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Shifting Your Clients From One-Time Projects To Monthly Recurring Subscriptions | With Annemie Tonken

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How much is an average client worth to you? Whatever that number is, imagine how much more they'd be worth to you and your freelance business if they were paying you that amount every single year.
 
Now imagine how successful you'd be if every single client you've ever had was paying you the amount every year for the rest of your career.
 
That's the reality for those who run recurring subscription businesses, however, most freelancers only offer one-and-done packages.
 
Whether you call it a retainer, subscription, or simply a “monthly fee”, most who follow this podcast would love the idea of acquiring a client one time and having them keep paying you every single month.
 
But… What if your service just “doesn't make sense” as a recurring subscription?
 
If that's you, I'd challenge you to listen to this episode of the 6 Figure Creative Podcast. No matter what service you offer, there's likely some way to shift your clients to a recurring income model.
 
Our guest this week, Annemie Tonken, has managed to build her family photography business to 6 figures per year from 6 hours of work per week.
 
If you want to learn how she's managed this, and how she's launched a highly successful recurring-subscription photography service in an industry where very few others are doing the same, listen to episode 223 of the 6 Figure Creative Podcast ASAP.
 
In this episode you’ll discover:
  • Transitioning your freelance business to a recurring revenue model
  • Becoming a more efficient business-manager
  • Solving your clients' ultimate needs so you can earn more on each project
  • The hidden benefits of a recurring revenue model
  • Average client value and the impact this stat has on your business
  • How to keep your subscribers happy, active, and paying
  • The key factors of adding value to your client's lives (for maximum profit)
  • How she earns a 6-figure income from 6 hours of work per week

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[00:00:00] Welcome to the six Figure Creative Podcast. I am your host, Brian Hood of this is your first time listening to the show. Welcome. Thank you for giving us a chance on this show. We try to take inspiration from all the different industries in our creative field, talk to different people in different industries and see what they're doing.

That's. we can bring to our world. It doesn't matter if you're a photography, videography, graphic design, you're in music production anything that is a creative service you're offering as a freelancer, you will likely take something away that you can bring back to your business directly to help you grow, to help you make more money and ultimately make a living doing what you love preferably without selling yourself and feeling gross in the process.

So today we have a wonderful conversation with a photographer named AME Tonkin.

she is doing something really interesting in the photography space where she is earning recurring revenue. And we've talked about this in the past with Mark Eckert. where he had recurring revenue in his music production business.

And this is the first time I've had somebody in the photography space doing this. And she has not just done this. She's perfected this, I think, she's bringing in. Over six figures a year with five to six hours per week of work [00:01:00] as a photographer. I think if you're listening right now, you know how hard that is to do.

75% of that, at least from the math I did on this, I may be a little off. 75% of her income is 100% recurring. It is every single month people are paying her. and I think no matter what space you are in, you need to hear this interview because there's likely some way you can take her model, what she's doing in her photography space and.

Directly to what you're doing, whether you are in video, in audio, music, whatever it is you're doing design copywriting. There's some way you can take this and directly create what we call automatic income or automatic customers. I recommend a book called Automatic Customers. You'll hear more about that in here as well.

But so many freelancers make this mistake of not thinking through their business model from a way that is sustainable. So we talk about the business model behind being a freelancer. In this interview, we talk about how recurring revenue can help the business model. And if you get this wrong, you're gonna probably do what most freelancers and specifically photographers, what we talk about in this, but most freelancers do, they start.

They realize how hard it is because they've picked the wrong business model, the wrong pricing model. They're not making enough per client [00:02:00] in order to have a sustainable business. And so what they do is they start out, they burn out, they give up, and they move on. This is kind of the story of so many freelancers, and the entire point of the show is to keep that from ever happening in the first place.

And so for those of you who are struggling to find clients, because you're not marketers, you're not somebody. Wanting to sell themselves constantly. This model is wonderful for you because once you find a client and they start paying you monthly, your revenue is at a certain point where you no longer have to search for clients because they're automatically clients every single month. I don't think I have to really talk about this much more because who doesn't want recurring revenue as a freelancer every single month? Their bank account.

Having consistency, having predictability, not having those big peaks and valleys that most freelancers experience.

so without further delay on this, here's my conversation with ame Tonkin. Ame, thank you so much for coming on the

show,

Thank you, Brian. It's a pleasure to be here. This is a fun one. It's a little outside my

standard comfort zone.

before we get into this, can you just tell our audience what exactly do you do and who do you do it for? I think that's a good place to start with you.

Yeah, sure. Well, which of my

many hats should I put on for [00:03:00] this intro? I .

uh, . I am a family photographer

based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I have been doing that since

2010, so long time now.

And got into the education and podcasting.

