Processes are More Important than Products

“Through successful Meetings our Photographers and Passers have raised our overall sales average over that of the last quarter.”  The Big Boss says in her chipper voice. She doesn’t say it, but it is implied that her fearless leadership is directly responsible for this surprising turn of events.  Well, that and the fact that we stopped doing the Geewhiz Shots that the Former Big Boss had forced upon us.

I have mentioned that I like Backgrounds.  I like the way I can light them, mold them, color them, in short, make them do anything I desire from them.  Backgrounds are the easiest part of my job.  But backgrounds don’t buy portraits, the people sitting in front of the backgrounds do, and they are often much more difficult to control.

So it is with The Company.  It is easy to whip out new Processes.  Easy to sit in an office and say-Hey, if we tell them to do THIS and THAT then we’ll start to make money like we used to in the Old Days. All we need to do is get back to the Basics.  If the Plan doesn’t make more money, well, we’re too stupid to follow the processes.  If the money rolls in again, well, they’re fucking geniuses, aren’t they?

Assembly Line Portraits have seasons and reasons just like every other business.  Book the Shoots too close together, like two years or less, and it really doesn’t matter what processes we use.  Find a few new accounts filled with people who actually want to buy portraits and you can use the worst processes and still run great numbers.  All of our problems have their basis in the PreSellers, book good accounts and then those processes will work like magic.  Book bad accounts, and the processes are a little less than important.

Tweaking the Processes is easy.  It’s nothing more than sitting around and thinking.  It’s looking at the pictures and saying, well, this one could be centered better and this one could have a better expression, and we need to have a few more background changes on this one.  Then Whamo, there is something they can send out to the file and rank and all the glory goes to them and all the blame goes to the chumps on the front lines.

Times have been hard in the Assembly Line Portraits world the past couple of years, just as they have been hard everywhere else.  Portraits are a luxury item, no one needs a portrait.  But in the past few weeks I have seen more $1,000 sales than I have seen in a couple of years.  These were sells make with an extended version of the Standard Set-maybe four more poses than I would normally shoot.  They were also at Shoots we haven’t done in several years.

The averages have been higher, but the sets have been lower.  A good average is nice, but doesn’t really matter, total Sales matter.  And since the total Sales in the Good Old Days were often $5,000 or more a day, that great average with total daily sales of $2,000 or less loses a bit of it’s shine.  When you have a few days like I’ve had recently, where we have followed the New Processes, and sold only a few hundred dollars and had really low averages-well, I feel a little less optimistic about the Processes myself.

The three most important words in Assembly Line Portraits are: Location, Location, Location.  Put your worst Photographer at a great Shoot and he will make a killing.  Put your best Photographer at a bad Shoot and he will not make a dime.  In the end, the Processes help to remove basic Sales Objections, but they won’t help when the Objection is lack of interest or lack of funds.

So the new Processes are in place and the new checklists have been handed out.  I have paid very little attention to the checklist, therefore I missed the fact I am supposed to be taking one more shot than I am used to on certain sittings.  It is easy enough to add this shot, but it can also be pretty pointless.  Which fits right in with the rest of the checklist.  Among other things they changed the required number of shots to one less on some sittings-so that if you are doing the Standard Set, you are automatically shooting more than the required minimum.

Cute trick, but does it really help to be playing shell games with ourselves?

The Checklist is also a bit flawed, it gives very detailed and very specific instructions, and if you follow them exactly-you are not going to met the new criteria.  Whoever made up the Checklist forgot that the Button Pushers will follow instructions to the letter, even if they are the wrong instructions.  I don’t know if a revised Checklist is forthcoming or not.  In the meantime I pretty much ignoring the one I have.  As I may have mentioned, I am doing all the things on it already.  Mostly.

After telling us to stop shooting the new Geewhiz Portraits-we stopped shooting the new Geewhiz portraits.  This came as a great shock to the people in the Home Office, who didn’t really want us to stop cold turkey, they just wanted us to do the Geewhiz shots differently-that is to say, Correctly.  Needless to say they have never send out any lighting or posing diagrams which might point in the general direction of what Correct should be.

I’ve worked with Assembly Line Portrait Photographers who are much more skilled at taking portraits than I am.  I’ve also worked with Button Pushers who like to do exactly what they are told to do-and absolutely nothing more.  I have routinely beaten both in sales, and just about as routinely been beaten in sales by both.

If big sales really depended on nothing but Quality Portraits and getting back to the Basics, than the best Photographer would always make the most money.  But that’s not the case.  A great Passer can sell anything-to an interested Subject.  The PreSeller has the biggest impact on Sales.  While it’s always been true that the Passer can’t sell from an empty cart-meaning The Photographer has to give them something to sell-the Passer can’t sell portraits, even the best of portraits, to someone who has no use, need, or desire for them.

But that kind of thinking would force The Company to do something outside of their comfort zone-like fire all the scum sucking PreSellers and look for new ways to Market our Portraits, and stop marketing the god damned Book.

Tweaking the posing and telling us to do more breakdowns of groupings is not a bad idea, it’s just an idea that doesn’t address the problems The Company is facing.

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