The unearned tip

I’ve always had a policy of tipping well. Even for bad service, I tend to land in the 20% range. Everyone has a bad day. Maybe that one good tip, despite the bad service, is just what that person needs to turn their day around and make it good.

But I’m not sure how to feel about completely unearned tips. More and more when I get my receipt from a restaurant it has a place for a tip, even if there is no one specific to tip. The guy takes my order, passes it off to someone and they make the food. My name is called and I pick up the food. This is the extent of my contact with the restaurant employees. Where in that process is the tip earned? Am I wrong in thinking it’s not? It isn’t like a specific employee spent an hour of their life making sure I was happy.

So do you tip in these cases? I don’t, and don’t think it should be expected, but somehow still feel bad about it.

Maybe there’s a different perspective from the people behind the counter. Do you expect a tip in these cases?


Scheduling to my strengths

I’m endlessly fascinated with what successful people’s days look like. How do they schedule? How do they work? How do they, in short, accomplish all the things required for success?

I’m always toying with my own schedule, trying to find a way to really be productive (most days, I’d settle for just feeling like I was productive, whether I really was or not).

Usually this involves coming up with some new schedule, doing it for a week, loving it and then abandoning it to die as soon as a big deadline hits. This seems to be an endless cycle in my life.

So, for the next step in that cycle, I came up with a new schedule to accomplish a few goals I have. It should be nice for a week or so.

7:30AM Up and Ready For the Day.
Might get up earlier. Might get up later. Working from home I have that freedom. But the goal is to be showered (ha!), have the first batch of e-mail returned for the day, and be in the office by 8:00AM.

8:00AM – 10:00AM Writing
I write best when my mind is fresh. My mind is freshest in the morning. It’s one of those creative endeavors that, for me, requires more brain power than, say, designing a company’s brochures. I might as well churn out my day’s words in the morning, when they’ll be the best. I’ll use this time for any kind of writing, be it blog posts, client work or fiction. I’ve been a semi-professional writer for a few years (meaning I get paid for some my writing, but it’s not the majority of my work) and I think it’s time I started seriously working toward getting rid of that “semi” part.

10:00AM – 11:00AM Creative Work/E-mail
Whatever needs doing at this point. Lots of e-mail comes in every day so this hour can be for that or doing any other work that I need to clear out before lunch.

11:00AM – 12:00PM Lunch
I like my lunch early. Then I can work through the normal 12-1 hour when most people are eating. If my clients are eating, they aren’t calling me and I can have an uninterrupted hour to work. Also I try to spend my lunch time somewhere other than my office.

12:00PM – 2:30PM Creative Work
I can churn out a lot of work in two-and-a-half hours. Especially if I close down my e-mail/Twitter/the internet and stay organized.

2:30PM – 3:30PM Siesta*
A nap? For an hour? Probably not. But it helps me to take an hour at about this time to rest, read or, really, do anything but stare at a computer monitor. At this point I will have churned out quite a bit of creative output and by about 2:30, my brain is mush. I’m basically useless. I can sit at my computer drooling on myself (with the client’s meter running, mind you), or I can take a break (turning off the timer) and do something to disconnect my brain from my task list. If I try to power through this hour I never get much else done that day. At least nothing you’d consider quality work. If I take an hour to rest, it makes my last part of the day so very productive. Trust me, it’s a fair trade-off for my clients.

3:30PM – 4:30PM Wrap Up the Creative
Time to put a bow on this day, it’s almost done. I spend this hour returning the last of the day’s calls/e-mails and wrapping up any projects due that day (or, if by some miracle of God I’m working ahead, the next day).

4:30PM – 5:00PM THE FUTURE!
If I don’t spend a specific amount of time each day working on gaining new clients, well, they don’t usually just back the dump truck filled with cash up to my door. I have to go find them and then ask them to do that. Such a pain. Incidentally, when I’m fishing, the fish don’t just jump in the boat. Who do I see about that?

5:00PM – 5:30PM Organize the Next Day
Time to get the task list ready for the next day, send some e-mail and generally make sure I set myself up to be productive again.

Once again, all this sounds nice but any number of things (calls, meetings, being sick, deadlines, rabid weasels, being out of bacon) can come into play and screw this schedule up. But it would be nice if it lasted. I think it would be productive and allow me to continue taking on new opportunities. Also it would allow me to quit most days before midnight. That’d be nice.