Coming up on three years ago because I run my

business a little bit differently or a lot differently than a lot of other photographers and was starting to get a lot of questions from other photographers like, Hey, you sure do seem to be making the business

part of things easier. And so yeah, I realized that that was a big need in my creative. Space. And so I have been helping other photographers with the business side of their businesses since 2020,

You and I have that in common as well. It's like we, we do the thing, we perfect the thing and then people start coming to us asking how we do the thing, and then we start talking to other people about it and we launch podcast. So that's, it's a wonderful thing to do. For anyone else listening, it's a, way hard than she just made it sound, But it is a thing you can do. But I wanna, I wanna, I [00:04:00] wanna. I wanna hone in on the photography side of things, cause that that was the area I, I saw some interesting stuff in your business and um, we actually found you on another podcast a photography podcast. I wanted to bring It on the show because uh, you're doing something different from anyone else that I've talked to as far as photographers on this show. And the difference between you and the other photographers I've talked to is you are the only one I've talked to that doesn't work either in the wedding photography space, predominantly nor do you work in the corporate space.

You are working with just normal families, right? Like that's the type of clients you work with, is just families doing photography for like, the shots you see when people are on. Holiday cards or like that the thing you're doing in, in the type of people you're working with?

Yep, exactly. So I

would love to think that I take more than just holiday photos, though. That is something that people always

want. so

I started out in 2010

offering I did the

same thing that a

lot of photographers do, which is like, sure have camera will work.

Like , you want me to photograph your wedding or your family,

or, your car. Sure. I'm there.

so I, primarily launched with families and

weddings as my [00:05:00] main offerings.

And those went

well enough that a handful of years, in four or five years into

my business, I kind of had to pick who do I really

want to serve?

Because I couldn't serve everybody and portraits was the right answer for all kinds of

reasons. Not only did

it sort of accommodate my

schedule, I've got two kids. Saturdays were prime

real estate in my life. And so I didn't wanna give them all up. But also I think that there's this common misconception that because wedding photographers charge a lot of money for that one day, that they probably make more money and a lot of them do.

But I had sort. of Gotten pretty smart about the way that I had streamlined my workflow and everything else. And so for a one hour family session or a 90 minute family session, I was making a lot more per hour than I was with my wedding clients. So that was the obvious decision to go in that direction.

And um, that was what I did many

years ago.

So can you gimme like an idea of someone comes to you. what does it look like from there? I'm just trying to kind of like, cuz I am [00:06:00] not in the photography space. don't think I've ever even worked with a professional photographer outside of my past life, which we don't talk about in this show as much.

But my touring life, I used to be in a metal core band. Everyone of my bands set me, had tattoos and stretched ears. I somehow escaped that lifestyle visually. if my editor can find this it'll be on our show notes@sixfigurecreative.com slash 2 23.

There will be some photos of me in a lineup with a bunch of other band dudes looking way too mad, or depending on the, phase of, life we are in maybe way too. Um, Happy. Just depends. It's very confusing. Just go to the show notes and you'll see the photos if we can find them. Continue on. Sorry to sidetrack us here.

Uh, I don't even remember what I asked. I don't even remember what I asked. Yeah.

I definitely am not aiming to make people look mad at my photos, but there is a big market for it and kind of bigger all the time. I feel like social media has increased people's appetites for photography of all kinds, but certainly, they want the.

Part of their lives where they've got babies and little kids kind of well documented, which is wonderful. I mean, I think[00:07:00] probably, most of us would love to have that kind of record lying around, as adults. And I've got the same thing everybody else has, which is like the occasional Olin Mills photo, like awkwardly sitting in front of a background.

And so we try and provide something

different.

going back to like difference between you and some of the other people that we've had on the show is if you're in the corporate space, The photography that you're doing is usually directly tied to profits in some way. the company is trying to make money in some way, shape or form off photos you take in the wedding photography space.

the reason you can charge so much is because it's a huge moment in their life and budgets kind of just go out the wind. At that point, people overpay significantly for one service that they may not otherwise pay the same amount for, but you're, you're working with people that are trying to capture a snapshot in time for that family.

there's no profit in mind for the

client. There's no um, massive corporate budget

backing it. You're working with normal American families who have day jobs usually. and I think it's intriguing because it, kind

of takes away a lot of excuses around that. I see around a lot of, not just photographies, but this is kind of in, some other spaces in [00:08:00] freelancing. If you're not working in the

corporate space or you're not working in the wedding space, in photography world, you can't make a

viable business out of it. and I've seen I've seen a few

spaces that they make this work and I just wonder like if someone is, sitting in,

in their home right now, they've got a camera. How can they stand out

from all the other people trying to make, this work in this space? Cause like that's gotta be one of the most saturated markets in freelancing is the photography space Everyone has a camera, everyone with a camera that I know wants to make this work either on the side. And, not seeing people that are really good at this, still not making it work. So I think that's one of the things that you do talk about on your podcast a lot is, the business part is just as important as the skills part.

Amen to that. Yeah, so that is kind of the trick with photography is that the barrier to entry is like zero. , I just placed my order for the brand new iPhone and I laugh all the time. It's like the

camera technology, even from the time that I started in 2010

has come

so far. I have met

fully.

Professional photographers who've been in business for a while, [00:09:00] who then I'll bring something technical up and they don't even know what I'm talking about. Like, you really don't have to know all that much about the tool that you're using. Now, we could get into a whole argument about like you should know, and I totally support that, but the tech and the fact that like, you can put up a gorgeous website with zero knowledge, you know, for very, very little money.

