THE BUMS ON SEATS DEPENDENT BUSINESS MODEL

Posted in Business thoughts & my marketing services, marketing field hockey on October 31st, 2012 by John Coxon

THE BUMS ON SEATS DEPENDENT BUSINESS MODEL

Planning , costing, and crucially advanced publicity and effective marketing ,are key to success  in  start ups and particularly  those associated with sporting activity / coaching camps for kids. On understandably tight budgets  and working for  inevitably  more and more tighter margins , trainers/supervision to trainees ratio, on safety grounds alone, means that you sink or swim on how effective your provision is to maximise course take- up numbers, putting paying bums on seats.

Anything will do for some enterprises on ever tighter budgets and I see this often for example most often in the widespread use of often very amateur looking photography .That’s fine, for example,  for personal use purposes, where snaps that anyone can easily take now with modern do-it-all-for you digital imaging devices  come with little cost. Possibly it is fine also  where an event or course is local community based and laid on with not for profit intent other than social and educational gains for the kids. But it is a foolhardy economy where you  are taking money and running such an enterprise as a business you hope will grow.

If a course or  camp is your business place then   how your enterprise is  perceived in an increasingly competitive  market place is crucial. The sector is a rapid growth area  now, based on the widespread  practice of what originally were philanthropic , volunteer based , amateur school and hockey club based endeavours. Where profit is not expected or played for , whilst those organisers   want to have a big take up to maximise benefits often for as many youngsters in their own catchment areas they can attract, it still has to be advertised. Essentially amateur Desk top publishing and amateur photographs  can meet the purpose and are easy to get organised. Then medium is the message but non business led activity camps and courses will be less harshly judged  because quirky brochures fliers do the job reasonably effectively if the events are local community based the “primitive” utilitarian naivety reinforces the non business social and educational priority underpinning the ethos and benevolent motive behind running such activities.

It seems the norm,  for small established and start ups companies in this sector to be benevolent, responsible and have social aims underpinning the skills and fitness aspects of camps. In fact if they were they not , the take up would smaller and eventually  those businesses would collapse. Course content at a specific venue is what you are offering  but  what you are selling is  the benefits parents can expect for their children’s participation. That is what  they are buying into when they shell out and sign their kids up. But if we look around the sector again, we can see much larger national outfits grabbing a larger share of what is  not the hugest of markets.  If you are say a hockey specialist , remember  the biggest sport camp companies  have that one covered in their portfolios.  They  do not focus on one sport but many , usually, but not exclusively ,  team ones. This is because  team games of course involve, by their very nature ,  larger  numbers for each participating group they are catering for , football being by far the biggest take-up locally ,  nationally, and internationally and not necessarily requiring specialised artificial pitches so costs can be lower.

Tina Cullen , Ex England and GB forward , one of the countries most prolific goal scoring players and still playing regular Premiership and still scoring and acting as a role model  and involved in coaching . Typically hockey camps try and employ coaches who are also international players.

One local start up has really got their business plan sorted and is destined to grow and succeed. Good personnel , well qualified coaches and experienced players must form the core of a successful  sports leisure and fitness coaching business where new members , if they gain measurable benefits in  terms of increased well being , fitness and  aptitude for a sport, WOM kicks in . World of mouth, voluntary and free personal endorsement of your company and services shared with friends and contacts is a major source of increased “bums on seats “, membership numbers climb and income grows. A local reputation builds but equally negatives are always shared , especially on social media and more damage done if the service received is not professional enough or the promises in the brochure not achieved.  (At present I am involved as a professional photographer locally with Impact Hockey Camps and of course from the perspective of my own business reputation I would not accept a commission from  an enterprise that I did not believe in or know consistently delivers a high quality product /service.)

MARKETING USING FREE AND EFFECTIVE USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA , TWITTER AND FACEBOOK.

