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Customized Business Model

Lesson 15 from: Integrating Animal Photography into your Business

Norah Levine

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Lesson Info

15. Customized Business Model

Next Lesson: Stock Photography

Lesson Info

Customized Business Model

Pretty much every year I feel like it's a good time to reevaluate where I'm at and reconnect with the questions that we talked over. And I have a marketing coach She keeps me on track and keeps me focused. And so as opposed to the beginning when I was shooting this and that and this and that it's like I'm really intentional. And so I'm at the point now where I can say no to things if they're not aligned for me. It's like, it's not an alignment. I want it to feed my top priorities. And so I get to do that now. But it's been a process to be able to get there, so know that. The bulk of my business is commissioned portraits, but I have kind of a mixed portfolio, so to speak, of different-- children and pets are definitely part of my work. I feel like the whole concept of maintaining balance is kind of a bologna thing because I can't sit up here and be like, I feel so balanced all the time. And it's really, it's not about that for me. It's about identifying things that are missing for me an...

d then trying to regroup. It's just a constant regroup to make sure that I'm staying on track with what's important to me. That's something I've learned over the last few years, very specifically. And I've learned the more that I make those decisions, the more opportunities that are aligned with my goals and priorities present themselves. So teaching here, writing a book, all those things it wasn't like, I'm going to do this. It was like I'm gonna say yes to things that resonate with me and then opportunities have come to me with a lot of hard work for sure. I truly believe that was because I was very intentional about the directions that I've taken. So does anybody have any questions up to this point? So I get a lot of support from people in my life. I am a huge advocate for talking to experts and people that have gone through experiences. I've worked with Julia Kelleher. I've hired her in the beginning. Years ago I hired her when I moved to Austin from Santa Fe. And she and I worked together closely on making a new marketing plan and a business plan for myself. And it's like people that know what they're doing, it's an amazing opportunity to connect with people about that stuff. So I am a huge supporter of connecting with people on many different levels. So my business breakdown includes commercial work, teaching, fine art, writings, stock photography. But in a couple of months, it might look like this where the commissioned portraits are bigger, they're a bigger chunk. And the fine art part is a bigger chunk. And maybe I don't have time to do stock photography, and the teaching is a little bit smaller. So it's a constant redistribution. And a few months later it might look like this, so it could shift around. I think once I started to realize that it's always gonna ebb and flow, as long as it's kind of dialed in to still the priorities and where I want, I'm okay with that. Now, it would be easier if all I did was pet photography all commissioned portraits all the time. Because it would be-- I say easier in the sense that I would just-- like marketing, my time spent marketing would be easier. It would just be very, very focused. I'm just not that person. I have too many things that I like to do and I do find that these areas feed me and they support one another. But it isn't the easy way, by any means. So I find that my priorities are really living creative life and my relationships and contributing with my photography in some way. So pets and families have become a niche for me. And I did have a separate pet business for a while. And so I was Kibbles & Pics Photography and then me, and I felt like, oh, man, I was marketing two things. It was too much, so I decided to consolidate it and use my name. Because I found that people, when I was a pet person, I found people were confused. They didn't know that I did just people portraits, and so I felt like if that was something I wanted to do, I was limiting myself by just being a pet name. But if you're really sure about you wanna deal with the pets and you have a name, there's nothing wrong with that. It just, for me, felt like it was a little bit limiting. So yeah, pets play a big role in what I do. And everything's better with animals, right. So if somebody calls me for a pet portrait I'm always really excited. Or if there's some way to include animals, I'm game. So the question is: can you make a living in pet photography? I would say yes, absolutely. So your levels of income may vary. Your quality of life may change. So it's kind of a big question. Again, I mentioned the commercial realm. If money is your big target, commercial work is gonna be bigger. Bigger budget projects are gonna give you more money and you're gonna be able to, in less time, so to speak, for the shooting part. And so it's possible to do that. But all of this is contingent upon your ability to market who you are as a business and the quality of your work, how strong your portfolio is, and all of that combined contributes to your ability to make money. But I completely believe that it's possible and I know that it's possible. Commissioned pet portraits. So what's