Carrie Swails

I'm a serial entrepreneur. Owner at Photography Awesomesauce, Rock Your Weird and Made in the Lab and I photograph offbeat weddings. In other words, I'm crazy. I have a birthmark in my armpit, and am a terrible mathematician. What I lack in understanding of complex theories such as Pi (clearly a food item - apple is my favorite) and invisible numbers (if I can't see them, why should I care?) I make up for in awesomesauce. I believe there is no right way to put the toilet paper on - I'm just happy it's available. I believe there's no such thing as a bad fortune in a fortune cookie. I believe we only live life once so we should wear costumes as often as possible. I believe wine is like the force - it has a light side and a dark side and it holds the universe together. I howl with my basset hound every morning, call my brother to beat video game bosses for me, and love eating fried cheese.

7 Mistakes Photographers Make When Buying a New Lens

PHOTOGRAPHYAWESOMESAUCE.COM-2Raise your hand (in the comfort of your own home where nobody knows) if you’ve seen those Facebook posts that say the following.

“Share photos taken with the 85mm 1.4 please. Thanks!”

Or maybe they say this.

“Looking to buy a new lens. What should I get? What is your favorite?”

Or maybe it’s this.

“I have an 18-55mm lens and am looking to upgrade. What’s best?”

Maybe it’s just me, but these questions are tough to answer. I’ve been around the block when it comes to lens purchasing. I’ve made so many mistakes when I’ve based my purchases off questions I ask or see in Facebook groups or elsewhere online. I’ve never bothered to count how many dollars I’ve lost when I purchased a lens and then found out it wasn’t the lens for me and had to sell it for less than I purchased.

What I didn’t realize is that lenses are truly an investment. The technology doesn’t age as fast as that of your DSLR. So lenses are here to stay. They’re a big purchase and one that should last you a very long time without a need to upgrade it. That means we shouldn’t just run out and buy the next big thing or whatever your neighbor uses because she takes great photos. Here’s a few common mistakes I see happening when photographers are considering a new lens purchase. A lot of these are mistakes I’ve made and wish I had known better, so I’m passing this on to you.

  1. Not Doing Research – You should always be reading, watching videos and researching a big purchase like a lens. Remember, it’s an investment. Learn how it works and what people like and don’t like about it. It can give you a lot of insight.
  2. Not Knowing Your Style – Doesn’t it feel awesome when you get a new lens? I just get excited to get out and play with it. I’ve often times made the mistake of buying something because I heard it was great only to find out it really didn’t suit my style. If you love big wide landscapes then the 200mm 2.8 is probably not an awesome idea. Or if you love traditional cropped portraits, you may hate the 24mm 1.4. You need to really take a look at your style and where you think its going in the future and chose a lens that accentuates it instead of the newest trend.
  3. Buying a Lens Someone Else Has Because Their Photos are Amazing – No. Just no. Don’t do this. We all know that the camera and lens don’t make a photo. You do. Lenses are just tools. Ultimately so many factors come into play when creating an amazing image. Your camera body and your posing of clients. Plus a true understanding of the type of light you love and how to work with it. Just because someone else has a specific lens doesn’t mean you can create the same imagery they do. Remember. Lenses don’t make photos, you do.
  4. Not Trying Before Buying – I know it’s a pain in the booty to pay to rent lenses before buying. You’re probably sure you’ll like the lens, but don’t want to loose the $100 on the rental when you can put that into something else. I know exactly how you feel. Trust me though. You need to rent the lenses first. Rent different brands of a focal length you want to try. Make sure you rent it on a weekend where you have scenario that’s very typical for you within a shoot. Don’t rent it when you’re not working. You actually need to get out there and try it. Compare it to other ones you’ve tried and see what you like. I really thought I wanted the Canon 24mm 1.4 for example. I rented it and it was just blah. I had second thoughts about purchasing it. So instead of purchasing it anyway, or skipping it altogether I rented the Sigma version. That one wowed me. It’s now my most-used lens ever. If I had just passed on trying it, or given up, or not tried it at all – I would’t know what I was missing out on. Always try before you buy. A new lens is expensive. It’s an investment. You wouldn’t buy a car without testing it first, please don’t buy a lens without testing it first. Make a wise educated investment instead of one on a whim.
  5. Not Giving a Lens a Second Chance – I don’t mean you need to forgive it like you did that ex-boyfriend who needed a second chance. What I mean is your style changes. It’s constantly evolving. I told photographers for ages how much I hated the focal length of 85mm. I just thought it was so traditional and boring. I like to shoot wide. So that level of zoom was just too much. I rented it and tried to give it a chance and it was just awful in my opinion. However, years later I kept researching and tried it again. I fell in love. My style just needed to develop more. Don’t rule out a lens forever because you may change your mind about it later.
  6. Not Saving for a Better Model – I’ve totally bought the cheaper version to save money and I’ve been sorry many times. Of course sometimes it still works out great, but consider saving a tad bit more to invest in the better model. You won’t be sorry for it if you do.
  7. Buying New When I Could Have Bought Used – Since lenses don’t age as fast as a camera body does they hold their value for a long time. They also don’t have “mileage” the same way a camera body does. I buy all my lenses used now. You can get like-new quality for a much better price. My favorite place to buy used is Lens Authority. It’s Lens Rentals’ used gear store. They have the best customer service, the best prices and the best quality in one place. My favorite!

