Friday, January 25, 2013

Everyone wants to give up sometime...

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 and my Official business blog at

Just to warn you right from the beginning...this is a bit of a rant

Sometimes I seriously feel like giving up this "business" side of photography.  It has brought me so much frustration and disappointment. I have so many people call and say "I want YOUR work (style, quality, etc) - BUT I want it for the {non-pro/illegit-business} prices that so-and-so in town offers."  Most of the time I will reply, kindly, that I am sorry I can't match so-and-so's prices, but we offer different things... if this is the budget they have, they should certainly give so-and-so a call!  I am not a competitive person... and I do not feel hostile or even hurt by this.  But there are times {more than once, for sure} that someone will persist... "BUT I want YOUR work." And I can only explain in so many words just WHY my work costs more. I explain, often, that "professional photography is a luxury, an extra in life.  It's something that you save up for, just like a vacation!" -- and often I feel as if I'm speaking another language. So much goes into running a professional photography business: insurance, education, websites, marketing, taxes, fees, equipment, repairs, software, on-and-on-and-on the list goes.  There is a standard in the business that should be respected and followed -- but nowadays so many people get a camera and just start a business. And that is fine - people do have a right to choose what quality level they want.  So please don't misunderstand me...I am NOT being un-supportive of the newbie starting a business {so no need to start sending me nasty emails or comments!}.  Simply - I do wish there was a standard that had to be met to be a business {truly, in a perfect world everyone would insist on meeting and keeping standards of professionalism... but this is not a perfect world, huh?} ... because the general public gets confused that "so-and-so can offer sessions for $50 with a disk of {a gazillion} images, but YOU {the professional photographer who runs a legit photography business and maintains professional standards in pricing & procedures} want me to pay a session fee and purchase prints!?!"  Showing a true need for the general public to be educated as to the difference. I do what I do because I love photography {it's WHO I am... it's WHAT I am} - I have worked on so much about myself as a photographer for years before becoming a business - and I believe in my photography. I believe I offer clients professional work at a great price and an awesome experience backed by the reassurance that I am upholding the standards of an awesome industry!  Clients choose me for my style and vision {they've almost always seen my work before they ever contact me!} but when they hire me they can rest assured that they will be getting quality and expertise. I will always hold to the high standards that maintain the respect for professional photography. 
And yet...I won't walk away from this "business." I might not push quite as hard for business in an area where people are happy with the shoot & burn photographers who do work for cheap and run businesses that are not legit, which sadly disrespects the business of professional photography. I will continue to work on myself as a photographer... to strive to become stronger in my skills, better at my craft, and offer the absolute best experience, work & products to my clients.  I will not compromise what is right to be competitive - when the competition is not offering a product that is up to professional standards - and they are not running a business in a professional and legit manner.
The saddest part to me is when someone says professional photography is "deserved" -- DESERVED is such an abused and misused word. Food to sustain, sense of safety, water to drink, air to breathe...those are things that are deserved. Professional photography, vacations, even cars and houses, etc - those are things that should be worked for, saved for and earned...and hopefully, because there was some sacrifice in obtaining them, they will be even more special and greatly cherished

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men" ~Colossian 3:23 ... 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Business 101: The Nitty Gritty - Part III (The Final Part)

The beginning has been discussed, and how exciting the offer and proposal were... and I'm sure you can imagine all of the thoughts (and maybe even some dreams) that were going around in my head.  But in all truth I am a very realistic person, and there were some things that just seemed "too good to be true" to me from the beginning wih this ordeal.  I would even voice that to the partners in the business.  They would just smile or even laugh at that, and tell me that I worried too much!  And then say something like "now when are you going to start working?"  Ok.... so now let's move on to the nitty gritty of what ended up happening... and maybe how my doubts were really not so ridiculous afterall.  Like I've said several times, I have been extremely blessed through this experience to have so many friends in different parts of the business and legal world, and I received a lot of great advice and guidance throughout the journey.  So let's move on with the story....

My trip to Italy really changed my perspective on the studio partnership deal in many ways.  There really was a lot of discussion, an outpouring of support, a multitude of warnings given... and I came back seeing things from a different angle.  This was a great advantage for me, because as I've said before: I am not a business person by nature at all.  While I'm very organized, it's something I force on myself because I actually am much more of an artist (yep, I'll admit, I get quite lost in my own little world when I am busy doing my thing!)  I don't operate naturally on a timetable, or with lists and schedules... therefore I have to make myself do those things to stay afloat in the world of business.  When I re-entered the reality of this studio deal upon returning to the country, it was full-swing.  Within a couple of days after my return, and still dealing with some pretty major jet-lag, I was back to the challenges of seeing how this deal was going to work out.  The County Fair was underway, and there was a small display showing four samples of my work... this was along one edge of the massive display that they had at the Fair.  Also there was a sign with the announcement of the new Partnership... right there in the middle of my work.  While I was excited to see my work displayed there, I was disappointed that the only thing they had decided to print and display of mine was work that didn't really compete with his.  And that was maybe my first clue that there might be some things I hadn't seen before in this whole deal.  I'm not one to throw a fit or make an issue, so I let it go.  But my concern was that I wasn't coming in to the studio as competition, by not showing my work in full, I was being treated as competition. Rather I was coming in as a partner preparing to start taking the reigns of running the business as time went by.    And again - this was not something I had proposed or asked for from them... they had approached me.