Means that the space is hugely crowded. in the family space there's sort of this. , it tends not to be a particularly flattering, thing that people will be like, Oh, whatever, that mom with a camera. And I rail against that as don't knock it.

That does not mean that that person isn't highly talented and capable in all these other things. And a lot of times people will, they're on maternity leave or they're at home. And they've got a camera and they've got a cute kid that they love and they, the next thing you know, they start to get really good at it.

And uh, many, many businesses have been built that way. My own was built that way. But what you do get is a whole lot of [00:10:00] people

entering that space who have absolutely no business knowledge whatsoever

and almost have this reflexive. I'm not into business. I, you know, I, I love what I do.

I mean, you've got it on your wall here. Like it takes more than passion. Those people tend to flame out really

quickly because they end finding out pretty soon that like, they're

working hard. I say all the time, if somebody gives you a dollar to do a

job, That changes the

whole dynamic. Like if you're taking photos for a friend, they're gonna tell you how great it is and they love it so much and

da da da. The minute that you charge them anything, you're in business and people have complaints, they have expectations. Your time is not your time, your artistic

direction.

You have to like struggle to control that. so yeah, I sort of see my job as an ed educator as finding those people who are at.

Kind of transition point where they say, I don't wanna do this anymore if I'm not gonna be able to make it a viable business, but I have no idea what to do.

and the people who are

willing to kind of push through [00:11:00] that

difficult spot, it can be done, but you have to be

intentional about it.

there's a concept or guess I call it a KPI I like to talk about in on this podcast as of recently. This is something I've started talking more and more about is the KPI for average annual client income, something like that.

I forget what it is, but like how much a client is worth you in a year. I think that's a good metric to land on for a lot of people because If you have a recurring revenue product or some sort of recurring income, it. takes that into account. If you have like a one and done thing, like a wedding photographer or a wedding videographer, it takes that into account.

But how much is one client worth you in a year? In your space? What are you typically seeing maybe in your own business, for example, like what is a client worth to in a year? Cuz that, can really dictate how hard or easy a business is to pull off. Because I think the mom with the camera, like you said, they're charging a couple hundred bucks and that's all they're making for a client for that time.

And maybe they'll come back to 'em another time in that year, and maybe you'll make it 400 bucks. But a two to $400 annual client value business is very difficult. If you just run pure numbers on how many clients you need to take, how much management that is, [00:12:00] how many leads you need to turn into clients.

Like there's a whole slew of problems that come up when you have an average annual client value that is that low a, a cv. that's the metric. and anyone trying to figure that out. Just take your entire annual revenue and divide it by the amount of clients you had.

That's the number.

Yeah, so I know mine really clearly is, sits right at

$1,800. And it has for a long time because the way that I built my business thankfully, I

thank my former self for this, was that when I first got

into business and I was still working full time in my old career and.

I, got together with somebody who was doing some business coaching with me, and they had me right off the bat, run my numbers,

and I knew that I wanted to try and leave my career.

And the number that I saw scared me because at the time I was like, No one, what? No one would pay that amount of money for family photos every year. but the numbers are the numbers and I, I was like, Well, I guess if I'm gonna leave my job, I need to try and market myself at this level. And because I did that in the beginning, I have

not had the problem that a lot of [00:13:00] photographers have, which is having to

like, What you say, go from 200 to 400 in the 400 to 800 in every single iteration, you lose three quarters of your business and all the referrals that go with that.

So by starting high, I had kind of a slower start.

But then once I

filled up my, funnel, so to speak

that has just been able to kind of self perpetuate and because I've continued to streamline the way that I run my business and gotten

faster at what I do, which I think is true in just about any

creative field where you're taking commissions for stuff in the beginning, it's a much slower rock to push up the hill.

And so as I've systematized, I've been able to take on. more work or in the last few years, diversify my

income in a way that, takes the burden off of that.

So I did the math on this and that means if your average annual client value is 1800 bucks, you only need 56 clients to break six figures if that sounds like a lot, that's only about four to five clients per month. So that's, Very, very doable. four to five clients a month as a [00:14:00] photographer. And I see similar numbers in my space, in music production, where that's around the client value. I try to strive between 1500, 2000 average annual client value for a healthy music production business.

And I see the same in a lot of other industries, with the exception of a few, like in the podcasting space, you tend to have an average annual client value of like 15 to 20 grand if you have a good full. production facility, which is a completely different ballgame, but, okay, so $1,800 average general client value.

You have another part of your business that is interesting to me that I think helps with this and helps with stability and, predictability and revenue and something we definitely don't see in the photography space very often. And that's a recurring revenue element. Can you just tell us what is included in your recurring revenue element, or what do we need to know about it to kind of conceptualize what that looks like in your.

Sure. Can I give you a tiny backstory on how that

came to

be?

