Melinda from MAC Studio Consulting

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Published February 21st 2018 in Photographer Stories by Team AR

Let's talk about rejection.

That niggling little fear we all have.

Creating ‘something’ out of ideas or imagination, putting it on the line and then asking to be remunerated for it, can feel incredibly foreign and uncomfortable.

It can be hard to separate that ‘something’ from yourself. Surely if it came out of you, it must be a part of you somehow.

And so, it’s incredibly hard for many of us not to take any perceived rejection to heart.

I’m chatting with Melinda from MAC Studio Consulting about rejection, and how we can all handle it a little better :)

Jannah x

Full transcript:

Jannah: Rejection. It's an interesting thing to overcome. Have you dealt with the fear of rejection in the past and found a way to overcome that?

Mel: Yeah, it is really personal. When its your photography and you feel like they don't love it and they don't want to spend a million dollars on your photos, you do feel personally hurt. I've totally been there. It is definitely easier if you get someone else to sell your work for you, because the best thing about that is if I'm selling another studio's work, then if they're asking for discounts, "Well, I can't just [inaudible 00:00:39] on that because it's not my place to offer discounts. Look I don't know I'll have to go and talk to the owners about that." Whereas, if they're dealing directly with the owner, it's really hard to say no to a discount and you want them to take everything and you want to just let them have it but you need to pay the bills this week. So the rejection is a real thing. We all feel it. I always found that policies were the best way to overcome that.

Jannah: Hi, everyone, welcome to the second episode of Yarning with Jannah. Where we like just spinning out, tell our story and spread it around the world. Today I've got Mel Cumberfound from MAC Studio and Consulting in Brisbane, dropping by and having a yarn.

We met at the baby summit. Was it the baby summit at Australia or was it the baby summit at the States?

Mel: I think it was the Gold Coast, so it must have been ... It might have been the first one, actually.

Jannah: Yeah, [inaudible 00:01:37] that's when I met you. Correct. Excellent. So tell me ... Who are you and tell me about yourself. Let's go.

Mel: I am Melinda [inaudible 00:01:45], I am an accredited professional photographer. I shoot weddings, events, portraits, people photos. But I have known for a while that taking photos is not necessarily my real love. I love all the other stuff. I love the meeting clients and talking to clients. I love the systems that you need in place, I know that's so nerdy, but I love systems. I love it. I love all the post production and all that other stuff around photography, but taking the photos itself isn't necessarily the thing that gets me excited.

Jannah: Interesting. So why ... But I guess it was a passion, in the beginning? That you wanted to get into it? Or once you ...

Mel: Well. I was actually more interested in graphic design, so this year is actually my 20th year in the photography industry. I've been in it since I was 14 years old. My first ever job was in photography and I've never left.

Jannah: Go girl.

Mel: So I've covered most aspects of it. Everything from mini lab and I would do a lot of graphic designing and retouching through that, and then developing my skills. I went to a pro lab and I was their retoucher. Then I started looking at the photos that the pro lab were getting and going, "I could do that." So I went and studied photography and became a photographer for a while. I like doing it but the more I got into, the more I really liked the post producting. The photo shopping, all the other stuff in it. Graphic design came popping out as well.

Jannah: That's really interesting. So you were working with Kelly in her studio? Was that where you kind of really got to know the systems and processes or is that where you found your love for it?

Mel: No, probably ... I'd been doing a lot of the work flow, admin stuff for probably the last ten years at various studios. I managed a couple of studios, here in Brisbane, and that was all really great because I got to do all of the stuff I wanted to do. Every once in a while I got to take some photos, but it wasn't where I spent most of my time. I developed those sorts of skills of having to be really organized and had those systems in place and the workflows. But yeah, [inaudible 00:04:27] I was working with Kelly and she's got a really exciting studio happening there as well.

Jannah: Excellent. So the studios that you had been working, other than Kelly's, what sort of volumes were you looking at?

Mel: Everything from really small boutique, high end studios, to those that were doing large bulk brands and shooting 80 plus weddings a year and multiple shooters. I had to be able to adjust to what each studio needed, because they can be so diverse in what they need. It's one photographer owner, they don't have any staff, it's very different than a big studio, who's multiple photographers shooting for them and might outsource retouching and all of that. Very different systems.

Jannah: Wow. That's awesome. So, what did you ... You obviously decided MAC Consulting, is that correct?

Mel: Yeah.

Jannah: MAC Studio Consulting?

Mel: That's it, yeah.

Jannah: That's it, yeah. So what did you thinK that was missing that made you go, "Alright, I'm gonna do this. I'm gonna go out on my own." Was there a particular moment?

