SmugMug Success Stories: Andi Grant Photography

The Romantic: A Wedding Pro’s Love Affair With “Events”

Name: Andi Grant
Position/Title: Owner
Name of Company: Andi Grant Photography
Location: Hampton Roads, VA
Market: Weddings, Engagements, Bridals, Boudoir
Bragworthy Factoid: Broke $100,000 in sales her first year as a pro
SmugMugger since: 2007

Career Highlights…

  • Quitting her day job at 911 to do photography full-time
  • Shooting her first destination wedding (did three last year!)

Fave Features…

From alarms to ardor

Grant was raised in a photo-friendly household, often hanging out in her father’s dark room in their Long Island home. But she never thought she would make her living shooting real-life love stories. During her first career as a 911 dispatcher, she bought her first DSLR. “I was the one at church taking all the family pictures,” she says. “Even when all I had was a point-and-shoot they’d ask, because I always had a good eye. But my business escalated with better equipment.” She apprenticed to a local pro, eventually shooting six weddings under her mentor’s tutelage. A mere year later, she left her emergency job to pursue photography full-time. People told Grant she was crazy to quit her government job during the worst of the economic downturn. She took a chance anyway, initially accepting any work she could find—weddings, engagements, but also corporate gigs. “I started my business during the worst possible time,” she says. “But it didn’t matter because I still had my clients. People were still getting married.”

Happy wife, happy life

SmugMug’s focus on customer care frees up Grant to do what she does best—keep brides happy. “I can only think of two or three instances where clients had issues with images,” she says, explaining a smudge that wasn’t and a so-so color-to-B/W conversion early in her career. “SmugMug emailed me immediately. They were so quick to react. They even offered to help with the unedited file, which I thought was amazing. At first the lack of a phone number was frustrating, but only once did someone have to call me—and the [hero] called me from his house!” Grant appreciates that SmugMug’s attention to detail matches her own. “I’m a perfectionist. Details are everything,” she insists. SmugMug’s proof delay feature helps Grant maintain her high standards. “I love proof delay because I do very little editing to my proofing galleries — none for boudoir,” she says. “So when a client orders an image I then have the opportunity to make sure it’s perfect. I especially like to be sure their cropping is correct.”

Powering her through events

Calling SmugMug’s Events feature “a dream come true,” Grant explains that she uses the tool in a number of ways to streamline her business. “Before, after my brides chose their favorite images, I’d have to go in manually and download each file. That was such a pain. Now I go into an event, download all and the client has a separate folder to work with for her event.” Grant uses the separate gallery function for all types of events, from weddings to engagements to boudoir sessions. “It’s especially convenient to build the gallery before the wedding to have the link,” she points out. “You can get the link from the event guest gallery, go over to Moo cards, [get] QR codes business cards, and make it super high-tech for your clients’ guests to link to the gallery.” Grant suggests having URL cards available for smartphone-less guests, and saving assets like extra engagement photos to hand out at weddings as stealth promotional material. “It’s a great way to get more people seeing your images.” She also suggests that colleagues who use email marketing take advantage of event-linked mandatory guest login to send newsletters and coupons.

More features to love

SmugMug archiving is Grant’s saving grace. Citing an example of a bride who emailed Grant the night before her second anniversary with a fatal computer crash in which she lost all her wedding images, Grant explains that she was able to resurrect the bride’s memories in a mere five minutes. “Most photographers would need to dig up the external hard drive and burn them a new disk. Instead, I went into her galleries, used the Download All feature and emailed her the link to her four galleries zipped into an easy-to-open file. I have a deep sense of security knowing my images are nicely organized and stored,” she says. The self-proclaimed perfectionist is also grateful for the seamless design integration between her site and SmugMug’s ordering, sharing and back-up functions. “SmugMug has done a great job over the years making customization very easy,” she says, expressing pleasure that her own storefront and SmugMug site match exactly. “I’m thankful to have my cute look on SmugMug and it was super affordable.”

