Shot by Jordan and Amy Demos

Shot by Jordan and Amy Demos

“Rock Star Wedding Photographers” Zach and Jody have become the gold standard for success in professional photography. Normally, we cringe a bit at the “Rock Star” title, but in the case of Zach Gray, we kind of have to hand it to him. Before picking up the camera, he was a touring guitarist, playing gigs and shredding arpeggios on stage to throngs of adoring fans. Today, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to grill one half of photography’s favorite power couple. We are going to climb inside Zach’s mind, pick through the lessons from his past, and learn a few things that will be helpful for anyone in business, especially the pro photographer. Join us as we sit on the couch, sipping coffee, picking his brain and learning all that we can from his successes.

KISS U: How does innovation & being unique drive your photography business?

Zach: Jack Trout says “Customers will go where services are clearly defined and executed.” What that tells us is that just knowing precisely what offer and what type of photography you do, and making that clear through your branding and marketing, will help clients come your way.

It is crucial to stand out in a sea of photographers, and if everyone is trying to get to the top of hill A and “stand out” (as Seth Godin says in the Purple Cow), then we need to go find another hill (hill B) to occupy. If we can be unique in our brand positioning and offerings (or be perceived as unique), then clients will come straight to us. “People are not interested in what is better, but what is different.” (Another Jack Trout quote!)

KISS U: What if you had started reading the right kind of books & hanging out with the right kind of people while you were a professional guitarist? Would you have been able to take that creative outlet & turn it into a thriving business?

Zach: Definitely. That business is all about WHO you know and how you can help others, and if I had not just focused on being a good guitar player and hoping my artist’s record took off, I could have made a real living doing that for sure!

IMG_0006KiSS U: The other day, a facebook user posed this brilliant question: “Photographers are asking payment for a service that almost any of us can do good enough for no cost at all. It’s really hard to compete with free… What services can [photographers] offer that the average Joe with a smart phone cannot replicate?”

Zach: By “any of us” I am assuming we are talking about non-pro shooters (or friends). The truth is that with technology, the perception (remember that word) that great photos are just a filter click away is growing in the mind of the consumer. For about 10 years, it has not been enough just to offer great quality images and great service because consumers demand more for their money than that.

“People make purchasing decisions based on their emotional connection to a product or service” says Trout. What that means is IF we can take our wonderful craft (that really is much better than iPhone photos), and and give great service (because clients expect that) and great quality (again, expected), and then offer a great experience (this is what they pay MORE for), then we are on to something.zach and jody gray photography

We have to connect the client emotionally to what we do and if we can figure out that missing link, then clients will not just pay for our products and services, but they will pay 3 to 4 times what they initially believed they would.

KISS U: Is that the dumbest question you’ve heard all year, or the dumbest question of all time?

Zach: I would say there is a partial truth in there.

KISS U: How important is your camera to your success?

Zach: The type of camera you own? Not very. Great cameras can’t take great images any more than great paint can make the Mona Lisa.Surviving the Slow Season

KISS U: Let’s talk about the up-sell. Where did you see more profit in your business? Selling additional services, hours of coverage, books, print-stuffs, or a combination?

Zach: Definitely with products and products that are different than what you can get at Costco. If you try and sell more hours and MORE of your time on the front-end (of say a wedding or senior shoot), it is much harder for the client to swallow the price because you have not really delivered much value yet (and it costs you the only thing you don’t have more of, TIME). But, once you work with the client, take great care of them, and have some time spent with them delivering value, then you have a much better chance of them spending more on the tail-end because you have delivered value.

Being an a la carte style photographer is hands-down the best way to make a serious income on shooting without having to do a high volume of gigs. The reason a la carte works so well, is because the client makes an initial purchase, but then does not close their mind off to further items. With packages, clients want their “package” and it is much harder for them to add to something they feel is already complete.

KISS U: What are you reading right now? Oh, and which book on your recommended reading list would you say should be read first? (See his list here: http://astore.amazon.com/zajo-20)

Zach: Right now I (with my Master Mind Group) am reading “Way of the Wild Heart” by John Eldredge. It is a personal development book about men and their need to be fathered. Eldredge says “we praise the ‘self-made’ man and it is an honor badge to make it on your own. I call them ‘fatherless’ men’ because their father never showed them who they were or what they were to become.” Wow! That rocked my world.

IMG_0028Zach: Another book I just finished was “Business Brilliant” by Lewis Schiff. This book talks about the vastly different beliefs about business between the middle-class and the deca-millionaire. Things like “the average middle-class respondent agreed that you should do what you love, and the money will follow. The average millionaire disagreed. They believe that you should do what you love, but follow the money.” What you believe will determine who you become, and that is why that book is so powerful. The rich are not rich because they took more of the pie, they are rich because they make pies.

I would recommend reading Michael Gerber’s the e-Myth which is one of the best business books I read when I started out. We used his business model to take our brand from 4k profit in 2007, to 100k in 2008.

KISS U: Talk us through the process you use to sell a wedding album. Sell me on it.

Zach: That is a large question we could spend an hour talking about, but essentially you have to demonstrate to your client that their wedding day memories exist ONLY in this album. Then, you take them emotionally into their day, through the album, and then the value of that book is limited only by their belief in what it is worth. That is an overview of how when we were still shooting weddings, we would consistently sell $4, $5 and $6k extra of books after the wedding.

KISS U: If you could go back 5 years and give 2009 Zach & Jody three pieces of advice, what would they be?

Zach: 1. Slow down and don’t think you have to do everything.
2. Enjoy each other more while you are blessed with all this cool stuff you get to do.
3. Don’t take yourself too seriously. 

KISS U: What’s a question we haven’t asked, and you’re really grateful we haven’t, and you’re hoping we won’t ask you, like, ever?

Zach: Ha! That is too funny. We are pretty open to most questions and think that being vulnerable is not a weakness, but an asset. When we are vulnerable, people know that we are just like them, and that frees people to be open with you. That creates awesome healthy relationships!

KISS U: What’s a question that we haven’t asked, but you really wish we would?

Zach: Zach, do you like paying Table Tennis and is there any way we could come play at your house? ;)IMG_0023