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9 Ruthless Lessons from House of Cards for Your Photography Business

Oh television and movies – they teach us so much about the world and shape our thinking. That’s why educational documentaries like Breaking Bad, Dexter (only up through Season 4), and Hannibal are so important. With the second season of House of Cards premiering last Friday – I thought it was fitting that we look at what your photography business can learn from Francis Underwood’s masterful navigation of political awesome.

Note: I was going to make everything line up with some example or quote from the show but um, sh*t I’ve got a business to run, I don’t have time for that. Just know these are ideas you pick up from watching the show. Got it? Get to work.

House of Cards Lessons

Photo via Netflix

1. Dare to Dream So Big Your Head Explodes

It all starts here. Dreams. Aspiration. Ambition. You have to actually WANT SOMETHING.

More than that – you have to tell someone – YOU – that you want it. And it needs to be big. BIG.


Maybe Unrealistic. Why? Because only something so enormous and ridiculously massive can take over you. It needs to be something that you obsess over. That you dream about when you’re asleep AND awake. Only something so big that you’re afraid of it – is worth the effort it takes to overcome that fear and work through the challenges that will be headed your way when you go after something like that.

You want to make a living off your photography business? Have you told that to yourself? How about you tell yourself that you want more than just making a living. You want to make a damn good living. You want to pay all your bills and also have a f*cken amazing time. You’re probably timid in real life – and if you’re timid in your dreams well then you’ll never get out of that death pit.

You know – the one that keeps you chained to your desk in your windowless office, spending your weekly checks automatically deposited like an IV drip of sedation.

2. Throw Jabs and Hard and Soft Punches

Get it in your head that you’re not going to coast to success. Get it through your head that not everyone is your friend. You can’t only surround yourself with friends either. SO understand that you’re going to have to throw some punches. Not only that but a variety of punches. Sometimes you’ll need to throw the first punch. Sometimes you’ll need to counter-punch.

But don’t be afraid to knock someone down when they need it. Hell. if you’ve ever met a good wedding planner then you know she’d definitely shank and cut a b*tch.

Photo via Netflix

Photo via Netflix

3. Accept that it’s a Game

People’s lives aren’t a game. Their lives are serious… things. That’s absolutely true.

You need to accept that business is a game. You can decide how you play, what strategies and tactics to use – but know that it. is. a. game. Sometimes it’s a game of war, sometimes it’s a game of monopoly – but always a game. In games, if you just exist then you lose. You’re either actively trying to win or you’re losing. Whether slow or fast – if you’re not playing the game then you’re losing.

It’s a game – and it’s serious, and it’s not one you want to lose.

4. Play the Game. Play to WIN.

Some people whine that they don’t want to ‘play the game’. That’s their choice. See above.

Decide that you are going to the play the game. Which means you are playing to win. Not just exist. Not ‘for the fun of it’. To f*cken WIN. 

5. Learn the rules and then don’t follow them, USE THEM.

Of all the things I place in high regard, rules are not one of them.

– Francis Underwood

Rules can either be used to guide you or they can be used to contain you. For most photographers – the rules they follow are the ‘best practices’ and advice they learn from all of the good to sh*tty to useless workshops that they attend/watch. I smile when someone posts on Facebook that they learned a lot from so&so’s boring workshop – because I know that they’re about to do the same thing 100’s of other photographers are going to do after the same workshop. Probably nothing – but also probably nothing different or useful. Photographers only ever learn business tactics and rarely actual strategy – and they never figure out how to break‘ someone’s strategy.

When you do that – the other person’s strategy becomes a limitation at best, a noose at worse – especially when change comes along like it ALWAYS DOES.

Some photographers purposefully weed out clients, selecting only picturesque perfect weddings that would be published in Perfect Wedding magazine. Nonchalantly explaining such a thing to clients, and how they can identify those snobby photographers is how you educate them against your competition, using your competition’s own strategy.

This can work even if the client you’re talking to IS having one of those perfect weddings. Unless your clients are snobs. But this is where rule # 7 below is important.

6. Use meaningful threats and use them wisely

Threats are merely a different form of incentive. Stop wasting everyone’s time with incentives that suck. Stop posting on Facebook that people will save a whole whopping 10%, or 15%, or 20% off of your regular $150 rate. Your rates suck and anyone looking for a discount at that price actually just wants a cheap craigslist photographer anyway. 