It’s easy to just run out and buy a lens. It’s fun to have that new toy to play with. It’s exciting! Make sure you take the time and invest in a lens that you truly know you’re going to love. It will help you put time into the right parts of your business and not waste time purchasing something that doesn’t work out.

If you want to learn more awesome behind the business stuff like this make sure you subscribe to our weekly newsletter below, where we’ll be giving out extra special discounts and a few free products only for subscribers this Winter. You can also join our Facebook group, follow us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, and even follow me on Pinterest where I love to pin social media, blogging, business, and photography tips from all over the web! If you subscribe to our newsletter you’ll need to head on over to your email after you hit the submit button here to confirm your subscription. If you don’t see a confirmation check your junk/spam!

 

How to Prepare Your Business for Vacation

How to Prepare Your Business for VacationAs much as we all love our businesses and taking photos of awesome people, we still also love vacation. Everyone needs a vacation, even people who love their jobs. However, it’s really difficult to go on vacation when you’re a business owner. It’s even more difficult when you’re a sole business owner as most photographers are.

I think the most difficult part of going on vacation with your business is keeping up a consistent online presence while you’re gone. There is a delicate balance between ensuring your business runs while you’re on vacation and actually enjoying your vacation. You don’t want to have to work on your vacation, right?

In this blog post I put together a few tips for everyone about what I do to prepare my business for a vacation while I’m gone. My goal is for it to seem like nothing has changed for my clients and potential customers. I want to keep a consistent social media and blog presence. I want my emails to have responses of some kind. Most of all, I want everything to be automated so I don’t have to worry. There’s nothing worse than a vacation where you end up actually working. We all need that time to feel recovered and refreshed.

Automated Email Responses

When you’re gone set up an automated email response that lets anyone know that you’ll be out of town for these dates and when they can expect for you to return their email. There are a few tips for how to create an automated email response that doesn’t annoy your customers. First, only send it once per email address. Do not set up your email response to send after every single email someone sends. If you’re gone for a couple weeks you may often get a couple of emails from one person and it looks careless to send the same automated response to them every time they email. Once is more than enough. Second, make sure you leave enough information in the response so they know exactly what to expect. It’s one thing to say  you’re out of town, but make sure you leave dates.

Schedule Social Media in Advance

Use a free tool like Hootsuite and schedule photo posts, and other social media updates regularly for when you’re out of town. By doing this you are putting out a consistent presence. Your social media dies when nothing is posted. You don’t want to post only vacation photos. Mix in some of your photography portfolio to show people how awesome you are.

Schedule Blog Posts in Advance

My favorite feature in WordPress is the ability to schedule blog posts to publish in advance. When I’m getting ready to leave for a vacation one of my biggest goals is to get lots of blog posts written in advance and scheduled. Whether they’re tips for my clients so their weddings and sessions go more smoothly or they’re posts featuring recent shoots and weddings, it’s always helpful to have consistent content being released on your blog while you’re gone.