Mel: No. Not a pivotal moment. I think I just decided to concentrate on what really got me excited and I've often looked at some of these amazing photographers in the industry and I'm so lucky to be able to call some of them my friends. These people who are up on really high pedestals and we admire so much. I look at them and go, "Wow, you just want to do nothing but work on your business and grow your business. You're so excited about it and passionate about it."

I also sort of thought that was missing for me. I never had that passion and that excitement, whatever I did. If it was my own business, it was always ... A job. Then I realized, if I'm really passionate about this stuff, if it's what I want to do when I am sitting here doing nothing at the house, I'll always look up new studio management systems and see how they work and all that stuff. [inaudible 00:06:40] programming to do bits and pieces and develop brands, all that stuff. If that's what I'm doing in my spare time, then maybe I should make a career out of it. Then I realized that there wasn't really anyone else doing this sort of thing for photographers, to support photographers. It's such a lonely business, working for yourself and being a photographer, can be really hard to not have someone to bounce those ideas off.

Yeah, I thought there's room in the market to be able to assist photographers [inaudible 00:07:12] business, through these systems, buy them some time. They're often stretched so thin, editing to all hours of the night and kids are distracting during the day. Hopefully I can bring some of that sanity back to photographers and give them some room to maybe grow their business and focus on the things ... That phrase of, "Work on your business, not in your business." A lot of photographers get caught working in business. So I want to help them to be able to take a step back from that, let the business take care of itself and then they can actually work on growing.

Jannah: So, let's say, for myself, as an example, I'm strapped for time as it is. How do I find time to have a studio consultant come in and consult me if I'm already time poor?

Mel: Yeah, that's tough.

Jannah: How would you ... Do you come to people's studios or is it an online thing? How do you consult?

Mel: Yeah, so, ideally it's easiest if I can come to their studio. I can fit around their schedule because I understand photographers have pretty crazy hours that they work, so I need to work with them and their crazy hours. Weekends, evenings, all of that. A lot of photographers have also got a day job now, too. They're doing the photography in their spare time, so that's something that again, I can [inaudible 00:08:50] to that and fit in where they've got availability. But the idea is that invest a little bit of time now, to save a lot in the long run. It's not that much time for them, in the beginning anyway, it's really just ... It could be a couple of hours, depending on what they need and it should save them much, much more than that by the time we're done.

Jannah: Excellent. So if I'm a photographer and I have [inaudible 00:09:20] we're gonna talk about maybe a couple tips or something that I could do today to help me. But let's say I'm a photographer and I've been working with you, Melinda, for a while, and I've got all my systems and processes in place, what's my average day gonna look like?

Mel: You are gonna have your systems, which are mainly computers, take care of a lot of stuff for you. You might still have emails and still have inquiries [inaudible 00:09:51] inquiries than you used to have, because of some of the referral systems we can implement. So it still needs that personal touch from the photographer, but there's far less time the photographer needs to spend manually handling all those things. Once you've got a client booked in with you, your systems can actually take care of a lot of that for you. It means that you're not having to spend time writing them ... Sending them the contract and sending them reminders to sign the contract and sending them a price list. All those indications that you have to do back and forth with your client, that can all be automated and still have that personal skin to it, because that's so important in building client relationships. You can also then ... If you're at the end of a session with a client, you've done your shoot, maybe you don't have the time or the skills or the desire to do the post production, so maybe I can help you [inaudible 00:10:58] post production or outsource other things you don't have to spend ... They say, "Do what you're good at and hire other people to do what they're good at."

Like, bookkeeping, is the number one thing photographers give up really easily because everyone hates it. And there's other people you can pay to do it. They do a great job and you don't have to worry about it. This is sort of taking this next level and outsource other things that you aren't great at or don't love doing in your business. There's just a bit of everything available out there for you to support your business. So, the idea is you'd be a lot more relaxed, you wouldn't be freaking out about everything you have to do, because a lot of it is taken care of for you in the system.

Jannah: Lovely. So, if there was ... Okay, alright. What's something I can do today, just give me a little taste. Give me a taste.

Mel: Yeah. Okay.

Jannah: Do you have a little secret [inaudible 00:11:59] or something like that? Just give me something. Some sort of tip that's gonna make my life easier today.

Mel: This is a daunting one, but this is one I really believe in. It's a concept called inbox to zero. Basically means at the end of every day, your email inbox is empty. So, this is something anyone can implement. It means you can use tools to unsubscribe from all the bulk mailings that you're into, that you're not actually reading, or you can actually combine a lot of those bulk mailings into emails so you're reading one email, rather than 20. But you're handling inquiries or emails as they come in. Then you file them away so you never have to look at them again because they're dealt with. [inaudible 00:12:57] until they're dealt with, but it's such a freeing feeling to have an empty inbox. You won't feel crowded by all the stuff you have to do, that's sitting there waiting in your emails.