Again the questions of when I was going to move in and when I was going to start work began again.  Now let me explain the "moving in" part of this.  In merging these businesses, I would obviously be moving out of my home-business into this much larger studio space.  And that was the most appealing part of any of this opportunity!  My kids are grown, so basically we converted most of our upstairs to my office and studio space.  My in-home studio, while not a huge space, is a very nice space and mostly used for photographing newborns and babies.  The need for a larger studio space (as well as a space outside of my home) has been something discussed for quite a while before this opportunity presented itself.  So moving my studio would still be a pretty major endeavor.  I have tons of props for newborn sessions (baskets, buggies, bowls, boxes, suitcases, chairs, pillows, etc), backdrops, floors, shelves for organizing all the hats, wraps, blankets, headbands, backdrops and on and on goes the list... and then there is lighting equipment and backdrop stands, reflectors, umbrellas, soft boxes, etc... oh my, the list just goes on and on!  And that is not even beginning to mention anything in my office space... that is simply just the studio area.  Whenever I'd think of moving all of this, I would remember the warnings I had been given: have everything in a written contract before you do anything!  So I would hold back.  When asked, I would respond: let's get those written contracts done first.  And I would either meet with being ignored, or a generic response of "yes, we do need to do that...we can go over that next week."  For me, I was going on with my own business as normal.  When clients got in touch wanting to know if they still scheduled an appointment with me as always or did they need to now call the studio, I would tell them that until I let them know otherwise to continue contacting me.  When a client was ready to place an order, I continued with my ordering process as normal.  For my business, nothing was changing at all until the time that contracts had been signed and the deal was officially done.  As far as I could see it, the deal was not a "done deal" until all paperwork was finalized.  And that is one thing that I did do correctly. 

Down to the Nitty-Gritty:

Finally I was contacted by one of the partners by text message that we would sit down and go over the contract the following afternoon.  This was following an email I had sent at the end of the previous week with a rough draft of a proposed contract/agreement - stating most of what they had proposed to me but leaving blanks for dates and exact numbers (such as salary and commission amounts in the beginning, exact dates of transfers, exact percentage of transfers, etc.) The following afternoon when we sat down together at the studio, I was given a copy of an email that I had actually sent weeks earlier with a very brief list of some of the issues that needed to be taken care of and included in any contract that was drawn up.  It was not a complete list by any means, and definitely didn't have things listed and stated as the proposed contract agreement last sent.  Yet it was a starting place, and to me it was at least a step in the right direction.

Then came the shock...the boom was lowered...the truth was finally revealed.

All of the warnings that I had received over the past 2-3 months of what to be careful of, what to look out for... they were all a reality.  Once the two partners started going over things, each point was different than what had been proposed at least three times at the beginning of all of this.  There was a part of me that felt confused, a part of me that wanted to scream, and quite honestly a part of me that wanted to cry.  Was it me or them that had lost their mind?  What they were proposing at this time for the details in a contract was ridiculous, and anyone with any sense would never sign such an agreement...yet here they were smiling at me and acting like this was all something that had been discussed before.  I had spent time with them, they had gotten to know me over these past months... and they were literally breaking every point they had proposed to me to get my interest.  Do you remember the initial proposal?  Let's compare with what they revealed in the end:

•A "substantial" salary that would basically break down to less than $10 an hour.  And from the beginning (literally, the first phone call) I had expressed my concern at not wanting to be expected to be somewhere every weekday, completely tied down and unable to maintain taking care of my other demands in life, with the response being that I would always have complete control over my schedule.  Well, now it was being stated that they would expect me to be working in the studio at least 4 days during the week (this was in addition to doing any photo sessions that I might schedule for evening or weekend appointments, or weekend weddings.)  Right there I felt like I was in the wrong place -- maybe they were confused that I was applying for a position, and not the photographer that THEY had approached about a partnership. Along with this salary, they would pay me a "substantial" commission (much more than they would someone else, they explained, because of my ability and experience) of 25% of my sales.