Please cuz it's in my outline, is to ask you how you came up with this idea for recurring revenue. So you're just

Yeah. Well, I think I was gonna say, I think that it makes sense to go there because basically I was doing what I think a lot of creative freelancers do, which was, you know,

I did have [00:15:00] recurring revenue from, clients who, wanted to document their families over time.

Over and over and over again.

I had people saying to me like, Oh, I meant to call you

last year, but life got in the way. To your point from before, most of my clients are dual income families. they're professionals. They have $2,000 to spend on family photos, but they're not living in a castle somewhere.

and so I, would see them every couple of years and I was like, Well, call me next year. You know, we'll do this again. I got divorced in 2017 and then in 2018 I had this ankle injury that was like an old ankle injury that was causing me more and more trouble. So I had finally seen a couple of physicians and, you know, they were recommending that I had this like minor surgical procedure to clean up my ankle.

They were like, It's gonna make it a lot more comfortable for you. So I scheduled that in December, which is, once I've gotten all my holiday cards sent out the door, , things slowed down for me for a couple of months. And so I scheduled for December. I go in, I have my surgery and while [00:16:00] I'm asleep, apparently they get in there and they're like, Oh man, your ankle's a hot mess.

And they ended up doing essentially like reconstruction surgery on my ankle. So I wake up and they're like, So we told you it was gonna be a two week recovery period. Just kidding. You're gonna be on crutches for three. and I was like, What? So single parent, no way to do my job without being able to walk around.

Which like, you know, intellectually I knew that I was like a broken finger away from really impacting my livelihood. But to have that kind of thrust on me in a really, very literal way. Was terrifying to be perfectly frank. So I went for three months with zero income. during that time, once my head came out of the post surgical fog, I was like, wheels turning.

Like, how can I make this business work? How can I promise my kids that like there's gonna be food on the table and mortgage paid if I have a business where that's not [00:17:00] guaranteed. so I was like kind of going around about this, and then one day the mail came and I have a subscription To an like an HVAC filter thing because I would always forget to replace my filters in my house.

So I have the subscription model where they just send them to me every three months because like, perfect, I don't have to go to Home Depot to pick that up. and it arrived and I was like, Yeah, this is awesome because. I mean, this wasn't like a particularly aspirational thing, but like it's, I need it and I don't have to think about it.

And that kind of crisscrossed paths in my head with this thing that my clients would say all the time, which was like, Oh, we totally missed it. When Billy. Two front teeth were missing last year or whatever we wish we had called you. that was in, February of 2019.

And so in August of 2019, I launched a what I call my yearbook club for my portrait clients, which is where they sign up to have annual. Family sessions with me and I have built a whole bunch of parks into it. They get [00:18:00] first crack at my calendar. So if it's the busy fall season, they get to pick their spots first.

Same thing in the spring. So those are kind of my two big times. They pay. Essentially what they would normally pay for my services, but they are paying it in monthly installments over the course of a year, an $1,800 line item on your credit card statement is a much bigger thing than like $110 a month.

Then that just blends in with Target and the, grocery store bill. and I go to them and I say, Hey, it's time to schedule. And they can self schedule. It's all very automated. They get what they want, they get all the images. and it means to me that every year in August when I have my little open enrollment period,

I know for sure that I am

guaranteed.

several thousand

dollars a month, which covers all my bills, my

mortgage, whatever. that came into really stark relief for

me, six months later, nine months later when the pandemic hit. And every photographer I knew was like, I can't work. I [00:19:00] can't make any money. . my, statement would pop up every month with like, all your money came in.

So that has now been running for four, five years. it has been an amazing stabilizer in my business. recurring revenue, I try and fill about 60 to 70% of what I want for the year. So I have about 42 two families in my, membership. And then the balance you know, makes my marketing job a lot easier cuz I only have to find 10 or 15 clients a year who want to hire me.

Who?

That's amazing. So I have a bunch to unpack there, I did have one question that popped up during that whole story That's kind of off topic, You said you, had been divorced and then you had the surgery and then you were out of work for three months.

did you have to pay the surgery outta pocket? Like, I think as freelancers, one of our biggest struggles is finding good insurance. So can you give some be details?

I mean, it wasn't a fun bill to pay. I have

what is essentially catastrophic,

Insurance coverage. So I think my deductible is around $7,000

and I have an [00:20:00] hsa, so I had been feeding that. But my, I have a good rate on my

insurance because

my business is set up as an S corp, so I.

Corporate insurance, even though it was just me. thankfully I had been saving for that and I had money in the bank saving for those three months. I wasn't anticipating on spending all that money, but I guess that's what it's there for. And yeah, so it was no fun. Anybody who's ever had to deal with insurance stuff knows that it is a huge pain in the butt, but you're glad you have it when you

need it.

Gotta love the American healthcare system.

Wonderful. For freelancers.

I'm gonna have to get your CPA CPA on here to talk about the S corp thing for photographers. Cause I think that's an interesting angle we haven't talked about. Alright, so let's get back into the actual recurring revenue model, cuz this is, interesting and I you've listened to the show before, you've probably heard us talk to Mark Eckert, my uh, recurring co-host on the show, talk about it with his previous business.

