EP142 Building Your Business One Client At A Time

Hi all! I am sitting writing this late on a Sunday evening with a glass of whisky in one hand (a small glass I hasten to add) and typing with the other.  It’s already a business year and we’re only a week or two in!

In this episode, I have been pondering how you build your business and how, in particular, you do it one client at a time.

It’s the Societies Convention in London next week and I spent much of today figuring out exactly what I’m going to be doing.  It’s been a lot of fun, but it has highlighted my lack of liner thinking, that’s for sure!

The Superclass and Masterclass we will be running at the Societies Convention 2024 can be found at https://thesocieties.net/convention/speakers/paul-wilkinson/ and we would love to see you there – either at the workshops or just for a well-deserved pint!

Finally, all of our workshops at our studio can be found at https://www.paulwilkinsonphotography.co.uk/photography-workshops-and-training/

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Episode Transcript


SO it’s late Sunday evening, and I’m sitting here on my own, the fire is ticking over, Sarah’s fast asleep, and I have a glass in my hand of something, well, rather lovely. It’s a glass of whiskey from my in laws who brought me a bottle of Dartmoor whiskey for my Christmas.

Tonight, Sarah and I have sat and watched Vera. Of all things, how middle aged can you get we sat and watched Vera on ITV? Why? Well, on Friday night we watched Oppenheimer. On Saturday night, we watched Saltburn. Tonight, we needed something, frankly, a lot less stressful. Harriet, our daughter, did warn us that Saltburn was a little bit on the, how do I put this, fruity side? But, I’m not sure Sarah or I were necessarily predicting it to be quite As lively as it was. And so tonight, we really did need something very gentle. Something very uncomplicated. A whodunit actually is relatively obvious and with no [00:01:00] major stress. Very, very different to the other two films.

Which may explain why I’m sitting here drinking a large whiskey that was bought by my in laws. It’s been a busy week and I’ve just prepped a wedding which made me laugh. So, it’s a wedding I shot a couple of weeks ago just before Christmas and at this wedding I met a pilot. Now, I’ve always had a theory that pilots get recruited on their debonair looks and their ability to say what they need to say over the microphone and sound reassuring.

Sure enough, as I got talking to him, both things became markedly apparent. So, I’m Paul and this is the Mastering Portrait Photography Podcast.

[00:02:00] Haha! So January appears to be running at full throttle and that is not an understatement.

I don’t know what’s going on for a moment emails coming in, inquiries coming in, the phone is ringing we’re booked up solid, and next week of course is the Society’s Convention, which I’m very, very much looking forward to. It was a shame when it moved around the year a little bit. I couldn’t be there last year but this year back very much in full effect.

I’m running two workshops, one of which is sold out, the other I hope to see a large crowd. So on the 18th from 11. 30 to 1, headshots. And on that note today I spent the whole day. Piecing together exactly what we’re going to cover because the way I’ve decided to do it is to just have two very basic strobes. Obviously, when you’re doing a workshop at a convention, they give you a list of the kit you can cherry pick from and I could have had the very best of the very best.

[00:03:00] But the lighting I’ve chosen isn’t, it’s not that it’s not great lighting, but it’s not sophisticated lighting. Very simple lighting that every photographer would start out with, and for both my workshops, both the superclass and the masterclass, I’m going to use this very, very simple kit. Because I get a little bit frustrated when people say to you, oh, you must have amazing lights, or you must have an amazing camera.

In the end, it’s what you do with these things. And not only that, but after we’ve finished doing a workshop, I want people to go away and say, Do you know what? I can do that. Otherwise, there’s no point in doing a workshop if you’re just gonna do a workshop. And in the end, everyone’s gonna go can I do that with my lights?

And the answer is, no. Or, can I do that with my camera? No. Can I do that with my models? No. There’s no point coming to a workshop like that, you know, or rather, there’s no point running a workshop like that. So I’ve backed everything off. We have two simple lights with two small softboxes. That is it.

They’re mains powered, so I’m going to be tripping over live cables, which I [00:04:00] hate. But today, to try and get my head around exactly what we’re going to do, because in the second Masterclass, I committed to doing two lights, ten looks, one and a half hours, one personal.brand, so it’s portraits but based around personal branding.

I picked on that because it’s a very topical thing at the moment. Lots of personal branding, lots of headshots going on. So it seemed like a good vehicle for it. But in the end, it’s portraiture. Lit beautifully, lit quickly. You should be able to create pretty much anything you want to with just two lights.