*This would be the point, dear reader, when you might be thinking, “wow, this guy sounds like a jackass. A nap, really?” I don’t deny some amount of jackassery involved in this list, after all, there are people who have to really work for a living. I mean physically work. Roofing houses, this ain’t. Well, I earn my living with my brain. All the creative work I get paid for comes from said brain and if I don’t treat it right (rest it often, don’t do drugs, don’t stab it with an ice pick) my work is not as good. And if it’s not good, I don’t get hired, which means my kids starve. So, yeah, I’ll grant you I don’t do a lot of physical labor (although my photo shoots should qualify) but it’s still work.

**Also a note about the times: if I screwed any of them up, it’s because I’m currently hopped up on Nyquil and, man, it does weird stuff to my aforementioned brain.

Planning for a day off

I’ve always been very bad at taking days off. With business being really good this year, it’s been even worse.

Finally I’ve learned I have to plan for a day off. It’s not just going to sneak up on me. It’s not just a matter of taking off, I have to also get enough done ahead of time that I don’t spend my day off fielding client calls or worrying about the amount of things I have to get done.

So last night I planned ahead. I worked until 11 in the evening, finishing off the things on my list that I knew would come back to haunt me today. Here I set, watching the Rangers’ game from last night. Outside of also watching today’s Rangers’ game, I have absolutely no plans and already feel more relaxed.

I just need to start planning for a day off.

The creative dilemma

Today was a frustrating day. I often get clients who need great work. They are promoting something good and I come up with an idea that goes way above and beyond their vision for what can be done. But rarely do they really have the budget to make it work.

The choice usually boils down to presenting the idea with the budget needed, and losing the job, or presenting the idea and doing it at a cut rate. The first means you don’t get the work. The second means you work your tail off for about half what you should get paid.

So what do you do as a creative who refuses to settle for second best? In the past I’ve gone the second route. I’ve bid the jobs way under what I should just to do some exciting work. Sadly only about half the times does that work. The other half, someone comes in with a crappy idea, but a bid that is a fraction of even my “barely making anything” price. So it would seem underbidding only pays off about half the time.

I’m trying more and more to just bid what the job is worth. That can lead to some great work and a great paycheck. Or it can lead to stretches of no work and no paycheck. I’m not sure bidding jobs is ever a part of this job I’ll love or do well. I create ideas and tell stories, and I do it with a passion that is second to none. But the business side makes my head hurt.

Long, long day

It started at six this morning.

I took a few pictures I was proud of and had lunch with Chris after he assisted on the shoot.

Got a phone call and decided I might not enjoy the wedding business as much as I thought.

Tried to finish the day without yelling at my kids. Failed.

Sat down to write on the blog and realized I was too tired to really put coherent words down in an interesting way.

Just a long, long day.

Minimizing left turns

I was reading this great article on the founding of UPS and came across the following fact:

UPS developed software that routes trucks such that they minimize left turns in their deliveries. By doing so, they reduced their annual fuel consumption by nearly 51,000 gallons in Washington DC alone. The reduction in fuel comes from drivers not having to sit idling at red lights waiting to make left hand turns.

As a one-man operation, I’ve hit a wall when it comes to the amount of work I can produce entirely on my own. This quickly limits how much new work I can take on. So the options basically become hiring people to help grow the business or optimizing my time to allow for growth.

Because I really don’t want to hire anyone and go down that road right now, I have to get rid of my left-hand turns. I need to find things that are basically wasted time and see what I can do to eliminate them. Every second a UPS driver is headed toward their destination is productive. Every second they are sitting at a red light waiting to turn left is wasted. I need to avoid some of my red lights.

Although I also find it inspiring that UPS was founded by two teenagers with a bicycle and $100. Makes you wonder what we could do with the vast amount of resources we have available now.

Anatomy of an iPhone launch

Prior to Announcement:
Small leaks begin to paint the picture of what the iPhone will be.
Internet Reaction:
Holy crap! This thing will do everything ever. MUST HAVE NOW!

Immediately After Announcement:
Jobs unveils the latest iPhone to an adoring crowd.
Internet Reaction:
Why doesn’t it do everything we thought it would? WHY STEVE, WHY?!

Pre-orders Begin:
The iPhone is finally available for pre-order. The demand promptly causes AT&T’s servers to curl up in the fetal position and cry themselves to death.
Internet Reaction:
All the critics who think it doesn’t do enough secretly ding their credit cards for $200. Apple sells hundreds of thousands of phones that won’t even be available for a week or two.