We had a few other people on the show talk about the recurring revenue models. But you're the first photographer, I believe. To my memory that's talked about recurring revenue, especially outside of the corporate space. So around 150 a month is what each person is [00:21:00] paying. You don't have to give out specific numbers, but that's kind of what my math is telling me in my head.

so what is the process of someone finding you and then paying for the service? Do they usually book one session and then you sell them onto this recurring service?

Do they just book the recurring thing the first time? Like how does this typically work?

Yeah. those are great questions. So it is funny When I created this or when I came up with this idea, of course, the first thing I did was hop onto Google and be like, Well, what other photographers are doing this?

Because when you

have kind of an out of the box

idea, You kind of wanna validate that with like, Oh no other people are doing this.

It makes sense. I was like, this seems like a great idea. What's wrong with my idea? . But I couldn't find anybody. Like I, was like, this is weird. It doesn't seem like it would be that hard to set up. Why isn't anybody else doing this? But nobody was. And so it did take me, several months to kind of think through all the different pieces of it.

I talked to my lawyer and had her draw up a new contract for it. Cuz there are some questions like, well what if somebody books their session three months into paying for 12 months and then they ghost you? So, , I did a [00:22:00] bunch of research. There was also some like technical stuff. I had never set anybody up on a payment plan like that, that was recurring.

I had to build out some of those pieces of it. But other than that, I mean, it really is a pretty straightforward,

simple model. You are correct. I basically take what I would normally make with a client. Divide that up. But what I did, and this kind of goes to my sales brain, I am a super geek when it comes to reading books and all that sort of stuff about business and like how, you know, the psychology of sales and all that.

So I, created kind of a. No brainer offer. I love making it so that people are like, Well, of course I'm gonna sign up for that thing. It makes so much more sense, but then still making it possible for me to make the same amount of money or more. So it kind of tops out around that $150 a month.

I think now it's $160 a month as my top tier, but I have a few. tiers And what I always think about and what I always teach, when you make something that much easier on yourself, where you're not having to chase that client, you're not having to educate that client because [00:23:00] when they work with you over and over again, like they know what to expect, they know what to do.

You can charge a little bit less because it's so much easier for you. So, I don't take new clients directly into my membership and I would never recommend that people do when you're working. With a model like this, because, I mean, I'm sure it's true for you as well. I don't wanna put myself into like a long term relationship

with somebody who it turns out I really don't like working with, or it's just

not a good fit.

That's why we have an engagement period before we get married. Typically

Yeah, exactly, Exactly. So I bring people in using my standard photography model, but I do tease that I have this

membership because since it is unusual, it's not unique anymore cuz I run around telling other photographers to do it. But because it's unusual, people will find that on my website and be like, Ooh, I wanna talk more

about that. That's really interesting. it's an aspirational goal, right? Like I

paint this picture for people where you're gonna

have an entire shelf on your

bookcase [00:24:00] with albums showcasing every year of your

kid's growth. That, are gorgeous. They all have the

same kind of photographers look to them and everything else, and you're gonna be able to do this without even having to think

about it.

Like it's just gonna, every year you're gonna have your

session. So that's a really powerful marketing tool to be perfectly honest. But when I first bring them in, you know, I say, But you need to figure out whether working with me is the right move for you.

Of course I'm doing that on

the other side too. So we have a standard session that they end up paying more for, and then afterward if it is a good fit, then I invite them into that membership and then it feels like, Oh, I'm in this club. It's exclusive. You know, I don't, play the exclusivity card too hard, but it does feel that way. I think

a little.

Alex from Mosey. He's got a book called a hundred Million Dollar Offers, and the subtitle is How to. Offers so good. People feel stupid saying no, which is kind of what you're doing here. And he has a thing that he, says, make the upsell, the down sell or something like that.

in the way that works and what he talks about is exactly [00:25:00] what you're doing here. It's where you take a service. And you charge fair amount upfront, which for you would probably be 1800 or more, is what it sounds like for the first time they work with you. And then when you give them the upsell, which is the higher value thing, bringing their lifetime value up significantly, it actually feels significantly cheaper because you're paying on this monthly payment.

So instead of. 1800 or $2,000 or whatever you're charging them front. You're saying you can have this every single year or every season or whatever for just 150 a month or whatever tier they pick. And it's, feels like a down sell when it's actually an upsell. So if anyone's not following, just go follow Alex or Mosey. He's a brilliant guy. I don't know if you follow him at all. He's got a lot of great stuff to talk about sales and, and pricing and psychology around that, which you seem to be well versed in a lot of these things. So if you're not following him, you're probably following a lot of people that he follows himself.

I was gonna say, I only heard his name from you on your podcast, so his book is in my

cart right now.

Oh, Nice.

But yeah, no, that's exactly it. I mean, you think about it, and if I'm just gonna make the math easier on myself.

If I have a [00:26:00] client who normally pays $2,000 every other year, let's say they hire me every

other year, in four years, that's $4,000.