It’s a family affair

Admirers have called Grant’s work “traditional,” a label that used to amuse her until she began to grasp the implicit compliment. “It’s interesting because I don’t come from a classical photography background,” she says. “Now I want to be considered timeless. My images are very clear—sharp, well-exposed images that are not over-manipulated. Very organic. People see that and like it. So many wedding photos are worked over to give them that contemporary vibe, but that can take away from the image itself.” Grant is assisted at shoots by her daughter Zoe, a photographer in her own right building a specialty in pets. “It’s wonderful having someone who knows everything I want and need. She’s amazing to work with and she’s my comic relief. When I shoot a wide angle, she gets in nice and close, so we have different images of the same thing.”

Want to read more SmugMug Success Stories? Look here!

SmugMug Success Stories: Studio KYK

The Realist: Making It Fun, Keeping It Real

Name: Monica Toohey-Krause
Position/Title: Owner
Name of Company: Studio KYK Photography
Location: Newcastle, California
Market: Portrait/Lifestyle
Bragworthy Factoid: Used coupons for a special-occasion sale that generated $600 in past-shoot sales on a single day
SmugMugger since: 2006

Career Highlights…

  • Transitioning from amateur school documentarian to owner of a brick-and-mortar business averaging 2-5 shoots/week
  • Successfully using Facebook for 99% of her marketing

Fave Features…

Getting real

Studio KYK Photography is a thriving photography business just outside of Newcastle, California. Born out of a passion for photography that was reignited when Monica was asked to be school photographer for her daughter’s preschool, the studio has grown from a home-based business doing 10 or 15 shoots a year, to a brick and mortar studio, doing about three shoots per week. Monica’s specialty is capturing real moments with real people. “I love taking photos and don’t really care much what the subject is, as long as I am capturing a real moment,” she says. “In a month I may shoot anything from weddings to births, babies to seniors, headshots to everyday fun playing in the rain. My clients are real people who want natural, fun photos.“

Soup-to-nuts with SmugMug

Monica’s clients were looking for studio-quality prints of her beautiful photography, and it was during the search for a professional print lab that Monica found SmugMug. She was thrilled to learn that not only could SmugMug serve her print fulfillment needs through Bay Photo, but that it could be her complete website solution. SmugMug provided Studio KYK with a fully customizable and brandable website, an image archiving service, a shopping cart and centralized print fulfillment. SmugMug’s shopping cart handles all of the aspects of print order fulfillment, from payment collection to customer satisfaction.

Making it hers

Monica used SmugMug to help establish and grow her brand. She maximized SmugMug’s customizability, first working with a designer to develop her logo, later designing her SmugMug website to best represent her brand, whimsical attitude and individual style. Her SmugMug hub showcases her gorgeous photography and shows how much fun it will be to work with her. “I’m so proud of my site and having a place to call home,” she says. “I wouldn’t be where I am without you; I’d be scattered all over the place and wouldn’t be able to do what I do.”

Marketing maven

Monica markets her business through word of mouth and social media; she was an early Facebook adopter. She uses SmugMug’s new Facebook album tool, which allows photographers to publish a selection of SmugMug gallery photos as a Facebook album. Those photos lead back to her SmugMug gallery and shopping cart, but behave like a Facebook album, complete with photo-tagging. Monica also uses SmugMug coupons, in conjunction with Facebook marketing, to hold studio specials, and to encourage clients to buy their prints. She holds spontaneous Open Studio Days, when a $25 deposit earns a $25 print credit to purchase prints from the session. She has held special occasion sales (e.g., Super Bowl) via a coupon for 30% off orders placed on that day.

Interested in seeing more SmugMug Success Stories? Look here!

SmugMug Success Stories: Glossy Finish

Goooaaaalll! Glossy Finish Scores With Assists From SmugMug and Social Media

Name: Haim Ariav
Title: President & Founder
Company: Glossy Finish
Location: Jacksonville, Florida
Market: Youth Sports
Bragworthy Factoid: Official swag-maker for the Florida High School Athletic Association
SmugMugger Since: 2011

Career Highlights…

  • Services 250,000-300,000 customers annually
  • Shoots 40,000-50,000 gorgeous images per event
  • 5 million+ images generated over last 5 years
  • Client list includes AAU, AYSO, Babe Ruth, Cal Ripken, Pop Warner, Triple Crown Sports, United Soccer Leagues USSSA and ESPN Wide World of Sports

Favorite Features…

Born of a brain fart

Glossy Finish was born five years ago when Haim Ariav was suddenly inspired to build a mobile photo lab in a trailer and cart it to sporting events, enabling families to view, purchase and retrieve photos on-site. Ariav, a classically trained photographer, saw an unfilled niche: recognizing that, as a “want” industry, photography was taking a hit in a rough economy, he set out to re-brand memorializing athletic moments as a “need” by making it easier to enshrine kids’ sports glory. Redefining how images are delivered on-site is the foundation of Glossy’s business model, unique in the sports photography vertical.