Launch Day:
Apple manufactures millions of iPhones and not surprisingly a few problems pop up with the initial batch. Despite this, and the negative news coverage of the problems, people still line up for days to get their hands on one.
Internet Reaction:

Two Weeks After Launch Day:
Apple has sold millions of iPhones in record time and their stock soars to new heights.
Internet Reaction:
99% of the new iPhone owners love the gadget more than their own children.

What should be our takeaway from this yearly process? The internet should just shut up and enjoy its new iPhone.

Retiring the box

Can we officially retire the phrase “think outside the box” until the end of the world?

I’ve been looking at a lot of ad agency websites lately and all of them think outside the box. If you pulled the copy from every agency website in America and presented just the words, they would all sound almost exactly the same.

For an industry that pushes unique selling propositions, we don’t seem to be able to find one for ourselves.

New equipment doesn’t equal creativity

Jennet + Justin + Ben Maternity

“If I had a new ________ I could do amazing things.”

We live in a tool-centric world. We are so obsessed with having the latest doohickey for our jobs we don’t really give enough thought to what we can do with that doohickey, beyond possess it. We think that new piece of tech will motivate us to do great things. I’m as guilty as anyone. I have some really nice gear. And I’ve found if my head isn’t in the right place and if I’m not really motivated to greatness, I output very mediocre work with that nice gear.

New equipment cannot make up for a lack of creativity, drive and hard work.

If you are expecting inspiration and motivation solely from a lifeless piece of technology, you’ll be disappointed. It’s a lesson I’m trying to learn. Focus on what you love. The rest will figure itself out.

The picture above is one I recently made while doing something I love. It means a lot that it turned out like I envisioned. And it had little to do with the latest gear and everything to do with hard work and creativity.

How to do a rebranding face plant

Today, AT&T announced a rebrand of their semi-iconic logo. It’s an effort to distance themselves from their recent fights with Verizon and consistent complaints about terrible customer service and poor coverage. I’m working with a company right now on a relaunch of their brand. The first question that should always be asked is “how did we get here?” Why are we to the point that we even need to rebrand? What went wrong?

My problem is most rebrands start and end with a call to the agency handling the account, with absolutely no thought given to changing the things that soured the brand in the first place. AT&T, you don’t need a new logo. You need to not suck. I know given your size, that is probably a tough proposition. However, just redesigning the logo alone is like treating a headache but leaving the underlying brain tumor to continue to wreak havoc.

Rebranding shouldn’t start with the logo. It should start from the ground and move up from there eventually leading to a logo that represents the new and hopefully improved company.

Artwork via Brand New.

Studios Blog Update: Magazines, Cows, iPhone book deadline

Every week or two I’ll be posting an update on the activity on all our other sites, for those that only subscribe here. – Commercial + Editorial

Tarleton Magazine #1 Photos

I posted some shots of a magazine cover I had published recently for Tarleton State Universty in Stephenille.

Leon Clift

Here are my favorites from a shoot I did for my father-in-law Leon Clift for his new website. – Wedding + Family

Cale's Senior Portraits

We had a lot of fun shooting Cale’s senior portraits. Check out my favorites here. – iPhone Photography

2-10-10 iPhone photo

I’ve been keeping up with daily iPhone photos and I’m working hard to finish the first issue of Life Through a Tiny Lens by March 1st.

I’ve also set up a Twitter account for TinyLens and a Facebook fan page for ImageStudios that covers everything we do.

A little wedding math

Why does wedding photography cost so much? I hear this question a lot. And not just from prospective brides, often it’s from the general public who perceives that it is expensive. While I agree it’s expensive in terms of what it costs compared with, say a Taco Bell value meal, it’s not expensive when you figure all the costs involved. Let’s just say that out of that $4,000 you spend on photography for your big day, the photographer isn’t exactly walking away with a lot.

Doing wedding photography right is an expensive proposition. Setting aside the equipment ($1,400 lenses?!), taxes, training, travel, office, insurance, hardware, software and millions of other little expenses that eat away all the profit, let’s look at one particular segment, marketing.

We recently did our big bridal show for the year. We paid $1,300 for our booth. Add to that around $750 in costs for brochures, prints, books, etc. Add another $300 or so in other expenses to get it going. I’ll be generous and not add anything for our time or the travel and meals for the show. We have a total of $2,350.