•After the first year I would receive 7.25% interest in the business.  (Less than half of what they had been proposing from the beginning.)  And each year thereafter another 7.25%... therefore in 14 years it would be my business.  It would be 7 years before I would have controlling interest, and once I did have 51% interest I would start paying rent or have a purchase option for the building.  My question was "well, if I only have 51% interest, I expect that I would only have to pay 51% rent?" And that was probably very rude to have even said out loud... but let's consider that I was in absolute shock over what I was hearing at this point!  Then it was very smoothly stated that the photographer felt it was only fair to make sure that I at least had the option of a buy-out clause... because, he explained, when I got to 51% interest in 7 years, he would be 65 and possibly not wanting or able to work and bring money into the business... so I probably wouldn't want him taking his share of interest from the business when he wasn't even working to bring money into the business and it would be best for me to just "buy him out" at that point.  To me this very clearly sounded very different from "no money will change hands" stated clearly over and over in the weeks and months already.  And also keep in mind that I would be bringing into this partnership my own equipment, which is all new and top-of-the-line and worth quite a bit of money.  My contribution into the business would carry a hefty value from the beginning.  And let's remember that as time goes by technology changes drastically.  The computers and photography equipment that we use now will virtually be a dinosaur in 5-7 years, much less 14 years.  And working for the business, I would be a major contributor to the money used to purchase equipment to replace and upgrade through the years.

•It was also discussed that each partner would have a clause that, in the case of their early-death, any interest that they held in the studio at that time would automatically be divided back between the remaining partners... that their family or estate could not come in and claim interest in the studio.  As shocked as I had already been through this conversation, I was even more shocked when one partner looked at me and stated "you don't need this money to support your household" -- so basically anything I would work years for was all in vain. 

•It was discussed about the business name, and the two partners carried out a conversation about how it really wouldn't work to have my business name added (even though this had been one of the main things discussed from the very beginning.)  There was a dialog between them about how "experts" in marketing had already approached them and pointed out that adding my business name at all would just confuse the market, and thus run away business.  And by this point I didn't even ask anymore questions.  I can only imagine the look on my face by this point.

and finally, the last thing......

•They said they would be thrilled for me to take over taking care of website and social networking, and felt that I did an incredible job with that for my own business already. (Yep -- that's the same as in the inital proposal!!!  Horray -- I hadn't completely lost my mind!)

To say that I sat through this shocked and amazed would be an understatement.  I had an array of feelings and emotions throughout all of this...but "completely shocked" would have to be the top one on the list.  Even when I left the studio to head home, it still hadn't all sunk in with me.  It was playing over and over in my head.  I felt frustrated, angry, confused, sad, overwhelmed... among so many other things.  I had written down what was said through this meeting, and when I got home I got my notes from the previous discussions and started to compare, and there was nothing pertinent that lined up at all.  Everything was different, and everything was much worse.  I would basically be bringing thousands of dollars worth of my own equipment into an established studio and then getting paid a small percentage of what I earned to work for someone else.  It was not sounding so good at all... and the words of many respected people along the way (and especially hours of conversations in Italy) were playing over and over in my mind.  I sent my husband a message to call me, and we went over the points of the meeting... after which he also pointed out and we agreed that I would be crazy to walk into such a deal.  The prospect that after 7 years of working hard, I would then be in my 50's taking out possibly an enormous business loan to "buy out" this photographer... something I had stated in our very first conversation that I had no interest in getting into, and still here I was months later with this before me.  It was very disheartening. 

Later that same day I wrote an email that was sent to both partners, and I pointed out the differences in their original proposal and the points they had given that day... and I told them that I was very concerned with the changes and would not proceed under those terms.  I also told them that I was willing to discuss getting the terms back to more agreeable terms, as in the initial proposal.  The following afternoon I received a very brief email stating "Please know how much we appreciate the time and effort you have put into this proposal; however, it appears that it is not in the best interest of either party to enter a partnership at this time."  Absolutely no explanation at all.  After all of their advertising and announcements of this new partnership...all of the was that simple.  Their intentions were not to honor what they had proposed to me in the beginning, but rather to somehow lure me in and have me somehow find myself stuck.  I wrote a follow up email that reiterated from the beginning the differences in their initial proposals (given at least 3 separate times, and in the presence of at least one witness) and what they put before me at that final meeting, and explained that such a partnership would not be to any advantage to me, but would rather bring me financial hardship and distress.  If there was any doubt of their lack of emotion or regret in their treatment or handling of this entire ordeal, it was clear by the way they never offered any apology or explanation. 

