Entries and Categories

A "Once in a Blue Moon" Website

I see a lot of websites: the good . . . the bad . . . and (of course) the very ugly. The good ones often distinguish themselves by being slick, clever, and/or engaging. But only occasionally do I come across a website that puts together a series of appealing elements so skillfully that the visitor is compelled to linger and learn, and ultimately to decide that "This is the studio for me."

BlueMoon Studios is located in
Mt. Laurel, a planned community in Birmingham, Alabama. The website was created by photographer Butch Oglesby, whose journey to owning a studio in such a charming locale is worth reading about. You can do so by clicking on the About Us tab, where you'll meet Butch and his wife, Joy, and learn about their life, their approach to photographing weddings (a major product line), and read some FAQs that are designed to give prospective clients confidence in the studio's integrity. You'll learn that the Oblesbys' journey included many twists and turns, but all the while, Butch's life-long passion for photography never dimmed. It is a passion that illuminates the site and its accompanying blog, and it makes the business and the people behind it come alive.

In my opinion, an effective website needs to accomplish these things:
  • Give the business a "personality." Consumers today want to deal with businesses that are a "good fit" for their specific tastes. And they don't want to do business with just the run-of-the-mill studio. A business with personality stands out.
  • Allow visitors to feel as if they know the owner(s) and/or staff. When this happens, your prospects are less apprehensive about the possibility of dealing with the unknown.
  • Educate prospective clients about important aspects of your business. Doing so saves you time when you deal with prospects on the phone or in person, and it serves to filter out those who are not a good fit with your business.
  • Encourage prospects to pick up the phone to learn more or to book an appointment. If this DOESN'T happen with qualified clients, then your website is nothing more than a distraction.
Bluemoonalabama.com does these things and more. Here are some reasons why I like the site so much:
It is not over-designed. You are not hit with exploding images and firecrackers. The design simplicity supports your ability to focus on one thing at a time, and consequently you stay moving through the site.
The navigation is simple! It's easy to find your way from here to there, and you don't get stuck in a corner or lose you train of thought. On any page, you can get back to where you started or move forward to where you want to go. You are provided with both visuals (in the navigation buttons) and good order (in the navigation bar). Absolutely no confusion here.
I LOVE the details! The home page gives you a reason for the name "Blue Moon" and sets the bar for prospective clients' expectations when it says: "If the old saying that something this good only comes along once in a blue moon is true, then it's a blue moon every day at BlueMoon Studio. And check out the lunar references on the masthead. Furthermore, instead of the usual "Send" button on the Contact page, there is a "Send to the Moon" button. How clever! The message I'm getting is that these people are both creative and caring about what they do.
The site is strong on education. Education begins on the home page in the upper right corner, where the business mission is spelled out in an eye-catching and easy-to-understand way. The entire tone of the website is educational. Yes, there is advertising copy, but its tone is very low-key. No hard-sell. You are taken gently by the hand and told what you need to know to make an intelligent decision about the photography.
The site sends a strong message about professionalism. This impression begins on the home page, where visitors see a button (lower left) that says: "Click here to see other wedding professionals that we recommend." Very generous. And the prominently displayed PPA logo also is a nod to professionalism. Wedding prospects learn so much when they click on the Wedding page. My favorite feature is the wonderfully designed section that begins when you click on the link that says: "Not convinced? Check the 7 Reasons we are right for you." Take a moment to enjoy each of the 7 pages that support the "7 Reasons." What a wonderful way to gain the confidence of a prospective bride and groom. Professional all the way.
You know whose site you are visiting. Every page has a header with the studio name and a footer that contains complete studio information. Do you know how many websites lack this common-sense approach? I see some really "sexy" websites that never tell anyone what city they are in. Sometimes there's a reason for this, but most of the time it's a simple matter of overlooking the obvious. Next time you browse through a retail-sales catalog, notice that the toll-free ordering phone number is always listed on the bottom of each page. There's a REASON for this!
Visitors learn that this business has earned a high satisfaction rating from their clients. You see this both on the Raves page and in the Galleries on the Client Photos page. The site provides a strong statement about the consistent quality of day-to-day client work.
I could go on and on . . . I love the Products page, Butch's blog, and the simple, yet elegant way each gallery is revealed . . . and the fact that you have multiple options for viewing the studio's images, including nicely expanded sizes. Most of all I love looking at Butch's Art gallery section. What great images, and so nice that they can be purchased! I've posted Butch's signature image below. It's my favorite.

So enough of listening to me. Take some time to treat yourself to a wonderful website experience. Enjoy!


The Power of the Internet . . . and the Good People Who Use It

I thrive on stress . . . except for technology stress. For almost a week now I've been dealing with technology upgrades that, thank heavens, are almost finished. I've been complaining about the ensuing chaos to anyone who would listen. This morning I received a kind and supporting email from my dear friend Helen Yancy who posed this rhetorical question: "What was life like before computers?" I can't remember, but I know I got more sleep back then.