You might, I full appreciate , prefer  to avoid  buying in the separate professionals for the several disciplines needed in marketing your business that have cost implications you would rather duck. It’s your lucky day ,  if you hire my services. I have a well  practiced  range, over considerable years, of a variety of skills and  technology use competencies, know vital software for DTP, website and web page design, I am a highly competent journalist , have highly developed literacy and am  hands with tools , piratical skills   you get more than a gifted and experienced professional photographer and I have a range of usable competencies in Desktop publishing, photo editing, annotating and uploading. I maintain and previously built , my won website and Blog and I am competent in creating Facebooks, Facebook pages and groups as well as Twitter accounts. I have long experience of making effective use of Social media to promote my services, develop a   global network of contacts

Smaller scale start ups are never going to able to compete with companies who have marketing departments, PR experts etc on hand as staff or contracted in  because of course they haven’t got the capital. But newcomers ought to do their research and check out how  the bigger players in their sector operate.  All with have slick and comprehensive professional customised websites and the images will not be amateur snaps, but clearly professionally produced and specifically commissioned and tailored. Their  photographers must be familiar with  industry standards  , experienced, and media and marketing savvy,   to ensure that they illustrate the blurbs , the mission statements , the detail and course or camp objectives .All will be carefully planned and designed to give out all the right messages. Stationery , leaflets, brochures , programs , agendas, information packs ,merchandise will all be produced in a common style , using professional photography , graphic design and commercial printers to preserve the integrity of  the  brand and to celebrate  and announce your faith in it. So how do you compete  as a small emergent business against these already slick outfits?

You will likely come to be coming from a sports, not a business  background and probably be turning a passion for your chosen sport, through playing, being coached and tooling up to be qualified to lead sessions that are purposeful and effective.  Getting your marketing right might come naturally to you but getting outside professional help may well save you a lot of heart ache.

Research shows that consumer choice is driven by emotional and not practical or particularly rational thought. Similar factors come into play when parents elect to be prepared to pay for sporting camps. With a service that you are essentially selling to people they will either phone, view your website, Facebook  or request further information in brochures and or information packs. Your area of expertise will be  coaching and so from experience,  programmes mapped out will no doubt be well organised , professional and effective and delivered to a high standard using qualified staff and perhaps young volunteers and sessions will no doubt be  fun . You are likely to be more aware of what is effective teaching and learning, managing youngsters  but  your need to pay special attending to marketing  because the number of bums on seats is the measure of success or failure. It is not going to be the  service you offer that accounts for poor take ups, it is always marketing issues.

Professional  photographers, qualified graphic designers and advertising experts  are expensive to hire because they are directly responsible for often huge  profits in for example the retail sector. The image of your product or service is vital as its actual characteristics , where people have a choice . The internet is such a valuable marketing tool, but the speed and ease of searching and the range of alternatives a search can throw up means that browser-visitors , notoriously the most fickle “window” shoppers in the market place, quickly are but off by text saturated web pages which have few images and graphics to hold their attention . Grabbing the attention of your website visitors keeping there attention and  turning them from browsers into to customers is what your focus should be on.

I am hired because my business is simply about taking great photographs , every time , that serve a purpose. My market is small companies, start ups  and individuals with limited capital, all are strapped more and more for cash, but know by word of mouth that I offer fair value for their cash. Professionals are also feeling the pinch but  not all them  are that  expensive , and you won’t know until you ask. I am hired  by people who  see my photography work and business support skills  as an asset and  investment not a further drain on their outgoings with no benefits or returns. They understand that I bring value-added benefits with outstanding images which increase take ups on  for example coaching camps, sport specific training  courses.  I have a range of skills beyond merely taking photographs to  help market, advertise  and deliver products and services messages  more effectively, on behalf of my client’s customers and end users. The above image I have used on several occasions , customised with relevant wording of my own design to fit the clients brief  ,to promote , in this case (or bag) and advertise early, the Isle of Man Whit hockey festival both on the IOM government website for several years and on the organisers mails shots and festival brochures. I was commissioned  by the islands Leisure and Tourism  Department.

