one wedding photographer’s formula

stephanie carson dot com

Last January I ran into my friend Stephanie Carson at Sitwell’s, a popular university area coffee shop here in Cincinnati. Stephanie is a very successful wedding photographer in the region (view her website here and fun blog here) and she’d just wrapped up her 2007 obligations and would soon be off to Europe for a few weeks. We promised to get together upon her return but our schedules never seemed to fit.

Months have passed and I knew she was in her busy season but last week in a random moment I gave Stephanie a call. She was just stepping into an engagement session, she said, but it looked like there’d be time for coffee next week.

Tonight was “next week” and we found time for a nice three hour chat about life and all things photography. Though our photographic disciplines are very different we’re dealing with many of the same concerns: a meandering economy, increased competition and evolving technologies. At some point the conversation turned to pricing and Stephanie shared her approach to making a living as a photographer after a recent revision to her approach. I asked if it would be okay to share that formula here on the blog. Stephanie is also a photographic instructor and believes in sharing her knowledge where it will strengthen the professional community, so she didn‘t hesitate to oblige.

steph carson street coupleAt one point Stephanie thought of success as the number of weddings she could shoot in a year, she admitted. Fifty weddings in one year was her goal, in the early going. This involved training a couple of other lead photographers and a handful of photojournalists (secondary, candid shooters) to work for her. That seemed to be the established formula: grow the business by adding photographers.

After a few very successful years she decided to change her personal formula for future success. Last fall it seemed time to set a different course and, most importantly, to simplify. She gave her understudy photographers a boost into their own personal careers and pared down the operation to just herself and a couple of photojournalists. The office was moved to home and construction costs were traded for some (now) unneeded photo equipment. Then, rather than looking at what she’d charged in the past, Stephanie looked at the future with a blank piece of paper.

First, she defined what she needed to earn to survive…the bare minimum amount of income. Then Stephanie speculated on what might be a truly slow year of business and determined that to be a total of twelve wedding bookings. Dividing the survival amount by twelve gave her a bottom line number for each wedding.

Then Stephanie determined a number for what she would deem a truly great year, a goal for the future and something to work toward. She divided this amount by the maximum number of weddings she would care to book in a year, which was twenty-five. Again, she divide the goal amount by the number of weddings.

With these two numbers to work with she settled on the average and this became the starting price for a wedding under her new incarnation. The resulting price was higher than what she had been charging in the past. This assured that, at the least, all of her basic needs would be met and the business was now moving toward realizing future goals.

Yes, Stephanie was pleased to realize an increase. But don’t think this happened overnight or was purely “found money“. By reducing the number of weddings her clients now also enjoy benefits beyond what most of the competition can offer.

With a reduced schedule and smaller staff, each client now receives Stephanie’s experienced, personalized attention to every detail. She was also an early adopter of personal blogging and creates and maintains relationships that begin well in advance of a wedding date and continue long after. A combination business / casual dinner before the wedding is also part of the service, providing an unrushed, unhurried atmosphere in which to discuss wedding details and to gain familiarity. Stephanie also firmly believes in the mantra “under promise and over deliver”, a clear indicator of a service-first approach.

In a business with growing competition, Stephanie is still finding room to grow. Her process begins by providing professional, personalized services and ends with satisfied customers pleased with their investment. And, as we’ve often discussed, that results in good word of mouth advertising, vital to retail service providers.