At the show, we booked two weddings. While I fully expect to book more from calls over the next few weeks, let’s just say those two were the only weddings we booked from it. At that point we would have spent $1,175 per customer in marketing costs. By any measure in any business that is an insane amount of money to get a customer. Let’s say we book five more off the show. That’s still $335 per booking. That’s more in line with marketing costs for the auto industry. And I promise, even in hard times, the auto dealers make far more money than photographers do.

Add to that all the previous costs of doing business we didn’t price earlier and you have a very slim margin on what seems like a lot of money. So while you may feel like you might be spending a lot on photography “just because it’s a wedding” know that the costs involved in shooting a wedding right are incredibly high as well.

Tiny changes

Last night I put the finishing touches on another new site, It will be the new home for all my iPhone photography. So why move it from it’s home here on my lowly blog to it’s own site? Well it’s time to turn it into something bigger. Like my move to launch and over the last month, I’m dividing out the various things I in order to give them their own home to live, breath and grow.

And also, it’s so I can do this:

I’ll be releasing two issues of Life Through A Tiny Lens a year. I decided to do it biannually for two reasons. One, I’m impatient and don’t really want to wait an entire year to release something. And two, being that it is print-on-demand, keeping it to 120 pages per issue will make it slightly more affordable each time. It will be available as a 7″ x 7″ book in either soft or hard covers. It will be full of iPhone photos I’ve taken from June 1st through December 31st of last year. It will also include new writing throughout. Moving all this to it’s own website will allow me to brand everything under the brand, which I have a few other plans for.

The first issue will be available to order March 1st. Until then I still have a lot of writing, editing and proofing to do on it.

Honestly, when I started taking iPhone photos I never really thought much of it. But over time it has changed how I view the world and photography. I’m proud of the work and hope you enjoy it too. The book will by no means lead to riches and fame, in fact I have very tiny (pun intended) goals for it. For me it’s more about shooting for myself and not a client. I’m moving this year to do more work for me and then drag you guys along for the ride.

Thoughts on the iPad

So last week, Apple introduced the long-awaited iPad. Prior to the announcement, the world seemed to be losing its collective mind with anticipation.

“It will revolutionize computers as we know them.”

“It will allow you to create things in exciting new ways.”

“It will make a mean stack of Belgium waffles!”

I heard and read every rumor possible about the iPad. At some point, on some website it was rumored to do everything you could ever want, up to and including serve as the soul mate you’ve always been looking for.

Then that black turtle-neck with Steve Jobs in it strode on stage and announced the iPad.

And the world once again lost its collective mind with disappointment.

“It doesn’t multi-task!”

“It doesn’t do Flash!”

“It’s just a big iPhone!”

“Steve Jobs is a witch! Burrrrrn him!”

I’ll admit, I was facing a bit of disappointment after the announcement myself. But, just as I found my pitchfork and lit a torch to join the crowd calling for Jobs’ head, I was struck by one line the world was screaming. It’s just a big iPhone.

At that moment I realized, it’s just a big iPhone. iPhone owners, take a second and think about life before your iPhone. Now think about life after. With the addition of apps to the iPhone, I am now doing things with a phone that I’ve rarely been able to do well on a full-blown computer. The iPhone has become an indispensable part of how we do life. Apple, with the help of third-party developers, managed to reinvent what we expect from a phone in a matter of just two years. The fact that the iPad appears to be nothing but a large iPhone has me incredibly excited. Look at the innovative things developers have done with the iPhone. Now imagine what they can do with a device that is just as capable, faster and has a larger screen. The restrictions of working on a small device like the iPhone has forced developers to think of new ways to do things and this has simplified the design of apps. I hope this new way of thinking will usher in the new era of computing Jobs seems to think it will.

The other reason I can tell Apple is on to something special is evidenced by my Google Reader feed. In Reader, I have several hundred websites I subscribe to. They are divided into the categories Apple, Entertainment, Creative, Photography, Faith. Almost a week after the announcement, I still see stories in every category every day that pertain to the iPad. It think the atmosphere has shifted from rabid anticipation of what it could be, to vehement disappointment and now back to cautious anticipation of what it could be again. All this and relatively few people have even held one in their hands.

And as to the name, I frankly think it’s inspired. In another year, the feminine-product jokes people make every time you hear the name iPad will fade away and we’ll be left with a name that perfectly describes the device. When the iPod was first released, people decried the name from the mountain tops. Now, it’s become a part of our language. Five years from now, the iPad will be as ubiquitous as the iPhone and the name will naturally roll off the tongue with nary an iTampon joke to be heard.