available if you're thinking about doing commissioned pet portraits? What are your options? I want to talk a little bit about the structure of working on commissioned portraits. So there's the concept of volume and pricing, and that relationship with how much are you shooting versus how much you're charging. And I am a low volume, higher price point person. Now that price point of high price point could be different from where I live in Austin to where you are in Los Angeles. So high to me might not be high to you and vice versa. This is my structure. It's not the right structure, it's just I've decided this allows me some more time for those other pieces of the pie. And so that's why I've dedicated myself to making that happen. So it also allows me to feel like for me I can dedicate the time that I want to with my clients. Spend the time that I feel like I can walk away from the job feeling like it was complete and I gave it everything that I could give it. And also the attention; the emails, the phone calls, the meetings. It's a lot, and it can include a lot of time, require a lot of time and commitment. So that's part of the consideration there is I wanna shoot a little bit less, and I wanna charge more. So I've done that. And I don't get every job from people that call me. I would say that I get, like I have now become-- people call me and they don't know me for my price. They know, "Oh, you're a little bit more expensive." I've kind of created a point that I am known for being a little bit higher price point. And so not everybody gets to work with me. And that's hard for me. So I have struggled with that for sure. And I would love to be able to get every job and every inquiry of somebody that calls me. And I am fully aware that price is prohibitive sometimes. So that's something that I grapple with and something that has changed over time as photography has become more ubiquitous. I've had to deal with that part of it. But it's where I'm at right now. I think, again, your prices have to be backed up with your service and your quality, what your market is gonna support. So what I experienced in Santa Fe, New Mexico has been very different than what I've experienced in Austin, Texas. So I have lived that two different markets have a completely different response to price points and also how big or how small your market is. So Santa Fe had 100,000 people and Austin has over a million people, it's gonna be different. So depending on where you guys are, it will contribute to that, what your market's gonna bear. I feel like you have to be really consistent and aligned with your brand name. So if you're gonna charge more, you kinda have to look like you charge more and be consistent with that. And know where you are in your market. So I wouldn't overly obsess with what people are charging because you could drive yourself crazy. It's like, oh, they charge this for an 8 by 10. What should I be charging? If you start down that road, you're just never gonna feel settled. So you have to really consider your own needs and your own situation in order to come up with those pricings so you can stand behind it. So now your position in market. Your options with commissioned portraits, you could choose to do a little bit more of a medium volume and a lower price point. You will probably be busier that way. And I would really recommend for anybody starting out that's probably a place that I would say is the best place to be because-- Not a low point, actually no, I lied. So your medium volume, low price point is gonna give you the opportunity to get into the market. But maybe you're trying to get portfolio together. That might be a great point. And say, "Hey, I'm trying to get a portfolio together, "and here's what I'm charging." There's nothing wrong with charging a little bit less. But I encourage you to say, I'm building a portfolio, and as I do that, my prices are gonna increase in a year. Kind of set yourself up for being able to raise your prices because it's really hard to go from really low to higher. It can be challenging. But if you put it out there like, "Here, this is a great opportunity to work with me. "For the next year I'm going to be putting my "portfolio out there. "It's a limited time price point." And then you'll have a chance to shift it up. So there's variables in between. Yes, Kenna. Just a quick question while you're on the topic. This is from Sidarth Gurdar. How many pet shoots should people be doing as they are building their portfolio? What does that look like for people out there who are in that stage? Yeah, how many shoots do they do? I don't know; it's not like-- like I said, you're never gonna completely feel ready before you decide to charge, right. There's kind of a big step between-- there's kind of this sense of oh, it's kinda scary, now I'm gonna charge, is it okay to charge? I think enough to where you feel like you have a variety. I've looked at some people's websites where it's like you got 20 images in their gallery of dogs and five of them or 10 of them are of one dog in one scenario and then 10 are of another dog. That, to me, doesn't show enough variety and experience, so I would like to see, when I've worked with mentoring people I've said, let's give you 10 shoots. Let's do 10 shoots and give a timeframe over the next month or two let's do 10 shoots and see where you're at and where your comfort level is. But definitely getting lots of variety, exposing yourself to different