Stargazing : Skip Cohen

Photography

I’ll never forget the first time someone looked me in the face and told me what was wrong with my pictures. That someone was Skip Cohen. And I completely adore him for it. In fact, he STILL tells me what I’m doing wrong! 😉 In all honesty, Skip just tells things how they are and he’s become an icon in the photo industry for his leadership, foresight, and chutzpah.

Skip is president of his marketing consulting firm, and is revered in the industry for his opinion, so when I had the chance to chat with him last week, I picked his brain. Then asked if he’d be interested in sharing his knowledge with my readers…ahhh, yes…there’s nothing better than being put on the spot!

I hope you enjoy this Stargazing interview and help me welcome, Skip Cohen

What is the best way to jump start a photography business?
I guess we have to start with the definition of “jump start”.
If you’re talking about a business that already exists and you’ve simply stalled and need a jump start, then it all begins with you getting focused on what it is you want to do. You’ve got to get yourself psyched up and be not only excited, but really motivated and proud of your career choice in photography. Specific things to do are everything from attending a few workshops taught by photographers you admire to launching your own PR campaign, getting involved in the community, creating buzz for your business. A children’s photographer should launch a new promotional opportunity. A wedding photographer needs to do a mailing to all his/her past clients about “expanding”, new products e.g. albums etc. anything that creates a little noise.
Now, if your definition of “jump start” is kicking off a new business then it’s about networking, publicity and being involved in the community. Remember, I’m assuming that you know what you’re doing in terms of photography/imaging and that you know how to photograph and deliver a finished product.

What’s a common mistake you see photographers make when running their business?
They don’t run it like a business. They think they can do it all themselves instead of hiring an accountant, having legal counsel if you need it and farming out those aspects of the biz they have no expertise in. Plus there are lots of places to go for help – just on the writing and marketing side I’m really proud of what we’re doing at GhostRighters.com. There are also too many photographers who think they’ll fix it in Photoshop later – because they don’t understand photography, exposure and composition they’re spending too much time behind the computer cleaning up images when they should be out promoting themselves!

What do you suggest to photographers who are just staring out and trying to build a business?
First, get to know photography and your gear. Know it cold so you’re producing great images right out of the can. Second, attend a few workshops on marketing and business…follow a few blogs that offer help. I know it’s self-motivating here, but I’m really proud of all the information on SkipsPhotoNetwork and what Scott Bourne and I are doing on GoingPro2010.com, especially the podcasts. Third, build your network. That means attend every possible program/workshop you can. Get to know the photographers in your area. Get involved with PUG (Pictage User Groups) and local chapter/guild meetings of PPA for example. I just spoke in Dallas a few weeks ago at the Dallas Professional Photographers monthly dinner and it was an amazing group of talented people all their to help each other.

What’s one thing you’d change about the current state of the photo industry?
I’m so tired of photographers thinking because they know Photoshop they think they can run a business. I’m talking about the crew that comes in and puts out a low ball price on a lousy quality CD of images – they’re doing the industry an injustice, but more importantly they’re hurting themselves and leaving a lot of potential business on the table, not to mention giving nothing to the bride. Remember, my point isn’t about low pricing, but low quality and no added value in albums, frames, canvas prints etc. Their quality is so bad that it fuels the average consumer into thinking if they just get a decent digital SLR they can shoot the wedding themselves and *poof* another “Uncle Harry” is born.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Got a couple of them…”To thine ownself be true” – photography is a career choice where everything has to come from your heart. If your heart just isn’t it you’ll only live a life of disappointment and frustration. “Only touch each piece of paper once!” it doesn’t apply as paper anymore, but think of it as email and phone calls. Read it and make a decision and take action – don’t drag things out.