You can also write a blog post letting people know that you’re out of town and when to expect responses via email, social media, or phone calls. I love to put this information out in as many ways as possible (email responses, blog, voicemail, etc.) so I feel I’ve done everything possible to ensure people know what to expect.

Change Your Voicemail Message

Finally, the last thing I do is change my voicemail message. This is not just for clients, but also for anyone who calls me. I let them know that I’m out of town for these specific dates and to expect a return call when I get back, or to send me an email if there’s something more urgent.

Finish Editing

When you’re preparing to leave on vacation one of the best things you can do for your clients is schedule enough time to finish all of your editing. Don’t make your clients wait for photos if the vacation extends the time frame in your contract. If you can’t get everything done before you leave it may be good to send out your photos to be edited by someone else so you can meet all your deadlines. I prefer to have all my editing done before I leave so I don’t feel like I’ve got something on my plate waiting for me when I get back. It allows me to fully relax.

There’s usually one thing I still do on vacation once a day because it’s incredibly difficult to escape. That’s answering emails. Even if I have an automated response I still like to respond to inquiries and do my best to get them booked. If they have to wait a couple weeks for a response from me they may lose interest. I’m still a business owner so I like to respond to my clients as often as I can.

If you want to learn more awesome behind the business stuff like this make sure you subscribe to our weekly newsletter below, where we’ll be giving out extra special discounts and a few free products only for subscribers this Winter. You can also join our Facebook group, follow us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, and even follow me on Pinterest where I love to pin social media, blogging, business, and photography tips from all over the web! If you subscribe to our newsletter you’ll need to head on over to your email after you hit the submit button here to confirm your subscription. If you don’t see a confirmation check your junk/spam!

Announcing Photo Camp 2017 Dates with an Extra Dose of $99 Tickets on Top

shawneeandblue-reception-332Here’s what I know. I’ve been planning my own event now for 3 years (this last year’s just finished). I know what it’s like to try and afford food to feed everyone attending, styled shoots, planners, venues and more. I also know what it’s like to pay huge prices to go to events because I’ve paid them myself. I have a background in teaching, a K-12 Art Education degree and I always struggle with this balance of should a conference profit, or should education be affordable and accessible.

So, today I’m here to say that thanks to some clever planning, sponsors and more, the 4th Awesomesauce conference (now known as Photo Camp) is only going to be $99 a person to attend. That’s all your ticket costs. I want to focus on giving you the education and cutting all the icky stuff that goes along with planning events. Instead of feeling stretched thin trying to coordinate food, shoots and more (although this year I had an amazing planner to do all that for me), I think in the future I’ll be focusing on just the education. That’s what you pay for – just the education.

Here’s something I’ve learned this past year too. When you, as a business owner, focus on doing what you love, not for the money, you end up more abundant than ever (and I’m not just talking wealth here). So 2017 is for you guys. The cost of your tickets pays for the cost of the venue (oh and s’mores). My time is yours. I want you to come not knowing anyone and leave with a huge community of friends.

2017 is also going to change in a big way as in – no more shoots! That’s right, a photography event without shooting. You can go to almost any photography event and shoot. I often find that the shooting distracts from the learning. As photographers we all started this business for the love of shooting and it’s the business end, that most of the time, we need major help with. 2017 is ALL about your business. It’s about branding, marketing, Facebook, social media, Instagram, blogging, Pinterest, snapchat and learning how to connect with your ideal customers. I want you to walk away with actionable tips to put in place as soon as you leave (or even during). I don’t want you to walk away simply feeling inspired. Inspiration and motivation to keep plugging through your business is great, and we all need that, but we need to know how and what to do exactly that can help us, right?

I’m really looking forward to our biggest and best year yet next year and I hope to see so many more of you who are a part of this community in person, meet you, teach you and – learn from you. Every year doing this conference has always been a big part of learning for me and I love that challenge! So let’s rock it in 2017!

Tickets are $99 for a limited time (probably because these are going to run out SO FAST).

