective use of light. For example, moving a person so that the light from a window creates the main light on their face rather than fighting the glare of the same window behind the subject. I may need to set-up strobes (flashes) to create my own “window light.”

“Good Enough” is scouting a location after joining my client at the shoot. Much better to shout in advance of the shoot and be able to suggest locations for the best light, composition or unique perspective to make photos that standout from the expected.

Second: To win Raving Fans – go the Second Mile in service. In my business I looked for things to do that were not required, but would be valued by my client.

Something I did from the beginning was to deliver my work to my clients on a professional-looking CD or DVD. I printed my logo and sometimes their logo on the disc as well as the date of the photo shoot and other useful information. “Good Enough” is writing the information on the disk with a Sharpie.

Another unexpected and appreciated extra is a quick turn-around delivering the images. When possible I give the client the disc before I leave the shoot.

By watching other businesses it is possible to discover some of the ways they attract fans. Chick-fil-A, for example, works at making a customer feel like a guest in someone’s home. Little things make this happen. They’ll hold the door for folks, carry the trays to the table, refresh their drinks and even give them food occasionally. 

Seeing what other businesses do and finding ways to apply the concept to my business isn’t always apparent. It is a constant struggle to find ways to be more service oriented. We call those who “do it naturally” Ladies and Gentlemen. (The rest of us gotta work at it.)

I believe the whole key to attracting and keeping Raving Fans is to first be sure to deliver a quality product and do so in a professional way. Only if we are doing this will the Second Mile Service have any real impact. No matter how many nice-little-things we do for a client if they are not happy with our product… The point: You Can’t Go The Second Mile If You Didn’t Go The First Mile FIRST.

I’ve found a great second mile touch is a hand written thank you card. Anything hand written is so rare these days that it has an almost unimaginable positive impact.

Third: Another component of creating Raving Fans is establishing an emotional connection with the client. It’s called Friendship.

When my customer becomes more than a paycheck, when I see them as a valuable person, when I come to care about how they’re doing and I’m concerned about their happiness that’s when I discover the true joy of “doing business.”

When business reaches this level going the second mile only seems natural.

This relationship is not going to form with all our clients, but when it does it was worth the trouble and we’ve made a Raving Fan.

A few months ago I ran into a man I knew when he was a teenager. We were talking when he stopped and said, “Last Sunday my pastor said in his sermon that we should tell people what they have meant to us over the years. Well, I want to tell you that you were a major influence on me when I was a kid and I want to thank you for that.”

I want forget that for a long time. Made me feel great and humble at the same time.

We probably didn’t know our clients when they were kids, but there are things we like and appreciate about them that, given the opportunity, perhaps we should tell them.

An easy way to make a fan and a friend is just to listen to them. Maybe over coffee or a meal, just give them the time of day. A friend, after all, is someone who will listen.

I believe this can all be boiled down to this statement: If you want to grow a business, look for ways to serve your customers.

Give yourself an assignment

I just got back from Hawaii and I’m excited. It was my fifth trip to Hawaii to teach, but photographically this was the best trip by far.

Why so? Well this time I had a couple of assignments.
On the drive over to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park my daughter calls me and says, “Daddy, I need some photos for of the volcano for my class at school. We’re studying the Earth’s crust and I thought the volcano would be a good way to show it.”
Listen, with an extraordinary assignment like that you give it all you got! I knew I needed to do an outstanding job for this client. Besides, this gave me the perfect opportunity to play with my new Nikon D3s.
At the Volcanoes Park I meet this Park Ranger and decide to interview her since she was bound to know more about it than I did (wouldn’t take much).
When I told her about my assignment and the intended audience she knew just what to do. We did the interview in one take. I got the feeling she’d done this before – what a pro.
Here’s what we did from my daughter’s class. You can see it for yourself.
[vimeo w=500&h=281]  Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from Stanley Leary on Vimeo.

Here’s another assignment I did while on the island.
I’d been to the luau the Island Breeze produces in Kona. I asked the folks at the school where I was teaching if there was a way we could set-up a shoot with these dancers. Don’t tell me luck has nothing to do with anything. One of the dancers with Island Breeze was actually in my class! Brooke Valle, the student, is also a professional dancer and travels the world full-time dancing.
I was able to photograph the women dancers and one of the guys who is a fire dancer. They were excited. We photographed the women one night at the home of Kamehemeha the Great, the first king to rule all the islands. The next night we photographed the fire dancer on the beach.
I used this as an opportunity to show the students how to silhouette the dancers and expose for the sky at dusk, which makes for a great looking sky, but puts dancers in the dark. Then I showed them how to use remote Nikon TTL flashes to light up the dancers and make them pop.
Here are the examples:
Here the dancers are silhouetted.
They are now revealed with the flash.
One of my favorites showing the king’s palace in the background.
The dancer is silhouetted.
Now he is revealed with the flash.
These self-assignments, well one assigned by my daughter, forced me to pre-plan. The photographs were better than in past trips and it was a lot of fun.

Want better travel photos? Do some research and preplan. You’ll be glad you did.

Here are some of the student’s first attempts working with studio lighting and off-camera flash after a few days in class.

[vimeo w=500&h=281]  Youth With A Mission Photography School 1 from Stanley Leary on Vimeo.

