Success – Mike Larson

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The last 8 years of the wedding industry has seen a boom of incoming competition and incredible growth. My journey through becoming a specialist started in 2004, when I decided to shoot weddings only. That went really well until about 2009, when I realized my diversification – adding associates and cheaper brands – had diluted my main brand of Mike Larson. On top of that, what I was doing was really becoming mainstream and the norm. My niche was no longer a niche and six years later, in 2010 I realized that I was in a whole new world. Asleep at the wheel, I had lived in a world of thinking I was already a specialist, but I was not keeping current with the times. In 2010 I realized I had to do something since the market was becoming very saturated with wedding photographers. It was no longer a small niche, it was a huge market segment, and I had become a generalist. In 2011 when I started working with Jeff Jochum, I made the changes to eliminate all the distractions and adopt what I loved the most all along; it was just buried under a lot of other distractions. With Jeff’s prompting, I decided to focus on Estate & Vineyard weddings. Later as I learned so much by exploring the boundaries of my new brand, I stumbled across the word “private”. This has become a big focus and key term for my position. It really took accountability and coaching to bring this out of me, for my business wasn’t dead, it was just slowly fading into the masses and that meant a terminally decreasing unique position, value and thus profits generated, since I had to compete on the amount of stuff I was delivering. At the start, I was admittedly scared to say no to Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton weddings. The path of a specialist is hard work, but much easier than trying to compete against a sea of the same people doing exactly what you do. When I was a generalist, I was blind to realizing how similar I actually looked to everyone else. The choice to become a specialist has made me YOUnique, again. It’s opened up doors that I didn’t know existed and others that would have been closed if I were trying to get every type of business. I feel like I’ve completely rejuvenated my business and I’ve never been more excited to set new goals, strategies and tactics. Even if I fail and small experiments, which happens almost weekly, I am learning and growing from those failures which are getting me closer to where I want to be. The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that to attain much means I must risk much. The people and the path I’ve traveled have been much more fun and exciting than doing what I did when I went after everything else others were going after. The risk of not doing anything and just being one of the people in the mob of the masses is now much more of a risk, seeing it from this side.

Success – Showit

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Using our unique gifts and serving others is where our ultimate joy and fulfillment comes from and this is exactly what Showiteers are all about. This “YOUniqueness” thing isn’t easy. Actually, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I got to know Jeff a decade ago and it was just this past year after working with him for two days a month for 12 months did we, as company and as a community of Showiteers, figure out who we were and why we are doing this. I never could’ve imagined the newfound passion and purpose we all feel now and I’m so grateful for it. Serving others is it. That’s who we are. That’s why we do what we do. Before we experienced this newfound clarity we were just spinning our wheels. We would get traction from time to time and inch forward but it took so much effort and every year burn out was predictable. Sound familiar? Well now everything is different. We can make decisions faster. We are fulfilled. We are growing in our gifts and we are doing our best to serve those around us and encourage them to serve others as well. And business is up 500% already this year.