In fact, I’ve won more awards with one light than I have for any other combination of studio strobes. So. I’m running a workshop around just these two lights, but the problem is that I do not have a linear mind. I wish I did, but I don’t. I’ll give you the example today. Very kindly, one of my clients someone who’s modeled for us a lot is both a [00:05:00] client, the daughter of a client and has been one of those handful of people who’s been in front of our camera more than anybody else.

Stepped in on her Sunday afternoon off to help me figure a path through what we’re going to show. I had it all written out, I had it listed. I spent an hour this morning going through that so that I could work my way through a shoot and work out what we’re going to do in the workshop. Within seconds of Libby arriving and standing in the middle of the studio, I changed my mind four times.

I had to keep going back to the list to remind myself what I was supposed to be doing, what Is it that I intended to do? Because honestly, I don’t think like that. I just, I see the person in front of me. I look at the lighting I have and ideas just spring to mind. Not always good ideas. I never said they were good ideas.

Just ideas. Or I suppose if you’re someone who works in a linear fashion, you might call them distractions. I would call it creativity. Everybody else [00:06:00] might just call it a lack of focus. Forgive the pun. But I did spend today figuring out. Different lighting patterns with the two lights that not only can I do, but they create beautiful imagery and they show just what can be achieved with the simplest of kit and some knowledge of how you’re using it.

Of course, one of the challenges is going to be in the hotel next week. is it’s not a nice dark studio, I don’t have all my equipment to hand, anything I’m going to use, the only things that the convention are giving me are a model and two lights and two softboxes, they’ve said this year, no background, so anything I want to shoot in front of, I’ve got to take in with me, as well as the stands for it.

Which is fine, it’s not a big deal, but I need to be able to travel light because I do not want to be traipsing on the train and on the tube across London with tons of equipment if I can avoid it. So I’m going to try and do this in very light touch, very simple equipment and that lends itself to being [00:07:00] something that if you are just starting out in photography, if you’ve just started to think, you know what?

I’m going to do some studio lighting. Then this is going to be one heck of a masterclass for you because I’m literally using the equipment that I started out on. In fact, the equipment we’re going to use is even more sophisticated than what I started out on, but that’s because everything has evolved. When I started out, everything had analog sliders to set the power.

They were great, but they were unreliable as hell. You had to do everything by eye or by light meter, I suppose. And some days, the little sliders would work really well, and it’d be, you know, linear, and as you moved it up a little bit, it would change a little bit, move it down a little bit, it would change a little bit.

Heh heh. Uh, but then of course, gradually over time, the carbon tracks wore, and you’d move it up a little bit, and the light would go really bright! And then you’d move it down a little bit, and the light would go off. And I’m like, why am I in the dark now? And then, the modeling light would be a very different power.

You could never get them, even though there was two sliders side by side, the modeling light never tracked against the actual [00:08:00] power. Oh, a million things. So, of course, in this day and age of digital control, where you set the numbers on the back of your light, no matter how basic your light is, you’re going to set a number, either with a click wheel or with a digital input, and it’s going to be pretty much spot on, certainly compared to how people like me, who started out You know, I started out with second hand Elinchrom, a pair of Elinchrom EL500s.

I think they were, they were great, but they got very hot, the fans were noisy, they didn’t always go off. You didn’t have radios back then, we had wires. Um, you had a mains cable, you had a trigger cable. If you were lucky, you could get the little Magic Eye thing to work. I had these, I bought them second hand, but they were fantastic and I loved it.

But if you compare that technology to what we’re using today, of course, what we’ve got today, and even the most basic kit, is so sophisticated. Anyway, today I’ve spent the whole day, or I haven’t, I’ve spent the afternoon, stepping through [00:09:00] the lighting patterns we’re going to use, and I’m really excited about it because the images are absolutely stunning.

Well, I think they are. You may disagree. They weren’t what I expected to do, even though I had a list, but then, I guess, if there’s one thing you would expect from me, it’s that I’m not going to do what was expected of me, but that’s, that’s not by choice, I’m not a rebel, it’s just I don’t think in a linear fashion.

That’s not my superpower. Sarah and Michelle both do, and that’s their superpower. They’re very organized. They’re very methodical. They’re very step by step by step. And I am so not, except in one key area, and that’s our workflow. So if ever I talk about workflow, it’s actually, it’s, it’s, in some ways, it’s the most.