environments, different lighting and different location opportunities. So the more the better really is the answer. Thank you. Sure, can we take another question? Sure, grab the mike. So when you're talking about these volume levels, can you maybe throw out a number, like how many shoots per week would be low volume, high volume, medium volume? Well, like I said in the beginning, it's really gonna depend on your scenario. I'm not skirting around your question. But for example, I'll throw out numbers. To me, a high volume, if I were gonna start a high volume business it would be shooting every day. It would be shooting five days a week. And that's kind of a high volume. And that's turning around the job and giving it to the client, maintaining the client relationship. It's a lot to keep up with, so it's a high volume. High volume's gonna be easier if you're in a studio. I'll talk a little bit about that too. But when you're going to somebody's house, unloading your stuff, that whole process, for me and the time that I dedicate to each client, a shoot every day would be pretty intense to turn around the job too. I'm one person, so I'm in a situation where I don't have major overhead. I like it that way. And so I've made decisions to keep my operation where it's at because my volume can fluctuate throughout the year. And I like having the freedom that I have with that. So the volume really could change. So high volume for me is like an every day shoot. And then medium volume is somewhere in between that. And then a couple of shoots a week is a pretty low volume for me. And that could change, like I said, throughout the year. Thank you. Sure. And I put this out here just to get you thinking, like, what do I want? Answering these questions will help dictate your choices. Starting with what you need to make in terms of money is probably the biggest place to start. And then determining, okay, how do I do that? If I need to make X amount of dollars a year, how many shoots do I need to do at this rate? If I'm gonna charge $100 a session and give a CD away, give the images on a jump drive or upload them, how many shoots do I need to do in order to make that money that I need. And you get to fluctuate that and figure that out. Okay, well, if I need to make $1,000 a shoot, how can I do that? What kind of branding decisions? All this trickles down. I'm gonna need to create a brand, create a price point that supports that price point. I mean create a brand and create everything around that to support that decision. So it's kind of making that decision, looking at the price point initially, and then trickling down from there. So these are just different, high volume, low price point. I feel like high volume, low price point is not sustainable. I know it's not for me physically. That shoot in there, I'm kind of tired. There's that physical element of it. And there's nothing wrong with working hard. I don't mind working hard. But it takes a toll on you, I think. And we all have different elements to consider. But I don't feel like that, for me, is a sustainable business model. But it could absolutely work for you. I think the best case scenario is that if you're in a studio where you can bring people and move them in and out quickly, that's probably your best case scenario for a higher volume and lower price point. So it's easier to start that way, with a high volume and a lower price point. My thing is, I don't want people calling me to say, "Hey, I heard you're really cheap; let's work together." I want people to hire me because they love my work. So I kind of feel like-- it's kinda sad that we feel like if we spend more money on something our expectations of it are higher and we value it more, but it just happens that way. I feel like the clients that I've had where maybe they won a gift certificate, for example, If I've donated to an auction, I feel like the experience is a little bit different than the people that pay for the session. It's just an inherent sense of valuing it a little bit more when you pay for something. And I mentioned earlier, shifting from a low price point to a high price point can be a little bit tricky in your market, especially once people start to get to know who you are, they start to know what you're doing, you might get a lot of backlash. "Hey, you used to charge this. "My friend Susie said you charged 50 bucks." I charged $60 for a session when I first started, and I was shooting on film on a hasselblad. So I was like, I don't even know how I did that. (audience laughing) It's like, oh, that's not gonna last. I knew that pretty quickly. And the fact that I was manually focusing with pets in the beginning. Life is easier now I think. So there's all those different options. So based on what we talked about with those questions, it's all gonna weave together to help you make those decisions about who you are. And there is no wrong answer for what volume you do. I've made decisions based on what kind of lifestyle and what I can have and need to have. So the challenges of commissioned pet portraits in general versus, for example, families, is that there's a little bit less of a call to action. Like with a wedding there's an obvious event. This needs to be documented and it's become soaringly popular to have really creative wedding photography. And so it's kind of understood. With children, they grow up and they change really quickly at their young ages and so there's more of a call to