A few minutes ago another dear friend, Steve Troup, president of my lab,
Buckeye Color Lab in North Canton, Ohio, sent me a link to a great story that has at least partially adjusted my attitude about the worth of advanced technology . . . in this case the Internet, which has given me such fits during the last week. If you've had bad technology days, then I think you'll enjoy reading this short article. Perhaps it will improve your day in the same way it did mine.

Thanks Steve!

Are You Using Payment Plans?

No matter where I teach, I always learn something from the students, and my recent Guerrilla Management Class was no exception. The most interesting thing I learned this time is how important payment plans have become as a means of increasing sales, and how much clients appreciate the opportunity to spread their payments over a designated period. The studios with baby plans were the most experienced with payment plans, which they say are a great fit for parents who want quality portraits of their children, but who have so many current expenses associated with the arrival of the baby.

Implementing a payment plan might seem like a daunting task, but it is not for SuccessWare users. The software now includes a tab associated with the Client Order function that allows you to automate payment plans through credit card processing. This is possible because SuccessWare is connected to EFS Net, a merchant service company. Your client's primary credit card is stored securely in SuccessWare, along with as many back-up cards as the client wishes. With the client's permission, SuccessWare automatically charges their credit card on the pre-arranged due date. This new feature allows you to create any number of payment schedules according to your needs or the client's wishes. The feature also allows you to update client records and view pending payments. To learn how the payment plan feature works,
click here to go to SuccessWare's "What's New in SuccessWare 4.3" page. Click on the second movie on the list.

According to class members, one of the most important benefits of a payment plans is it encourages repeat business. Traci Brennan, a workshop participant from Mundelein, IL, put it this way: "Once a parent sets up a payment schedule with you for a baby plan, when the plan is finished, it's easy for parents to decide to have you continue additional sessions, as your studio is already part of their family budget."

The same is true for wedding clients. Since bridal couples typically book their photographer as much as a year or more before the wedding, why not set up a payment plan for the couple? A payment schedule greatly facilitates your ability to sell more expensive wedding services and to add substantially to after-sales totals. Remember the old adage: Money spent is money forgotten.

The experience of these class members more than convinces me that payment plans are a wonderful tool for photographers!

Teaching and Learning at Deep Creek

Beautiful Indian summer days set the stage for four days of intense study and sharing at my Deep Creek Lake home for the annual fall Guerrilla Management Workshop that I teach with SuccessWare's Judy Grann. Class assistants were Doug Mattice of McLean, VA, (shown below with Judy during a class session) and Frank Donnino of Boynton Beach, FL (shown riding a local bear). Frank is widely known as the originator of a baby plan that is used successfully by hundreds of photographers around the country. In fact, most of the students at this workshop were active users of Frank's plan, and they can attest to how effective it has been for their businesses. Approximately half of the class were repeat students, and it was great to see them again and to review their business progress.

This group was as hard working as any workshop of photographers I have taught, and I'm certain they will make good use of the knowledge they gained in class. Each left with a financial plan for 2008 and lots of ideas on how to implement the marketing and sales necessary to support the plan.

They also clearly enjoyed each other's company, both in class and out. For the record, our second coloring contest was won by Karen Bernard of E. Greenwich, RI. Thanks to everyone for making this class so enjoyable!


The Cat Came Back

My family spent last Labor Day weekend at our Deep Creek Lake, MD, home. As usual, we brought the dogs; but our sole remaining cat, Skinny, stayed at home. At 21, she's getting a bit old to travel. She lost her teeth several years ago due to the malnutrition she suffered as a kitten. My son Wes -- the Patron Saint of Homeless Cats -- found the poor emaciated kitten when she was about to take her last breath. He insisted that we summon the vet on his day off, and Skinny's life was saved. She really was skinny until she lost her teeth, and we had to feed her moist cat food twice a day. Then she actually became a bit pudgy.

Anyway . . . she's accustomed to amusing herself when we're gone. Our neighbor drops by every day to feed her, and she is able to come and go through the dog door. She was just outside the door when we left for Deep Creek. But for the first time, when we returned from our lakeside holiday, Skinny was not there to meet us. I figured that she had known it was her time, and she had wandered off to die, as cats are inclined to do. Jim, however, said she might show up, and he insisted on keeping all of the cat supplies in place.

Nearly two weeks later, I set off for Deep Creek to prepare for class. No sign of Skinny. But when I called Jim to tell him I had arrived in Maryland, he couldn't wait to say, "Guess who showed up?" You guessed it: Skinny was back . . . about a pound lighter, but otherwise in good shape. The whole rest of the day, the old Kingston Trio folk song "The Cat Came Back" kept running through my head.

