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Managing a Business Through a Perfect Storm: PPA Members Share How

by Angela Wijesinghe

You’ve heard of perfect storms before. Who can forget the so-called “Frankenstorm” last October? We are hyper-aware of how difficult it can be to weather such natural storms (stock up on bread and flashlights!), but a perfect storm of business situations can be just as dangerous to your studio.

Instead of winds, it’s a dropping economy. Instead of snowstorms, it’s complacency. Instead of a  tidal wave, it’s the unexpected loss of a vital employee. Any of these situations would make it  harder to run a business. Combined together…let’s just say it’s not a fun time. PPA members Eric and Shawna Anundi have been fighting this exact storm over the past year. They’re on their way to a bright 2013, but it took some doing to get there!

Their “Perfect Storm”
It started with the slow economy. Most everyone in the industry felt that crunch because photography is often seen as a luxury item. Plus, when Eric focused his wedding work on very exclusive, high-end weddings, their income decreased. “We went from about 12 to four weddings a year,” he notes. “We were down about $50,000 in that area, and we had to make up the difference.”

The Anundis turned to their high-end senior portraits, where they thrived! Doing well eased their minds…maybe a tad too much. “We thought we had the whole senior thing whipped. That was a big mistake,” admits Shawna. “We got complacent and slacked off in the sense that we didn’t do anything big or new to encourage bookings. And our numbers kept dropping.”

In the process of dealing with those issues, the Anundis’ employee left them during their busiest time! That employee handled the sales, client communication and more, all of which Shawna had to teach herself how to do (and find the time to do) on top of her current responsibilities. “We lost control and lost touch with clients when it happened,” Shawna says. “It made us realize that we should have been much more visible in all aspects of our studio long before.”

The Anundis didn’t throw in the towel with this latest blow, tempting though it may seem. They had already taken steps to grow their client base and restore their studio’s health, and they kept taking step after step forward. How?

Sending Out the S.O.S.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” advises Eric. For starters, they belonged to PPA’s Studio Management Services (SMS), and their consultant helped them realize where they were headed if they changed nothing in 2012.

That wake-up call encouraged the Anundis to take action, and they found help in a program that did for their marketing what SMS did for their business: the Marketing Advantage Program (MAP) at Marathon Press. The program helped them refresh their website, business cards and marketing materials, set up email HTML for e-blasts,  and aided in marketing strategy and scheduling. It was just the push they needed to shake that complacency, tighten their brand and bring in those clients.

“MAP was our biggest step forward,” claims Eric. “They guided us through the marketing steps. We talk to our consultant every month, which keeps us accountable. They even leave us with a list of what marketing we should be doing between then and the next phone call.”

Testing New Waters
The Anundis also got a new promotional idea from their MAP consultant, one that paid off big time. It was a new spin on their senior model program, where they posted a Facebook status update looking for a model. The model would get a free session and three images to use on Facebook, no strings attached; Eric would choose the outfit, location and experiment with different looks.

“I was worried about posting a free session on Facebook,” Eric admits. “I was afraid it would attract the wrong type of clients and would end up being a waste of my time.”

That was definitely not the case, and the Anundis kept the promo going for a few days with the phones ringing off the hook.  They booked 64 modeling sessions in just a few days with astonishing results: 90 percent came back to view their images, 75 percent placed an order of about $640, and about 60 percent went on to book their senior portraits with the Anundis!

Talk about a way to boost community and social awareness. Not only did they ensure that their images got pushed to the senior models’ connections, they also gave those models a taste of the Eric John experience. “We treated them like we do all our paying clients, and it helped us educate (and hook) people who maybe wouldn’t have come to us otherwise,” explains Eric. “Once they experienced what we provide, the majority were sold on us.”

All Hands on Deck
As the Andudis were revamping their marketing and bringing in client after client, they also took steps to get even more involved in the other aspects of their business, especially after losing their office employee. “This is our business and it makes a difference when we are more invested,” adds Shawna. It wasn’t easy because of the workload and time crunch, so she had to make some smart management calls.

One problem area was sales. Shawna wasn’t as skilled with the projection sales software as their employee had been, plus she didn’t have time to do these appointments. To ease the burden in the interim, they started giving even their family portrait clients proof books again. The client puts
down a $500 retainer, brings the book back in a week and orders. “It’s a huge time-saver even when I do take the clients back to show them actual sizes of wall portraits,” says Shawna. “And we haven’t seen our sales go down!”

The Anundis also focused on providing an even better customer experience. Their employee used to handle the clients while they stayed working in the back. Now, from drinks to meeting with both Eric and Shawna, clients are experiencing even more of a personal touch. Shawna recalls a senior client who simply wasn’t happy with her images because of the outfit she wore, “I said, ‘Let’s redo it.’ And the mom thought I was joking. When she realized I was sincere, she started crying.”

Land Ho!
All their hard work over the past year has put the Anundis on the path out of the storm. “At one point, we felt like the world was crumbling,” says Eric. “Now, we feel much more positive about the future and more in control.”

That’s a fact proven by their numbers. From January to April 2012, the Anundis increased their receipts (meaning money in the bank) by 57 percent compared to 2011! Plus, their session count for the year (to October) was up 17 percent and their sales averages were $100 higher. And all that was accomplished without increasing their marketing expenses for the year! That’s the kicker right there.

Of course, adjustments still need to be made and they can’t relax their vigil (who can?). “Things change so fast,” Shawna explains. “If you sit back and wait to make changes, you’ll be so far behind you can’t catch up. That’s why our goal this year is to stay a step ahead.”

Want to Avoid the Storm?
Eric and Shawna Anundi share their been-there, done-that advice on keeping business strong.

  • Don’t ever think you have something whipped.
    Complacency is deadly to business.
  • Know your numbers & watch them.
    You’ll be able to tell if you’re starting to slip and where
    to make adjustments.
  • Get involved with PPA & their Studio Management Service (SMS) program for help with numbers.
  • Know how to do what your employees do (or have a plan on how to pick up the stack if an employee is no longer there).
  • Get in the Marketing Advantage Program (MAP) from Marathon Press.
    You’ll get the help and push you need to improve your marketing.
  • Attend Imaging USA for ideas & inspiration: ImagingUSA.org.

Click here to find out more about Eric John Photography and their MAP story.

Reprinted with permission from January 2013 Professional Photographer magazine.
Copyright 2013 Professional Photographers of America. All rights reserved.

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  • Avatar
    March 7, 2013

    This is inspiring! A cool way to start off the senior season!

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