The post-game show

But on-site sales aren’t Glossy’s sole revenue stream. After an event, Ariav’s team uploads its treasures to SmugMug’s cloud and follows through with additional distribution via SmugMug’s labs. Online sales, a significant supplement to Glossy’s revenue stream, run smoothly on SmugMug, along with back office functions. “We rely on the website for 100% of our revenues for events that don’t utilize the mobile lab,” Ariav says. “Using the SmugMug infrastructure, reliability and scalability are key for us. Having access to the various products offered by the labs is a huge opportunity for us to carry out our online strategy.” Ariav’s team uses online proofing to boost non-mobile sales. “Different events may not warrant the use of our patent-pending mobile lab,” he points out. “The success of those depends on customer satisfaction with images and ease of purchase. SmugMug allows us to deliver a successful experience.”

Scoring points with social media

Ariav endorsed SmugMug’s decision to allow digital downloads to have watermarks. “We felt it would facilitate our ability to brand ourselves on social media,” Ariav says. “We wanted to have a presence on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, where so much photo sharing takes place. We know how important printmarks and watermarks are to both our business and our creativity.” Ariav milks every branding opportunity he can out of SmugMug’s tools, even while focused on image protection. “Printmarks turn images from just a photograph into a memory,” he says. “Our logo is also typically part of the printmark. Watermarks deter people from stealing, but we also use them as a way to show what [clients’] prints will look like with the printmark. We are always marketing and trying to keep up brand awareness.”

Owning it from field to check-out

Outlining a strong customization strategy for site design and gallery organization, and a reliance on SmugMug’s advanced customization tools, Glossy also has the Cart Branding feature firmly in the “on” position: “Branding is a huge part of what we do best, which can be seen in our website customization. We [use] Cart Branding so our customers know they’re getting a great Glossy Finish product. We also use the box sticker. We want customers to know who they are getting a package from and, most importantly, thank them for their order.”

Less work, more profit

Ariav used to blanket events with trigger-happy shutterbugs. Now, by sending sales teams to pre-sign customers, he may only capture four or five kids out of 20, but the average order has increased from $25 to $125. “It’s okay not to photograph every player on every field at every game,” he says. “We focus only on those that want and love our photos. It works better for the customer and us.” With SmugMug’s help, this focus on time-saving extends to online sales: “We try to keep pricing as uniform as we can to lessen confusion on our end,” Ariav says. “With the introduction of pricelists it is much easier to organize pricing throughout the site. Now I can set up pricelists for sales and simply move galleries around once the sale is over.”

Making friends with the moms

After cutting overhead and moving from the flea-market, on-spec approach to a more profitable, streamlined system scaffolded on a $20 deposit credited toward purchase, Ariav saw opportunities to reach a larger audience without snapping a photo. Envisioning his business as “an exclusive entertainment club,” Ariav created custom lanyards customers could don at soccer tournaments, showcasing that their kid’s athletic prowess was immortalized by Glossy Finish. The result? A flood of visitors to his trailer.

Taming the technology beast

Photographers didn’t used to discriminate when it came to capturing contacts; Glossy worked hard to collect home addresses and emails. Now, Ariav plays smarter, relying on texting select targets for marketing blasts. His on-site blitzes are wildly successful. “If we have a slow period, we can ping them and—boom!—the trailer fills up. We have a direct connection to our customers. And when we’re done with an event, we have more contacts in our database for future direct and instant marketing.”

Interested in seeing more SmugMug Success Stories? Look here and stay tuned for more as we have them.