You need real incentives. Hire me right the F now because I’m going away. Because at the end of this quote period that rate on your contract will honestly and truly GO UP. Because right now, this close to your wedding – I’m all you’ve got.

Incentives (threats) can and should be used on ALL players of the game. Everyone working with, near, or around your business. Money is an incentive. Easy is an incentive. Avoidance of pain is an incentive. Or threat. Whatever. They’re the same. Know when to use them, who to use them on – and remember to use them.

You should act like you have a bag of threats (incentives) about to blow up and you’re trying to get rid of them before your head blows off (you’re so poor you have to sell your camera.)

7. Mastery of People

Humility is their form of pride. It is their strength. It is their weakness and if you can humble yourself before them they will do anything you ask.

– Francis Underwood

Not Master People. Mastery of People. Learn about people. Everyone you can. Because you have to deal with everyone - and that’s a good thing.

Unless your clients are robots then you deal with a lot of people in your photography business. Clients. Other Photographers. Vendors. They’re all people playing the game once they come into your world (see above about the game.)

You need to KNOW ABOUT ALL OF THEM. You need to understand their motivations, their fears, their triggers. How to direct them. How to guide them. How to lead them. Stop thinking that you can just keep perfecting your widget (or photos) and people will magically come around and just hire you.

There are too many other photographers you’re competing with – including ME.

Learn about people. Always be learning about people. Learn what threats (incentives) work on what people. Go out and FIND the incentives you need.

8. Be What Your Clients Need and Want

Are you unappealing? Do you not look right? Do you come off as weak, afraid, unsure?

Maybe you’re completely wrong about yourself – more importantly – maybe you’re completely wrong about how other people see you. You think you’re great. Your potential clients think you’re unprofessional, young, inexperienced. You need to know these things. You need to find them out. Somehow. How? Ask someone dammit.

Once you’ve learned how others truly perceive you – fix that. I’m not saying they’re all weaknesses or that you should always change perceived negatives. But you need to either make them work for you, or overcome them.

Pro Tip: It’s in the details and the accessories.

Glasses make everyone smarter. Sneakers are for teens. And being Asian means taking photos is in your blood. Seriously though – outward organization is key. Make sure they see you taking lots of notes – even if you throw them away afterwards (although you’ll discover that you actually end up using them. huh.) Have a nice camera bag that a normal person would want. Even a nice pen. Details = Serious about your business = You Are Better Than that damn Art Student & Soccer Mom.

(If you happen to be that suburban mom photographer reading this well, I’m not talking about you, I’m talking about the other soccer moms that aren’t cool. If you’re that art student well, I’m definitely talking about you. Get out of my way. I’m here to make living.)

9. Find Your Calm Center – then keep fighting.

When you have rebellions on all fronts (clients angry, intern mutiny, etc.) – don’t let them break you. Go to the calm center of you and say to yourself I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. I will win. 

And then get to work. And keep working.

“Rebellion on all fronts. Claire, Zoe, and Russo. I must not loose my resolve. I will march forward even if I have to do so alone.” – Francis Underwood



Questions? Need more information? Ask in the comments section below. Thanks.


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9 Business Lessons You Should Learn from House of Cards.

What Your Business Can Learn from NBC’s Coverage of the Winter Olympics

What Your Business Can Learn from The Olympics

I was watching the Opening Ceremonies to the Winter Olympics last Friday night and even before the ceremonies actually started – I knew quite a bit about the competitors in many of the events. I realized that until about 2 weeks ago, or even a few days ago – I didn’t know anything about ANY of the competitors. How did I learn so much information so quickly? I certainly didn’t sit down and do any studying. I definitely didn’t seek out the information.

NBC got me interested enough to watch the stories they told about each competitor. That’s how.

1. It’s about the stories. 

Sure NBC can report what happened. They can tell you who won, they can tell you who lost – but they also tell you how it all went down. They give you background information. They’ll tell you about the competitors and show you what that person has gone through to be here. And what it means for that person not only to possibly win – but what it means that they’re even there competing. The road isn’t easy for anyone getting to the Olympics. You don’t get to be one of the top 10 athletes in your sport just by carrying a big bag of easy. It takes work. A lot of work – too much work for most people AND THEN it also takes some luck. And a bigger bag of stubbornness. All of that.

But that’s what we want. Sure on some level we want to know who won. But even more so we want to know about the people who won. 

Who are they? What have they gone through? Are they special? Are they good people or are they f*cken assholes?