Finding and Keeping Clients

In February I go to Hawaii to teach in a photography school. We’ll cover Lighting, the heart of photography, and Business Practices in Photography, the lifeblood of the business. Below are some of the points we’ll cover that might work for you in your industry.

Finding Clients
Before you start building a database of names determine your niche. Targeting the specific audience you need to address will make your research and set-up time more productive.
Get Organized

Software programs such as Microsoft Office that has Outlook, Word, Powerpoint and Excel are helpful in organizing your material. Also, these programs are integrated with Microsoft Word and facilitate merging your contacts into a snail mail or emailing.

You write one letter and the software will merge your contact information into each letter personalizing it. You can write one email and personalize it to a long list of contacts. 

It is quite common for me to think of a great tip that might help me get some jobs that I send out to a few hundred or thousands of contacts. Instead of the email coming to them with “To whom it may concern,” it is personalized with their name, like “Dear Steve.” 

What To Do With Collected Contacts
Set-up files in a database for the name of the company, the personal contact’s name, their address and phone numbers, email and website address. Assign each contact to a category.

I specialize in photographing people, but setting up a category for companies who hire photographers that photograph people is too broad. By assigning a contact to a category such as “Education” I can send a promotional piece to only those contacts in the education field. Assigning multiple categories to individual contacts further refines target marketing.

Contact management software has space for making notes. Keep this up-to-date as new information about your client comes to light. Use this field for their Facebook page and other information that don’t fit in any other field.

Time To Party
Parties (some parties) are a good way to build your database. Attend the “after-hours” events many civic and trade organizations sponsor that are designed to promote getting to know people and businesses in the area. Usually held monthly these events are great ways to meet a lot of folks and have fun doing so. It beats sitting at home with a computer.

Work The Room
Be sure you know your two-minute “elevator talk” about your business. Find someone you know. Get them to introduce you to the person to whom they are talking. Exchange business card and ask if you can follow up at another time for coffee or lunch. Be sure to give that person your full attention while you are with them, but move on after about five minutes. Remember, almost everyone in the room is there for the same reason you are, to meet people and find clients.

Be Relevant/Current
I recommend to the students to read industry magazines. Photo District News helps keep photographers informed on happenings in the world of photography. It is filled with the latest trends and techniques, business and legal news and new product reviews.
Contact information for magazines that might be interested in your work can usually be found in the masthead. Many magazines are online today. Read some back issues before contacting them. Offer a story idea to the editor. If you did your homework your idea should reflect the trends that are going on in the industry or plug into the style of that magazine.
Investigate – Dig Deep

Put on your investigative reporter hat and dig around for your niche. Use Google and type in your categories. Combine them with the word “organizations” and you will find many of the trade associations. When you find their websites click on the “About Us” section. It often will help you know the image the company is trying to convey. This is invaluable if you contact them and land an appointment.
Dale Carnegie said it best; “You can close more business in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.”
Qualify Your Lead
I know of a photographer who contacted a designer for a couple years. The photographer sent out beautiful newsletters and promotional material. One day the photographer dropped off a portfolio and met the designer. He asked if he was the person that hired the photographers. He said no, that his boss picked the photographers; he just designed the pieces.

Connecting With A Client
If you find common interests with a prospect, you can establish a business relationship. In a prospect’s office look at: pictures and plaques on the wall; the books on the shelf; anything that shows their interest. Commenting on that interest is a good way to start a conversation. People love to talk about their interest. Try to find common ground for a friendship. People are more likely to buy from a friend than a salesman.
Sales consultant Jeffrey Gitomer says, “If you establish common ground with the other person, they will like you, believe you, begin to trust you, and connect with you on a deeper level; a ‘things-in-common’ level. The best way to win the connection is to first win the person.”
Finding clients is hard work. Keeping them is all-important.

Tips When Hiring a Photographer

Want to know how to get the most for your money out of a photographer? Bring him in early in your planning.

Little girl chases down parachuting cows at the Chick-fil-A Bowl

Use photographers before they shoot

Clients benefit in several ways when they include the photographer as part of their creative team. Not only will the shoot go smother and faster, but more importantly, the photos will be just as you want them to be and your budget will go further.

The sooner the photographer is involved in the planning and preparation for the shoot the better.

After the concept and approach are determined in a planning session the client and I usually scout the locations together, if possible. While on location we determine the best time of day for the shoot based on the lighting. Scouting with the client makes it is easier for us to maximize the time at each location during the shoot.

During the planning session we discuss the feelings the photos need to invoke in the viewer. By working together from the beginning we are both better able to achieve our objective. Preplanning allows everyone to concentrate on the fine details when it truly counts – on the day of shoot.
During the actual shoot priorities can change. Certain shots emerge, as “must have” pictures, while others may become less essential than initially thought. Going for the best shots and dropping or limiting the others can stretch the budget yet still produce outstanding images.
Here is an example of stretching a photo budget. When working with universities and schools it is more expedient, since most general classrooms look alike, to set-up in only one classroom. The faculty and students rotate through the classroom where all the lights have been placed and the exposure and white balance determined. There is no need to move from building to building. This saves time and money.

Tennesse players celebrate
Tennessee cornerback Janzen Jackson (15)and teammate cornerback Eric Berry (14) celebrate defensive play against Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on December 31, 2009 in Atlanta, Ga.

As you consider your photo needs consider adding me to you creative team, that decision will save time and money and ensure a more productive and creative photo shoot.

I’m here to help, just give me a call.