SmugMug Success Stories: HoofClix

HoofClix Gives Creative Ambition Full Rein

Name: Mark Lehner
Title: Owner/Photographer
Location: Greer, SC
Market: Equine photography
Bragworthy Factoid: HoofClix trotted out 606,705 SmugMug photo-views in February

Career Highlights…

  • Shot 2,500 unique riders last year
  • Takes 75,000 photos yearly; team shoots about 7,500/weekend
  • Whoa! – 33,000 pictures in four days at Nationals
  • Photographed the US, Canadian and British Olympic teams
  • Snapped some of Three-day Eventing’s biggest names, including Philip Dutton, Boyd Martin, Becky Holder and Leslie Law

Favorite features…

Bridling at the artist label

“I don’t consider myself an artist per se. I consider myself a technician and an athlete. I recognize athletic moments and know how to find the spot on the course where an athletic moment will take place,” says leading equine photographer Mark Lehner, whose work has been featured on the covers of Eventing and Practical Horseman. Lehner’s being modest—he’s a member of an exclusive group of equestrian pros who have the deep knowledge and creative instincts needed to capture vibrant, unique shots of horses and people in action. (To clarify: This involves facing huge animals with hooves.)

Spurred to shoot

Lehner, who started college intending to be an architect but was counseled out of the program after professors told him he had no “artistic” talent, segued into amateur photography after taking an undergrad course. With no formal program available, he evolved his hobby into a passion, later marrying it to his lifelong work with horses. Bequeathed a legendary family tack shop by his horsewoman mother and the father of equestrienne daughters himself, Lehner invested in several digital Nikons in 2003 after witnessing the labor-intensive nature of using film to photograph horse shows. Web-based HoofClix took off at a gallop.

Hoofing it

Knowing Lehner’s habit of posting pics quickly following events, HoofClix’s customers frequently opt to review photos later offsite. “SmugMug’s gallery hierarchy really fits into the way I organize my shows by venue, show date and rider,” says Lehner. “If someone organizes his workflow in that manner from the start, equestrian or not, he can help his customers quickly find their images once they land on SmugMug.” Lehner makes the most of SmugMug’s website and gallery customizability. “It’s the simplest way I know to let people get right to what they are looking for–pictures of themselves,” he says. Other SmugMug features that help streamline Lehner’s business are proof delay and price lists. “[Proof delay] has changed my whole workflow. I used to edit every image before uploading, which caused delays. Now I upload only low-res batch-processed images, set each gallery to proof delay and correct only purchased images.” Lehner also likes the improved price lists: “Now I can create a new list and apply it to a gallery, and, in reverse, see which galleries have a pricelist assigned to them.” Calling SmugMug’s shopping cart for print sales “the simplest way there is to purchase,” Lehner says its design makes “intuitive sense,” all of which spares him time better spent shooting and managing higher-level business concerns.

Sharing the love

Lehner has used SmugMug’s Facebook publishing tool extensively. “I am really involved in social networking, so I enjoy [it]. It’s easy to use, and I already know that it’s brought people back to buy.” Typically, after he shares a SmugMug-hosted gallery via Facebook, he checks for a spike in traffic using Insights metrics. He likes that you can even place a “Buy” button in the Facebook image flows. “People are always in the mood to look at pictures,” he says. “This is a much friendlier way to get them to visit your site than a stream of nagging reminders to look at proofs.”

Reining in photo theft

In a time when copyright infringement is epidemic, Lehner contains it by limiting proofs to medium size and using a variety of elaborate watermarks for different situations, one with strong language detailing legalities and inviting witnesses to report theft if it is discovered somewhere other than Lehner’s site. He uses a different watermark to indicate that an image has been purchased for online use. SmugMug’s watermarking functionality gives him the range of options he needs. “In the digital age, the biggest challenge is a catch-22,” he says. “If you don’t put your photos online, they can’t purchase. If you do, people will use screen capture, upload them to Facebook and steal them. My online [watermark] and print mark are different, so I can see instantly if an image was bought in print form, for instance, then scanned without permission and uploaded to the Net.” Lehner, who spearheaded an industry effort to prevent theft, emphasizes the importance of features like right-click protection and watermarking. “SmugMug has done all it possibly can short of engineering a way for me to reach through the screen. I also do a lot of social networking to help find stolen images, reach out to coaches and trainers and try to educate new riders on how they should treat proofs.”