tonia johnston photography | Refuse to be taken advantage of

Refuse to be taken advantage of

July 26, 2011

We’ve all been in a situation when we’ve been taken advantage of somehow. It stinks. Personally it leaves me feeling angry and frankly stupid for not seeing it coming. But sometimes those people sneak into my life (no matter how hard I try to avoid it) and get the best of me and or my family.

I got tired of having good intentions and running into people who saw “sucker” tattooed on my forehead. I got tired of giving my all to people only to have their actions say “you just keep doing what you’re doing and I’m gonna just sit down over here and watch you and then complain about things that you’re not doing – real or imagined.” Thus our football league was done.

When I was first starting out with my wedding planning business I took this job from our real estate agent to set up and attend her Christmas party. She was well-known and had a ton of contacts and convinced me that it would be good for me to get some exposure. I got there early, decorated the tables and buffets, set up the food, made sure drinks were poured during the party and that everything was well stocked. My husband kept telling me that she was taking advantage of me but I had it in my stubborn head that she was helping me. At the end of the night, not only was I not introduced to anyone but I got paid a whopping $100.00 for doing the work of many for several hours.

When first starting a business, people are confused as to what to do and how to go about it. We look to other successful businesses, blogs & websites to try to gather any amount of information we can find to help get started. One thing I came across a lot and struggled with was my portfolio. I worried about how to build my portfolio, how long should it take, how do I go about getting business without having one and I can’t possibly just have my family members as the subjects. And pricing? Discount or not discount?

So when I sat down to write out a very simple business plan, I added scheduled portfolio shoots and in the long run, I decided not to discount my services. What does this have to do with not getting taken advantage of? I’m getting there.

My portfolio shoots may or may not be different from others. And I’m ok with that. This works for me. I  schedule two a month and I ONLY book them with people I know I can trust. It’s not the kids I book that I am worried about, it’s the parents. If I can’t trust the parents, it’s a no go. I won’t even bother to ask them. If I have a vision in mind (and I usually do) I think of who I can place in the location and situation that I am thinking of. Then I ask. But only after I have gone through the thought process – has this person ever tried to get over on me? Are these people or person trustworthy? Would this person/people help me out if I needed a favor without asking for anything in return? It’s a very deliberate thought process for me.

This is my business. It’s my baby. I want to nurture it and help it grow. I have good intentions – to create art, make people happy and to hopefully one day get to a place that my husband can come home, work a 9-5 & live with us.

My portfolio shoots are mine. I shoot for me, I edit for me, I pose for me…and my business. In return for my subject giving me their time as well as allowing me to use the pictures how I choose, I edit 10 pictures for them to keep. I make that clear from the beginning. 10 images. Now, I usually over deliver and I also hold some pictures back for future use. I have to know from the beginning that the person I ask isn’t going to say to me, “can you shoot my cousin, brother, mother and pet at the same time?” The answer would be no. This is my portfolio shoot. It’s me getting this idea or vision out of my head. Anything that interferes with said vision or ideas turns into a paid session. At that point, the client has just come to ME.

And nor do I discount, although there are times I want to. I am a black or white, right or wrong kinda person. I also believe in working with transparency. I could say to my friend Joe that I would do a discounted shoot for him but then what do I say to Joe’s friend if they called and wanted a session because Joe went and told them that I gave them a discount? Sorry, no. You are not special? That’s not right. So, if I come across someone who I know will not take advantage of me and maybe NEEDS a discount (not just wants one) they get turned into a portfolio shoot. That way I cannot be known to Joe’s friend as the photog who gives discounts. I become known to Joe’s friend as the photographer who asked me (the subject) to do a shoot for her. I’ve just avoided the whole she did a favor for me and turned into it into an I (the subject) did a favor for her. The end result – I am in control of the situation and nobody got the opportunity to take advantage of me.

I did try a giveaway at one point at the very beginning. And I can say that I failed. Not only did nobody respond to it, but as soon as I posted the announcement on Facebook, I felt slightly dirty. I felt like I was begging for work. There is nothing wrong with giveaways! I think they work so long as you already have a base of clients. But for me, still trying to gain some exposure I ended up feeling discounted. Not because nobody responded – I actually was ok with that. It was that I sold myself short. I felt like I had to give my work away in order to bring people to me. So, no more giveaway’s for me. Maybe that will change in the future but for right now, I still remember how that felt.

And really, for me – it doesn’t feel any different from getting taken advantage of.