But if they're paying me, even if I discount it, even if I make it $1,500 a year,

times four years, you know, all of a sudden

that

is $6,000 in four years. So that lifetime customer value is much higher. But I'm breaking it into more manageable pieces and they're happier with the fact that like, $150 a month.

For most

of us that gets eaten, buried. Like, you don't end up really thinking about that. It does not feel

like this mountain to climb. And that is one of the things about, something like custom photography when you talk about, global recession or pandemic, freak out spending or non spending or whatever.

those are the first things on the chopping block. So as a creative in that space, I have to do the work to make it so that it doesn't feel that way for my clients. I have to make it. Manageable indispensable, the sort of [00:27:00] thing that they don't wanna get rid of, because it's Easy enough to say yes,

you touched on something in that, that I think's worth talking about. I mentioned the a cv average annual client value. don't think I'm gonna get my audience to stick on that cuz it's such a complicated

But I mean, that's a good metric to have when you're trying to like, calculate on a spreadsheet what a viable business is.

it's good theory math. But then you've gotta make reality match the theory. But the thing that I think is even more important, especially for long-term businesses, which is what hopefully all of us on this show, and, and I know,

you are, are doing this, we want the long-term business. So in that case, the thing that matters most is what is one client worth to you throughout the life of that customer or client?

You can use 'em interchangeably. I think in the freelancing space, we refer to 'em as clients in the products. In software space, it's customers, but you'll see customer lifetime value and client lifetime value. that's an incredibly important metric because of what you just said. Yes, One year a client's worth 1800 bucks, great. But if they don't come back to you again for two years or three years,

that hurts your business long term because that means you might get this client this year, but it's gonna be a few years again. the times [00:28:00] that they are not here in the year, you're having to go

out and search more customers and I'll recommend another book, which I'm sure you've

read.

If not, you don't need to read it cuz you're already doing this automat.

But this is for our audience here, the book called Automatic Customer. And when you have somebody on a recurring subs,

what she's doing here with this The yearbook club.

I love that name. With that, it's an automatic customer. She doesn't have to worry about finding another customer until that person cancels. They're automatically a customer every single month until they cancel. And it's a wonderful thing. gimme a little glimpse behind the scenes of like what this looks like from a fulfillment

standpoint?

Cuz I, think everyone would love to have 40, 50 clients paying them, you know, 150 bucks a month every month. but then what does

fulfillment look like? I think the biggest reason I, I would be

hesitant to this is cuz it feels like I have to do something every single month. But it doesn't sound like you have to, it's like seasonal or it depends

on what package, but what does it look like from scheduling to client, communication, workload, all those sorts of things.

Whenever they're paying you this one 50 a month

the way that that works from a fulfillment standpoint is that my calendar opens twice a year. For them once in August and once in January. And I mapped it out that way because I didn't wanna commit a year in [00:29:00] advance to like, I'm gonna be in town this particular weekend, but six months worked for me, like I could plan that far in advance.

And I figured that was probably pretty true for my clients as well. So in August they get a series of emails being like, remember you want your session this year to be in the fall or winter. this is when the calendar's open, so it's open just for

a week

I think a lot of people, they want zombie subscribers, meaning like they're paying monthly but not actually utilizing the service. And that's usually the worst way to do this. Like, if you want people to stay as a paying customer every single month.

Make sure they are using whatever they pay for. This is something I've, had to learn over the years of like, cuz I have two software companies and just knowing that like if people are utilizing what they're paying for, they will not cancel. In most cases. It is a really low cancellation rate, as long as they're using it.

It's the people that don't use it, that cancel the most often. So that's, it's important that you are proactively reaching out to them to make this model work so that they're actually using what they're paying

For I just wanted to mention that

And that's part of

my sales pitch is like, you are busy. You [00:30:00] have a busy life. I am going to

make

this easy for you. I'm

always looking, you know, who is it? Like Staples did the easy button campaign. Like I try

and give my people an

easy button solution to these Problems in their lives.

And again, I'm gonna come back to like, what I sell is a luxury

service. Even if I were charging a quarter of what I currently charge, it's still an unnecessary thing that people spend money on. So making it easier for them is better for me and making the experience more enjoyable and making sure that they get something out of that that is like brag worthy, that just brings more business Into my business. so I am reaching out to them twice a year, and I'm saying, if you're gonna schedule for the next six months, now is the time to do it. I set up a calendarly account, so that they can go in and self schedule. and I just tell them that as my members, they have access to the best dates.

So they get my Saturday mornings because those are often the most, sought after times. So for that

week, the calendar's open, they're

grabbing their spots, and then I just go and make

[00:31:00] photos of their families on the day that they

sign up for couple of weeks later, I've got all their

edits done, I deliver them. And depending on.

Subscription they've signed up for, they get some other goodies that.

go along with that. You know, my top

tier people receive an album every year. So

that adds to that whole like allure of what they're getting. other than that

I try and make it really easy. Like I market

myself specifically to busy families and part of what I'm offering is I'm gonna make. this Really, really easy for you. You're gonna get all the stuff that you want without having to like, have a bunch of meetings with me and stuff like that, which of course helps me too, . over the course of the past few years with the yearbook club, I have just really dialed in my systems and everything is run with my CRM so that I'm also not having to.

