MAP Stories – Heather Lussier

For a laidback California girl, who centers her life via daily yoga sessions, Heather Lussier didn’t waste any time getting serious about building a photography business . . . once she clarified her vision. Although she had studied photography over 20 years ago and had created a fan base with her lifestyle photography among friends and family, it took a visit to PPA’s 2008 Imaging USA convention and a program by Vicki Taufer to inspire her with a new direction for her life, which was at an important turning point. Recently divorced and raising her son, Max, Heather began to visualize life as a photography studio owner: “Almost immediately I was struck by how right the vibe would be to have a studio on Main Street Los Altos,” she recalls.

Although she had no intention of opening a photography studio immediately, Heather decided to take a drive down Main Street, where she found herself in front of the only downtown store for rent. It was perfect! Once she was able to negotiate the rent down to a level that seemed doable, she signed a lease. “In one week, I went from not considering a retail space to going for it,” she says.

“It was amazing how everything fell into place,” Heather recalls. Everything, that is, except for clients!

“Like most new business owners, I thought that if I put up my sign, people would come.”

Fortunately, Heather had attended enough educational events to recognize that nothing would change unless she did some serious photography marketing.

“I’m not proficient in design, and I knew I couldn’t do it by myself. After attending Marathon’s Make Money Now Workshop in Orange County, the photography Marketing Advantage Program made perfect sense.”

It didn’t take long until she had some branding materials and a coordinating website in place, a baby plan developed, and customers coming through the door.



By 2010 Heather was ready to launch Posh Pet Portraits as a “business within a business.” Because she wanted to make a big statement about this new enterprise, she had Marathon create a separate website for the pet photography business, and she began developing pet photography marketing pieces through the MAP Program. Her first 25 pet photography clients came via her version of Vicki Taufer’s “Dog Days of Summer” promotion. When a newly built animal hospital invited Heather to decorate their spa-like interior with large pets canvasses that embraced and enhanced the color palette of the public rooms, Heather’s Posh Pooch brand gained a tremendous boost. This year, a Groupon promotion helped to create community buzz and introduce her business to new clients, whom Heather was able to easily upsell from the promotional offer.

Even though business is booming, Heather still sees room for expansion and is considering the addition of a boudoir brand. In the face of this growth, she is pleased that being a photography studio owner still leaves her with plenty of time to be a mom.

“The best part of this business is that it’s given me a flexibility with my personal life that I could never have if I were working a regular job.”

Map Stories – Eric John Photography

Suddenly Senior Sessions and Sales Were Down.

In 2011 Eric and Shawna Anundi faced a huge business predicament: Over the years, high school senior portraits had become a key aspect of Eric John’s financial success, representing over 50 percent of the studio’s business. Suddenly, senior sessions and sales were down dramatically. Shawna and Eric explains:

“Our senior marketing centered around a rep program that we launched each year with a big rep party. Typically this event would attract 100 seniors. The year before it had been great, but in 2011 only 30 students showed up, and we knew we were in trouble.

“We really didn’t know what hit us. We knew our sales would decline, and all around us well-known photography businesses were closing, and photographers we had never heard of were popping up. It was almost impossible to tell what was driving the market. We were determined to make it work. We have worked too hard to build this photography business to just close the doors.”

Recognizing that part of the solution most probably involved creating better marketing consistency, they figured they would have to hire a full time employee to be in charge of marketing.

At IUSA in 2012, the Anundis visited the Marathon booth to look at photography marketing materials.

“That’s where we learned about the MAP Program, and we decided right there to join. To us it was a no-brainer: We would get great photography marketing materials, and we would receive help from Marathon’s personnel as well. It also meant that we wouldn’t need to hire anyone.”

Together With Their Facilitator They Decided to Tackle Three Main Goals.


Refine Their Brand with Image Building Products

The first issue they approached with their MAP facilitator was refining their brand with a few fundamental image-building products. “We had a design going that involved some specific color choices,” Shawna explains, “and our designer added embellishments and a different tonality of blue that we were very pleased with because it improved the attraction to women, who are a large percentage of our clients.”

Eric says he now recognizes that he really did not know how their brand was looked upon in the community. By being more aggressive in their promotion to high school seniors, Eric was pleased to learn that the Eric John brand now has quite a bit of currency in the community, and apparently the new photography marketing efforts had served to bring renewed focus and urgency to that brand.


Reposition Website Based off of New Designs

Eric and Shawna decided to take advantage of the free website and hosting that is included with their MAP membership. The design and elements that were created for printed pieces were carried over to their new Marathon Website to create brand cohesion. Information pages were reviewed to make sure that it generated enough interest to call and book sessions.


Create a Senior Rep Program

Next, they tackled the high school senior problem by moving from a rep program to a “models search” promotion that would be launched on Facebook. The expectation was that it would create an opportunity for many more students to book a free session early in the year. After reviewing a Marathon video that explained how to work the entire promotion, Eric and Shawna did have some initial concerns.