There has been a time of grieving since all of this.  Honestly, there have been many feelings and emotions through the entire journey.  I have felt panic and fear since the beginning, even though realizing that this could open up such an opportunity for me to reach more people with my photography - to offer more studio options to my clients (especially for my maternity sessions!), and that is something I have prayed for over and over again.  But my panic and fear came from the feelings of losing control... of someone else deciding who and what and when and how.  And as an artist that is not something I can or will freely give away.  There has also been a lot of disappointment and hurt.  I'm no more special than the next man or woman, but I sometimes want to believe that since I am an honest and open person in both business and my personal life that people will treat me in the same way... that they won't take advantage or hurt me.  And I learned again that this is just not the way it usually works in this world.  There are people out there who do not have regard for others... and are only looking out for themselves.  And that disappointments me.  It may not sound very professional or tough, but it broke my heart!  The feelings of anger have come from being manipulated and lied to... and even the fact that I had made purchases that were only made because I believed I was actually moving out of my home office and into another location - money spent that didn't need to be spent, and could have gone to something more useful and necessary. 

Always Find the Positives:

The thing I most cherish is the feelings of thankfulness that I have had by how this all worked out.  Even though I have been hurt and disappointed, I am so thankful for the people who cared and invested in me (and my business overall) and in this situation to help and guide me.  The advice I was given along the way was priceless, and it is probably due to much of that advice that I wasn't hurt even more... or that I didn't find myself stuck in a situation that was going to really bring a lot of struggles to my life I didn't plan on or see going in.

Advice from the lessons I've learned....

My advice to you if you ever find yourself in any kind of situation like this:

•GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING!  If someone comes to you with a proposal or offer, get it in writing from the very beginning.  If you notice that they are only telling you things, but never giving you anything in b&w - then consider walking away.  Maybe at least ask "Hey, I'd really like to proceed, but I'd like to see some of this in more concrete form so I understand completely what your intentions most clearly."  There is nothing wrong with asking for that - you have to protect yourself.  Also it gives the other party the opportunity to see what they are offering in writing and retract something if they find it's more than they are really wanting to give.

•Speak up if you have a question.  Do not ever be afraid to say "Something about this is not feeling right, so I need to get some clearer answers to my questions." If things are really as they are being presented, the other party will have no problem with explaining further - in fact, they will appreciate that you care enough to want all of the facts. 

•Do not start working with someone until you have everything finalized.  That means IN WRITING, LEGAL, SIGNED, SEALED & DELIVERED!!  I did not move in to the studio space - I never took anything over, holding out for contracts to be done.  BUT I did go over numerous times to look over things, work on their facebook, even assisted during a photo shoot.  And that was a mistake.  I didn't lose anything, but I did give up some of my time... but my time is very valuable, and to them it didn't mean anything.  Also, I got more invested emotionally in the idea of the partnership.  And if I had held out completely for contracts before putting myself into the business at all, some of that would have been spared.

•DO NOT BE AFRAID TO WALK AWAY.  There should never (seriously, do you understand that I really mean NEVER) be a time in our lives that we stay in something because we are afraid to be embarrassed or humiliated that something didn't work out.  Actually, it should be those who are taking advantage of someone else who should feel embarrassed and humiliated!  But if you see yourself in a situation that very clearly is not going to be the best thing or even bring you harm in some way - then find the door quickly.  Move on.  Learn lessons - and share those lessons with others so that they can learn too.  It's what life is all about!

•MOVE ON!!!  And that is what I have done.  My business is still intact and thriving, and I have learned valuable lessons.  My feelings may have been hurt, but it's not the first time and will most likely not be the last time.  But I am wiser, and I am probably even a bit kinder.  I will not let someone else's bad choices or bad behavior make me an angry person... but I will let it make me a smarter person.  And I am blessed with the BEST clients in the world.  Most of my clients probably have no idea any of this has been going on, so they have no idea how much it means when they tell me they absolutely love the work I do for them!  But I know - and that is what matters, and it is what makes me strive to be even better for all of my clients!

Thank you for giving me your time and for allowing me to share my story with you.  My hope in sharing is that you will learn something to help you in your own life and business and to help someone else avoid such a situation as I found myself.  The bottom line is always that we should live our lives with integrity, both personally and professionally.  We can't control other people, but we can learn to be smart in how we handle those tough situations.

Follow-up: As I've stated many times over, business is not a natural thing for me.  I possibly have no natural business sense at all!  I get personally involved in anything and everything I do... it's the only way I know to be.  Therefore my emotions and feelings are always involved.  This entire situation has been very difficult, and not at all because the "deal" didn't work out -- but because there were these two people with whom I shared a part of my life... I invested my time... I was "real" and transparent with them.  And they chose to betray me and hurt me.  Yesterday was the first time that I finally let myself have tears over all of this... and once it was during a conversation with my Mom, and another time a conversation with a dear friend.  This has truly hurt my heart -- that I didn't mean more to someone than for them to try to trick me and hurt me, and have no regard for having done either of those things to me.  My mother said the sweetest words to me, "Donna Kay, I am so proud of you!  You gave them all of you, shared exactly who you are with them, as you do with anyone in your life.  And they chose to be dishonest in return.  But YOU were smart - you didn't let someone take advantage of you.  You refused to be treated badly, and you walked away.  And I am so proud of you for being so smart, because many people would not have seen what was going on or would maybe have been afraid to walk away at that point."  So right now my feelings are more hurt than anything... but I hold my head up and am proud that I have gotten through this.  I am wiser and I am stronger.