Exciting thing because it’s super organized and it’s super organized because over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time making sure I’ve got it absolutely how I want it. On the other hand, it’s not that exciting because it’s linear and I’d much rather be out there [00:10:00] being creative. But nonetheless, the one part of my life that is truly methodical is how we ingest images, how we bring them into Lightroom, how we rename them, the workflow from Sarah through to Imagine to do the coloring and back to me. Very linear. There’s no messing around with it. If, if the files are brought in they don’t go anywhere until there’s another backup of them and that’s on a different disk.

The memory cards are never formatted until the backups are done. The jobs are logged on a big spreadsheet, so I know exactly where everything is. They go to Sarah. I know exactly the workflow of everything. Until yesterday, until yesterday, when Lightroom decided to corrupt the catalog. Now, in itself, not a big problem.

It’s not a big deal. It hasn’t corrupted the images. It’s only corrupted the catalogue, but the catalogue has a lot of areas in it, including collections, including certain colourings, and although I’ve set it to write [00:11:00] any changes in the develop area back down to either the XMP sidecars, or directly into the Photoshop files, that’s not as reliable as you would like because of the way it does it.

The catalogue is backed up, it’s backed up a couple of times, so again, shouldn’t be a problem. But it’s a big catalogue. It’s 11 gig. It’s got 738, 000 images in it, as of when I looked a couple of hours ago. So it’s a big catalogue. And it was yesterday failing to load. I could kill Lightroom and load a small catalogue.

So we, the way Sarah and I move images between the two of us is I export a little catalogue with Smart Previews. She can do whatever she needs. It can go to ImagenAI. It comes back to me. I import it, take all those settings off the Smart Previews. And apply them to the master files. Very straightforward. So we have lots of little catalogues I can use to check that it’s not Lightroom that’s broken, it’s the [00:12:00] catalogue.

Try it on a small catalogue, works fine. Try it on our main catalogue, nothing. So, in the end, last night, I left it just running. It was doing nothing, the system was saying Lightroom had crashed, but it was still ticking over, so I just let it go. I went back in this morning, and the catalogue was up, but it wasn’t happy.

Something has glitched in the catalogue. We had a little bit of a, a sequence of events that led to power glitching, and it must have been writing into the database, and although it’s not supposed to cause a problem, it did. So, this morning, I tried to load the catalogue up again. Although it was there, it wasn’t happy, so I left Lightroom.

Tried to open it again to see if it would flush a cache or two. Now it’s not really opening. So, I downloaded a backup. So we have backups. I use Backblaze, which is really good. It just ticks over in the background. And I’ve got a backup from the last day or two, which is fine. I know exactly what things have changed since that [00:13:00] backup.

Because that’s the problem with backups, right? Backups are not something that are always today’s data. By definition, they’re going to be data that you had. Yesterday, or the day before. And that’s true here too. But nonetheless, Backblazed downloaded the 11 gig file, told Lightroom to open it, same problems.

So I’m not quite sure what’s gone wrong, or when it’s gone wrong, but it’s certainly causing a problem. So, now what I’ve done is, this morning I set it rolling. And left it ticking over, and as of right now, which is what, midnight, it still hasn’t entirely finished re importing and reconfiguring the database.

Tomorrow I shall find out whether my efforts to fix it have worked. But the point is always back up your work and always have a solid, methodical, linear process for how you bring your images in, how you catalogue them, how you back them up, how you archive them, and what happens if you have failure, because you’re going to [00:14:00] have it.

I know that, you know that, everybody knows that. So have a plan as to what you’re going to do. It’s another reason why, for instance, one of, one part of our workflow is that I don’t use Just Lightroom to manage which images are where. It’s actually done in folders on the hard drives and then Lightroom reflects those.

Why? Well, for precisely the reasons from today. Sometimes things go wrong and the only thing you’re left with is a folder of, I don’t know Portraits, a folder of weddings at this venue, weddings at that venue. And that way if you do that, at least you’re not beholden to the Lightroom side.

And I’m pretty chilled about it because I know in the end, if the worst came to the worst, I would simply recatalogue the main drive, which is also backed up twice. It’s all fine, everything’s still there, I can still get to every image, it’s just that I can’t get to things like the collections, virtual copies, different crop variations of different images, because of course [00:15:00] they are stored in the Lightroom catalogue.

Anyway, I’ll get it sorted, I will get it sorted. January’s rolling on at a pace and I could have done with it rolling a lot slower today, it would have given me a chance to actually get in there and I know that I’ve got breathing space for planning and things, but that’s not to be. What do we have last week?