Success – Jason Groupp

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My name is Jason Groupp. I am a New York City photographer, and after shooting weddings for twenty-four years I recently became a specialist. This single act has changed everything. For over two decades, I’ve seen ups, downs, sideways, and backwards in the photo industry. One thing that has remained constant is the need to find something “special” about what you do and who you are. Something that helps you stand out. Something extraordinary. I thought those things were tied to great innovations or great ideas or great pictures or fashionable styles. Over the years, there have been a many trendy things to hang my camera on, even some I feel embarrassed to admit now. But no matter how successfully I hitched my business to the newest, coolest, and most amazing wagon, over time they would all slow down and come to a final stop. That is when the flaming arrows would suddenly appear, burning all my efforts to the ground. It would be another wagon train of trendy messaging reduced to ashes. And with it, my most recent business identity. “Back in the day” – when I first got started in this biz – the barrier to entry was as high as the Empire States building. Film camera gear was both expensive and difficult to master. Loading medium format film backs/magazines required a lot of practice, and learning “how” to take a good exposure was a process of costly trial-and-error, while waiting for our film to come back from the lab was a lesson in patience. And all of this education, more often than not, came at the elbow of a mentoring photographer who agreed to teach me the ropes of the wedding industry. . The older photographers called this “paying your dues” while the interns called it “working for peanuts.” In spite of that, this system worked well for a long time.
Then the photography world flipped over… and a few of us hung on for the wild ride to come. Okay… I don’t mean to sound like an old fart, but that’s the way it was. There was a step-by-step process to establishing yourself as a professional photographer;
  1. You found an interest in photography
  2. You found someone to intern for
3. When you were ready, you struck out on your own Obviously today is different. We now have digital cameras that make it easy (too easy?) to capture an acceptable image, the barrier to entry is low, and dropping rapidly, and the easiest way to get a business started is to launch it on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. On the upside, we are doing the most creative work ever in wedding photography, and I love that I can constantly push my creative side to make a more exciting result with each event. That said, there is also a billion (or so it seems) more people doing it now, and we must strive even harder at ways to market ourselves to reach potential brides and grooms. If you look at some of the best and most successful personal service businesses, you’ll find that many times they’ve succeeded not just because they were able to identify a problem and come up with a great solution. Rather, because they were able to define what they could do better than anyone else and build a market around that unique skill or talent. This is not new, and the most famous example is Apple, where Steve Jobs was always happy to report that success for them was based on delivering a product that the world didn’t know it wanted, and then couldn’t live without, after it was there. This concept is at the core of their special sauce, and the philosophy of Specialism, as well.
With increasing frequency, successful businesses adopt some form of specialism, most easily defined as a singular focus of the uniqueness of their business. For tomorrow’s photography business to expand and mature, we must also embrace Specialism and move away from the idea of a generalist photographer. My studio in NYC is among thousands of others, and the competition is brutal. I battle for a limited number of high-end weddings with a very talented group of people who range from well-known commercial photographers who shoot weddings “on the side” to the new hot shots who meet their clients in Starbucks at night. Why stay, when I know I could succeed elsewhere with less effort and more profits? Mainly, because I <heart> NYC (in fact, my website is www.IamNYC.com) and couldn’t imagine being anywhere else! Sure, it’s ridiculously expensive, and even though I can command a higher rate, I live with the knowledge that I generally keep less money at the end of each event than those in less competitive places. Yeah, I’m a romantic. Early on I learned I could differentiate by marketing myself as “The NYC wedding photographer” and setting up shop in an artsy West Chelsea Studio. I figured this was one way to shrink the playing field to competing with only a few hundred studios instead of thousands of freelancers. That strategy worked great for a while. Alas, nothing lasts forever.