Make sure you've read Parts I & II...

Disclaimer:  The purpose of these blogs is simply to share my experience, go over the warning signs that were there along the way and use my experience to keep anyone else from finding themselves in a situation that could end up hurting them.  I had very good advice along this journey, and I have walked away with just some hurt feelings and disappointment in how I was treated.  It could have ended a lot worse!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Business 101: Hold onto your Heart - Part II

So the story continues on, but please keep in mind that all of this is never intended as something to damage anyone else.  Thus, no names will ever be mentioned.  My motivation is to teach from my experiences and warn others to be careful of certain things from the lessons learned.  With that in mind, we'll move on to Part II of the story....

The Proposal...
Of course, after you've heard the incredible story about how a relationship started, the next big question is about the proposal.  Sometimes a proposal can come as a surprise, and other times you might know in advance what is about to happen.  This business relationshop moved along rather quickly.  The first time I walked into the studio, I had already received a couple of phone calls.  In the very first phone call, I was invited to please check out the photographer more closely.  To look at his work, and ask around about his reputation.  And I took heed to that invitation and did ask a few people whom I trusted very much for their advice on the information I had been given to this point.  I received some mixed responses, but even so was told I should hear out what he had to say.  Needless to say, I was a bit anxious as to what this first meeting would actually be about.  Basically I am a fairly optimistic person, but don't take that to mean that I walk into anything with my eyes closed!  I am optimistic, in that I believe things will work out in the best way.  But I am also very careful, and very guarded.  Especially when someone seems a bit over-eager or persistent about something, which was my initial feeling over the preceeding week.  So the afternoon I walked into the studio, I was prepared for just about anything.  Pleasantly, I was met by the two business partners, given a tour of the studio and then brought around to have a seat to hear what they would now have to say to me...exactly what all of this was about.  There is no question that in the last week I had made numerous calls to find out as much as I could about this business, so as not to be caught by any real surprises. It was a pleasant enough meeting, and not long into the conversation they came right to the point with an offer for a partnership.  It was basically very straight-forward.  He's a middle-aged studio photographer who is facing the reality that sooner than later he will need someone to start taking over the business, with the same being true of his partner (all but the photographer part, as she's a framer).  It was explained that he had been checking me out and liked what he'd seen and/or heard, and wanted to have some control over the future of his he was making a proposal to me to take over the business.  He even seemed to have a very well thought out plan, which he presented.  Early in the conversation he stated that, of course, if I was interested and decided to proceed with things, that everything would be handled in an official and legal manner with contracts, because it certainly wouldn't be fair for me to wonder when to expect certain things to happen, and I immediately felt very positive that he was aware of that being important for all sides.  Here is a summary of the proposal: 

•Join the business as a partner from the beginning.
•Continue to operate under my own name, my own creative freedom, and control of my own work.  
•Be paid a "substantial" salary and commission on my sales ("substantial" was the word that was spoken to me, not a word I came up with...although no amount of money was every mentioned) from the beginning, and that salary amount would decrease as my interest in the business increased. 
 •After the first year (or year and a half) the initial percentage of the business would be signed over to me, and this was again where it was mentioned that all of this would be spelled out clearly in legal contracts so that I never had to wonder when these things would happen.  Very clearly I was told that "no money would change hands."  This phrase was stated over and over again when it came to discussions of the terms of the transition.  It would be set up to be automatic.   Then every year after I would receive another percentage.  And he saw the full transition being carried out within a period of around 8 years.  At this time, he also mentioned that he has faced some health issues that may make it harder for him to continue in the capacity necessary in this business, so it may even be necessary to push things a little faster -- and if that was the case, it may be closer to 6 years for the complete transition. 
•They said they would be thrilled for me to take over taking care of website and social networking, and felt that I did an incredible job with that for my own business already.  

Then they asked me if I had any questions.  Honestly, my head was spinning - trying to retain all that had just been presented to me in this proposal.  And my response to having questions was "not at this time... but I'm sure I will as soon as I walk out the door."  At which I was told that I could ask questions at any time.  It was pointed out that the main concern was that the business was continued in a professional manner, and they wanted to handpick who would continue running it.  They said they liked my style, they liked that I was a bit more mature and ran my own business in such a professional manner.  When I asked how long I had to think over this proposal and give them an answer, I was given a timeline of around six weeks or so.  I explained that I was leaving soon for a 2-week beach trip, and then preparing soon after that for a 2-week Italy trip, followed by a trip to Texas for my sons wedding.  All of that within the next 6-8 weeks.  And they were very understanding.  So I left with the encouragement to think it all over, discuss things with my husband, as it would be very important that I had his support on all of this, and to get back with them about meeting again.  