We did I was shooting a Paralympian, an amazing lady. Of course, these things are always, when I get to speak about them, still under embargo. But it’s for the hearing dogs. She’s an incredible human being. I might ask if she’d come on the podcast, actually, because she is someone who would be really interesting to talk about the psychology of winning, to some degree, against the odds, but the psychology of winning, absolutely incredible person to work with, just made us laugh.

And then another day I spent working with Kent, Sussex and Surrey Air Ambulance, KSS Air Ambulance, photographing doctors, paramedics. Patients, pilots, and of [00:16:00] course, helicopters. And we had one of those really odd days where twice the helicopter was called out, and twice it came back really quickly. I don’t know the reasons for that, but it meant I got pictures in this beautiful, crisp, sunny day, a rare one.

We haven’t had many days like that up until now this year. Of the helicopter lifting, and off it went into the, into the blue sky. It turned around at about half a mile, it came straight back and landed, and it did it twice during the day. And then obviously we were there all day some night time photography as well.

And then really all I’m doing now is doing the prep for next week’s convention. I can’t wait to be there. It’s been a while and I am super excited. I’m going to be there Tuesday night all the way through to Saturday doing a super class on Wednesday. Masterclass on Thursday. If you’re around and about that, the superclasses sold out, sold out a couple of weeks ago.

Apologies if you wanted to come to that. Of course, you could come across to our studio and go to one of our workshops [00:17:00] here. Just Google Paul Wilkinson Photography Workshops. There’s a whole suite of those. in the next few weeks, which is, uh, literally this year, it was just going at 100 miles an hour. I don’t know, I didn’t anticipate it was going to be quite like that.

But if you can’t, if you fancy coming and talking, doing headshots, for instance, we are running a headshot workshop here at the studio in the next couple of months. So feel free to look at those, Paul Wilkinson Photography Workshops, if you fancy it. The Masterclass on Thursday, which is free with your convention ticket.

Come along. We’re gonna be doing, like I said, two lights, ten looks, one brand. Just having a look at how you can create a lot of variety out of the simplest of things. But not just variety, some beautiful imagery. And that’s what I’ve been doing today, is putting a plan together, because like I said, and you can hear it in the podcast, you know, I just, I can’t help myself.

I head in one direction, and before I know it, I’m heading in another.

Anyway, my thought for this particular episode, it’s only a short one, [00:18:00] the episode and the thought, it’s not a particularly deep thought, it’s fine. It’s clearly January, Christmas is only just past, New Year is Just behind us I’m sitting with a glass of whiskey.

This is not in depth psychology, but have you ever wondered when you’re sitting on the motorway, as I was coming back from the air ambulance, I had a couple of hours on the motorway looking at all of the cars, every one of those cars is a little ecosystem of people. It’s a driver, probably some family members, friends, business, business relationships.

The car is going from somewhere to somewhere. It’s an individual at the wheel. Yeah, we see it as a traffic jam. We see it as traffic. We see it as a crowd, and yet actually when you’re sitting there looking at each of these cars, there’s a life, there’s a family, there’s parents, there might be kids, definitely parents, might be kids.

There are Emotions. There are stories. [00:19:00] What are they listening to? Where are they going? What have they been doing? And when you think about it, a traffic jam and all of that chaos on the M25 around London is not a crowd. It’s not, it is a car park, it feels like it, but it’s lots of individuals. When you think of it like that, it starts to play in your mind about how we look to win customers in our business.

It’s easy to get drawn into this idea of social media influencing, having a presence, having tens of thousands of followers, I’m going to get a thousand likes on this post, I’m going to interact with this group, that group, every day I’m going to post five or six messages out there. And you can very easily lose sight of the fact that your business isn’t a crowd.

Your customers are not a crowd. [00:20:00] Your customers are individuals, with parents possibly, with kids, with lives, with jobs, with income. Hopefully enough income they can afford your services. And, when you think of it like that, everything becomes a little bit clearer as to how you should approach. winning your clients.

In my opinion, it’s not a smart move to just go for glory and have thousands of likes or thousands of conversations because you don’t have time to service them. You’re not going to service them particularly effectively. You get lost in the noise. Whereas today Libby, she is a client. She’s also worked for us as a model.

Her father is coming on a workshop In the coming weeks, they bought a voucher for him to come on one of our workshops at Christmas, because he can’t stop talking about photography. Their friends came to us for a shoot the other day because they liked what they’d seen on Libby’s [00:21:00] family walls. And so the thread continues.

