SmugMug Success Stories: Silverbox Creative Studio
The Hybrid: SmugMug Smooths the Way for a Dual Focus on Design & Photography
Name: Susan Sidoriak
Name of Company: Silverbox Creative Studio
Location: Lederach, PA
Market: Graphic Design, Branding & Photography
Bragworthy Factoid: Growing enough to hire freelance photographers, a graphic designer and an office manager
Websites: silverbox.smugmug.com and www.silverboxcreative.com
- Expanded globally throughout the US, Europe, Australia, and Africa.
- Within the last two years have become a go-to source for branding in the photography industry.
- Ranked #1 for invitations in the Philadelphia region for the last several years.
- Escalated photos prices while growing a customer base.
- Reliable, unlimited hosting for photos, drafts and finished cards
- Managing design reviews using virtual galleries
- Great customer support
- Seamless integration with Blurb.com (for selling lucrative Mother’s Day photobooks)
- Quick sharing via social media
Career by design
Sidoriak is a graphic designer by trade who came up via the traditional corporate ad agency route, settling into a freelance career after her first child was born. Her interest in photography was born out of necessity: unhappy with the cost of the stock photos she worked with, she decided to create her own photographic images. After buying her first camera and editing initial batches of holiday photo-cards and family pictures, she thought, wow, I could do this for other people, too. Silverbox designer-photographers now spend half their time in each discipline, most often melding the two as they produce photo-based materials like cards, booklets and invitations.
Designing a custom solution
This dual focus led to Silverbox’s most innovative application of the SmugMug tool set: creating virtual photo albums for presenting graphic design work to clients. “We’d used SmugMug for our photography services for years,” Sidoriak says. “One day we had the bright idea to upload our design ideas, much like a [physical] photo album. Suddenly, showcasing our thumbnails and initial concepts was easier. All designs are numbered and communication via phone and email is seamless. The option of clients typing their thoughts in the comments section is a tremendous asset.” Clients can also use one-click sharing to send their preferred designs to other stakeholders. Version control is easy, as Sidoriak stacks the newest iterations at the beginning of the album. If the client needs high-res jpegs, they can simply download them from their link, negating the need for Sidoriak to create another file for finals. Her other favorite time-saver? Designing logos in Adobe Illustrator, taking a screenshot of each design and quickly uploading them to SmugMug. “I can compile an album of 20 logo ideas in less than a minute — it’s the perfect combo! Clients can say, ‘I like the colors in #3 and the font in #7’.”
Counting on coupons
Learning how to use SmugMug coupons effectively has been key to growth. For example, Sidoriak realized that offering a free photo session with a retainer-like cart coupon did not yield as much profit as charging fair market value for a sitting and letting clients buy what they want. The coupon is used to discount the sitting, not for print shopping, where it can be viewed as a natural “cap” to spending. “I never had confidence that I was a good photographer—I was the designer,” Sidoriak says. “I once offered a free photo session and used coupons for $450 to spend in your cart, but I think it shot me in the foot—everyone was spending $450 and that’s it. This year I charged $225/hour for the sitting plus buy-what-you-want, my print prices are up, and we averaged in the $600s.”
Seamless with SmugMug
SmugMug has helped Silverbox bring agency-level professionalism to its customer relationships. And unlike traditional photographers, Silverbox’s crew thinks about embellishment from the start. “I can take photos a step further than a regular photographer would,” Sidoriak says. “We’re designers first. Do you want a collage? Do you want a monogram? What color is your living room? I want to hear all about it to modify the photos and design.” For example, SmugMug’s Blurb.com integration has helped Sidoriak do a lively business in Mother’s Day photo books, for which she shoots original photos, embellishes them, designs a book around them and uses Blurb to publish a high-quality memory book. Citing site customization as a major part of a high-quality user experience, Sidoriak relies on SmugMug to get her through peak times, including the holidays and Mother’s Day. “I love everything about SmugMug. They are so on it when I have a client issue; they’re on it well before me. I’m out shopping or something and I come back and it’s resolved. If I could hug them I would.”
Weathering the recession
Counterintuitive lesson #1: placing a fair (high) monetary value on your work does not decrease profit per se. “Moms and young kids out of college are opening up shop down the street. The new freelancer charging $50 per session has taken some of my clientele,” Sidoriak says. “Yet I have raised my prices throughout the recession, and the economy hasn’t really hit my business. During bad economies people are slower to commit…I’m the person who can help modify your business a bit visually—branding and business-to-business work has actually increased.” Sidoriak actually got a little pushback when she fairly upped prices on 4×6 and 5×7 holiday photos last fall—but, instructively, not one customer jumped ship. Sidoriak generates business mostly by word-of-mouth referrals. To network and build her skills, she participates in weekend seminars and conferences with other photographers. The shift to servicing a nationwide customer base took her by surprise when she was recently hired to photograph a batch of products the client shipped to her studio in rural Pennsylvania. Finally, she uses SmugMug’s quick-share to Facebook frequently. “What better advertising than to share your photos to the world? I have received many new clients because of that little blue button!”
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