Once I left, the first thing I did was to write everything down that was said.  Make sure all points were straight and clear.  And then questions started flooding my mind.  My husband and I talked about it, and while I had some concerns, we also felt it was a good direction to look into following... so within a couple of days of this initial face-to-face meeting, I sent an email with a list of questions, and to let them know that I would be interested in talking again and seeing about moving to the next step.  Since I would be out of town for a couple of weeks, after which they would be traveling, the soonest we could set up a meeting date was in the early part of September.  In the meantime, they said if I had any questions I could feel free to call or email.  But only one of the questions that I had asked in the email received any kind of response at that time.  The others were not mentioned.  One question I asked was about how they visualized the transition to a partnership of our businesses, pointing out that I did not want to just close down "Photography by DonnaKay" as if I had gone out of business and joined someone else's studio.  I was called by the partner, who told me she understood completely because she had just merged her business earlier in the year as well, and the photographer was very sensitive, never removing her business name - but rather merging them together.  That was a satisfactory answer for the time being.  But no other questions received any kind of answer or mention.  

In early September when my husband and I both went for a meeting at the studio, he knew I had a lot of misgivings about the legitamacy of the offer I had received early the month before... and we both knew that this meeting would help clear up those concerns.  During the month since I had met with them I had taken the time to think about what I loved about having my own business... and what I loved about how it all worked with my life.  Our kids are all grown, and I can invest the time necessary to my photography business, but I can also still control when I take time off to do other things that are important in life. But I did want to see how all of this would play out - and make the best decision for me, for my family and for my business.  So on this late afternoon in September, my husband and I drove over to the studio for our meeting.  Basically, after being taken on the same tour through the studio that I had gone on during my first meeting, we all sat down to talk.  The proposal was made once again with both of us present, and my husband had quite a few questions.  (Let me give you just a little bit of information about my husband: he's is a physician in a private practice here in NC.  He went to medical school, residency and his initial training through the US Army, and has great skill in organization.  So where photography isn't his skill, business organization and memory very much are.)  My husband questioned "no money will ever change hands" and asked if there would be a point that a buyout was expected, and at that time the answer was again reiterated that No, there would be no cash buyout.  There was even a point that I wanted to kick my husband and say "hey, I don't want them to think we're offering to come in with a money buyout!" and later on he told me that he just wanted to make sure that on every level he questioned that to see if they had any angle that they would come back saying there would be a buyout.  And he felt very assured at how they answered the questions at that meeting.  It was also stated that in the contract it would be somehow included to protect both parties that there would be no buyout... and the photographer said that he didn't want either of us to worry about a time coming that whoever had minor interest in the business could come to the other party and say "I've decided I just don't want to do this any longer, so you need to buy out my interest at this time."  And I felt so good that he was concerned for protecting me as well as himself.  He stated very clearly that I was working in the 8 years up to the final transition of ownership.  And then he stated that he would hopefully always be able to work in some capacity.  My husband posed a question about the building, and how that would be handled, and the response was that after the photographer was no longer able to work, a rental situation would be discussed, or I would have the right to choose to move the business after I had controlling interest in the business... but that he felt as long as he was able to work in the business at all it wasn't something to worry about.  Everything that had been proposed the first time was again reiterated, and expounded upon very clearly.  Once we left the meeting 4 hours later my husband and I both felt very good about the answers that had been given, and about the discussion we'd had.  And before we left, I had answered them that, Yes, I would like to proceed.  At this point, it was September 5, and I was to leave for Italy on September 21... so we knew the next couple of weeks was going to be incredibly busy for me.  So it was agreed that we would get together once I returned from my trip to Italy and work on getting all of this done in legal contracts and then underway.  We were in agreement on everything, so it didn't seem that it would be difficult or terribly time consuming.  

