Inside the Photography Business: Eddie Flores Jr.
PhotoMerchant: Tell me about yourself and your photography business.
Eddie Flores: I started Strange Kulture Photos just over a year ago. My camera got stolen, which almost led me to quit photography, but because of a challenge from my friends, I decided to give it another try. I got a new, better camera and started the business.
I focus on event photography in San Diego, California. I do weddings, birthday parties, kids’ parties and family portraits. I take pride in the fact that I’m a well-rounded photographer. I’ve done fashion, nature and even pet photography, but my business is mostly events and portraits.
I’ve been working with my fianc√©e Elizabeth so that we can run a husband and wife business together. I’m training her in photography and operations and would like her to be my business partner and a second photographer to help me out with shoots.
We don’t have any staff yet, but I’m in the process of hiring people. We plan to hire a couple of designers and photographers.
Right now we do everything ourselves, which can be hard because I also have a regular job in sales and marketing. I used to do graphic design and they hired me after I designed and photographed their website.
PM: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about running a business?
EF: The most important thing is planning. There’s a saying I learned in school: “Proper planning prevents poor performance.”
Planning is so important because if you’re targeted and organised with your business, you’ll get better results. If you want to start a photography business ask yourself what kind of photography do you want to do? Who will your clients be?
I didn’t choose my target market until I’d done a bit of portfolio building. I looked at where there was money to be made and what I enjoyed. I òm pretty good with people and really enjoy event photography, so that’s where I decided to focus.
My graphic design background helped because I already knew how to use Photoshop and had developed my aesthetic and how I liked to frame things.
At the beginning I did free work and practiced with friends.
PM: How did you transition from doing free work to paid work?
EF: That was really hard, but it’s about confidence and believing in what you’re worth. I was fortunate enough to have good friends and family to tell me my work was good enough to be paid for. At the beginning you’re kind of self-conscious, so it’s hard to put a value on your work. You have to realise that you’re providing a service that people need, and if they could do it themselves, they wouldn’t be paying you for it.
PM: Why do you think your customers like working with you?
EF: Personality. I’m very animated and can make people feel comfortable really quickly. I try to create an experience that’s unforgettable while also listening, paying attention to detail and understanding what clients want.
PM: Is there anything you’ve changed about your business since you started?
EF: I changed my business model to make things simple and efficient and to spend my time where I could get the most value out of it.
I’ve automated a lot of things. At first I tried to do a lot of things myself. I did my own website, edited and uploaded pictures, made web galleries. It was a great time for me to come across PhotoMerchant because it made everything simple and saved me a lot of time.
I’ve also automated email campaigns and use HooteSuite to manage my social media campaigns.
With technology, I use a lot of action scripts in Photoshop to automate editing and filters so I don’t have to do it manually.
PM: How do you manage your workflows and calculate the costs of running your business?
EF: I sacrifice a lot, including sleep! Yesterday I went to bed at 3:30am and had to get up at 7:00am. That’s the thing about running your own business, especially at the beginning. There’s going to be a lot of sacrifice.
I try to stay motivated and be efficient. Rather than going out and partying all weekend, I take advantage of the fact that I don’t have a family and kids, and focus on the business and my goals.
When I come home from work, rather than give myself time to doze off, I do things right away and don’t leave myself gaps. That keeps me energetic and pushing along because I can lose motivation when I delay.
It’s hard to know where to start with pricing when you don’t have industry experience. I did a lot of research on Google to get an idea of what other photographers in my area were charging. I looked at competitors and my own costs to figure out how much I needed to charge to make a profit.
The main thing I wanted to do was upgrade equipment, be able to expand and afford things like PhotoMerchant without breaking the bank. I’ve noticed a lot of my photographer friends worry about pinching pennies where ever they can and I don’t like that.
PM: What do you do to stay competitive with other photographers in your market?
EF: I’m not shy; I go to mixers and am constantly meeting people. I’m actually working on a series of video blogs to give photography tips. I’m a bit of a digital ninja and try to use media like Twitter and YouTube because I’ve noticed San Diego my competitors are old school photographers who are set in their ways, have their client base and don’t use technology. There are a lot of photographers in San Diego but technology gives me an edge.
PM: If you could go back in time and give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?
EF: Whatever you want in life, go do it and don’t pay attention to what other people say. When I started out, a lot of people told it would be hard to make money as a photographer or that there was too much competition. You can’t care about the competition. You’ve just got to go out there and do it and carve yourself a niche.
PM: Do you have any tips for new photographers?
EF: Be prepared from the beginning. Have your website, business cards, marketing plan, and your sales approach all ready before you talk to clients. A photographer could be really talented, but if they just focus on their art and not their business, and they won’t succeed.
Don’t get too wrapped up in yourself as an artist. It’s not about you. It’s about the customer and providing services to them.
Communication and people skills are so important. I’ve noticed some photographers make people feel awkward because they don’t know how to talk to people. You’ve got to show confidence beyond the lens by giving strong direction. A communication class would be really good for people who aren’t that good with their people skills.
PM: What do you think is going to happen in photography in five year’s time?
EF: Accessibility of technology and the ease of taking a photograph will inspire a lot of people to enter the industry and try to be a photographer.
It’s going to make it harder for professionals because people will be undercutting on price, so you’ve got to separate yourself by being a leader in your own niche. I feel like being a digital ninja is what will to separate me from the competition.
PM: What do you do in your spare time?
EF: I know this is going to make me sound like a nerd, but I read blogs a lot and I take pictures. I love shooting pictures and that’s my relaxing time. The only time I feel like I’m working is when I’m retouching and editing.
I also like to shoot people, and when I say that, I mean paintball! I love it and use it to de-stress.
|Eddie Flores Jr. runs Strange Kulture Photos, a San Diego-based wedding and portrait photography business.|