I went in search of my next differentiator. Maybe I could use engagement sessions? Somewhere in time, someone decided it would be a great idea if we gave our clients a “free” engagement session. It seemed a good marketing/sales tool, and would also be a great way to get to know our clients. Like everything, it worked for a while, and now it’s become almost an industry standard… meaning it has almost no differentiating value because it’s now expected. And worse, it’s now expected for FREE. What’s the big deal? It’s only an hour, right? Let’s break down that one-hour session: -60 minutes travel to and from the shoot location -60 minutes of shooting (minimum) -120 minutes of downloading, processing, and uploading (a conservative estimate) That is 4 hours of time you’re giving away that has NO real value. Ironically, it’s unlikely you are really getting to know your client, anyway. You also often do it during the week towards the end of the day, and it screws up everyone’s day. So in the end it always seemed like this chore you all had to do, and no one enjoyed it. Glad it was FREE. What was the weakness of all these ideas, and why weren’t they sustainable? They were about what I do, or where I live versus WHO I am, and WHY I do it. This concept is at the heart of Team-X, and Jeff calls it Specialism. Specialism is about how you can reach higher plateaus of success than you ever thought possible by clearly defining a your personal uniqueness and declaring it to the world. The motto of Team-X is “Work Happily Ever-after” and that should tell you a lot about its WHY.
To quote Jeff on this, “Specialism leverages the power of focus. And there is no faster way to lose focus and weaken your brand than to present yourself as competent in multiple categories, as a generalist must do.” Exactly how did I specialize? With all the branding, and marketing I had been working on I knew I was close to something, but felt like something was missing. Then it hit me. What was missing was… ME! I needed to add ME to what I love doing the most: Photography + NYC. Fortunately, I know that there’s 8.1 million people here who have the same passion for my town as I do, and I’d venture to say maybe a few others outside the Big Apple, too. So, how do I share my city, my love, my mistress (my wife is okay with this) with the world? The answer popped into my head one day as a passed a young, hip, and in-love couple who were definitely tourists. And, they seemed just in love with NYC as they were with each other. THAT’S IT! I’ll combine my knowledge and passion of NYC to create a unique experience for others! I knew immediately that this would this work for my engagement shoots as well as for that hot couple that just passed me on the street looking for something really fun to do! Wheels turning… I approached my next engagement shoot client, and asked them if instead of just doing a one hour shoot focused on THEM, would they mind if I made a “date with NYC” out of it, for all us. They loved the idea. We started by agreeing to add a few hours, and an adventurous spirit, to the shoot, followed by some coffee and drinks, afterwards. They were IN!
Immediately, I pulled up some of my experience as a fashion photographer, and began producing the event as if it were a commercial shoot. I created inspiration boards, hired a hair/makeup artist, and gathered as much information from my clients BEFORE the shoot to help plan a date for THEM using MY knowledge of NYC. My clients LOVED it all. I mean, who wouldn’t? An entire day devoted to having fun, enjoying NYC, and oh yeah, taking some amazing pictures. Let me tell you, after spending a day getting to know my clients and having the adventure of doing things THEY love to do (from the info I gathered), we became better friends than that one hour engagement session would have ever created! I <heart> NYC sessions were born – and a huge success! The next step, and increasingly satisfying part, was moving this concept into an entirely new area, and marketing these sessions to tourists. With a little help of SEO (via the blog) and tourism sites, getting the word out spread like wildfire. As a result, I’ve had the opportunity to spend time enjoying the city with couples from all over the world, including Russia, Italy, Australia, & just recently Indonesia. Talk about working “happily ever after” – I get to combine all the things I love to do, make money, and have super happy clients… and we know there’s no better marketing for our industry than a happy client. And, no better way to spend a day than doing something you truly love. I get to do that, whenever I want. Since adopting it for my own business, I frequently get asked why specialization is better than generalization when applied to creative and personal service businesses. There are lots of good answers to that, though the most important (to me) is the sense of ultimate well-being that I achieved once I successfully specialized. When you know you are (finally) good enough, the root of most personal insecurities – comparison – ceases to be relevant.
Once I specialized, I realized that there really is no competition for me, as a person, which means that there is no real competition for me as a creative or personal service business either. When your business positioning is based on you, as a person, you learn that only you can be the best you for your client. That is honestly one of the most difficult concepts to embrace, and also one of the most important if you expect to succeed as a specialist. Note that specialism isn’t an ad campaign, sales promotion or this year’s marketing fad. It won’t work if you approach it as something you will “try out” and see if it sticks. It’s a very real commitment to define the “YOUniqueness” of you, your business and your purpose, and celebrate it in everything you say and do. It can change your life, as it has mine.