6 Ways to Add Passive Income to Your Wedding Photography Business

6 Ways to Add Passive Income to Your Wedding Photography BusinessHow cool would it be if you just got a check in the mail every month with extra money on the side for your business? Sounds too good to be true right? Well, this isn’t any “get rich quick” scheme. It won’t exactly make you rich right away, but it can be a great tool to add to your business if you think it might be a good fit.

This blog post is about becoming an affiliate! Affiliates are usually people like you and me who sign up to be an affiliate with a company, and you get a custom link. When you give that link out to anyone and they purchase something from the company through that link you get a little kick back. I love affiliate programs because they’re great for bloggers to earn a little extra bit on the side.

Here are a few tips you should know about affiliate marketing before I get to the nitty-gritty and tell you some awesome places you can become an affiliate for as a wedding photographer.

  • Affiliate marketing requires that you have a disclaimer on any blog post, email or social media post that you earn money when people purchase through the link. Make sure you read more about how you’re required to provide disclaimers. Sometimes different companies have different rules, and you always need to obey the law.
  • In the US the law really wants you to make it bold and easy for people to find your affiliate disclaimer. That means don’t bury it at the bottom of a blog post or try to hide it. You can put a big disclaimer at the top of the post, or put it right next to the link that you make an income from. Just try to be obvious and honest.
  • Don’t become an affiliate for anything and everything just because you can. Be an affiliate for companies you know you’ll actually promote a lot and actually like. That way it’s genuine when you link to them and suggest them.

Now, before we really really actually do dive into where to become an affiliate I need to tell you something. Truth. I don’t want my clients to print at Shutterfly or Canvas Pop. Obviously, I’d like them to print through me as much as possible. However, my theory is that if for some reason they are going to print through someone else – at the very least I should make money off of it. That’s why I’m an affiliate for companies like Shutterfly and Canvas Pop. At the end of the day I’m a business and I do have to pay the mortgage and eat. I know some of you are judging right now, but don’t worry – I always push ordering through me and my quality labs first.

  1. Shutterfly, Tiny Prints, and Wedding Paper Divas – These are all the same company. In fact, Borrow Lenses is also part of the Shutterfly team. Shutterfly can be good for quick prints for scrapbooking and I love sending clients to Wedding Paper Divas to make save the dates, invitations and thank you cards. How great is it to get a little kickback off each of their paper goods at every wedding? I have done a lot of in person sales in the past and used to design and offer these paper goods as services I could provide, but I just didn’t find joy in it and decided it wasn’t for me and this was a better alternative.
  2. Miller’s and Mpix – Miller’s and Mpix have an affiliate program now! I know a lot of photographers who would suggest Mpix to their clients as a good consumer printer lab. Now you can make money every time you suggest it and they go print there.
  3. Modcloth – Modcloth might not be for everyone, but they have some wedding dresses, bridesmaids dresses, and great shoes which a lot of my clients love!
  4. Artifact Uprising – If clients don’t want to print an album with me, this is one of the amazing places I suggest.
  5. Canvas Pop – If they want to print their own canvases…here you go!
  6. Mixbook – This is a new album printing company. Or at least it’s new to me. I discovered it because one of my brides used it and loved it, so I figured why not promote it too?

Now, I’ve got to tell you how you can make these affiliate sales happen. I do it in two ways. One is through my automated email reminders with my clients and another is through blogging. With automated emails I use both Pixifi and Shootproof‘s systems. I use Pixifi to send email reminders from the moment they book up until the day after the wedding. In those emails I link back to a lot of blog posts and other resources I think my clients would love and I can throw in a few of these links too. Once their photos are delivered I switch to Shootproof‘s email system which is connected to their online gallery. With each email reminder there’s instructions to order through me, coupon codes for ordering through me, and several of these printing options with my affiliates that I suggest as well. It is totally okay to say, “If you appreciated working with me at all I’d love it if you used one of these links when you order because it sends me a little kick back.” If you want to start using Shootproof use my exclusive coupon code to grab 25% off any annual plan. Code: SWAILS25

When it comes to blogging I know I can blog about any one of these companies, and mix them up into various resourceful posts for my clients as well.