Do a lot of extra work. They get automated emails and stuff reminding them of, you know, our session's coming. Here's the prep guide link so that you can be ready to go. it honestly, it's one of those things where simplicity scales, [00:32:00] like I've tried to make it as easy as possible and in so doing it works better for me and it works better for my

clients.

it sounds to me like workload wise, it's similar to an accountant or somebody doing taxes where it's like, in most cases the accountant's most stressful time of year is April, or maybe it's the time leading up to April, the first quarter of the year,

basically. Yeah.

March, April. As people get all of their paperwork in and they're trying to do their taxes, The Mad Rush in April to get other stuff done. Is it similar to you where you just have these two big peaks of work two times a year and then the rest of the time slower and you're just kind of taking in those extra clients?

So like how does, what does the workload look like? Is it like stacked like that? If so, what are you doing in the off times? Like gimme a, a rundown of what the workload looks like in this kind of business model.

Yeah, So you know, photographers, depending on where they live, the season can be different. But it usually is something of a seasonal business

wherever you live, the pretty time of year. The temperate time of year,

like that's when people wanna have sessions done, unless they

have something like a new baby or something like

that, where it is a

little more time specific. So for me, where [00:33:00] I live, what I do, I do have a peak in the fall and the spring. So I am busiest during those times, but then I've got some study work, whereas it may be more. Six to seven clients a month during the peak months, and then the other times of year it's like two to three clients a month.

it is very manageable. Before I started really getting into the

education side of things, I would use those slower seasons to try

and do more

business with bringing in new clients.

And then now my time is all spoken for ,

Yeah.

but it has that.

Combination of the membership and then also just streamlining my business over the course of the past

five or six years, has really made it so that I have a lot of extra time in my,

photography business life. I was trying to recalculate it

recently and I. I'm doing

what I always did in terms

of it is a full-time job.

It is a full-time income, breaking that six figure mark and I'm working about five to six hours a week in that business. And that really is just a [00:34:00] solo business. Now I have a VA for my education business who also helps me with some of that stuff, messaging and making sure that.

my Dubsado is working properly and all that.

But the vast majority of my business is just me with a couple of, like I have a photo editor and,

An accountant and that sort of thing. but it's a very low, drama

business.

I love simple business models and I've been studying more and simple business models and six figure creative is my first attempt at creating a more simple business model. even my recording studio life back in the day was not necessarily a simple business model. My software companies, software is v.

in most cases, much more difficult than most other business models, even though it does have a recurring revenue element in it. And then my Airbnb business, again, once you have it set up right, easy, But, not at all easy to get to the point where it is easy to run.

So I love the simplicity of what you're doing with that. just kind of wrap this conversation up. I know you have the education side of your business. Again, I talk about this in the podcast all the time. When you've done something [00:35:00] worth teaching, it makes sense to what I call graduate from freelancing and move into the education space.

A lot of people do this. It's a perfectly natural evolution of being an entrepreneur. It's a great business model. If you can make it work and you can create something valuable enough to charge for, and you're trustworthy enough to deliver on that and can deliver the value that you promise, it can be wonderful from a business model perspective.

If you are actually wanna know more about that, go back to episode 191, where we interviewed Graham Cochran, where he talks about how to turn your knowledge, passion, and expertise into an income stream.

Again, this is gonna be a wonderful way to move to the next level once you get past a six figure mark as Lance. But let's rewind to before you made the jump into the education space, and now that's where your extra time goes. What were you doing to fill up this recurring revenue model, like bringing in new

clients for this?

Because I know kind of a two step. it is. First we're beginning to a client that we're working with one time. We're filling each other out. We're building the relationship, seeing if we both Are saying, Yes, we wanna work together long term, and then you sell them into this program. So what are you doing to generate new clients as a photographer?

Is it all word of mouth? Are you doing networking in some cases? Are you running ads? Are you doing anything [00:36:00] interesting in that space or is it all organic?

At the time it really was pretty organic. because I started in 2010 and that was sort of the

the season of the blogger. Like

I had a photo blog for a long time that I didn't even, I mean, you

could have said the letter's SEO to me, and I would've been like, Who's monogram is that? Like, I had no idea.

That I was building what turned out to be a really robust

seo backbone for my business because photography businesses generally don't

last. What am I, 13 years in a business like? that's unusual. So Google

loves me to this day, even though I stopped.

Blogging for my photo business a long

time ago.

I'm still getting plenty

of just straight up Google traffic. So there's

that. I've won some awards. I have clients who are referring me to other people. And when you only have to fill up. 50 or 60 spots a year. once you get the ball rolling, it's not that hard.

Now because I'm educating photographers, we talk a lot about marketing and [00:37:00] filling up the hopper, so to speak, with a bunch of qualified leads, and there's a million different ways to accomplish that. But as with everything, consistency, trying to take 20 steps in one direction, I.

One step in 20 directions. Like it's hard as a creative to keep your eyes on the ball. We get distracted, we get excited by all the bright, shiny objects. And so creating a plan, sticking to the plan, being consistent, all the unsexy things, those are , those are my best advice.