At first, Eric was hesitant about the promotion because he feared it might attract students who didn’t fit the typical profile of his high school senior clients who appreciated the quality of the photography his studio provides. Much to Eric and Shawna’s delight, the students who responded proved to be just as enthusiastic as those who booked their sessions in response to the studio’s typical photography marketing. A new high school senior photography marketing “magazine” and photography marketing card also helped to generate interest in their high school senior offerings.

“We were expecting to get only 25 students in February, and over 60 responded, which was a great start for our high school senior season.”

“We’ve learned a lot through this process,” Eric concludes. “We’ve always known that the photography business can have its ups and downs, but now I believe we are a lot wiser about knowing how to handle these changes. With the MAP Program behind us, will be a lot quicker to ask for help and a lot more willing to try different directions as our photography business grows and changes.”

MAP Stories – Raymond Photography

In many ways Raymond Photography is an anomaly in today’s professional photography market. Rather than specialize, they offer a broad range of services; instead of reducing their size, they lease an 8,000 sq. ft. building; while a photography businesses with large billings typically rely on a staff of full-time employees, Anthony and Yvette use contractors as they are needed. This unusual photography business model is largely a consequence of the growth of their corporate photography sector.

“We had a home studio for 12 years, but as our commercial accounts grew, we needed more space. Much of our commercial work came to us because companies were looking for a photographer who knew film and lighting and how to correct shadows during the photographic process so that images didn’t have to be overworked. We were fortunate to find our space during a recession, because it was much easier to negotiate terms. We started with 2,000 sq. ft. and grew from there.”

Yvette adds that when a corporation hires a photography business for a huge, multi-day shoot, they don’t want to deal with a second shooter. “Anthony is the key employee,” she says, “so it works best for us to use contractors rather than have staff employees who must be paid year round.”

MAP is our biggest, strongest employee.

Because they are so aware of the advantages of hiring contractors rather than employees, Anthony and Yvette were quick to understand the benefits of the photography Marketing Advantage Program (MAP), and they are among its biggest boosters.

“We flat out tell people that MAP is our biggest, strongest employee. Given the economy and increased competition, you must constantly strive to make your photography business better, and there’s only so much you can master. It makes no sense to hire someone to market for you when you can benefit from Marathon’s expertise. They’ve been at this for a long time, and they know how to provide support for different kinds of businesses. We lean on them constantly. They give us ideas and shape our ideas, and this frees up our time to concentrate on income-producing activities.”

Yvette credits the printed materials they developed through the photography Marketing Advantage Program with creating exactly the kind of image they believe is necessary to be taken seriously by clients who have disposable income . . . whether they are families, schools or corporations.

“They show the quality of our work to its best advantage. Just adding our Teeny-Tiny Brochure to the letter we send to schools for our fundraisers has increased its success because it shows different styles of family portraits so they can see for themselves that we are professional photographers who know what we are doing.”

Paying it Forward

In spite of their busy schedules, Yvette and Anthony find time to coach and mentor new photographers or colleagues who are struggling in today’s economy. According to Yvette, a key ingredient for success in any business is becoming comfortable with talking to clients about money. “It’s a necessary part of business, and without a doubt, mastering sales techniques is the difference between success and failure,” she says.

Working with your spouse.

The couple also has good advice for other husbands and wives who work together: Make sure your roles are defined and respected, and determine when and why business can be discussed at home. “I’m the photographer and I handle the key business issues in that I make the final determination as to when we say yes or no,” Anthony notes. “Yvette manages the business, which includes support staff, photography marketing, sales and accounting.”

Yvette explains where she and Anthony draw the line on bringing business home: “It’s fine to comment about business issues at home unless it’s about a problem. Problems are tackled in the office, not at home.” Anthony gets the last word on this subject: “When two Italians are married and work together, it’s doubly important to have these rules!

MAP Stories – Pro Studio

For Ronnie’s garden cottage studio, seasonal promotions weren’t as effective as they used to be. A long-time client and substantial user of Marathon’s photography marketing products, Ronnie was no novice when it came to marketing. Unfortunately when the 2008 recession hit session numbers began to decline and Ronnie began to worry.

Through the Marketing Advantage Program (MAP), Ronnie had gained access not only to Marathon personnel, but also to industry specialists such as Ann Monteith. Ann’s mission was to help him refocus on financial fundamentals. These changes began to yield even better profits than before the recession.

“I came away knowing that I had to reduce staff, which meant taking over some jobs I didn’t like to do including sales. However, those sales sessions helped to give me a much clearer picture of my clients’ needs and wants.

Stop thinking about money and start thinking about people.

