Why You Should Reinvent the Wheel

I get them all the time:

“Can you just send me your contract? I don’t want to pay for one.”

“Tell me what songs you use for your slideshows.”

“I just booked my first birth and don’t have a contract yet. Can I use yours, just this once?”

“Can you share your actions and presets with me? I shot a birth and the editing is not going well. Need help before my client gets mad!”

“What products should I offer? What’s the best lab?”

“HELP! I am meeting with a potential client tomorrow and need a pricing guide! Can I just use yours?”

“I *love* the graphic you use in your logo with the pregnant bellies forming a shutter. Would you mind if I use that for my logo, too? If you could change the colors to #FFEB73 and #AC3BD4 before you send it that would be great.”

“That album template you use for the birth story book? Where can I get it? I want to start using the same one.”

Almost invariably when I decline, they say “I just don’t want to reinvent the wheel.” But what they are missing is that there are benefits to inventing the wheel.

We will start with my logo. I spent weeks thinking it up, playing with color schemes, sketching with my graphic designer, and we went through several rounds of revisions before we came up with the final version. I love it, too, and it is my logo that represents me.

As time consuming and expensive as the process was, I was forced to spend a lot of time thinking about myself, my business, and the image I wanted to project with my logo. That process was helpful in all aspects of my business, from the wording I use on my web site, to the way I choose to dress for interviews. It forced me to focus on my business image in a way that would not have happened otherwise.

My contract is something I also spent much time and effort on, not to mention the expense of working with an attorney to make sure it is well written and complies with my state laws. It reflects my way of doing business and what is important to me.

Early in the process, I needed to think about what I wanted the contract to cover. I’ve written about some of those here, in an article designed to start you on the road to your own contract. If you need a place to start, I recommend investing in Rachel Brenke’s birth photography contract.

Law is a tricky business, and not one I would advise as a DIY project. The money invested in work done by a professional is money well spent. (Hmmmmm…..isn’t that what we tell OUR prospective clients?)

Pricing and product offerings also a very personal thing. And what works for me – what is profitable and sustainable for me – may not be what works for you. Since I want to be helpful, and I want businesses to survive, I’ve outlined the *process* I go through in figuring out pricing here. Because your expenses, clientele, and income requirements are likely very different from mine, taking the straight final numbers I use and applying them to your business is not a good approach. The process of calculating your cost of doing business can be VERY eye opening and should not be skipped. A successful businesswoman will know what it costs her to serve a family as a photographer.

Products are also an interesting animal. What products will be in demand for your clientele is hard to know, so it is tempting to just do what someone else is doing. Instead, try a little market research. Talk to expectant moms about what they value, what they might want from the experience. Invest in samples. If possible, go to a photography conference and physically SEE the products from the various labs. Read reviews. And over the years, I have modified my product offerings several times, and probably will do so again. OK definitely. Working on a pricing and product overhaul right now. 🙂

Editing style could be its own post! (and probably will be….eventually) It’s fine to learn techniques from many different photographers. It can be a fantastic learning experience to try and recreate the editing styles you see others use. But actions and presets are just tools, they are not the be-all and end-all of editing. They are not a substitute for taking the time to explore and learn your OWN style. Any money you might spend on actions and presets would be better spent on courses that help you learn and explore your own editing style. As a Lightroom user, I particularly liked Caroline Jensen‘s class: Communicating with Color and Light. She went through each of the panels in Lightroom and taught how they work, how they interact together, and how to create presets for your own editing style. She had us edit a single image 3-5 different ways, something I found very freeing – I did not have to decide immediately which direction to go, I could explore many directions! She also had us doing things like studying artists we admire to learn their use of color, etc. It’s been almost 6 months and I am still digesting, applying and fine tuning what I learned. Take the time to figure out and find YOUR editing style instead of just slapping on an action or preset from someone else and calling it good.

And it really should go without saying, but I have so many problems with it, I’ll just throw in a quick link here. Don’t steal photos or plagiarize someone else’s web site, marketing materials, etc.

Other things, like songs, album templates, birth announcements, etc. are things I have invested much of my time into finding just the right one. I have listened to hours and hours of songs, Googled the lyrics to songs, hunted down licensing for the music I want to use, and finding something just perfect. I have found a template I like, bought it, adapted it for my business and clientele, and made it my own. There are some songs that are terribly overdone for births. (Sweet, Sweet Baby by Michele Featherstone comes to mind…) and I like my work to be a little unique, so I go to the effort of finding something new for my business. It makes me stand out more as an artist, which is good for my business. Taking the time and effort to do the same will also benefit you as you grow your business. As a new business, it is vitally important to stand out and have your own voice.

It’s tempting to want to build your business fast and cheap by taking from other photographers. And there are plenty of photographers who do share and allow others to copy from them. I strongly recommend that you take no shortcuts. Take the time to build YOUR business in a way that reflects you and your own style, voice and personality. You’ll be a stronger business for it. You’ll be more likely to be profitable and will have a business model that is sustainable for you long term. And THAT is what I hope for when I see new talent in the field.

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