And just looking at it as a

long game,

Yeah, eat more kale exercise workout regularly and you too can have a six pack. I, I, I get it. It's, it sucks to hear this stuff, but it's like sometimes the best advice is the same stuff we've heard a million times. No one wants to hear it. No one wants to do it. But that's the reality of being a business owner.

You've made it 13 years now because you are doing the boring, basic stuff. I'll go back to an Alex or Mosey quote because that's who my, favorite entrepreneur is Right,

now, if you haven't figured that out.[00:38:00] gonna butcher this, but this is the essential spirit of the quote.

the experts never don't do the basics.

the best people, the top at the top always do the basics. They never don't do the basics. He says it in the double negative like that, which I kind of like that, more I think. the reason most photographers probably don't survive anywhere close as long as you have is because they don't have anywhere near what I would consider as sustainable business model. They're charging those two or $300 fees, that's all they're collecting.

They burn out because they're, trying to race to the bottom of the prices because they can't figure out any other way to make it work. I mean, having a recurring revenue element in place from the beginning I think is a brilliant thing to do if you can make that work.

How long into your career was it before you actually implemented that, and would you recommend doing that at the very beginning? Cause I don't think you did at the very beginning.

I did not do it at the very beginning. I mean, subscriptions have also come a long way just in the, in the regular world. um,

was not a subscriber

no, I mean, that was when somebody was like, Are you getting these cool red envelopes in your mailbox? like, uh,

who are not following

Yeah, sorry. Old school. so I,

subscriber for DVDs,

Yeah, same.

[00:39:00] and watching actually Netflix is like the perfect. Example of a business model that was great when it started but did not rest on its laurels. Like this is a business that has evolved with the times and kind of ahead of the time. And I think that I know on your podcast you talk a lot about using other outside businesses to inspire our own business practices.

It is so .

Easy, tempting. I don't know what to say, to just look around at the people who you're kind of competing with and try and copy or like, maybe tweak a little bit what they're doing. And the best thing you can do is just turn 180 degrees around and be like, Nope. What else is working out there?

And how can I apply that to my business? Which is fun cuz it's its own creative exercise.

I call that, and this is tongue in cheek and I'm from Alabama, so I can say this, but we call that the inbred business. Uh, that that episode came That episode came out. September 13th episode two 17, and it's the case study of the solo freelancer earning $1 million per year.

Listen to that episode if you want to hear more on like, not being an inbred business, but [00:40:00] it's taking these outside inspirations from these other people. Like I'm listening right now and. I have no experience in photography. I don't have any interest in launching a photography business. And most of our listeners, from what I gather are not photographers, but I can see a dozen industries in spaces where the recurring revenue model could absolutely work.

We've seen it work in the music production space. You're probably not gonna make it work in the wedding photography space. I can't think of that really being a viable business model. But there are plenty of ways to do this. I saw this on your site, you said this can be adapted for any type of portrait, film, or brand client who wants or needs updated content on a regular basis.

And like myself, I am, for lack of a better term and influencer. It's a stupid term. It's a broad catch all, but I think I am worst, the worst about having professional photos done for me. So if a photographer in the Nashville area wants to pitch me on getting updated brand photos on a regular basis with a subscription, I.

I'm game, send me a cold email, send me a DM on Instagram. I don't care. but it could work in a lot of different spaces, And it doesn't have to be families. you [00:41:00] can tie it back to businesses like mine who need photos on a regular basis.

for updated content. So just some food for thought there. So if anyone wants to connect with you or take the next step, I know you have courses, you have a

podcast of your own, which is wonderful from the episodes I heard and from just browsing through your backlog, where do you wanna send our listeners now?

Thanks. Yeah, the podcast would probably be the right place to go. Podcast is called, This Can't be That Hard

not to go back too far, but you were talking about how,

The people who are successful in business, it's like they're doing the basics.

but we do tend to, at the beginning of our businesses, complicate. And it takes a while to get to the point where you're like, Oh, this is my simple path. You can try and copy somebody else's simple path, but you're almost definitely going to overcomplicate your business in the beginning, and I have re-experienced that as an educator now.

A lot of my, tools that I have to use and the way that I spread my message. Like I've always been a local business and now I'm trying to market myself to people all over the country and all over the [00:42:00] world, and it's a whole different ballgame. And so I have in these first few years really in some ways over complicated it.

And now I'm getting to the point where I'm like, ah, I see the clearer path. So if you're in that place where it feels complicated, And you're like, This can't be that hard. , which is where the podcast name came from. Just know that it is a process getting there and it does take a little bit of time, but that's what you should be aiming for.

If you can constantly be asking yourself that like famous question. Like, what if this were simple? How can I make this easier?

That's great. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show and and I'm sure we'll have you back on the show at some point.

Well, I'm looking forward to trading spots as well cuz I feel like this is exactly the kind of cross pollination that I think opens everybody's minds a little bit. So I love it. Thanks for having me.

Thank you, Anna. Me.

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