According to Guinness, the world's oldest cat is 34. So who knows how long she'll be around! Here's Skinny, taking it easy.


On An Ordinary Tuesday - 9/11/01

I'm so glad it rained today.

Six years ago I was about to leave my house to run some errands . . . a doctor's appointment and preparations for an upcoming Guerrilla Management Workshop at my lake house in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. I was on my way out the door when the phone rang: It was my fellow instructor, Judy Grann, who said, "Are you watching TV . . . something's happened in New York."

I clicked on the TV just in time to see a plane smash into the second tower. I was horrified, but I was late for my appointment, so I jumped in the card and turned on the radio. By the time I arrived at the doctor's office, the Pentagon had been hit. People in this tiny mountain community were visibly shaken, as they thought the fall of the Berlin Wall had finally removed the specter of an attack on Washington. Because I didn't grow up in Deep Creek, I had never given a second thought to the fact the this peaceful region lies within the fall-out zone of a nuclear attack on Washington, D.C. I was pretty calm. After all, I had grown up in a military family and participated in countless evacuation drills when we lived abroad. I knew that bad things could happen, but you just kept moving.

I was fine, that is, until I heard that a plane had flown into the ground in Shanksville, PA, just 60 miles from Deep Creek. At that moment I was seized by a panic to get back to the house and reach my husband and kids on the phone. In the back of my mind, I thought "they" were coming for ALL of us. The next few days were a blur . . . making sure my grown kids knew what to do if the attacks kept coming . . . trying to decide what to do about the upcoming class when planes weren't flying . . . watching TV coverage non-stop . . . hearing the awful news that the pilot of American Airlines flight #77, which hit Pentagon, was the older brother of one of our clients.

Somehow, six stalwart photographers who were within a reasonable driving distance of Deep Creek, made it to the Workshop. Judy and I were grateful for their perseverance, as the class helped to restore a bit of normalcy, although it was hard for all of us to concentrate, when you really wanted to turn on the news. It was as if seeing the towers fall down again and again would lead us to understand what had happened on that incredibly beautiful blue-sky Tuesday.

For the past two weeks, the weather — from New York to Deep Creek — has made the news: Everyone marveled that not a drop of rain fell on the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows. The lake has never been more beautiful. Driving back to PA from our Deep Creek holiday, I couldn't help but be reminded of the kind of day it was on 9-11-01, and I started to feel the same unease that I have felt on beautiful September days ever since.

The streak of lovely weather ended today, and I was so glad to see the rain. The unease was still there, so I started visiting 9-11 memorial websites, where I learned they are still trying to raise money for a memorial to the souls who were lost in Shanksville. I stopped surfing after I came across a memorial site that I had visited before: http://www.voicesofsept11.org,
on the 911 Reflections/songs & poems page. There, I landed on a series of songs written in memory of the day. One of them—On An Ordinary Tuesday—seemed to sum up my thoughts today. It was written by Sharon, Arthur, Margie, Alton Corey & Jeff Hodge and performed by Buddy Jewell, Copyright 2002 Sharomar Music. Here's a link if you'd like to listen.

The song was soothing today. So was the rain.

Temporary memorial to United Flight 97 in Shanksville, PA

Cost of Sales Question

Yesterday I got a Cost of Sales accounting question about packaging materials. Some background on this subject: The guideline for determining whether an item is a Cost of Sales expense or a General Expense item is this: If you have no business, you have no Cost of Sales. Since packaging materials are required only if you have a sale, then ALL packaging material is accounted as a Cost of Sales expense. But wait . . . there's more to this question.

The photographer was referring to a packaging item designed especially to create "buzz" by the recipient because of its unique design . . . referring specifically to the BellaGrafica bag shown below:

The photographer wondered that since the primary purpose of the bag is to have an excited mom show it around to all of her friends because it is personalized with her child's portrait, perhaps the cost of the bags should be accounted to Advertising, which is a General Expense. Yes, that's a valid argument; but it's far more practical to account it to Cost of Sales, which will insure that this cost is included when you are pricing. In effect, Mom is paying for the bag, and as a COS item, it is marked up; thus there's more profit for you. If you account it to advertising, the cost becomes a drain on your business, and there is no pricing mark-up. See the difference? It is huge. In my opinion, there is nothing sweeter—or smarter—than having clients pay for your marketing!

For pricing on this wonderful shopping bag, click

Weekend Snooze

You can tell that the Labor Day Weekend holiday is almost over. The visitors have gone, and our dogs, Clementine the Labradoodle and Mitizi the Welch Corgi, are catching a late summer's nap.

It was a wonderful weekend at our western Maryland lake house . . . FABULOUS weather and great family fun. But two weeks from now, the house will be full of Guerrilla Management Workshop students, and there will be no time for napping!