This is just how I roll and it’s something I’ve implemented more recently, but I’m already loving and seeing a lot of success from. This isn’t going to be for everyone, but for those who have asked I hope this post helps. Maybe you’ll find it appalling that I’d even let my clients order from Shutterfly and that’s okay too. I get it. We all run our businesses differently and do what works best for us and this has been an amazing way to but a cherry on top of the cake of business income.

If you want to know how to become an affiliate for a lot of these companies you can head right over to Share a Sale, which is a website that can connect you to all kinds of companies to start doing affiliate sales. All of these except Millers are listed on there and you can even use my link to sign up with Share a Sale and hey it sends me a little love too (note the disclaimer)! Here’s a link to Miller’s information about affiliate sales.

3 Alternatives to Photo CDs

3 Alternatives to Photo CDsDisclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means Photography Awesomesauce receives commission if you make a purchase using affiliate links.

It’s 2016. CDs are old news. Now people buy their movies on iTunes, own their music digitally and keep photos in digital format too. What inspired me to write this post is the surprising amount of photographers who are still proving a disc of images to your clients. If that’s you I want to encourage you to look to other alternatives, which I’ve listed in this post. Here’s why. In the last couple years many computer companies have stopped creating computers with a disc drive at all. Even though you can purchase one separately it’s likely that we’re now in an age where discs are going to become outdated, if they haven’t already. However you provide digital files to your clients, whether they’re included or you sell them separately, make sure you’re at the very least giving them in a format that will be working in the future.

It doesn’t matter to me how you decide to include digital files in your business and I know there’s still a lot of animosity in the photography industry about terms like “shoot and burn” or “shoot and share.” I’m not here to tell you what’s best. I think there’s a lot of great options for a variety of business owners, who may all like to operate their businesses differently depending on their needs. I’m just here to tell you that CDs are out…and these methods are in…

  1. Online Digital Downloads – One of the quickest ways to give people their digital photos is through digital download and companies like Shootproof make that super easy. They also give you all kinds of ways to control the downloads too, so you can limit it to certain people, or sell them, or include them in the session fee. It’s up to you to decide how you want to do it, but the nice thing about Shootproof is that it’s easy for your clients to download and there’s no risk of a disc getting lost or damaged in the mail. Plus, you can also sell prints – so it increases your profit opportunities. Shootproof has an automated email reminder system that can push out reminders to your clients to download before an expiration date, or remind them to purchase prints. There are lots of choices in companies if you want to do an online download delivery, but here are 9 Reasons Shootproof is the Best.
  2. USB Drives – USB/Flash Drives are the best option if you want to give your clients their digital files in a tangible format. In fact, there are all kinds of amazing ways to dress them up, personalize them and really wow your clients with them. One of my favorite ways is by sending a handcrafted wood box (which you can even engrave), with a few prints and a beautiful USB all wrapped up. Ryan’s Denn is literally my new favorite place for this. Their Luxe boxes are simply divine. I don’t say the word ‘divine’ ever, but I’m telling you their boxes are DIVINE. You can order boxes through them and USB drives.

    Ryan's Denn Handcrafted Photo Boxes
    Photo Credit: Ryan’s Denn
  3. In-Person Sales – In person sales might mean that you don’t provide digital downloads at all, or maybe you still do. But instead of just putting ye olde CD technology in the mail, consider getting together with your clients in person and trying to sell them all kinds of tangible prints, albums, canvases and other goodies that they can hold in their hands and pass down to generations to come.

Just whatever you do – no more CDs. If your clients still ask for them? Offer them a USB instead.

If you want to learn more awesome behind the business stuff like this make sure you subscribe to our weekly newsletter below, where we’ll be giving out extra special discounts and a few free products only for subscribers this Winter. You can also join our Facebook group, follow us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, and even follow me on Pinterest where I love to pin social media, blogging, business, and photography tips from all over the web! If you subscribe to our newsletter you’ll need to head on over to your email after you hit the submit button here to confirm your subscription. If you don’t see a confirmation check your junk/spam!