Within a couple of days I received a call from the partner, and she said they wanted to announce the partnership during the County Fair since they would have a display there, and they would like to also display some of my work.  She explained they were doing to place an ad about their presence at the fair (which would start in town when I was out of the country) and she wanted to know if I would be okay with them including the announcement about our new partnership.  She also asked me about one of the rooms in the studio as my office, and asked if I could drop by and take a look to see if I would be interested in it.  During this phone conversation I mentioned the contracts, and she said she wasn't really sure that bringing in an attorney to draw up the paperwork was really necessary -- that we were all in agreement on everything, so it should be fine if everything was just written up and we signed it.  For me, that was an immediate concern.  As the next couple of weeks went by, I ended up with several phone calls, visits to the studio, even needing to drop by for a headshot for the ad on the evening before I was leaving for Italy.  I was starting to feel rushed in all of it, and was eager to just be away for a couple of weeks.  I sent several emails asking questions, and emails were never returned with any direct answers to my questions.  (In fact, I very much like having a paper trail, and would usually send an email with questions or even replaying the conversation from a meeting as a confirmation.  Thus, if there was any confusion on my part it would also give them an opportunity to straighten that out.)  But usually if any answer was given, it would be in a phone call.  That was another concern to me.  It didn't take me long to notice that they were careful to not give me answers in writing.  So I was constantly writing down everything that was said to me.  

For the next couple of weeks I was out of the country... my dream trip to Italy.  And it was a much needed break from this impending business deal that was wearing me down.  The biggest blessing in all of it was the group that I was with, which consisted of several Master Photographers who run successful photography businesses, one of which is a long-running business (somewhere around 50 years?!)... and there were other great business people in the group who were able to offer advice and warnings that became very valuable information to me after I was to return home.  But my new friends celebrated this opportunity with me.  During this trip the ad did come out back home, and sadly when my husband showed me the ad during one of our Facetime chats, I found myself going into a panic mode.  The possibility of everything bad that could happen flooded my mind, and I shared all of my fears both with my husband, as well as some of my new friends.  I was reassured that as long as I had everything in a written contract I would have nothing to worry about.  Once again there was that warning of the importance of written contracts!!  If you get nothing else out of the words I write, please understand the importance and necessity of having things written down in legal contract form.  It would be nice if in this world we could just trust everyone and take everyone at their word, but that's just not the way it is with human nature.  

We'll leave it here for this blog, and return with Part III... but I hope you are able to look and see my mistakes right away.  One thing I was told after the 2nd meeting by someone I hold in very high regard when it comes to business: insist on a written contract, and state that until that time you will not proceed with anything else.  It's not about being rude (a real Southern concern very often!) but it is about proper business and self-protection.  I did not do this.  I would talk back and forth, make plans, even agree to their advertising the partnership.  IF I could go back (oh, don't you hate the "what if's" we have to face in life?!) I would have stopped right there.  I don't know if it would have been any different, but if they already knew they didn't mean what they were saying at that time it would have saved my feelings being hurt in the end, and it would have saved me from wasting a lot of time planning for something that just wasn't to be.  I hope you'll return for the next part of the story... and I would love to hear from you on what you've read so far!

Disclaimer:  The purpose of these blogs is simply to share my experience, go over the warning signs that were there along the way and use my experience to keep anyone else from finding themselves in a situation that could end up hurting them.  I had very good advice along this journey, and I have walked away with just some hurt feelings and disappointment in how I was treated.  It could have ended a lot worse!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Business 101: Enter with your Mind Alert at the Beginning! (Part I)

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*From the start of this blog, let me explain that the purpose for this disclosure of events is to help others who may find themselves in a situation that at some point sounds "too good to be true," or otherwise stonewalled and not getting things in written contract form.  People get stuck in bad business deals all the time, and they end up being hurt financially and emotionally.  For me in this situation, I have been very blessed to be surrounded by many people with years of experience dealing with business deals who could advise and guide me in the right direction and let me know when I needed to walk away from what turned quickly into a potentially harmful deal.  I am not one who runs from humiliation, and in fact don't see this deal not working out as something that should humiliate me at all -- rather it saddens me that someone would try to take advantage of another person in this way.  And I don't want to see that happen to anyone else. 

Big Business is not a natural thing for me, rather it leaves me trembling and sweating... at least that's how I would describe myself.  But along the way I've often had people tell me that I have pretty keen business sense.  And during the ordeal I've just come out of, I am thankful for any kind of business sense I did have available to me.  I'm also grateful for the many friends, fellow photog collegues along with photographers who run longstanding successful studios, legal professionals and anyone else who offered me their advice to help me make the best decisions and protect myself along this journey.  So let's start at the beginning...