Success – Ivona Dixon

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When I first began my photography business in 2009, the only thing I knew was that I loved to take pictures of people. Later that year, I discovered boudoir and by 2010, I added that category into my portfolio. It was my absolute favorite, but I didn’t know why. Over the next year, I continued to shoot everything from promotional photos, pets, weddings, families and babies. However, boudoir was my passion and 90% of my business. I knew I wanted to go forward as an expert in boudoir photography, but I wasn’t sure how to get to the next level. Luckily, the stars aligned and the name “Jeff Jochum” continued to show up in my universe. After several months of researching the man, I wrote Jeff an email. What happened over the next year transformed my life and continues to do so. With his directed guidance and tough-love questioning, I walked away from each meeting being mind-blown. Something I didn’t expect was that Jeff told me things I didn’t know about myself. I learned that I embodied “boudoir.” My mannerisms reflected boudoir. I blinked slowly and had bedroom eyes. My voice was “breathy” and sultry. Throughout the years, I had never liked the sound of my own voice. It wasn’t until it was pointed out to me how sexy it was that only then I began to use it the way it was meant to sound, and I gained a confidence in my voice. Each month we got closer to identifying the core of me as it relates to my clients and me. It was towards the end of my coaching with Jeff that I felt the biggest relief yet. It was when we put into words, into my tagline, what I wanted to tell the women of the world, “I can see why he wants you.” It’s in the curve of your hip, the way you brush your hair out of your face. That is simply the way I see women, and I love it.
The biggest power about specializing and knowing what makes me YOUnique is having the ability to articulate it and pass on those words to my clients, so they can pass it onto their friends and so forth. I feel so much clarity and focus now that I’m specialized about whom I am and whom my client is. I can only move forward on my own, unique path.

Success – Tracy Moore

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In 2010, I went to a photography convention in Las Vegas. I was walking through the lobby of Caesar’s Palace with some friends when one of them stopped in a big crowd of people to say hello to some friends of hers. She looked at me and said, “Jeff Jochum is over there. You need to meet him.” I had heard of Jeff, as most people in the photography industry have, and I was thrilled to be meeting him. He gave me a big smile while shaking my hand and we talked for less than 30 seconds. But in those 30 seconds, what he said intrigued me. He was genuine, asking tough questions about my business, and I wanted to talk to him more. I went to his Biz Clarity workshop months later and got my first taste about the importance of specializing. At that time, I was shooting everything. I shot maternity, newborns, kids, families, seniors, engagement, weddings, and everything in-between. After his workshop, I narrowed my shooting down to mostly weddings, and I started marketing ME, not just my ability to take pictures. The results were great and I knew I was on the right track. So, I started one-on-one coaching with Jeff and it rocked my world. I knew I needed to focus, but thought I was already specialized since I only shot a couple different disciplines. I was so very wrong. With Jeff, I found out why I am YOUnique… why people like me… what made me truly different. After a few months of working with him, I found out what I have always known… that I am the “troublemaker photographer for adventurous people.” As soon as I began declaring it, clients who were just like me started showing up for my business. So, I began to charge a premium because I could now market my YOUniqueness. People started really connecting with me, because I was perfect for them, and they were perfect for me. I went from charging $2,000 for weddings, to an average of $5800 for weddings, in just a few months. Even with all that guidance, I had a hard time making choices and was still shooting, and marketing, both weddings and seniors. This changed once I attended Fight Club last year. In that 3-days of intense work, I knew I had to choose. I ended up going with high school senior girls, and I am so happy with my decision. I still shoot a few weddings a year, though only for my totally perfect clients, but all my marketing and time goes into booking senior girls that are perfect for me. I am now the “Troublemaker Photographer for Mischievous and Adventurous Senior Girls.” Like weddings, this clear specialization enables me to charge a premium for these senior portraits because the experience with me is so different. We bond over getting into a little trouble, acting crazy, and going on fun adventures during their photo shoots. It’s an incredible journey I’ve been on with Jeff, and I am so thankful to be only shooting what I love and making a premium for it. I went from charging a $75 session fee and making an average of $350 for print sales, to charging a $300 session fee, and making an average $2,000 per senior girl. I’m now working happily ever-after.

