Thursday, July 10, 2014

I'll show you 'free'...

So, this is my blog, so I can rant if I want, which I do about once a quarter. If you would prefer to read something more positive, may I suggest my last post about my first visit to an onsen? I talk about getting naked in it. Enjoy.

That said… I am going to get to my three main points of this rant, er, blog post:

1) Military “free stuff” entitlement

It drives me crazy when I hear active duty members and/or their spouses talk about how they deserve things for free. Like the military member doesn’t get a paycheck or anything like that. Or a housing allowance. Or food allowance. Or free medical care (although “medical care” can be a relative term.) I just shake my head. Aw, you poor things. Drafted in to the military and forced to do time at hard labor without any compensation. Oh, wait… you weren’t drafted? You chose this career path/job? Or, better yet, you, like me, were dumb enough to choose to marry a Marine instead of the real version of billionaire control freak Christian Gray? Oh, you get free health care, a housing allowance AND money for food? As well as a monthly salary??? And you work in a cubicle…? Wait…

Of course that military salary may not be of billionaire status, but, considering the gross majority of the military personnel only have high school diplomas, I’d say you’re doing better than most of your peers in the civilian world. How many of them have access to a free urgent care and are given money to eat with as part of their salary? Well, except for those on welfare… but that’s a whole other wasps' nest to poke at with a stick.

My point is this: You do not deserve anything for free. You haven’t even earned anything besides what your military contract says you earn. You should not get anything for free simply because you chose a job where you wear military issue camouflage to work. Or you married someone who does. You are not entitled to get anything at a discount. That free and discount stuff are privileges, special treats. These are gifts from kind people… and corporations who want good PR. Free access to national parks… thank you! 10 percent discount at Old Navy on Tuesdays… awesome! Free rental tents at the MCAS Iwakuni Outdoor Rec office… sweet! These are fun perks, that, sadly, some members of military community have come to expect and not appreciate for what they are: perks. Because of how military members are now perceived in many communities, I hate even asking if any business has a military discount. My Mom or kids ask for me (because my kids saw my Mom do it... thanks, Mom). If I want to do something bad enough, I am willing to pay full price for it. If there happens to be a discount or sale that day, bonus. Besides, the spouse is the one who wears the uniform, not me. Although, getting upgraded on United flights with a simple request would be much appreciated by this long-legged lady.

But, not everyone prioritizes or sees things the way I do. This is especially true in Iwakuni… and I didn’t understand it at first. Now, this is not everyone here, not by a long shot, but there are enough of these lovely people to make it somewhat toxic. When we were given orders to Iwakuni, Japan, my family automatically saw it as a way to live overseas in another country - a unique experience for most Americans. We were excited about the opportunity and realized that it might be expensive or limiting to the way of life we had been accustomed to. But, we figured that for three years, we could suck it up and make the most of it. We were getting a rare chance to have a potentially life-changing experience. Well, it took me about a week in Iwakuni to realize that not everyone had this mindset. Instead, they felt they were doing the military a favor by agreeing to go overseas to fill a billet. Not that they really had much of an option to agree, but that is how they viewed it. The military inconvenienced them, so they deserve compensation. They want free. They want discounts. They deserve it! They didn’t know they might be deployed or sent overseas when they enlisted! Uh... yeah, right. Nice try.

2) Don’t be that “friend”

But those military members’ expectation of “free” doesn’t just extend to government entities and corporations. Let me explain: I regularly use fellow home-based business owners for my personal products and services. Shannon is my massage therapist. Lily is my nail tech, I tan over at Heather’s place. Andrea made my fabulous camera neck strap cover, and I’ve made purchases from Lauren, Bryce and Keenya. I have NEVER asked them to do anything for free or at a discount. NEVER. Yes, there are trades in service that happen, that we all agree to and are fine with. But those are trades. We both get something we want out of the deal. But I have never asked for someone to do something for me where they receive nothing in return… a personal favor, so to speak… nor would I expect one. I pay full price. I even tip when appropriate. I realize they have a business to run, bills to pay, and I value and respect their time. Just as they do mine. Unfortunately, I know some of us have been “lucky” enough to have “friends” who think we owe them free and discounted products and services. You have no idea how often I am asked to “take pictures” … and I find out that I am expected to do it for free. Like my time, not only at the event, but in the time spent editing and post processing the photos, is expected to be given to them because I know them. Well, then, with that way of thinking, I should get a free massage, free pedicures, free tanning, free sewn goods… wow! I could save a lot of money here…

Yes, I donate and gift sessions… but that is me offering on my own terms and with a mind to what I can afford. So, please, don’t be that “friend” and put me in an awkward position to tell you “no” even though I consider you my friend. I still enjoy spending time with you and will be happy to help you out if you are in some kind of a jam, like true friends do. But this is a small community and everyone has a lot of friends… if all my “friends” got free photography, I would be paying you for my services (because I have subscriptions and equipment I have to pay for… there is overhead associated with my business, by the way, not just the value of my time and talent). As my friend, please have enough respect for me to understand that I need to earn a living, too.

3) How this parlays in to my life as a small business owner

I have two home-based businesses here in Iwakuni: I am a photographer and I am a scrapbooker. There aren’t any other scrapbooking businesses that I know of, but there are lots of people who call themselves photographers. There is a lot of competition and, lately, it has been getting… competitive. I love competition. I really do… ask anyone who has been in a room with me for five minutes. As someone recently said: “You can turn anything in to a competition.” Yes, yes, I can. But I also believe in a concept of “co-op-etition” that was introduced to me when I owned a scrapbooking business six years ago. Yes, we may be in the same industry, be competitors, but we are stronger when we cooperate as a group. There really is plenty of business for everyone. I’m competitive, but I play fair, I am still friends with people who I was in direct competition with years ago, and have learned to be a good sport when I lose. Which isn’t often, because I play to win. Why else would you play? For fun? Well, yes, but winning is more fun than losing, right?