Jannah: Correct, yeah. I know when there's a lot of those ... If I even get up to like 30, I'm feeling overwhelmed and I'm like, "Okay, I don't want to deal with this." It's quite an overwhelming feeling, isn't it? It's just kind of hanging there. Sometimes they are a lot of spam but I just don't want to go there, I don't want to look at it.

Mel: Yeah, I think emailing is a really big thing these days. You go on holiday, if you're actually going to have a couple of days away from your computer, there's this horrible feeling that comes over you when you have to go back to it and see how many unread emails are sitting there and you don't know what to do with them all. It's really daunting. I used to get heart palpitations, when I was a busy day on the emails and I just couldn't keep up with it all. It's very nice to have a clean inbox.

Jannah: Excellent. So can you tell me a little bit about a photographer that you have worked with? That's had positive results, give me a little story?

Mel: Yeah. Okay. There was a photographer I was working with in Brisbane, they had a good sized studio with a few staff. They were scaling back because they ... This was a few years ago and they were seeing that the industry was changing. So they acknowledged that and they decided to scale things down a little bit and change what they were doing. But as they were scaling back ... I came in at that point when they knew they were gonna have to pull back on things and what we worked on was making sure, even if we were scaling back the number of shoots the studio was doing and the number of staff they had, that we were actually raising the quality of the service and the product that the clients were getting, which meant that the studio wasn't necessarily losing any money, even though they were working less. That worked really nicely. We made sure that clients were really made to feel special, they were given gifts and things like that and just a phone call to say, "Hi, how are your wedding plans going?" Those sorts of little things that you can't do when you're running around mad and freaking out about all that you have to do.

Making the time for the clients, that turned into every client was referring at least two people to us, at least to inquiry stage, so we could raise our prices because we had all this possible work coming in. So prices went higher, the standard of work was higher, the standard of client care was higher, they were happy to refer and the studio ended up thriving on it, even though they were pulling back from having to do so much work and having so much responsibility with staff and all that. So that was really exciting. We definitely needed systems there because we couldn't forget to call one client because we hadn't got around to it and we ended up developing some studio management systems that worked really, really well. Workflow was streamlined, the clients were getting their photos much quicker, which again, made them happier clients and it meant that we all knew exactly what was going on in the studio at any given time. We didn't have to flounder around with several staff there and try to figure out where something was up to.

Jannah: Great. Tell me how did the studio owners ... How did that make them feel? [inaudible 00:16:58] I wanna scale back because it was too much." Then all of a sudden they're actually getting more and making more. How did that make them feel?

Mel: Yeah. Well it was originally a husband and wife team. Partway through this process, the wife stepped back to do her own thing, outside of the studio, so that was something they'd been trying to do for years and hadn't been able to. So that was really nice. The other thing I didn't mention was the sales went through the roof. We were doing a lot of wedding albums and the wedding album sales went ... Were huge. That was really exciting when the rest of the industry was shrinking and business was shrinking, but the sales were still going up.

So yeah, they were just ... Ecstatic that the studio could more or less run itself, they could concentrate on the customer care side of things and they didn't have to stress. There weren't any more late nights working at the studio and they had a lot less of the staff related stress that they had previously as well.

Jannah: That's fantastic. When you said that they were noticing there was change in the industry, was that album related?

Mel: It was the big pickup in digital photography. With all of that has become a lot of new photographers, a lot of amateur photographers who don't necessarily want to make a living out of it. And yes, that's related to albums as well. This was at the start of the big album dip, where people started going, "I just want digital files." So we found a way to flip that and it turned into really big album sales and they still got their digital files as well.

Jannah: That's fantastic. Excellent. Kind of that negative, which is like, this is the fear and actually turned it around and made it a real positive indirectly.

Mel: Yeah. That's it. There's still a lot of people out there, there's a lot of photographers I speak to who say, "All my clients just want digital files." I don't know I'm really obsessed with albums, I love albums and physical prints, because they're the things that this couples kids are going to come to them in ten years time and say, "Let me look through your wedding album." That's the stuff that's really going to last. We all know someone who's just gotten digital files and the CD or DVD is still sitting the desk drawer and it's never been printed. Is that you!?

Jannah: No, no, no. We have ea box. The amount of emails I get ... I get a couple emails I'm like ... So I've been in business for close to ten years now and every year, without fail, I'll have a couple of ex brides come through and going, "We just built a house and we just moved and in the move, I've lost the USB."

Mel: Uh-huh.

Jannah: Yeah. I'm like ... I keep to myself because I never ... I'm just calling myself on my own rubbish is when I was shooting in Berne, I just made these assumptions. I made assumptions based on what I've heard is that people don't want to print their photos anymore. I never actually asked the question.