Success – Shoot Dot Edit

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When we first started ShootDotEdit, our goal was to provide color correction to every photographer across the globe. It wouldn’t matter whether you were a wedding photographer in the United States, a landscape photographer in Switzerland, or a dog photographer in Peru – we wanted to do your color correction. That would require a lot of growth, but we were up to the task! The good news is that we accomplished much of that rather quickly! Before we knew it, photographers from all over the world were sending us their images, and we saw pretty much everything! The problem had become how to edit each of these differing shoots…. Every shoot required a different type of editing, different customer service requirements, different turnaround times and price points. Quickly we became overwhelmed with the task of making every different shoot and every different photographer happy…. while staying profitable. Ahhh, profitability. We were seemingly stuck in a price race to the bottom. Postproduction companies were cropping up left and right, and competing with us on price. Not only was it getting harder and harder to keep our wide array of clients happy, but it was getting harder and harder to stay profitable. The idea of Specialism was introduced to us in July 2010. Frankly, I couldn’t believe this was THE idea to solve our problems. How could turning away a majority of work make us a better company that makes our clients happier and us more profits? The logic just didn’t seem to be there…. But slowly it started to make sense. We came from the wedding photography industry – why not just do what we knew best? And, the wedding niche is the biggest in the photography industry. Seems like a pretty good place to specialize.
The true benefits of Specialism, though, were much more far reaching. Yes, we were able to service only wedding photographers, thus making us much more optimized and streamlined. But, by declaring what we were all about (and likewise, what we weren’t about), we attracted the best in our market. Because we specialized in the Wedding Pro, we were able to charge at the top of the market. And, because we specialized, we were instantly seen as the best. In the end, Specialism is a shift in your model that affects every leg of your business. Our brand benefited from the clientele we attracted. Our operations benefited from the singular type of client. Our customer experience always knew exactly whom they were talking to. But, best of all, we had a focus. We always knew whom we were working for, what they wanted, and how to meet their needs. Specialism’s hidden benefits – clarity and focus – allowed us to grow. And that takes us right back to our original goal.

Success – Stephanie O

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I started my photography business in late 2009. When I first came into this line of work, I primarily shot youth sports, which was an unforgiving niche to be focused on, but one I came by honestly, being married at the time to a fast pitch coach. After six months of endless weekends shooting tournaments only to sell less than $500 in prints, I started to pursue more avenues of work – namely children, families, maternity and newborns.

For the next year, I took on any work I could find. Graduation parties, families, newborns, and friends. And I was completely miserable. I resented my clients and the time I had to spend dealing with them, for very little payout in return.

I met Jeff at WPPI in 2011, and started working with him a few months later. After a few calls, it became clear that I was really passionate about one thing: motherhood.

I suppose I’d always known. Yet somehow, I’d always been a little bit scared to admit it. Was it okay for a photographer to take the focus off the baby and turn it back to the mother? I wanted to work with women on their journeys to becoming a mother, to showcase her strength and honor the struggle that was involved. My own experiences of pregnancy, birth and early motherhood had been some of the most difficult periods of my life, and I found myself wanting to make a difference for other mothers – to tell them that they were not alone, that this was just as hard, amazing and rewarding as they thought it was.

Over the next months, Jeff and I worked on a message that fits me so perfectly, describing my why and what I am passionate about to a tee. Though the process wasn’t without pain, it was certainly also full of laughter and a renewed sense of purpose for my life. I was now able to be vocal, proud and passionate about the things I believed in. I didn’t have to hide behind any worry that I might offend someone, or take a misstep. My passion draws in women whose values are closely aligned with mine, and working together is wonderful for both of us.

I am now ready to take this small dent I’m making in the individual lives of women and starting making a larger splash. It’s no longer enough for me to touch just a handful of moms each month. I’m hungry for more, and excited to find ways to bring my why out on a larger scale, so that even more women feel empowered during their journey to motherhood.

Success – Jane Ammon

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I have a gift. I’m hearing impaired. For me, communication is whole body dependent. I hear by leaning in, reading lips, interpreting body language and taking my time to process language. I communicate with my expressive face, dramatic posture changes, and reflective pauses. When I speak, I carefully choose my words. I spent 13 years as a Speech Language Pathologist pretending to be someone I thought I should be. When I picked up a camera in 2006, I knew then that I was on a journey of rediscovery. I knew I was looking for the child who was hiding in me. And, I realized quickly I would need help finding her. That’s where Jeff came in. He helped me see what I already knew deep down inside. Together, we discovered that I believe there is a difference between being a grown up and growing old. Sometimes I have to be a grown up though I never have to grow old. I now understand that our children teach us that thinking we can live forever… is the BEST way to do it. My specialization is using my gift to discover and photograph children. And, sometimes there families, too. My gift of being hearing impaired allows me to communicate like children do; without words…allowing children and adults to feel heard and, even better, hear themselves. My images are simple reminders of how amazing it feels to be heard.

