You are an amazing Wedding Photographer, your images are breath taking, but even more than that, you are really successful at the business end. What was your “ah ha” moment in making this a successful career?
I never had an ah-ha moment. I actually started my company and hit the gates running. I started my company during the middle of my divorce. I had a 6 month-old and a 2.5 year-old. Being single with two small babies did not leave room for failure. I threw my heart and soul into my business immediately. I made so many mistakes, but I learned and grew from each and everyone.
I know you value education, you invest in your trade continuously. Would you say this is something that is missing from some of the less successful career photographers?
Education is everything in our industry. Technology, business and trends are in a constant state of change. If we cannot learn to adapt to these sections of our business then we will fail. Through ongoing education we learn about better equipment that will further the look of our images. We learn about different techniques of running a business such as sales and customer service. We learn from new photographers that have a personal style which allows us to meet or exceed the upcoming trends in the market. All of these play an important role in a successful business. Without investing in our education we will never improve upon what we have developed. Let’s face it, once we get comfortable in our career things tend to become stale. A business needs a constant frame of motion and we need to adapt to meet this change. I try to learn at least three new things from beginners and pros each year.
Wedding photography is not for everyone, it takes a hard working, no b*sht kind of soul to do this work. It offers all the benefits if you are a devoted business person, but also a lot of grief.How do you wade the waters? Do you have an assistant that handles all the problems or are you pretty hands on?
I am completely hands on. If you want to own the company you have to get dirty and take the good with the bad. Not all weddings are peaches and cream. As a matter of fact most are exhausting, long a ton of drama. It’s how you handle the client that makes or breaks your company. Customer service plays a major role in this. Being able to listen to the client is key. If they have a complaint let them express it. Take it in without judgement. There is something they are unhappy with but may not be communicating it effectively. For example I have a bride that is complaining about the way her armpit looks in a few photos. Well, I had placed her husbands hand over this area so it’s not really the armpit. So we do have to be able to decipher what they are talking about. This was her way of saying, “Hey my arms look huge” without actually saying it herself. That’s a simple fix. Slim her arms and now we have made a happy client. All problems are handled by myself and not my assistant. Deciphering what clients are really saying can be hard but again, this is something I learned through a course I took on customer service with Melissa Ghionis. Had I not invested in my education I would not be able to deal with complaints in the positive way that has lead my company to our 5 star rating. No one can run your business like you can. My clients also appreciate that I try to meet all of their needs instead of pushing their issues off onto a different person.
With the onslaught of Instagram and Social Media, iphones and smart phones, how to do stay relevant with the Millennial’s?
OH MY GOODNESS…MILLENNIALS!!! I have two of them living in my home now. They are my teenagers lol. They aren’t so easy. Most of them do not even want to meet and why should they? They can get their McDonalds delivered to them these days. Everything is done over the computer for them as well. I make a need for them to meet with me. I do not post my pricing and I will not give it over an email. Once you do this they no longer have a need to meet with you. This is something that I learned through one of my greatest mentors, Skip Cohen. We all know that no sales technique is better than in-person sales. There fore I need them to meet with me. I do the normal posts on Instagram, Facebook etc. but these forms of advertising will never bring in clients for me. This is where the client browses. Much like a magazine. They do not buy a magazine to find a photographer. They buy a magazine to browse through the pages. I use the normal avenues for advertising like TheKnot.com etc. I don’t know that there is a real secret to millennials. If you have it I would sure love to know it because there are a ton of people out there trying to figure them out as well.
For someone starting out in Weddings, brand new, what would you suggest to AVOID straight out of the gate?
Avoid buying everything! There are always going to be these new gadgets, tools or equipment with the promise of making your images better. And the marketing is so awesome on these things that we just have to have them. YOU DON’T! Use what you have. Master what you have and after you have mastered it then make a purchase for one new item. Master that item and keep at the same rate. I know some photographers that have every tool in the book and do not know how to properly use any of them. Be great with what you have rather then semi-good and have a lot of toys. It will also help your pocket book in the long run. Also, research items such as albums, equipment etc. before you make that purchase. Take polls on Facebook. This will save you a ton of mistakes in making bad purchases.
There has been a lot of debate online right now about cheap photography for weddings. Some new wedding photographers doing weddings for a cheap as $500. What is your take on this?
I don’t really care about this. I teach very often that there is not competition. This is true. There are so many events happening per year that not one studio or person could handle them all. However, what I do try to do is educate the lower priced photographers on their value. Most of the photographers in this range do not understand the cost of doing business. It’s not our job to discourage them and make them feel terrible, but rather educate them on their costs and what they would be making on an hourly rate. For example, at $500 a wedding most if not all photographers charging this will be out of business within one year. At this range you are actually losing money but aren’t seeing it until it’s too late and need to close the doors. I am a strong believer in giving back. If all can raise their prices than it only helps our market become greater as it once was.
Where do you see yourself in five years? Cliché, I know, but you are at the top of your game, so I wonder where you will take your talents over the next five years.
I honestly do not look that far out. I love teaching so I hope to be doing more if not running my own conference in Chicago. I may look into representing a camera company. One thing I am certain about is that I have two boys to put through college soon. I won’t be making any large moves until they are finished with this unless I am given a very enticing offer. I will say this, I am at the top of my game now. I do rate this however on how happy my clients are and not the awards I receive. If I stop receiving awards tomorrow but maintain happy clients, then I will remain at the top of my game for a very long time according to my own standards.
If there was one thing you could say to your younger, just starting out self, what would that be?
When I first started my company I would buy tons of items that people would recommend. My thinking was that it would make me a better photographer. It took me five years to realise the only thing that could make me a better photographer was education. Learning how to properly use my equipment. How to photograph in different lighting. Actually being able to visualize how light falls on a subject so that I may create proper fake light. If I would have invested in this earlier I would have been able to increase my pricing earlier and save money on products that I really didn’t need. Those products never worked for me but this was because I did not grasp the importance of how to use them. You can purchase three flashes but if you do not understand how to use light off camera than it will not help the quality of your images. Learn first…then buy.
Where can people find/follow you Sherry?
Facebook: Allusion Photography1
Facebook 2: Sherry Hagerman
Linkedin: allusion photography