Part II: The Business Aspect of Photography
JM: What is it that you feel draws you to pet photography versus other professional ventures?
JP: It just sorta evolved into this. I “speak dog” and have a real connection with both my human and canine clients. I truly enjoy working with them.
JM: Are you doing other paid portrait/professional work?
JP: Yes, I also do children, family photography and equine photography
JM: As you said earlier, your start in photography came from the equine world. Have you found it different working with the equine groups than you have with the dog groups?
JP: They are very similar. The show clients whether equine or canine are more similar than different. They have the same needs and really the same wants as one another. They have specific images in mind. Their animals have to look in a way that is flattering to their discipline. My pet clients are looking for memories and for art on their walls. Often my show clients do the same, but what brings them to me in the first place is different.
JM: Talk to me as if I were just starting today to start my own business - focusing on pet photography. What do you believe are common mistakes that beginners in the business make?
JP: The biggest mistake is starting too soon as a “professional." Calling yourself a professional and charging people before you can reliably produce *consistent* results is the fastest way to failure. People have long memories and if you give them a sub-par product early, well, that won’t be forgotten.
JM: You mention 'sub par' work as a primary way to fail in business. This implies that the hardest part is the photography. Do you think that there are common business foibles outside of that?
JP: There are many ways to fail business wise. I mentioned subpar work is the primary way to fail, because that will stop you from succeeding before you ever have to be business savvy! Of course running a business of any kind requires the boring stuff of doing taxes, cost of goods analysis, sales and all of the not so fun stuff. (I actually really enjoy sales though!)
JM: Let's talk about networking for a bit. What are the sorts of connections people should be making?
JP: Any and all to begin with
JM: Can you go into that a bit?
JP: Honestly, I don't know how to expound on that. Really, you make any and all connections. You never know where an unexpected one may lead you. If you are focusing on baby photography, you need displays at OB offices. Displays in vet offices are good for recognition, and really contacts come from all over.
JM: How did you go about making those initial contacts when you first started?
JP: My initial contacts came from people I knew in the equine community. I did horse shows which was almost like working for advertising. Nothing like being out there in front of a group of people to get people to know what you are doing. Those contacts just build on themselves.
JM: If you had to look at goals for future connections today, what are you looking for say 12 to 18 months down the road?
JP: I really don’t set networking goals. I just keep doing what I am doing. If it stops working, I’ll change.
JM: What types of advertising do you use to promote your business? Is it mostly Google (or equivalent) advertising? Or are you using direct mailing, commercials or other forms of media (such as bill boards, etc)?
JP: I am almost 100% word of mouth referral and social networking based. Years ago I put ads in upscale magazines, did a TV commercial, and other small print things and had ZERO return from it. I get a great response from Facebook as it is people who are already interested in me.
(6) If you are starting from scratch though, how have you been able to get that word of mouth? How many sessions are you booking in a week, and how long did it take you get to this level?
JP: I think I have built that word through fundraisers and just time. You don't start as an overnight sensation. As far as how many sessions a week, it really varies. The fall and spring are the busiest for me, and during summer I tend to be booked doing show dog advertising sessions. I think it took me ~5 years of being in business
JM: How have you worked to brand yourself? What makes what you do different from the scores of other pet photographers out there?
JP: I am heavily branded as an animal photographer. That branding just came from, well, photographing animals! I don’t know how I am different, I just do things my way. I am a fairly unique person to begin with. We always laugh I walk to the beat of my own little drummer
JM: How have you worked to develop your pricing structure? What do your photographic packages look like?
JP: I do not have packages. I found them to be a big pain and no one liked what I put together. All my products are a’ la carte and I do have bonuses when certain levels are reached. That has worked out much better for me. It seems people go through waves of favorite products I offer. Canvases are always a prime seller, along with coffee table books.
JM: Does that include the session sitting fee?
JP: Sitting fee is separate and is only for my time.
JM: You talk earlier about coffee table books. Are you using self publishing companies like blurb, or companies like Graphi Studio (popular with wedding photographers)?
JP: I have never used blurb or any of the companies like it. I use more of the Graphi Studio style for albums and for coffee table books I use other professional printers
JM: Would you share your experience with publishing?
JP: My dog show advertising comes from clients who are showing their dogs. That is a market brought to one by clients, not publishers. I have sold photos to advertisers like “Back in the Saddle” and “KV Vet supply” as cover images. My stock work is fairly limited though.
JM: You recently opened your studio. How has that been going?
JP The studio is wonderful. It is actually my third one. The first was above a car dealership we had and when that was sold, I moved into one with a friend, which worked out wonderful until I needed my own space. I have to give huge thanks to my husband for all the labor he did to get it up and running! He did a wonderful job! It has the most wonderful warm feel to the space. I just love being there.
JM: As you know, there has been lots of discussion about the overhead of a studio in the Shop Talk Forum. Do you feel that it brings foot traffic?
JP: I do not look for foot traffic. I am a "by appointment only" photographer and I am only at the studio when I have clients. I do all my processing and book work at home. It is part of how I balance the family thing. I am not really in a foot traffic type shopping center.
Here Ends Part II of Julie's Interview. Part III will be coming up next weekend!