And if you ask me about any one of our clients, I can tell you a story that’s very similar. One story in particular is of an incredible person called Nikki, who was a bride of mine. I won her wedding. I went round to see her. It was in the days when I would go and visit people to put the pitch in, before we had a really posh studio.

I would drive out. I’d take the albums out and I’d arrive. And I arrived at her home in Henley. A little terraced house, beautiful, but a little terraced house. Took me ages to park because it’s all little one way streets. Knocked on the door, and I don’t think they’d forgotten I was coming as such, but they certainly weren’t ready for me, and they were still eating their Chinese takeaway.

So I sat, we chatted, got on really well. I won the wedding. Before I’d even shot the wedding, Nikki got back in touch and said, did I fancy pitching to become the photographer for the Hearing Dogs? Forgive me if you’ve heard this story. [00:22:00] And of course, I said to her, well I’ve never photographed dogs before, I’m very much a people photographer, it’s very much about portraiture.

What does it entail? And she said, well that’s why I’m asking you, is because I don’t want it to be about the dogs, I want to make the hearing dogs a brand that represents helping people with hearing loss. It’s not about the dogs. The dogs are hearing aids for people who suffer with hearing loss. Would you consider it?

So I said I’d consider it. I pitched for the work. I worked out a photograph of some dogs. I won it. And I’m still there. That’s what, 11, 12 years ago? Still doing it. Still loving it. That’s where I was with the Paralympian this week. And coincidentally, Nikki now works at Air Ambulance. And she’s dragged me over there.

Dragged me, that sounds terrible. She’s pulled me into working with them as well. One client, one person, an individual who we’ve looked after throughout. Right from the minute I sat on her sofa, while her and her fiancé sat and ate their Chinese takeaway in front of me. And the one [00:23:00] thing about that, I was starving.

I was sitting there thinking, oh God, give me some food. I had to wait until I had closed the pitch out. I’d thrown everything back into the Land Rover and was heading my way back and I could find something to eat. But you should always think of your business, not as a crowd, not, I mean, we do, sorry, I’m contradicting myself slightly here.

We work on averages and Sarah and I constantly talk about it’s an averages game. It’s an averages game. And so it is when you’re looking at your numbers and analyzing your sales per shoot, your margins, your revenue per year. Yes, that’s an averages game. But your clients are not. Each of your clients is truly unique.

And if you’re a photographer, I mean that in the absolute strictest sense. They are unique. Banks, shopping centers, car [00:24:00] servicing, they use lines like that. You’re unique. You’re important to us. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. They don’t have to mean it. They can get away with saying it. But not really meaning it, because we’re all expecting exactly the same service from them.

But, if you’re a hair salon, or a beautician, or a personal trainer, or of course, a photographer, when we say to a client, you are unique, you better mean it, because it’s true. You build a business, one client. By one client, by one client, and you treat each of them uniquely. If you drift into that whole kind of rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat, not only are you going to run an.

inefficient business that doesn’t do justice to your clients, my suspicion is you’re going to get pretty bored because that type of photography, at least for me, isn’t at all interesting. I love the idea that [00:25:00] in every one of those cars, I saw on the M25. was another client who would look differently, would be wearing something different, would look different, would have their hair different, I’d have to light them differently, they had a different business or occupation, so we’d probably have to tune if we’re doing headshots, it’d be different, or if they’re a family, doing it differently.

Every client is unique. You build a business. One client, by one client, by one client, and that’s my view on the matter. See, I told you it wasn’t deep, but I do really believe it. You really do need to think of this kind of, certainly this kind of business, where your client is in front of your camera. You build a business, one client at a time.

And on that happy note, on that happy note I’d love to see you next week, or this week, it is now At the convention, if you’re around, I’d love to catch up and have a beer. Mine’s a Guinness. That sounds really bad. Buy me a drink. That’s not what I’m saying at all. I really am not saying that. I’m simply saying I would love to sit and have a drink.

I’ll buy [00:26:00] you a drink. Well, not everyone. There’s a lot of you, but I’ll, you know, we’ll have a drink, have a chat. I’m so excited to be going. It’s going to be clearly if January is anything to go by, this is going to be one heck of a year. So I hope it’s the same for you. I hope you’re firing on cylinders.

I hope you’re having a time of your life. If not, let’s have a chat about motivation and excitement at the convention. If it is, well, maybe you could do the same to me to keep me buoyed up too. And in the meantime, whatever else, ladies and gentlemen, be kind to yourself.

Take care.

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