All of the people in Iwakuni billing themselves as photographers-for-hire appeared to have a niche… newborns, kids, weddings and special events, high school seniors, etc. Some priced themselves cheap… some were more expensive. Some had gobs of talent… some were more impressed by their own camera equipment… some had reputations for having terrible customer service… some had raving fans... some no one had ever heard of. I wanted to set myself apart, so, for three months, I took all of my marketing and strategic training and examined my business, my competition and my preference for what I wanted to photograph. This was a huge project and my spouse blandly nodded and brought me margaritas and popcorn when I railed, cried, snorted in disbelief, laughed and studied… sometimes all at once. And, long story short, I figured out a few things. I love photographing families, couples and 1- to 2-year-olds. Yes, 1- to 2-year-olds. They are so much fun when you plan… or, actually, don’t plan, the session right.

The pure joy of being 1!
And I love photographing women, all women, and watching their confidence bloom. Yeah, honey, that’s you. You are beautiful inside and out. Every time you look at that image, I want you to remember that. Capturing that moment is so much more than simply pointing a camera at her. And I know how to do that.

"Just Gorgeous" is a type of session for women that came out of my months of examination.

 I did not want to be the Wal-mart, Portrait Innovations or JCPenney of portrait photographers. I am not going to lower my prices or offering fire sales (as in, oh no, I have no work, let me run a special). I care too much. My images are my babies and I don’t do half way. I never have, with anything I choose to do. Either I do it and do it well, or I don’t do it. That’s why I am not a runner, accountant or hairdresser. My talent and interests do not lie in those areas. At 37, I know where my talents and interests lie, have had the time and commitment to cultivate them, and I know that when I use those talents, I use them to their fullest, which takes time, energy and resources.

Because of these months of study and reflection, I have improved my business model. I am no longer offering half-hour mini portrait sessions. My best photographs, my best art, the pieces I am most proud of, came from sessions that weren’t limited by 30- or 60-minutes because I had more clients scheduled that day. Those amazing images were from the sessions where I got to know the people, the families, the kids, the women, and could really capture who they were. Coincidentally, these were, more often than not, the clients who valued great photography. I wanted more clients who valued great photography, who realize those images are heirlooms, who plan to enlarge prints and canvases to hang on the walls of their homes so they could remember their moments in Japan and spark guests to ask them questions and start conversations. I was no longer interested in trying to get the clients who, for $50, wanted a CD full of images to post on Facebook. I would not only be doing myself a disservice, with all the time I would spend away from my family working, but I would be doing my client a disservice because I’d be rushing through the sessions and edits to try and make it worth my time. I want to be able to spend quality time with my clients and their images, making the session as creative and beautiful as possible. To make it a reflection of the client and their time in Japan… not some cookie cutter place and pose that will mean nothing to them in five years, using it because it's easy to do. Nothing worthwhile comes easy.

On more than one occasion, my spouse has shaken his head at me and said, “Jesi, people in Iwakuni just want some pictures taken and they don’t want to spend a lot of money on them.”

A lot of them, yeah, you’re right. In fact, they probably figure they can do just as well with their iPhone or Canon Rebel on the auto mode, so why pay more? But those aren’t my clients. Those are someone else’s clients. And I’m OK with that. Going to a highly qualified surgeon is a little different than looking up your ailment on WebMD. Going to a certified massage therapist is a little different than getting a back rub from a distracted spouse. Going to an experienced seamstress is a little different from asking someone who happens to own a sewing machine to make you a ball gown. You are either fine with what you're getting for free or cheap, or you find a way to pay a little more to get what you really want.

Making meaningful, personalized photographic artwork takes time, talent and commitment. So, yes, my photography requires more of a commitment and investment from my clients than other photographers’. But my customer service is worth it. My product is worth it. I’m worth it. When you have a huge gorgeous image on your wall, or a beautiful photo album on your table, the one that makes you smile every time you walk by it, it’s worth it. And the clients I want to work with know it, value it, and are willing to give up a Coach purse or two for it.


And, yes, they have military affiliation and live here in Iwakuni.

Imagine that.

I can't wait to work with them!

This is my canvas hanging in my house that always makes me smile.

2 comments:

Heather Valentine said...

WOW... so this is the first of your post's I have had the chance to read and I couldn't agree with you more. I am not a person looking for a hand-me-out, nor do I use my affiliation with the military to get me anything. My husband has worked in this profession, not me. Would he expect a corporate business that I work for to give him discounts? Working for Aeropostale, many of the service members didn't know about the 10% off; their wives did!!! The individuals who 'worked for it' wouldn't think twice about asking (they were the ones I let know about it). Way to hit home Miss Jessica!

I support my husband (sometimes it gets hard), but at the end of the day 'I' choose him for love; not for give-outs!

Also, you are exactly right; pictures are ways we live on after we are gone. There is nothing that grabs me more than a truly deep photo. When you can see the love between two people, when you can see the suffering, the pain, the deep scars which are covered by strength and beauty... nothing beats a photo that captures the moment, as you mentioned! Keep on Preachin'!

Jessica Guthrie said...

Thanks, Heather! I really appreciate it. And I had no idea that Aeropostale offered a military discount... I don't shop there, so it's not surprising, but if a military member is making a big purchase, it helps out! Thanks for mentioning it (although I know that wasn't your point!) ;)