“Ann also made me understand that even in a recession there are still plenty of people who have disposable income. She asked me if I could bring in 300 clients a year who would be willing to spend $1,200 on portraits. That question forced me to stop thinking about money and start thinking about people. I began to picture my ideal clients and ask myself what it would take to get them in the door. I decided that my photography marketing strategies had to show clients and prospects who value a quality product that we value them just as much. My whole mental outlook changed, and everything began to fall into place.”

One of the most effective strategies that emerged from this new way of thinking was a fresh approach to direct mail. Ronnie explains:

“Instead of doing direct mail to get people in during my slow time — January and February — I started to advertise when I knew people had a need for my photography. For example, this August I sent out a classy fold-out mailer that included a gift card for $125 and a free session to get them thinking about the year-end holidays. Marathon personalized each gift card for each individual client. I had done a similar promotion in January for years and gotten around 10 clients each time. In August, 60 people responded! It made me understand why so many photographers say that direct mail doesn’t work: They are trying to get people in the door when the business wants them rather than when the consumer needs something.”

As Ronnie increasingly refocused his photography marketing on client needs, he found opportunities to use his commercial photography skills. Not wanting to jump back onto the commercial band wagon, he changed his mind after hearing other MAP members’ positive experiences at the MAP Getaway. Doing work for the Chamber of Commerce and a local Development Authority was both profitable and enjoyable. Clients enjoyed working with qualified professional that knew how to do business in their county.

If you are doing what everyone on forums is talking about, you’ll be left behind.

“What I’ve learned is that if you are doing what everyone else is doing and talking about on forums, you’ll be left behind. And whatever your favorite photography marketing strategy is, it’s just one slice of a much bigger photography marketing pie. You have to mix it with every other source so that you hit consumers over and over. You can get them in with Internet coupons, but you have to mail them something upscale to increase their willingness to be upsold. And the hardest part of all is realizing that when you’re busy in the summer photographing high school seniors, you have to be preparing your fall photography marketing strategies and materials to bring other clients in when high school senior season is over.”

Looking back to the troubled times of 2008, Ronnie concludes:

“I would never have believed that we would be where we are today: Our strategically important Christmas season has started with October being up 50% over last year. We are busier than ever with clients who love what we do . . . just as much as we care about them. It’s a great place to be!”

MAP Stories – MAK Images

Always an art lover, Melissa decided to use digital photography as a creative outlet.

After doing some volunteer photography of babies for a local medical center, one of the moms called and asked, “We love your photos . . . how much do you charge?” That session, photographing twin babies, was the start of MAK Images.

Word about Melissa’s sparkling personality and fresh approach to photographing babies, children, and families spread quickly by word-of-mouth, and soon she expanded her session offerings to include high school seniors and weddings. By 2011 Melissa was considering leaving her secure career for the risky world of self-employment.

“The only thing I knew for sure was that I had to be all in or all out. My main concern was whether it would be possible for me to replace my income through photography. Ryan had calculated that I would need to double my sales in order for the business to replace my bank income, and I knew that I needed knowledgeable guidance to create this kind of growth.”

In a timely twist of fate, Melissa crossed paths with Mark Weber at a family wedding. Mark, who had photographed Melissa in his Omaha studio when she was 3 years old, was now working at Marathon Press. He suggested that she attend an upcoming workshop that he was conducting at Marathon.

“The workshop really helped me to understand how much goes on behind the scenes of running a full-time photography business,” she says. “At that point I was photographing everything on location, which was very time consuming, so Ryan and I recognized that we had to commit to building a studio in our walkout basement as part of the choice for me to take the photography business full-time.”



Committing to Monthly Payments

With these decisions out of the way, things began to move rapidly for Melissa.

“I left the bank on a Friday and joined the photography Marketing Advantage Program (MAP) the next Monday. It was a bit scary to commit to monthly payments, but I realized that it was not an option to just sit there and hope that the business would work. I knew I could not do it alone. It wasn’t enough to hope that people would continue to talk about me and come to see me. I needed someone to guide me along the way.”


Creating a Business and a Brand

By February, Melissa was keeping regular appointments with her facilitator to achieve a clear direction for her branding. Since Marathon’s headquarters was only a few hours away, she traveled there to work with facilitator Tina and designer Angie. Melissa explains:

“We started with the logo I already had and I told Angie I liked blues and browns and I wanted my design style to be colorful and funky, but versatile enough that I could use it across numerous product lines. As I looked through samples, Angie began to work with graphic elements and refined as we went. I love the final designs because they are kind of retro. Plus, we’ve been able to use blues and creams for weddings and bolder colors for seniors.”

In less than a year, Melissa proved just how much a one-woman business can accomplish with focus, hard work, and taking the best possible advantage of the guidance, structure and marketing consistency provided by the photography Marketing Advantage Program (MAP). Not only has she created a memorable and meaningful brand that is displayed in Marathon marketing materials for all of her major product lines, she also has created relationships with local mom-based businesses as well as the Knot in Omaha. Consequently, Melissa is well on her way to replacing the income from her former career.