action there. But with pets, it's like maybe they get a new dog or they're getting older, I get those a lot. And I wish people wouldn't wait so long too. So it's a constant effort for me in terms of marketing and getting people to remember that this is important, to remind them without being morbid that it's important to get these photographs of your animals. So I feel like there is with the pet clients, there's a little bit of a need to get new clients versus sustaining the ones that I have more so than with my families who might hire me every year to do pictures. So it's not as much of a call to action. So that's one challenge with the commissioned pet portraits. And as you know, there's lots of variables with animals. The business aspects of it and the physical energy and the patience required for it. So what could pet photography look like for you? We'll talk about-- there's so many things. I feel like it's important to not get in your own way and think about what could it be. It could be as simple as promoting yourself as a photographer for one park in your neighborhood and saying this is where I am and bring people to you. You could get a camera. You could get reflector and you could start. There's nothing stopping you from doing that. I know of people that are doing that in parks in Austin, and that's your business model. And that can work and can get you lots of experience and you could generate money doing that. So you could also rent a studio. You don't have to have a studio. You don't have to have a sales room. You don't have to have all of these things that we think would be really sexy to have, right. You could rent one for the day. You could generate some marketing for an event, host an event, rent a studio, and have people come to you throughout the day, start to get your name out there and get some experience that way. And you could do mini-sessions. So shorter sessions similar to what I did today, half-hour sessions, block them out throughout the day. Will you be exhausted at the end of the day? Absolutely. But it will give you an exposure to the community that you're around to start getting your name out there. And I know that mini-sessions can really, if you price them appropriately, you can generate some good income with mini-sessions. So it may not be the clients that would hire you to come to their home. I used to think, well, if we do the mini-sessions, am I missing out on those clients that would hire me and they're getting a good enough experience? And that may be the case for some, but I feel like it's a different clientele. So consider that. You could be on location only. Choose to be a natural light shooter. Keep your overhead low, and that's what you do. And just promote yourself that way. And decide that's what you're gonna do for now and stick with that and promote yourself and move forward that way. And you can work as a hobby as well. There's nothing wrong with that. Working on location. So talk about family portraits and pets. The reality with pets and family in terms of the pet involvement is that most of the people that are hiring me as family shooters have pets, either I've worked with them before for their pets only and then they had kiddos or I've never worked with them before and they also have pets and would like to include them in the session. So that's part of it. Here's a little bit about my brand. I wanna create something that I've decided-- and this has developed over a lot of time too. I wanna create something that's fresh, sophisticated, fun. I wanna give that feeling of a clean imagery and create images that really support that brand as well. I want each client to feel like they're my only client, and I treat them that way. So again, going back to the volume, I'm able to do that because of those situations. And I'm not gonna lie; when it's a busy time of year it's hard to do that because I have lots of clients coming in at the same time and I wish they would spread out but holiday time is definitely a time of year that lots of people decide to do portraits. My price point and my branding really align-- my price point and my brand does limit my clientele, like I mentioned earlier.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Norah Levine Book Coupon Code
Norah Levine Resource Guide
Pet Packing List
Pre Shoot Questionnaire

Ratings and Reviews


Norah is really great and I learned a lot watching her. Even non-pet related things, like how she's continually trying to better herself were really inspiring to me. Since watching this, I've learned to take every shoot as a learning opportunity by evaluating what went right and what didn't, and thinking of what I can do next time to do better. I liked the way she showed interacting with animals in a way that doesn't stress them (well, depending on the animal there may be some level of stress anyway I guess...) too. Great class.

Chelsea Beauchamp

So inspiring! Great information on both family pet photography as a craft as well as the business side. Norah obviously knows what she's doing and has tons of experience, so it's a good chance to hear/see what it's really like to take this on as a specialty whether it's the focus of your work or one of many parts of your work. She focuses not just on the mechanics, but on the personal side of working with people and animals. You can tell she's passionate about what she does, too. It's only been one day of class and I already feel totally inspired!

Student Work