Success – Michelle Ocampo

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I show smart girls how to fearlessly embrace their true beauty. This is such a simple, yet powerful statement in my world. And let me tell you, it is completely liberating! When you take the time to truly dig deep into the core of who you are and embrace your uniqueness, it is incredibly freeing not only in your business but in your life! I have given myself permission to be ME and in return, I attract clients that will make working never feel like “work” again. I am eager to spend time with these girls, share my expertise, and encourage them on their own journey into adulthood, and it’s so much fun because it’s authentically ME! I love being a positive role model encouraging them to be fearless and embrace their whole self. And I get to be a hero in the process! Specialism has given me very clear direction with my business. With everything I do, I ask myself, “Does this show smart girls how to fearlessly embrace their true beauty?” If what I do encourages teen girls to be smart, fearless, and embrace their youthfulness, I know I am making the right decision. If it strays from my mantra, there is no need. Specialism is the gift of clarity and forces me to remain true to my uniqueness. And well, THAT is what an entrepreneur calls priceless!

Success – Jen Chaney

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At the start of 2011 I found myself at a crossroads. I had just finished my taxes for the previous year and was literally in tears. My 60+ hour work weeks, ridiculously late nights, and countless weekends spent with other people’s families, had translated into a whopping $15,000 after taxes. Why had I worked SO hard for so little money? When all was said and done, I was making roughly 15.00 an hour. Good grief! I pay my house cleaner 17.00 an hour! This was not worth all of the hours I was away from my family (either physically gone or mentally gone.) I had two young kids at home and I was sadly missing their childhood. It was at this point I had to make a decision. Was I going to keep going at this pace, risk the happiness of my family, and cross fingers that things would change? Or was I going to call it quits and take my toys and go home? I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of quitting; not after how hard I worked (even though no one would have faulted me for packing it all up). Instead, I decided that if I was going to do this I was going to do it right. As fate would have it, I had recently met Jeff Jochum. I instantly knew he had the right idea. And with his help, I was able to step back and take a long look at my business from a totally different perspective. I stopped focusing on the money itself and took a very thorough look at who I was and who I wanted as clients.
We started out by examining my existing clients. To my surprise, when I sat down with my client list and started reading over the names, I saw an emotional pattern emerge. The clients I had the best time with, the ones I loved working with, were people I could easily have a margarita with. They were like me. But the rest of my clients caused me some amount of sorrow – they were the ones that I couldn’t imagine having to survive a cup of coffee with, much less a cocktail! Wow. How had I not noticed this before? It seemed so painfully obvious as I looked at my list because I realized that the ones I REALLY loved were the clients who hired me to go into their homes and photograph the bright spots in their seemingly crazy world. Everything about these clients brought me joy… true joy. From phone calls, to emails, to asking for money, I was at ease with them. Oddly, not at all with the other clients (wedding, teens, professionals). It was with this realization that a new Family Life photographer was born. Fast-forward two years, and I am finally working happy. My life and my business don’t conflict any longer because I don’t feel the pressure to take every. single. job. that lands in my inbox. Now I only take the jobs that I WANT to do, and I easily say, “no, thank you” to the ones that don’t bring me joy. I feel in control for the first time since 2006. What is my specialty? What do I declare to my clients? I specialize in Chaotic Families. They move me, and I don’t want to photograph anything else.
My business no longer runs me; I run it. Specializing has given me power and confidence. I have a clear desire, message, and goal. It has allowed me to really be who I am and focus on families that are like me. This is powerful. Amazingly, overwhelmingly, powerful. I feel very blessed. And it all started by choosing. Once I felt the power of choosing one thing and doing it really well, I can’t ever imagine going back to the way things used to be. And certainly not for 15.00 an hour. 😉