NEEDS MORE BUMS ON SEATS ?

Two years ago a start up hockey coaching company my region , contacted me to ask if I’d cover their planned camp during the summers holidays . We talked about me taking copious action shots of the young players, individual  portraits, as well as a record of any awards the coaches presented and  meeting afterwards to review the camp’s success , discus ways things could be better done next time and cherry pick images to beef a proposed  website, enhance a Facebook group, and produce promotional material for the following year. For a one off  fee, I also agreed, on a shared copyright basis, to set up a camp specific Facebook to which players and family could join and share the images . The  two coaches had done their homework, worked out their predicted  total costs, including my fee, and knew then how many bums on  seats they would need to break even and how many more to make a reasonable profit. (As ever , an  ethical trader , I am on side with any activity or sport that promotes social skills, gets kids exercising and helps develop discipline, responsibility and confidence. I am hardly likely to ask more than I  think it’s worth and kill off an emerging business . If I can help them to succeed , they will hire me again and again.

 

FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY AND THE POWER TO ACHIEVE THE BEST RESULTS

Posted in AT Your Service, Photography Tips on October 30th, 2012 by John Coxon

What are your options for flash photography and more especially what power source are you going to opt for? 

Much of my social photography business involves informal group portraiture and this shot one of some four hundred taken in the course of a milestone birthday shoot- reliable consistent flash equipment is vital in my work.

Great photography is concerned with working with and the skilful management of light and whilst I love to work in natural available light, the majority of the commissioned professional work I do in effect requires me to bring my own! What are your options for flash photography and more especially what power source are you going to opt for?

Often for me ,such jobs , almost always indoors, such as presentations, wedding receptions, black tie and other social events  involve a number of hours shooting with flash. Where people are paying their hard earned  you have to be able to guarantee consistent high quality and ensure that all your images are first rate and well lit. That means having reliable consistent light source with you at all times that isn’t going to fail.  The commonest problem is not your flash gun but not having an adequate power source to sustain taking large numbers of images with flash over several hours and common sized ordinary batteries or rechargeable variants have a tendency to drain far quicker than you might expect.

Built in flash ?

Pop up flash in built flash – such a relatively small light source

Many digital SLR cameras have some sort of pop up inbuilt flash. Such devices are of very  limited professional use and not recommended if you are shooting a lot indoors or in limited light as they quickly drain your main camera batteries, have very limited coverage and have a tendency to bleach out the subject with harsh light. Handy perhaps for a little fill in flash to light up faces when you are shooting a portrait of a person or group which is back lit.  Also beware that, if you are using a standard or wide angle lens, with or without a lens hood, built in flash often leaves a curved shadow at the bottom of images because the flash can’t jump the lens barrel or lens hood so an area of the resulting shot will be in unwelcome shadow. Invariably these inbuilt flashes can’t throw their light far or adequately illuminate the subject, say groups of people. The other disadvantage is that you will experience a delay when you take one shot before the inbuilt flash is capable of firing off again.

External flash guns

My flash gun, slipped onto the “hot shoe” plate on top of the camera bodyand ready to go

The standard tool of the trade is the external flash gun and a common sight when you see a media scrum of press photographers.  They come in at between three and four hundred pounds on average– I use a Nikon SB 800 “Speedlight” usually mounted on the “hot shoe” contact  above the camera view finder or, on  occasions, on  a detachable flash bracket.  (Nikon’s “Speedlight” range -similar in name to the Canon flash gun  “Speedlite”  is what it is, i.e., able to provide several flash firings without a nagging recovery time delay.) That has a tilting head and pull out diffuser meaning  I can, for example,  bounce the light from the ceiling  and thus get a softer more subtle and flattering light than were I to fire it directly at the person.