The Beginning

Don't you love to hear how a relationship started?  That's always one of the questions at a Wedding Rehearsal Dinner or an Engagement Party!  Everyone wants to know how it all began!  Well, for this business relationship it started like this.... It was a lazy Monday afternoon at the end July, after an exciting weekend of sessions and busy-ness in my life.  My phone rang, and on the other side of the line was a (big name) photographer in town.  He owns the BIG studio that everyone sees as the Photography Mecca in our area.  He was very kind on the phone, introduced himself and asked politely, "Do we know each other?"  I told him, no, we had maybe met years earlier, but we had never really been around one another.  He asked me if I would be interested in discussing the possibility of me working for him, and I simply responded gratefully that while I appreciated his interest, I just really had no interest in being anyone's employee.  I further explained that I really love what I do, and I love having the freedom as my own boss to control my own schedule and be away when I wanted or needed to be away. I also explained that it is important to me to continue to offer clients my creative side, rather than ever be in a position where someone else was controlling my creativity.  He didn't seem surprised by my responses, and even answered back that he didn't think I would want to be an employee, but he thought he would offer that first.  Then he went on to ask if I would be up for discussing the possibility of a partnership.  Our conversation went back and forth for about 20 minutes total, and I hung up a little dazed by the entire occurrence.  Basically, by the time we said our goodbyes he had asked me to think about a partnership that would transition into taking over interest in the business.  After a certain number of years (and yes, a number was mentioned even at that point) I would then control the business completely.  But I would be working to earn that control during those years.  Some of my initial questions and comments were: I travel to the beach often, on conferences with my husband, etc. and I don't want to be in any arrangement where that has to change -- I was reassured that was not a problem - that he travels a lot himself and I would just schedule around my travel;  I told him I had worked very hard to build my business and didn't want to give up my name -- and I was told that he certainly didn't want that to happen either, that he saw keeping my name as a positive thing for the business. 

Anyone who knows me will not be surprised by what I write next.... but the first thing I did after hanging up was to start thinking of WHO I could speak with that could give me a bit more information and insight into this photographer.  I wanted to learn all that I could -- not about him as a photographer, but about him as a business person, as a human being, his reputation for being upstanding and honest and forthright.  I also wanted some insight into all that he had presented me with during this initial phone discussion. As I would with any kind of important call (whether it's with customer service, a client or anyone!) I had taken notes throughout our conversation and had written down each point he had brought up as well as each question I had asked along with his response.  The last thing I wanted to do was remember something incorrectly or have any misunderstanding of what was discussed. 

It's funny how often we can sometimes find in our lives just who we need when a situation comes along, but that was where I found myself at this point.  There were people who gave me some negative experiences they'd had, but I knew that would happen with anyone.  But many of the people that I spoke with said the same thing: they knew him to be upstanding, and I was just warned to be sure to have everything in a written contract if I decided to proceed.  There were a few warnings that I was given several times from different people, and I appreciated and noted these cautiously. 

Upon hanging up after that initial conversation, we actually left it that I would discuss with my husband all that had been presented, I would check "him" (this photographer) out further, and if I had any more interest or questions I would get in touch.  He left me his phone numbers to get in touch.  It was a rather busy week already for me, and as I generally get lost in what I'm doing I really had no time to think much further about this phone call, this proposal, or about what I might want to do.  Therefore, I also had no time to give him a call back.  That part of me that tries to never be rude to anyone reminded me at the start of the weekend that I hadn't returned his call, and I made a note to get in touch with him on Monday.  But my phone rang again before the weekend was over. 

On Sunday afternoon I was working on some editing in my office when my phone rang.  Honestly, I considered not answering it, as I was really lost in what I was doing and trying to finish up a clients session.  But like most people, it's hard for me to leave a ringing phone unanswered!  On the other end was the photographers business partner calling me.  She introduced herself, and simply stated that she was calling to ask if I had considered the offer for a partnership.  Being the overly transparent that I am, I apologized and explained that I had planned to respond to his phone call, but that my busy week had caused me to lose track of time, and the week got away from me before I knew it.  So she asked if I'd be willing to meet with him.  I checked my schedule and the two times I had available were Monday (which I generally leave open each week!) and a little bit of time on Wednesday.  We decided on a meeting for Monday afternoon.  Finally I would get some clearer answers on all of this, and I actually was looking forward to hearing what was to be said. 

Doesn't sound too bad at this point, does it?  And it actually won't for a I hope you'll come back for "Part II" and find out more of the story....

Disclaimer:  The purpose of these blogs is simply to share my experience, go over the warning signs that were there along the way and use my experience to keep anyone else from finding themselves in a situation that could end up hurting them.  I had very good advice along this journey, and I have walked away with just some hurt feelings and disappointment in how I was treated.  It could have ended a lot worse! 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Meet Baby T

There's just nothing sweeter than a newborn baby... all that squishy-ness, the newness and hope you see in their faces.  I absolutely love getting the opportunity to do a newborn session and see the excitement (although often quite a bit of tiredness as well) in the new mommies.  

Here's a peek at Baby T.  He was such a little sleepy guy - and I could have taken pictures of him all day long!  His Mom was kind enough to bring him to a newborn workshop I was doing with Laura Brett Photography (look her up if you don't know who she is - she's awesome at what she does, but also a wonderful mentor and a super sweet lady) so I didn't get to scoop him up and keep him to myself that day. BUT I can share this picture with YOU!