NBC (and really any network covering the Olympics) aren’t just telling you who won. They’re telling you as many stories as possible about the people competing because they know that’s how they’ll hook you.That’s how they’ll get you to follow and watch a competitor from the preliminary rounds all the way to the finals – and hopefully see all of the advertising they show along the way.

What Your Business Can Learn from The Olympics

How much story telling do you do in your business? Do you ‘just take photos’? Or do you tell your clients a story about how their experience with you will be? Not just giving them a chart with the Pros & Cons of hiring you. Telling them a story that makes them feel good about hiring you. Telling stories is the quickest way to get past intellectually selling to someone and finally emotionally selling to someone. Below is directly from our own ‘Wedding‘ page. We don’t talk about why you should hire us. We don’t tell people that we’re the best, or cheapest, or anything. We tell them a story – about them. And we ALL like stories about ourselves.

In a few years after your wedding has long passed, you and your spouse will sit down on a Sunday afternoon and pull out the box of photos from that day and remember everything. You’ll remember how you were calm and didn’t feel nervous until you finished getting dressed and saw yourself in the mirror. Or how your mother started to tear up, trying her best not to cry and ruin her makeup – because it finally hit her that you’re really getting married. You’ll see the photos of your closest friends all dressed up – because they clean up well – and that feeling of being surrounded by the people most important in your life – all there for your wedding day.

What does your investment/prices/weddings page say? Do you just present options and packages? Did you only talk about yourself? Are you selling yourself? Maybe try telling your clients a story they actually want to hear.

What about during your client meetings? When you sit down at the table with a wedding couple – after gathering all of the information you need – do you only tell them about how awesome you are? Do you only tell them how good your gear is, or how cheap you are, or what you will do for them? OR do you help them imagine and visualize how great their wedding will be…

Questions? Need more information? Ask in the comments section below. Thanks.


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The Sales Secret of Successful Photographer Websites & Your Big Mistake

Photographer Website Sales & Marketing Ideas

I know what you did. I see it all the time. The same, big, major mistake. Over and over, repeated by photographers everywhere – even photographers like you that have been at this for a while. You got yourself a great website from one of those companies that sells websites built specifically for photographers. It must be a good website right? Good for what? Good at what?

It sounds like common sense that the best website attracts the most and best clients. If your website has great photos and you sound friendly/likable/professional then clients will hire you. Your website is your ‘storefront’ and it’s what sells your ‘photography’. People see your website, decide they like your photos, and they’re sold. That’s the job of your website right?

Wrong. Completely, completely, COMPLETELY wrong. Incorrect.

Your photography website’s job isn’t to sell. Your goal isn’t for people to visit your website and be sold to. That’s like trying to sell a house over the internet and expecting people to buy it immediately. Chances are that it’s just NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. So if your website isn’t supposed to make the sale, then what is your website supposed to be doing? It’s simple. Very simple. Too simple.

Your website’s one and only job is to get people to contact you.

That’s it. That’s all.

All of your photos, all of your blogging, all of your writing – everything you do on your photography website should  work towards getting people to contact you – that’s it. Get them to fill out that contact form, or send you an email, or even call you.  

You’re not trying to get them to buy your product with your website. You just want them to start talking with you. Think about that for a moment. Think about what you’re actually asking people to do while they’re at your website.

Email me vs Buy from me

Contact me vs Let me sell this to you

Email me vs Hire me

This isn’t for all types of products. It’s for your photography services. It’s for you as a photographer. The truth is that your sales process is probably f*cked up. You’re trying to make the sale on the first meeting – the first time a potential client sees your website. You don’t even know these people – and more importantly they don’t know you. And if you come at them with BUYBUYBUY they will never contact you. Worse – you will never get the chance to start communicating with them. You’re trying to sell to them before they’ve given you any permission.

But don’t be timid about it either. Now that you know what your website is supposed do – don’t hold back. Do everything you can to convince them to contact you. Not because they want to buy your services, but because they have more questions. They need more information – in essence – because they need YOU. If you’re not making them curious enough to ask you for more information then you’re website isn’t doing it’s job. Plain and simple.

But don’t worry – there are several easy things you can do that’ll get clients contacting you after their first visit to your website… and of course we’ll cover that on another day.


Questions about this? Need help with anything else? Google it.

No just kidding – Post your question in the comments section and I’ll answer. Promise.

Oh – and we’d love it if you shared this post with your friends. Thank you.