Rear of flash gun showing hot shoe mount and the black twist locking button to ensure tight contact

What is the best way to power your flash gun?

Conventional batteries?

My Nikon flash gun comes with a compartment which takes  four AA batteries (although the kit comes with a detachable slider which enables you to add a fifth battery.)  You need to be aware how much power flash takes and how quickly conventional batteries are going to become exhausted which may not be an issue if you only intend to use flash for occasional shots.

compartment in flash gun body for four conventional AA batteries

Initially I bought a number of specialist “high performance “ rechargeable AA batteries from a chain camera shop but found them to drain very quickly with multiple firings  and, worse, lose their ability to recharge over time without warning. (Where you are using several rechargeable batteries in a single compartment of course it is hard to know which of them has “grown tired” and /or isn’t holding or taking a charge and so best avoided.) To make absolutely sure, I used to  invest in multi-packs of Duracell Plus AA batteries  but became uneasy about going through so many on a big shoot and throwing them away when they died and it was hard to judge how many you would need over a long session.  Rechargeables or non rechargeable batteries  are fine maybe for occasional amateur use but not ideal for professional jobs, especially long jobs, where failure isn’t an option!

Separate Battery Packs

It wasn’t long before I was to upgrade to a separate rechargeable battery power pack that clipped onto my belt so I didn’t have to keep changing batteries. My first battery pack was a Quantum Compact, cost around £300 and gave me good service for several years and provided me with consistent flash for four or five hours on the trot and between 4 and 8 hundred shots. (The lead for that came with a plastic insert in the shape of four AA batteries that clipped into the battery compartment on the side of the flash gun body.)

Alas, as with all heavily used pro equipment the shelf life is not indefinite and that battery pack started to let me down  up at the beginning of this year and failed to take a full re-charge if any. I sent it in for repair but sadly  found out not only was it discontinued but the US based company had no spare parts so that had to be binned. The last thing any pro can afford to carry is any equipment that is likely to fail. ( I  do always by the way  still keep a batch of AA Duracell Plus batteries in my camera bag as back ups to slip into the flash gun in the unlikely event of my main power source draining. )

So another purchase more recently this time a more powerful faster, longer life battery pack, the Quantum Turbo, just short of £300 , quite bulky , the size of a small paving brick and weighing a kilo but with a belt clip and the business.  That actually came, somewhat annoyingly,  with a Cannon “Speedlite” lead , only slightly different in the shape of the end that connects to the flash gun which I failed to notice. However, I just took delivery of a Nikon Speedlight compatible lead that plugs directly into the front of the flash gun and I’m back in business. (Not amused by the way that such a relatively simple lead alone cost a tidy £60 – scandalous!)

Battery pack attached to the flash gun mounted on one of my camera bodies and ready to rock

Buying your flash kit .

If you Google for flash guns and battery packs you are going to see a range of devices and prices either from purely on line retailers or photography chains who also have a website. (Google inevitably seems to default to Ebay and Amazon based traders so you may want to scroll down to increase your options.) As a general rule you get what you pay for. Second hand gear may be OK but you can’t guarantee how much use they have had and modern electronics are inclined to fail with sustained use so wherever possible buy new. If you are serious about photography you will understand that any compromise comes with attendant risks and cutting corners on cost has a tendency to come back and bite you at the most inconvenient time.

There are a range of flash guns, chain store own brands for example, which are a quarter of the price of established brands and inevitably that means  wide variations in actual build and feature qualities. I’d always advise going for the best you can afford. If you don’t know a competent photographer I’d always advise a visit to a camera store, tell them your budget, tell them what sort of uses you intend to make of the devices and then note down their recommendations. I have yet to find any chain or other store that actually is able to compete with net prices and thus suggest that, armed with the details of the model advised by the shop, go home and  then search on line for the best value.  Be aware that some suppliers charge VAT and sometimes you don’t find that out until you are about to place the order.

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