Mel: Yeah. I imagine you never showed them a beautiful album, either, for them to see what it was that they could get.

Jannah: No. And it's [inaudible 00:20:23] ideas that I've said ... That's the information that was out there for me and I guess I just believed that was correct, I've never offered it. Once I actually started offering it to people and showing them something, they say, "What is the digital file all about? What's all that about?"

Mel: Yeah. That's right. I know that sales can be really hard for a lot of photographers, because they put their heart and their soul into their images and they think that they're worth [inaudible 00:21:01] amounts of money because they put so much into it. Then when the client says, "No, we don't really want to spend that much on an album." Or, "We don't want to spend that much on wall prints." Or whatever I might be, it's really hard on the photographer. You feel like you've been personal rejected, so that's another thing that I am offering to photographers. I can come in and do your sales for you because I don't have that personal attachment to your images.

Jannah: Oh, wow.

Mel: You can offload that scary little thing. Rather than saying that the clients only want files, let me talk to them. I'll tell them they don't just want files.

Jannah: [inaudible 00:21:41] yeah, that's it.

Mel: For my own business, I just ended up having the friends and family thing, is the worst, right? Because I've got friends and family who aren't photographers and don't really understand what photography is about and so they just want free family photos all the time. I have to explain, "It's not just an hour's shoot for your family photos. It's all I do behind the scenes and I can't afford that out of my business." So I ended up having a friends and family price list. They got a 30% discount on my normal prices, and I might give them one print or something but they now know that that's the rule. They don't just walk all over me and the same thing with clients. I developed a, "Okay, here's my discount club." If they want a discount, they have to get one of these bundles to qualify for the discount. That's how they can get better value out of it and still feel like they're walking away with a bargain, but I'm still getting what I deserve as well.

Jannah: Great call. Fair call. Absolutely. So who do you work for? Are you working with amateur? People who aren't doing this full time that want to jump into it full time? Or are you working with already established professionals? Or with everyone? Or is there a little niche in there?

Mel: I can ... Obviously, I can work with anyone, to improve how they're doing things at the moment. But, I think the biggest call, the biggest need for it is probably those photographers who are either just in their early days of doing this full time or who are trying to do this ... Be a photographer and juggle their family commitments. So I don't have young kids or anything, but that must be so hard to be trying to keep up with being a parent and running a business yourself. I can't even imagine. My dogs are hard enough work for me. I can't lock them in a room when I Skype call.

Jannah: That's funny. Is it just portraits and weddings or are you working with commercial clients or is it any kind of genre that you're sticking to?

Mel: Yeah, portrait and wedding I think has the most that I can give them, though I do have a landscape client at the moment and we're helping him with building an online store and marketing that, so that he can go through sales through his online store. I'm in talks with a commercial photographer, who wants someone who can basically make the first contact with their clients and talk about their briefs and what they actually want. Talk them through all the options and how that will work before they get to the stage of the shoot. So, it really can work. Basically if it involves customers, in any way, I'm keen for it. I really love customer relations. I think it's so important.

Jannah: So important. You sound like you're going to be really busy. Are you gonna have a cut off from having people that you're going to be able to take on? Surely.

Mel: Yeah, I guess so. For now it's easy for anyone in Southeast Queensland, I can travel to their studio so that's easy enough. I've got a couple of interstate clients coming up, so I'll be traveling around just Queensland state. But I can also do things via Skype and whatever else we've got, screen sharing technologies.

Jannah: Yeah.

Mel: So that part is good but yeah, there is going to have to be a limit for what I can do. We'll see where that is when we get to it, I guess.

Jannah: We'll see. You're a very popular lady. So interstate and kind of south, so you want to stay within that kind of Brisbane bubble, but you will pop out and do Skype meetings as well?

Mel: Yeah. I do all around the country relatively regularly, so it's easier to do things face to face if we can, but if not, technology will help us.

Jannah: Excellent. That's awesome. Thank you so much for your time today.

Mel: No worries. Thank you. It was a good chat.

Jannah: Yeah, it was good to see you again! I'm sure we'll run into each other in the near future.

Mel: Sounds good.

Jannah: Yeah, we'll have a chat and can't wait to hear about your photographers using [inaudible 00:26:17] this year, as well.

Mel: Yeah, that's right. Well, it's such a good service and I just ... It makes it easier to sell albums, so, I think everyone should be using it.

Jannah: Yeah. For sure. Excellent, well you enjoy the rest of your Thursday. We'll chat again soon. Thanks so much.

Mel: Thank so much, Jannah.

Jannah: Alright, see ya.

Mel: Bye.

Team AR Written by Team AR

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